One way to evaluate the attitude of a football team and evaluate a group of people that have just gone through significant change is to see the level of resistance that you have. We have had very little, and I am proud to say that. I think it is well documented and probably too well documented and blown out of proportion at Bowling Green State University and at University of Utah, there were a lot of issues with attrition and others we have had to deal with. There has been very little here. That is a positive and we need to continue that trend. I am very proud of our guys. I don't usually say that after the first quarter, but I am. That is unique for what they have been through. February, whether we are or not, we take great pride in thinking that our kids are the hardest working group in the country. How do you measure that? You really can't, other than the attitude of our players. I think our strength and conditioning staff did a phenomenal job. Coach Marotti, Coach Balis, and Coach Mark Campbell, who was here with the previous staff.
Some people ask how we measure the success of our football team. Our first way of measuring it is we probably place as much emphasis on the month of February as anybody in the country. That is just from my previous experience and our coaching staff's previous experience. If you want to build a football team, and you wait till August, you have some major problems. We do a lot of team building activities, we do a lot of putting them in situations where they have to analyze if it is really worth while what they have to do in February. Like I said in the last four years we had a lot of guys decide it isn't worth it. But, like I said, it is better in February to find out than wait till October when the bullets are flying.
It has been a very good off-season. Phase two begins in eight days and four hours, not that we're counting. I can't tell you how excited (I am). If you can only imagine our staff, I have never been this excited to be around a bunch of guys and coach football, teach football, and see what we have.
There is a lot of speculation out there about how many good players we have? How many not-so-good players we have? We get to find out for ourselves in about eight days and four hours.
On offense, the thing that is going to be intriguing and interesting is there is some carry over and it starts with the center ad quarterback. I remember starting practice with a new football team at other places where they didn't operate out of the shotgun. The first five to seven days, the athletic director would come over and ask if we were running the right offense, because balls were all over the place. I questioned that myself. We won't have those problems, because Mike Degory is our returning center who is operating out of the shotgun. Chris Leak is our quarterback. So, the growing pains of the first few days shouldn't be there. As soon as I say that, the damn ball will be all over the place. It shouldn't be because we have experience, and that is where it starts.
I am anxious to see the receivers we have. When you talk about the little resistance, there has been none. Dallas Baker, Chad Jackson, Bubba Caldwell, Jemalle Cornelius, Mike McIntosh and Kenneth Tookes have been fantastic. I can point out that position, because that is the position we are usually most hard on, because I coached those guys for about fifteen years. I know some of the issues they deal with, but they have been fantastic. I am anxious to see the athleticism and let them play a little bit.
Chris Leak has had a great off-season. He is anxious. It is well documented how well he wants to prepare himself. Josh Portis is on campus and is having a terrific off-season. Cornelius Ingram is playing basketball, so we are limited in what we see. He is a tremendous athlete and a great young man. Gavin Dickey is playing baseball, so we have limited time with him, but we are anxious to see him.
The Offensive line has done a nice job.
The number one concern is tailback. We do not have a guy we can count on, that is just the way it is. You can say, I heard this guy has potential, or this guy has potential. Potential is not a good word to use around our staff, it is what have you done. There is not a tailback that has done a darn thing around here. I think Skyler (Thornton) has done a nice job in the off-season. I keep hearing about DeShawn (Wynn), I'll tell you in about two weeks. I'll save that grade for a little later. Markus Manson is a nice guy. Other that, I can't tell you anything about them, except that is a position that is the number one concern. We are a balanced offense There is a perception vs. reality issue about our offense. It starts with the run game, it starts with being physical, and right now we are in a little bit of a panic situation. We have three scholarship tailbacks that haven't done a thing around here. That is a position that is going to receive a lot of scrutiny, they already have, and that will continue until we get solid in that area.
Backup offensive linemen, we are dealing with number issues, which a lot of people are. Our first group is six or seven deep, as far as guys that can help us from watching tape from last year.
Tight Ends, Tate Casey is also playing baseball, but he is going to devote more time to football. Dane Guthrie is doing a terrific job. There is an excellent athlete that has grown up quite a bit. He is a true freshman and has four years left. Markell Thompson has done everything we have. That is a position we are anxious, because, the difference between them and the tailback position is Tate Casey has done something although the other guys haven't been in position to. We are excited about them.
