Yesterday, at the end of the final open practice of the preseason, UCF faithful converged on Bright House Networks Stadium for an opportunity to meet this year's team. Fans got autographs from and pictures with their favorite players and coaches, and celebrated the return of football season with Knightro and the spirit squad.
The 2012 football team is prepared for a tough season ahead, led by RS Sophomore QB Blake Bortles. Bortles took the reigns after Junior Jeff Godfrey transitioned to Wide Receiver following a difficult sophomore season. Bortles, who was Godfrey's backup last year, threw for 958 yards and 6 passing touchdowns in 10 games, earning a passer efficiency rating of 153.9.
While Bortles did not start a game in 2011 behind the talented Godfrey, his pro-style from the pocket success proved to fit better with the coaching staff. Bortles, an imposing presence at 6'4" and 221 lbs., is the unquestioned leader of the offense this season, but he will be regularly challenged by Tyler Gabbert, a transfer from Mizzou.
Gabbert has talent and is a natural leader, but is new to the Knight's style and playbook. Former quarterbacks Jeff Godfrey and Rob Calabrese will see time at quarterback as well in gadget plays and in the Wild Knight offense. Both Godfrey and Calabrese will line up in the very deep receiver corps for the majority of the snaps. RS Senior Calabrese gives the offense a strong leader on the field who has an unquestioned knowledge of UCF's playbook. He will be an asset to starters and to the coaches with his perspective.
Leading the receivers this year is Quincy McDuffie. Known for his speed in past seasons, McDuffie was UCF's major return threat, but has since been replaced at KR by Rannell "Speedy" Hall.
Minnesota Viking's and former UCF cornerback Josh Robinson who ran an NFL combine best 4.29 40-yard dash, regularly battled McDuffie for fastest player on the team. Apparently "Speedy" can beat them both. McDuffie has made huge improvement in receptions during the offseason and the senior leads the younger receivers by example.
Freshman Breshad Perriman, son of former pro wide receiver Brett Perriman, has made his presence know in the offseason as well and likely will see a lot of playing time this season. RS Sophomore phenom J.J. Worton returns and will likely start opposite McDuffie, and standout Josh Reese will round out the corps. Hall, Godfrey, and Calabrese add further depth and skill to this dangerous group.
While UCF has been known for its tailbacks from Alex Haynes to Kevin Smith, this year's stable is tremendous, led by RS Senior Latavius "Tay" Murray. Murray, the 2010 Liberty Bowl and C-USA Championship MVP is the starter at the close of camp but will have some difficulty keeping that role.
Right on his heels (and possibly usurping his spot) is Storm Johnson, a Miami transfer who has made huge plays since spring. Johnson, who doesn't say much, lets his talent speak for him on the field.
Rounding out this Cerberus is 2009 standout and RS Senior Brynn Harvey. To declare any of these three a starter or backup would be disrespectful to the others as they all possess a touchdown threat any time they get the ball. We will likely see two or more of them on the field together at some point this season. We should see a good dose of blocking and a threat in the flats from FB Billy Giovanetti as well.
The offensive line is led by RS Senior C Jordan Rae with other dominating presences like the twin's, Jordan and Justin McCray, RS Senior Theo "Neva Stop" Goins, Ga. Tech transfer Phil Smith and Chris Martin. Martin has seen time at TE lately and is proving to be a threat as an X and a Y. The line is two-deep with talented backups Justin Tukes, Tony Jacob, Torrian Wilson, Tarik Cook and Rey Cunha.
While the offense looks very strong this year, UCF is notorious for having one of the best defenses in the country. This year is no different.
Leading the defense from the front is the always witty Victor Gray. Moving from DT to DE this year, Gray has become a major threat on the corner. He's a verbal leader, but he backs it up with hard hits and high IQ. His leadership will be critical to a team that lost major leaders on defense in the past two seasons.
On the other end is Troy Davis who is a third-degree sack master. Another vocal leader, Davis repeatedly hurries quarterbacks and gives hard hit clinics every game.
Sandwiched in between these powerhouses are Cam Henderson and Jose Jose. Jose lost a lot of weight in the offseason and is aiming for 315 lbs. He is dominant on the line and fills the gaps with his immense size and strength.
The defensive line is two deep as well with backups E.J. Dunston, Luke Adams, Joey Grant, and Andrew Rice all with starting talent.
Coach O'Leary made huge strides to replace losses at linebacker following the 2010 season and he wound up with an overflow. Leading the corps is the outspoken and charismatic Jonathan Davis. A high school standout at linebacker, Davis was converted to tailback when he arrived at UCF. Though he was successful there, he felt he could provide a constant threat with a return to his native position, and he was right.
Last year, Davis regularly antagonized opposing offenses, recording 3 sacks, 44 tackles (10 TFL) and two pass break ups. He will be joined by standouts Willie Mitchell and Terrance Plummer, due to the departure of Leilon Willingham after the 2011 season. Troy Gray, Cody Ralston, and D.J. Williams will back them up.
The defensive backfield took a major hit with the loss of Josh Robinson to the NFL in the draft this offseason, but it will be hard to notice he is gone.
Leading the DBs is FS Mr. Kemal Ishmael, the other half of the Robinson-Ishmael tandem and the team leader in tackles. He will be joined by veterans SS Clayton Geathers, CB Jordan Ozerities, and replacing Robinson is CB A.J. Bouye. Other tremendous talents such as Jacoby Glenn, Lyle Dankenbring, Sean Beckton, and Nicco Whigham will backup this impressive backfield.
Last, but not least, the kickers. Sean Galvin and Shawn Moffitt have battled for the starting nod since spring and so far Galvin, the charismatic kicker from Cork, Ireland, is leading the pack. Rodrigo Quirarte is pushing the other two, however, after showing more consistency in his field goals. Jamie Boyle transitions from placekicker and replaces David Bohner at punter, and Galvin will back him up.
This year's team has also received early votes in both preseason polls, and if a postseason is possible, they are definitely setup for a very successful season. Coach O'Leary made some changes to his coaching staff as well during the offseason and we wish them all well and look forward to a great season.