Ack's Spring Practice Awards

Spring Practice has come and gone and after a very entertaining Orange and Blue game it's time for the Ack to hand out some spring awards.

Best Offensive Wrinkle: "Tempo". Under Larry Fedora the Gator first offense snapped the ball in less than 12 seconds per play. Combine the tempo with the new found quick passing game and the Gator offense looked more potent.

Best Defensive Wrinkle: 3-3-5. Charlie Strong is in his second spring as UF's defensive coordinator and you could see some of his fingerprints within the defensive scheme. This look will most likely surface against spread offensive teams. Travis Harris having spent a year at defensive end will help UF in this look.

Best Position Move: Channing Crowder to full time middle linebacker. This allows UF to be strong up the middle and gives them a big time playmaker that can go sideline to sideline.

Second Best Position Move: Joe Cohen from running back to defensive end. He has bulked up and become a force at the end position in the spring. He will be a big time player for UF in the future.

Best Newcomer - Offense: Markell Thompson at tight end. With the departure of All-American Ben Troupe it appeared this position would go away in the Gator offense. That's not the case after this spring.

Best Newcomer - Defense: Jeremy Mincey at defensive end. He may not be a starter but he provides a fast motor at a deep position.

Most improved player on Offense: Dallas Baker at Wide Receiver. He had a big spring game with two receptions for over 70 yards but his practices showed a more well rounded confident receiver. Baker is a big play threat who also can run routes and uses his hands better.

Most improved player on Defense: Jarvis Herring at Safety. Maybe we did not see enough of him in the past because of the quality with Scott and Dixon playing so much. Jarvis had a great spring and is the leader of the secondary.

Defensive lineman award: Marcus Thomas at defensive tackle. Thomas did enough in spring to show he will be the focus of many blocking schemes this fall.

Offensive lineman award: Mike Degory at Center. He also worked enough this spring to show he has a chance to be an All-American. He is the quarterback of the front without question.

Most improved defensive lineman: Tree Morant at defensive end. When he was recruited he was thought to be heading to defensive tackle. He has added quickness and upper body strength to his resume and will be a force at defensive end.

Most improved offensive lineman: Tavares Washington at left tackle. Until his injury he was having a great spring. He is athletic, big and more confident this spring than a year ago.

Game breaker award for Offense: Ciatrick Fason at running back. Fason showed in the Orange and Blue game why opposing defensive coordinators hold their breath every time he totes the rock.

Game breaker award for the Defense: Channing Crowder at linebacker. He is the best player on defense and also the hardest worker at practice. His effort and attitude spills over to every player on the team.

Underclassman on the rise: Andre Caldwell, sophomore receiver. He delivered a special spring and is the most talented of a deep group. Bubba learned two positions and never missing a beat during practice. He is more confident and decisive in his route running.

Keep an eye on: Terrence Holmes at safety. He made the switch in the fall and has had a terrific spring practice. If the Orange and Blue game is any indication "Hot Tamale" may win the starting job opposite Jarvis Herring.

Leadership Award: Chris Leak at Quarterback. In only his first spring practice he looked like a four year starter running his team. He seems to be a bit more vocal and as a sophomore is the unquestionable leader of the offense. He really had no bad practices in the fifteen workouts and he did a great job of keeping everyone involved from the backs to the tight ends.

This was the most productive spring practice for Ron Zook for several reasons. I thought it was an efficient spring because of the familiarity with the systems and the fact that the quarterback and defensive coordinator were the same for two straight years. The switch of Larry Fedora to Offensive Coordinator was smooth and Ed Zaunbrecher did a great job of coaching the quarterbacks. The talent level is the highest since Zook has been at UF but they still need experience (which they'll get with Middle Tennessee St. and Eastern Michigan). The pace of practice was at a better tempo which provided high energy workouts. The competition for playing spots was fierce at almost every position.

But finally the biggest reason this was a smoother more effective spring workout is because this is Ron Zook's team. Other than a couple of guys recruited by the former staff, Zook has kids he recruited to fit his style of coaching and practice. Every coach deserves the opportunity to get his system in place and even following such success that Spurrier had, it was still going to be difficult because of the schedule and the change in philosophy. Some coaches can catch lighting in a bottle fast and have a big first year (look at Ty Willingham). But the key to success when following a legend is sticking to your philosophy and beliefs and instilling it in your program for the long haul. For success is gauged over the long haul and not on one season (look at Ty Willingham year two).

UF has a chance to be real good this season because they have a favorable schedule (five of first six at home), no early season game with Miami, and they have more talent than the last two seasons. This spring was the first step and it was a successful one for the Gators. Now the players must take it upon themselves to get better in the summer and report to camp ready to return UF to the top of the SEC. Hopefully, the Orange and Blue game infused some of that old Gator optimism from the faithful. This summer we may even see the fans and team unite to be the "Mighty Gators" once again in 2004.

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