Previewing the 2012 Spring Game Presented by PNC Bank

April 13, 2012

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By John Denton, Knights Insider

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF head coach George O'Leary preaches that his players are expected to bring effort and enthusiasm to the practice field on a daily basis. And, for the most part, the Knights have done just that during their five-week session of spring practices.

Those drills wrap up on Saturday with the 2012 UCF Spring Football Game Presented by PNC Bank on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Bright House Networks Stadium. The game can be heard on 740-AM in Orlando on the UCF IMG Sports Network as well. Rather than dividing the team up, O'Leary will simply separate the first- and second-string offenses and defenses for the scripted scrimmage.

``The good players are playing well and the others are getting better as far as responsibility is concerned,'' O'Leary said. ``You want to leave the spring being able to tag stuff as far as knowing what you can put your hammer on offensively and defensively. We've done a lot of good things this spring. We kept it fairly simple so that we could see their athleticism and I've been pleased with what I saw.''

Tickets for Saturday's scrimmage are $5, and UCF students and youth 12 and under will be admitted free. Anyone who purchased season tickets by April 11 received free spring game tickets, while the first 5,000 fans on Saturday will get a free UCF football spring poster. Free parking will be available starting at 8 a.m. in lots E6, E7 and E8 adjacent to Bright House Networks Stadium, as well as in the baseball and softball lots. Stadium gates will open at 1 p.m.

UCF has used this spring to work with several new first-string players, while also trying to cultivate some two-deep depth. Newcomers such as Storm Johnson and Breshad Perriman were standouts on the offense, while Cam Henderson, Ray Shipman and Terrance Plummer played well as first-time starters.

O'Leary said he has been quite pleased with the work the Knights have put in this spring, and he's delighted at the leadership that he's gotten from UCF's senior class.

``The senior class is much like 2010 and that's what I'm comparing them to,'' said O'Leary, referring to a 2010 class that led the Knights to an 11-win season, a Conference USA crown and a Liberty Bowl victory. ``It's hard to find leaders today because there's so much peer pressure, but collectively your seniors have to lead your football program. Really, it's their football program and I've been pleased with them so far as far as taking charge and doing what they need to do to keep leadership over the team.''

Many of UCF's mainstays from last season are back, and fans are undoubtedly familiar with names such as Blake Bortles, Latavius Murray, Kemal Ishmael, Troy Davis and Victor Gray. But there are also plenty of newcomers that have made a splash this spring and fans should be watching for them. So here are a few players - divided into two different categories - to watch out for on Saturday:

- QB Blake Bortles (No. 5) - All eyes have been on Bortles this spring after he seized control of the offense late last season with stellar performances against Southern Miss, East Carolina and UTEP. The redshirt sophomore has made strides this spring with his leadership in the huddle and fully understanding the offense, but the passing game has been hot and cold at times. O'Leary said he's been most impressed that Bortles ``gets the ball to where it should be thrown,'' but he's still eager to see more consistency. Bortles needs to have a good spring game on Saturday to clear up some of those questions.

- TB Latavius Murray (No. 28) - Murray is the unquestioned leader of the offense, especially after the way he closed last season. Against UTEP, he had three total touchdowns and 233 rushing yards, the fourth-best total in school history. Murray's specialty is making people miss, but he's worked this spring on getting stronger and running harder between the tackles. He is poised to have a monster senior season, one that should put him in position to possibly become a NFL Draft pick next spring.

- DE Troy Davis (No. 58) - It was this time last year when Davis registered five sacks in the Spring Game and sent expectations soaring. Davis was solid last season, but he did get frustrated early on when quarterbacks delivered balls early and there were few sacks. But Davis is one of the leaders on a defense looking to rebound in a big way in 2012. He's improved his strength and speed this offseason and the hope is that he will rack up big sack numbers coming off the edge.

- SS Kemal Ishmael (No. 18) - New defensive coordinator Jim Flemming joked recently that his transition was made much easier by the fact that he has a four-year starter returning at safety in Ishmael. There is not a better one-on-one tackler on the team or a player with more football smarts than Ishmael, who has started every game at UCF since the midpoint of his freshman season. But for the first time, Ishmael doesn't have standout cornerback Josh Robinson at his side. Ishmael dropped 10 pounds this offseason and worked hard on his agility in hopes of becoming more involved in the passing game. He's set a goal of getting six interceptions next season.

- OLB Jonathan Davis (No. 11) - The 5-foot-9, 202-pound Davis answered many of the questions about his ability to make the switch to linebacker last season. Despite playing tailback his first two years on campus and being small for a linebacker, Davis thrived at the outside linebacker spot. He ranked fifth on the team in tackles with 44 total stops and he was first on the squad with 10.5 tackles for loss. Davis has matured some and is a leader for some of the younger players around him. It will be important for him to have another good offseason to solidify his role as a leader of the defense.

- TB Storm Johnson (No. 8) - Johnson, a transfer from the University of Miami, has taken the UCF football team by, well, storm, this spring. His explosiveness in the hole, ability to make would-be tacklers miss with his moves and sheer speed has gotten him plenty of repetitions this spring. He's been so good that he passed Brynn Harvey on the depth chart and has pushed Murray for carries. O'Leary has even talked of playing Murray and Johnson together to get more playmakers on the field next season. Johnson is a threat to go all the way for a touchdown any time he touches the ball.

- OLB Ray Shipman (No. 46) - The former University of Florida basketball player is fully a football player now after filling for spot duty last season. But this spring he's been one of the most impressive players on the defense because he continues to show up around the ball carrier. O'Leary has raved about Shipman's understanding of his position and he's rarely out of position. And now that his size and strength have skyrocketed this spring, UCF is looking for big things from the 6-foot-5, 245-pound linebacker next season.

- WR Breshad Perriman and WR Rannell Hall (Nos. 81 and 2) - Perriman, the son of long-time NFL wide receiver Brett Perriman, was the surprise of the spring with his ability to go high into the air and make spectacular catches. Almost 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds, Perriman already knows how to use his body to overwhelm smaller cornerbacks and catch balls in traffic. And his transition to college has been eased somewhat by his childhood friendship with Hall, who he has split first-team reps with this spring. Hall was the only true freshman in Conference USA to make first-team all-conference last year, doing so as a dynamic kick returner. Now, Hall is trying to make a similar impact as a wide receiver. Nicknamed ``Speedy,'' he hopes to use his blazing speed to bring a deep threat to the UCF offense next season.

- DE Cam Henderson and DE Toby Jackson (Nos. 48 and 49) - Henderson and Jackson are former JUCO teammates and close friends, but that didn't stop them from battling for the first-string defensive end position this spring. Henderson appears to have won that battle for now by being more consistent with his effort. He is close friends with former University of Alabama All-American defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, and the two have worked together on improving Henderson's pass rush skills. He has set a goal of at least one sack a game next season, and new defensive coordinator Jim Flemming would welcome those numbers especially since he has been charged with producing more sacks and turnovers this season.

- MLB Terrance Plummer (No. 41) - Plummer opened eyes last year as a true freshman when he filled in at times for middle linebacker Josh Linam. Now, with Linam, UCF's third-leading tackler last season, having graduated, Plummer is being looked at to fill some mighty big shoes. The sophomore is a heady player who understands playing both inside and outside linebacker and he'll be in charge of calling the plays out to the defense this season. He has two senior linebackers next to him in Shipman and Davis and two solid safeties in Ishmael and Clayton Geathers (second on the team last season in tackles with 67 total stops). But much of the success of this defense will depend on Plummer's abilities to plug holes in the middle and cover the field from sideline to sideline.

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