John Denton's Knights Insider: O'Leary Looking For Leaders

April 2, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF's Hump Day - the eighth spring football workout of the allotted 15 sessions - will likely feel a lot like Groundhog Day when the team repeats it Sunday afternoon.

Unhappy with the enthusiasm level, aggression in full-contact drills and sloppiness in several phases, UCF head coach George O'Leary called up the team Saturday at practice and informed it that there would be a repeat session on Sunday at 1 p.m. Because NCAA rules restrict the number of practice sessions in the spring, the Knights won't work out on Tuesday, but will instead look for improvement tomorrow on another full-contact, scrimmage-style session.

``I thought today we didn't practice well. We were very lethargic out there and we're coming out (Sunday) at 1 o'clock to repeat this practice. I won't walk off the field with that,'' O'Leary said. ``I didn't see a lot of great enthusiasm. You can't develop championships practicing like we did. We had some great plays, but way too many bad plays. We'll come out (Sunday) and repeat the practice. It's real simple to me.''

For UCF, it's a reminder that the bar of expectations has been raised following the most successful season in program history. Ranked No. 20 in one of the final national polls, the Knights went 11-3 last season and won both the Conference USA and Liberty Bowl titles.

Nineteen seniors are gone off that team, and O'Leary has said that he's using this spring to determine which players will be the true leaders when times get tough. His message has been firm that last season is over and it's time for this squad to form its own identity.

``(Sunday) will be a mental day for a lot of the young guys going back-to-back. Coach is just seeing who is going to step up,'' senior tailback/special teams ace Ronnie Weaver said. ``He puts the team in the hands of the seniors a lot of the time, so it's up to us to lead by example and do the best we can to show the young guys not used to the situation. We'll come out and practice hard and get accomplished what needs to be done.''

Right tackle Nick Pieschel, one of two seniors along the offensive line along with Cliff McCray, said the Knights have made big strides this spring and he can see plenty of promise halfway through the offseason drills. But he noted that the team has been far too inconsistent with its effort and attitude and that has to change prior to the Black and Gold Spring Game on April 16 at Bright House Networks Stadium.

``We have flashes of good and flashes of bad, so we have to be more consistent,'' said Pieschel, who is making the switch from guard to tackle this spring. ``We have to keep working hard and keep our eye on the prize. We can't afford to have good days and bad days out here.''

O'Leary said he'll continue to ramp up the competition at several positions in order to help with player evaluations. Undoubtedly, part of his motivation for cancelling Saturday's session and practicing again on Sunday is to see which players respond to the challenge before them.

``I'm still looking for the leadership right now. That concerns me because I see sparks of it, but I don't see the consistency,'' he said. ``I think (the struggles) are them going into the eighth practice and thinking it's over and it's not over. We still haven't made a lot of decisions on positions yet. But I'm going to find the 22 that can help us win. And that's why we're practicing again.''

Redshirt freshman Blake Bortles was one of the standouts from Saturday, getting several snaps with the first-string offense while standout quarterback Jeff Godfrey rested. Bortles has proven himself to be much more athletic than some thought, and he ripped off a long run during Saturday scrimmage.

Weaver, one of the most respected players on the team because of his workman-like attitude, said the Knights know they have plenty of talent, but it's about the team finding leadership and consistency on a daily basis now. He expects the team will respond in a big way on Sunday.

``When we lose that significant amount of seniors like we did you feel like there's a piece missing, but spring is there to find leaders,'' Weaver said. ``They don't even have to come from the seniors. But most of the time an underclassmen that is a leader doesn't act like an underclassman. We'll get it together day by day.''


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