The good news on defense is there will be a lot of carryover. I anticipate people will have opinions about our defense about being more aggressive, and we are going to do what we can do. We anticipate we will be more aggressive, but there has been a lot of carry over. As a matter fact, we adjusted some of the terminology that coach Mattison brought in and adjusted it to what Florida has done in the past. I'd rather coaches learn the change in verbiage, than the players. There will be a lot of carryover with Coach Strong and Coach Mattison.
Our defensive line. We have three injuries, Mike Brown had a shoulder, Javier Estopinan had an ACL, and he will miss the spring. Marcus Thomas will miss spring as well. Those are three good players. Javier was a linebacker last year. They will all be healthy for the summer as we get ready for the season.
Linebacker is a lot like our tailback situation. We have two guys that have earned their keep around here and that is it. If I had to pick a guy and say "What's a Florida Gator?", I should have Brandon Siler come up here. He does it right off the field, he does it right on the field. He is a great recruiter, a great leader. I shouldn't say this, but he is my favorite guy. Earl Everett has done a great job. He is an excellent football player and proven. Todd McCullough is a great guy. Once again he falls in that great guy category. The great guy category means they can't play or have not played because of injury or whatever situation. A great guy can only take you so far, we need some good football players. Eric Rutledge, Brian Crum, and Billy Latsko are three that have to step up at linebacker. Obviously, we signed five freshmen that will be here in the summer.
Dee Webb is running track, but has done everything we have asked. He is a proven cover corner. We are anxious to get him full time. Vernell Brown and DaWayne Grace have done a terrific job. We moved Reggie Lewis to corner. If we are going to play some man coverage and everyone wants to blitz, we have to cover them. We have those four or five guys, and we need to find two or three that can cover people full time.
Safety, is as good a looking group as I have been around. With Terrance Holmes, Jarvis Herring, Kyle Jackson, and Tony Joiner, once again we need to see how that is going to shake out in practice.
I am not usually that positive this time of year, but there was very little resistance. I was not anticipating that. I think common sense and not being naive to college football and change , when there is a change, you expect resistance. We have had very little. I think they are excited as we are to get away from those three strength coaches just for a minute and practice some football. They have had a hard go, but it has been a good go.
How big of a concern is the tailback situation? I guess there's been some questions about DeShawn's (Wynn) work ethic in the past, have there been any problems with him so far?
Off and on, I wish I could say better. He's in there working, but it's a major concern. I hate to put the whole season on the tailback position, but I'm putting the whole season on the tailback position, you can not function (that way). (It is) to the point where Dane Guthrie might carry that ball. We will not jeopardize 21 other positions for one and they need to know that. They're going to know that. It's going to be a tough go for Stan Drayton and crew. They'll be scrutinized every day at practice because it's just not right. First of all, Florida should not have only three running backs and only two linebackers. A lot of teams face issues. A lot of positions on our team are solid, but there's two positions on our team that are completely unacceptable. That is tailback and linebacker. There's going to be a lot of pressure put on those guys.
It's been said that mat drills are so tough that spring practice is almost a reward. Is that true?
That's good that they're saying that, it means we've done our job. Once again, I don't want it to get blown out of proportion, but it's a combination of intensity, discipline and accountability. For example, you've got a group of guys and they go seniors, juniors, sophomores and so on and if they make a mistake, they have to go back and do it again. The first couple of mat drills, the freshmen didn't really go through it, because the seniors had to keep going back and doing it again. They learned that when we ask you to put your foot behind the white line, it's not a request. You have to do it, and then you have to do it over again until you do it the right way. I thought they responded as good as I've ever been around. The first day was tough but the next four were terrific, they did a good job.
What is Marcus Thomas' injury?
He had a disc issue. He had surgery on his back. Everything is positive and everything is good and he is actually moving around well and he'll be fine. I anticipate full-speed in June.
You mentioned Reggie Lewis switching positions. Anyone else? How about attrition?
