John Denton's Knights Insider: "We're the Target Now"

Aug. 4, 2011

Read John Denton's Knights Insider | Follow us on Twitter | Get social with the Knights on Facebook

By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - A.J. Guyton was beginning his fifth training camp at UCF on Thursday, and even he admitted to having a few jitters and being filled with nervous energy. And if Guyton was nervous, just imagine how many of UCF's newcomers felt in their first official workout of the 2011 season.

As expected, there was some sloppiness with alignments and assignments in UCF's opening workout, but there was also several flashes of potential of a team that is expected to contend once again for a conference title and a spot in a bowl. Guyton, a fifth-year senior wide out, said it was to be expected that some of the freshmen and transfers were a bit jumpy on their first day of practice.

``You're always anxious to get back on the field, but once you're out there, you're trying not to make any mistakes and to do everything perfectly,'' said Guyton, who is expected to be a leader on an extremely young receiving corps. ``I could see (the nervousness) in the young guys. I just told them to slow it down, and when they're not in, watch what I'm doing. We'll get better as we go along.''

That's certainly the hope of head coach George O'Leary, who let the team know about his displeasure with the sloppiness of the first workout of training camp. In addition to players lining up incorrectly, the Knights struggled at times with snapping the ball, completing handoffs and finishing plays defensively. O'Leary didn't sugarcoat his frustration, blistering the team with anger following the opening workout.

``I thought it was the sloppiest practice that I've ever been associated with. Basically we have a lot of young kids who don't know how to practice yet. It's as simple as that. But we'll get that cleaned up,'' O'Leary said. ``But I told them that's the worst first practice (we've had) as far as young guys not knowing how to practice and some of the old guys needing to take charge.''

As he promised he would, O'Leary spent much of his time watching the individual drills and team sessions involving the linebacking corps. UCF took major hits at linebacker in graduation, and only Josh Linam and Loren Robinson return with much experience. O'Leary said he was quite impressed with the young linebackers, namely top recruit Leilon Willingham. O'Leary also closely followed tailback-turned-linebacker Jonathan Davis and former basketball player Ray Shipman at outside linebacker.

Standout safety Kemal Ishmael, who practiced but won't be fully released for contact until next week following offseason shoulder surgery, said Willingham has already impressed his teammates with his work ethic and strength during the summer months.

``He really has a chance to be good. During the offseason you could already see that he's big, strong and fast. Once he gets the playbook down pat and gets on some special teams, no doubt he'll be on the field (at linebacker) real soon,'' Ishmael said of the freshman from Denver, Colo. ``He impressed me right away. When he first got here I thought he was a (college) transfer. Coming from high school and having that work ethic he has already that's really impressive.''

Among those most impressive on Thursday were tailbacks Latavius Murray and Brynn Harvey, who should battle all season for carries and time with the first-string offense. Harvey missed all of last season because of a torn ligament in his knee, but he had a couple of nifty runs in Thursday's opening session. And Harvey - the MVP of the Conference USA title game and the Liberty Bowl - looked bigger and stronger while maintaining his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Murray thinks that UCF has all of the pieces to have another special season - Thursday's slow start notwithstanding.

``The first day was a little sloppy, but we're going to come along. We're bringing in some new guys with a lot of installation right now, but it'll only get better,'' Murray said. ``We know the chance to be good and win all of our games on our schedule if we play good every time out. We worked really hard in the offseason, and we need to take that mindset to the field.''

Because he was forced to redshirt his sophomore season because of an injury, Guyton returned this season for a fifth year. Many of his classmates left UCF last season with a conference title and a defeat of Georgia in the first-ever bowl win for UCF. Now, Guyton said the pressure is on UCF to prove that last year was no fluke and that this season can be another great one.

Guyton also admitted that some Knights were miffed that UCF came in at No. 33 in the USA Today Coaches' poll after climbing to No. 20 in the poll to end last season. The Knights did lose 19 seniors off that team, but Guyton stressed that the team still has plenty of talent to make some serious noise nationally this season.

``We didn't really talk about (the polls), but it's in the back of everybody's head that we finished (last season) really strong and now they're not even putting us in the Top 25. We've got to earn their respect again,'' he said. ``Everyone is saying we lost a lot of talent and that's why we're not in it, but the older players have to step it up.

``There's pressure on us now. We're the target now. Last year, we might not have snuck up on teams, but fans and teams out there weren't expecting us to win that many games,'' Guyton said of UCF's 11-3 record in 2010. ``Now, we're the target and everybody wants to beat UCF. Now, we have to defend our home and defend our title and repeat it.''

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