John Denton's Knights Insider: O'Leary Previews Spring Game

April 16, 2010


By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - While mostly all eyes have been on the battle at quarterback between Rob Calabrese and freshman phenom Jeffrey Godfrey this spring, George O'Leary's eyes have been on the influx of young, dynamic talent elsewhere for UCF.

Combine the emergence of players such as Quincy McDuffie, Marquee Williams, Troy Davis, E.J. Dunston, Victor Gray and Godfrey with a strong senior class of 19 players and it's easy to see why expectations are soaring this spring for the Knights.

Those players will be on display on Saturday at 1 p.m. when the UCF holds the annual Black and Gold Spring Game at Bright House Networks Stadium. The Knights feel they have the combination of experience and an influx of talent to make some noise nationally this season and win Conference USA once again.

And O'Leary is excited about the prospects of this team as well for a lot of reasons.

``We have 19 seniors, which is the most that I've ever had. That's where the chemistry and maturity are coming from as far as the kids growing process,'' O'Leary said. ``And it's one of the first times in the six years that we've been here that the schedule falls right. We've got all of our nonconference games early and those are the critical games because they determine how you are looked at around the rest of the country. And obviously the only goal we have is to win the conference championship because that determines what happens to us at the end of the season. I think we're on the right track.''

That was proven time and time again this spring as several UCF players stepped to the forefront in drills spread out over the past three weeks. Because the Knights have 18 players back who started games last season, much of the spring drills were about execution, competition and installation.

O'Leary's focus throughout training camp was turning up the intensity with the offensive and defensive lines. O'Leary went into camp seeking more physicality and nastiness from his lines, and he feels both groups made tremendous progress throughout spring ball.

Cornerstone players Bruce Miller (defensive end), Josh Robinson (cornerback), Kemal Ishmael (safety), Jah Reid (offensive tackle), Kamar Aiken (wide receiver) and Brynn Harvey (tailback) are back, giving the Knights plenty of experience on both sides of the ball.

And those stalwarts have been bolstered by the emergence of several youngsters expected to make big contributions this season. Davis, Dunston and Gray have impressed with their high motors, aggressiveness and agility along the interior, and have calmed the fears of having to replace Torell Troup and Travis Timmons.

And McDuffie, a standout in the return game last season, and Williams have given the Knights some blazing speed on the outside to strike fear into the eyes of defensive backs.

``McDuffie is really a go-to guy. He has great hand-eye coordination, he catches everything in sight and he has the great speed that you are looking for,'' O'Leary said. ``He got the top newcomer award at the banquet and he deserved it.

``I think Dunston, Victor Gray and Troy Davis are all really good football players in the future,'' O'Leary continued. ``Dunston should still be a high school senior right now, but he has all the potential in the world. Victor and Troy Davis improved steadily. Troy Davis reminds me a lot of (Bruce) Miller as a young kid.''

Today's spring game could ultimately decide UCF's starting quarterback for next season. Calabrese, a part-time starter last season, has gotten the majority of the reps with the first team and has made noticeable strides at being more poised in the pocket.

Godfrey, who graduated from Miami Central High School early so that he could compete for the starting job this spring, has wowed coaches and teammates with his rocket of an arm and his ability to improvise and make plays.

Calabrese, a junior-to-be next season, seems to have the lead on the job because of his experience and growth as a quarterback. O'Leary wants to see Calabrese end the spring on a high note in today's spring game. For three weeks, O'Leary and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe have harped on him to be more poised in the huddle and definitive in his decision-making.

``It's not the black and white with him, it's the gray areas that he struggles with when everything isn't always perfect,'' O'Leary said. ``The good ones have to take a bad play and make a good play out of it. He's better at that now. Being around Brett Hodges last year, I think seeing that poise and maturity helped him. He has to stop worrying about the last play and worry about the next play. That's been the stress on him, and Coach (Charlie) Taaffe has helped him get it done.''

And in today's spring finale, O'Leary is interested in seeing his Knights get it done. Other than losing Harvey to a knee injury - a situation that opened up more of an opportunity for Brendan Kelly and Jonathan Davis - O'Leary has been delighted with how his team worked throughout the spring.

``For the most part the kids came out every day to practice and brought the two things that I look for - effort and enthusiasm. They left a better player coming off the field,'' he said. ``(On Saturday) I'm looking for execution. I'll limit the game plan offensively and defensively so that kids can just execute. I don't want to see a lot of missed assignments, no penalties and sloppy play. That's what I'm looking for from the spring game.''


John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.