They are all back as far as I know. There are still a few days until spring practice. We just got back from spring break and had a team meeting yesterday at 7 a.m. and everyone was there on time and ready to go. Reggie Lewis was moved and there's a chance we'll move a defensive lineman over to the offensive line because we have some depth issues. I think it's pretty much status quo as far as position changes. Latsko and Rutledge did move over. The fullback position is non-existent on offense so they are over on defense.
How excited are you for spring practice to start?
Well, if I didn't give up bad language for Lent, I'd use some language in here to let you know how excited I am. I'm real excited and I think you can tell. I'm on kind of the speaking circuit right now and one thing that's amazing is that coaches ask me if I'm amazed at the passion and interest and I say no, I'm not. This is Florida football. I anticipate a lot of people are going to come out and watch practice on a beautiful sunny day in Gainesville. I can't wait. I wish it was tomorrow. Our players, who cares what I think? More importantly, they can't wait. I am around them and I hear our coaches talk about them. I see some of these teams starting real early and I think you're robbing them of that anxiety to get going. (They) start at the end of February, which I will never do because the off-season is the chance to do some of the things we've done. Spring football is a time to do that and you give them a break and start your third quarter and summer training. I love the way we do it, and everybody is anxious to go.
With the athletes here at Florida, will that enable you to o some new things with the offense?
That's a great question. The athleticism that I've seen running around cones may be a little different than with a ball in their hands so I'll be able to answer that a little better in about 10 days. I want to evaluate it then. There are some base plays that will not change. I think the beauty of the offense is, if you have time, go flip on the Bowling Green tape and then go flip on the Utah tape, it's very different. Similar concepts, however very different according to what, first of all, the center and quarterback can do and then depending on the speed that you have around them. The most impressive part of Florida football right now is the athleticism at the skill positions on offense. We don't have enough because we're operating a lot of times with four or five wides, but the athleticism at receiver. You know, I can't wait to see Bubba Caldwell catch that shovel pass and (hand motion) "phshew" and take it. I'm anxious to see that. That's probably the biggest thing that I'm looking forward to, is the first day. I want to see the speed and athleticism from the offensive skill.
The tight end position is one where you might not have had guys like Tate Casey and Dane Guthrie. Can you talk about how you'll utilize them in your scheme?
That's another misunderstanding of the offense. Two years ago we had the finalist for the Mackey Award,. A tight end, a kid named Ben Moa who was a lot like Dane Guthrie. I am going to give you my recruiting speech when we recruit a tight end. 'We don't use tight ends? Yeah, we use tight ends except our tight ends are expected to catch 50 to 60 passes.' They kind of light up when they hear that. You need to be athletic, you need to be able to do a lot of things, you need to be tough. The old traditional slow plodder at tight end has no purpose here. The good news is that Tate Casey is not like that and neither is Dane or Markell. Catching the football and being able to move in space is a prerequisite of playing tight end. We're going to utilize them, we did two years ago. I think if you go back, he had about 50 catches and was a first-team all-conference tight end at the University of Utah.
Is the offense tough to pick up and how do you think that transition will go?
I've talked to Chris and we're going to meet daily just to try to get a quick shot. I watched most of the offensive tapes last year and there is some carry over. Everyone wants to run this offense, it's amazing. We've got staffs coming in every day that want to run the offense. The thing that they fail to understand is that if they can't start with that center putting it right between the numbers, not 80 percent of the time, but 100 percent of the time, there is no offense. Those are the logistics where you first start. I don't want to say it's a difficult offense. I think there are a lot of moving parts, there are people that take things for granted like a shovel pass or the quarterback reading the end, all those things they take for granted. Chris has done some of those things so I'm anxious to see. I think there will be some carry over, however we have a lot of work to do.
You've got two quarterbacks that are playing other sports and only two others on campus. How are you going to handle that this spring?
I've never had to deal with that. I certainly respect guys doing other things. That's why Dee Webb (track), it was our decision to allow him play. Quarterback is a unique position, they will be behind. The two young guys, I don't know them well but they seem to be terrific guys. I haven't seen Gavin perform much athletically. I have seen Cornelius on the basketball court, he doesn't play a lot, but I've seen him a little bit. They'll be behind, but I think they can catch up. A lot of it is on them. No one is putting an alarm clock on them. Come on in here early in the morning and spend time with us. There are certain things we can't make them do, but they can come in on their own. This is not a 20 hour a week offense, it's just not. And our team knows that. You can finish 85th in offense if you like, but if you want to finish in the top five, we expect you to do this, this and this throughout the summer, throughout the off-season. Once again, this is on you. The NCAA says we can't have them there at 7 a.m. but guys like Chris Leak and the Alex Smith's of the world, they understand that. They want to be great, the don't want to be good. This is not a 20 hour per week offense, it's about a 30 hour per week offense.
