Hoover, Ala.--Coming off an impressive run last season at Florida that ended with the Gators defeating Ohio State for the national title, Urban Meyer now enters uncharted territory this season as he enters his third season at a school for the first time in his career. Two seasons at Bowling Green led him to Utah. Two seasons later he was at Florida. Now two seasons and one national championship later, Meyer must go about replacing a talented departing class that leaves him thin on experience heading into 2007.
"We only have 10 seniors and 10 juniors," Meyer says. "How do you teach it? First you try to recruit it and second you try to teach it but not now. You try to teach it in February and March and throughout the program you run. Unfortunately I have seen some things show up that are not correlated to a tough football team but I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt because they're awfully young. But, that's changing. I have seen our strength staff doing a wonderful job as well as our coaching staff."
Perhaps the biggest job for Meyer and his staff will be replacing leaders on both sides of the ball for the Gators. Gone is Chris Leak and Dallas Baker on offense. Also gone are players such as Brandon Siler, Ray McDonald and Reggie Nelson on defense. While there is no questioning the talent level in Gainesville at the moment, Meyer says they have to develop leaders to have the kind of year they've become accustomed to.
"If we do (find leaders) we'll be a really good team," he adds. "The difference between year one and year two was significant, not in just terms of athleticism and some other things, but because of the development of a (Brandon) Siler, a Ray McDonald, a Dallas Baker, guys that grew up. They grew whiskers. Instead of the smooth-faced guy, they had weathered the storm. A lot of the guys we're counting on were on the sidelines at the championship game and not playing. That's a concern. How you find it and develop it, that's the secret. I don't know where we're at with that. I have concerns. I like the guys but I need to see how they react in tough situations."
No matter his age, the quarterback is always considered a leader on a football team and at Florida that will be no different. Only this time, the leader will be a true sophomore that has played sparingly but never started a game for the Gators. Meyer says that would be a concern with most guys but he's confident his super sophomore Tim Tebow will get the job done.
"Our quarterback obviously has a lot of experience and is very talented," Meyer says. "He's got the ‘it' and everybody wants the ‘it' when you're playing that position. He's a competitor and intelligent and will do anything for the team to help you win.
"I think the thing that makes the spread offense, in our style of play at that position, a legitimate threat is pulling it down and running it," he adds. "It changes what you see on defense. I think that's the thing I'm looking forward to seeing. You see a little more structure because you better make sure that quarterback is taken care of in the running game."
Another sophomore expected to be a big part of Florida's plans is Percy Harvin. A key component in victories over Arkansas in the SEC Championship game and the win over Ohio State, Harvin is expected to be used in multiple ways as Meyer looks to get the ball in the hands of his best players more often. He says Harvin is an easy player to talk about because of what he brings to the table talent-wise.
"That's a great thing to talk about," Meyer says. "If you have six or seven hours I can share with you some ideas we have but I'm not going to do that. He's a football player and was only healthy for about 60 percent of the season last year and had a tremendous impact when he was healthy. He is one of those gifted athletes that can change a game."
Harvin could have a major impact not only on the offense part of the game but also special teams. A threat returning kicks at times, he could be a weapon for the Gators because of the new rule that moves kickoffs back to the 30-yard line. With more returns expected because of the change, Meyer says it's going to greatly impact how the game is played in 2007.
"I read where Rich Brooks said it was one of the major rule changes in college football in the last 10 years and I agree with that," Meyer says. "We're still evaluating but we've kind of charted where that kick is going to land and it's going to land at about the nine yard line now. That's when you start looking at a difference in field position. It's going to have a major impact."