Is there going to be a lot of movement on the offensive line?
We did that a lot last year. We watched the film and guys were moving all over the place. We'd rather not. I think there were some depth issues but I anticipate we'll let them settle in, especially in this style of offense. I can't speak for last year, but our guards are more the road-graders types, the guys that just knock people off the ball. The tackles are tall, angular, athletic people that protect the quarterback and do a variety of things. They are not interchangeable so I don't anticipate there being much movement there.
What do you expect from Chris Leak?
Chris is a unique guy. I knew his brother when I was at Notre Dame. I actually know the family a little bit. Chris doesn't talk, that's one of the issues. He'll sit right there, but he leads by example. I kept hearing that from coach Fedora, who I've spent a lot of time with. He would say 'you understand he's not real vocal' and the quarterbacks I've been around, Alex wasn't that way at first. You want a guy, that's your guy, your general, the guy in control. He's like Brandon Siler on defense, he's your guy to rally around. I'm finding out because we did a variety of competitive drills the last few weeks. You can see the way that Chris does lead this team. So we're going to try to encourage more. he's a junior now, he's no longer a sophomore or freshman. It's now time to become that guy, even if it is uncomfortable. We've talked to him about that. His leadership as far as the way to do things and the amount of effort, I'd give him an A+. He's been terrific. There's a notion that he's not athletic, he's very athletic. He can do everything we'll ask him to do. That's without seeing him with a pad on. That is from watching tape from last year and watching him run on the field and what kind of competitor he is.
There is an impression that the Gators haven't had a lot of production at defensive end? What are your thoughts?
That's the same impression that I've had. I kind of had a discussion yesterday down in Orlando about this whole recruiting process where so-and-so has him ranked No. 6. Well, the person that's ranking them number six is trying to make money off those people reading that he is ranked number six. They are not sitting there studying the film. What happens is, sometimes coaches start reading those rankings instead of doing the film evaluation. I just coached a quarterback that wasn't on any of those top 100 lists and he's probably going to be the number one draft pick in the NFL draft, one or two. I think you have to be careful and we're going to be really careful from here on out not to read the lists and do a good job analyzing. Like you said, there are a couple defensive ends that have the word Parade in front of them, or so-and-so's five-star, nine-star or twenty-seven star, whatever that means, that haven't played a down. There are a bunch of other guys that didn't have a bunch of stars after their name but they're doing well. There's going to be some pressure on those guys. It's time to put up or shut up, as they say."
What is the top concern on defense?
Linebacker, we have two. At Florida you should have seven or eight linebackers. We've moved over two fullbacks to give us a little depth. We've got a guy named Crum who falls into that nice guy category. We have Latsko who was a fullback who is a tough nut and I'm anxious to watch him run. Rutledge I think is a lot like Latsko. I'm hoping they find a home. Todd McCullough is a nice guy. It's not his fault, he's been hurt, but it's time to not get hurt and help this football team.
Chris had a rough ending last year and some say he hasn't lived to his potential?
I'm not sure that's fair. I see a glimpse of a guy that led the SEC in passing. I see a guy who's never red-shirted and came in and was thrown in the fire and played well. I see a guy that has some fundamental issues as far as drop-back passing, but I'm not sure if that's not because he's not 6-foot-5 and he's got to create some throwing lanes. It would be unfair for me to give any more than that until the first 10 days of spring practice. Do I think he can be a great quarterback? Absolutely. Do I think he has the intangibles, which at that position probably more than any you need to develop discipline, character, competitiveness, willingness to learn, time spent. Will he spend 30 hours? Absolutely. He's already starting to crank it up. He's got the ability to be a terrific quarterback. We're going to do what he does well. What does he do well? I kind of have a feeling, but I want to determine that ourselves after the first few practices.