"It's about effort," he said. "It's about giving everything you have. That's what they asked us to do and that's what they get from me."
From indications so far, Jarvis Herring (#46) should have a solid season this year
Herring came into his own at safety last season, becoming a mainstay in a defense that got better as the season progressed. His interception of Chris Rix in the final minutes in Tallahassee sealed Florida's 20-13 victory over Florida State, the first time the Gators had won at Doak Campbell Stadium since 1986. That was Ron Zook's last game as the Florida football coach. The new boss, Meyer, has brought in a new staff with the exception of co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, and with the new leadership there is a sense of increased intensity.
"Coach Zook had intensity and we had intense moments when we practiced, but this is different," said Herring, who hails from nearby Live Oak. "This is intensity from the time practice starts until it ends. The expectations are higher. You have to be ready for it or you won't get your chance to play."
The greatest change that Herring has seen in the four practice sessions under Meyer is getting everyone to understand that if there is not maximum effort on every play, then you won't see the field.
"They let us know that there's no more of this where top players know they're going to start no matter what they do in practice," he said. "When that happens guys tend to ease off and drop down a bit from the guys behind them. If I'm a starter and I go out there and loaf, they're going to take me out of the game and put someone in there who wants to play hard, even if that guy's not as good as me.
"It's all about effort, intensity and tough guys. That's what tough guys do --- they hustle every single play and they keep going no matter what."
Herring has never had blazing speed so he's compensated by using his head. He first started getting playing time last season because he not only knew where he was supposed to be on every play, but he also knew where every player on the defense was supposed to be on every assignment. The football smarts added to good instincts for the ball made him a player who rarely made mistakes.
"I'm not a fast guy or a guy who will run you a 4.3," he said. "I just don't have that kind of speed but I'm one that's going to keep hustling to the ball on every play and I'll be the last man standing."
Bull in the ring and Oklahoma drills are part of this last man standing approach that Meyer's staff is putting in. The drills are part tough guy, part quickness, part sumo. Players push, shove, grab, hold, trip and hammer away at each other until there's a winner and a loser. Someone may not be standing every time but there is always someone on the bottom, put there by the guy on top. The drills are designed to bring out the toughness and desire in every player.
Coach Mullen and Josh Portis
"Our attitude is we're going to hit somebody as hard as we can," said Herring. "If you get knocked on the ground, your job is to get back on your feet as quick as you can and find the ball. You gotta be the last man standing."
Another of the changes is the number of blitz packages that are being put in with the defensive schemes. Blitzing, says Herring, starts with attitude.
"Most guys didn't have a blitz attitude in Coach Zook's scheme," he said. "Guys like Channing, Earl and some guys like that did, but not the defensive backs. They weren't part of Coach Zook's blitz packages. That's changed now because blitzing involves everybody. No one's going to know who's coming or where we're coming from and we're coming with attitude. You better come with attitude or they'll take you out and let someone else do it. We've got a lot of players who are hungry to win so the guys who are going to play are the guys whose attitude is last man standing."
ONE HAPPY QUARTERBACKS COACH: Maybe the happiest person at the practice fields Monday was Coach Dan Mullen, the offensive coordinator and the quarterbacks coach. In the first three sessions of the spring his only two scholarship quarterbacks were returning starter Chris Leak and true freshman Josh Portis. Monday, those two were joined by rising junior Gavin Dickey and redshirt freshman Cornelius Ingram. Dickey had the day off from baseball while Ingram's basketball season ended Sunday with Florida's loss to Villanova.
Ingram will be with the team the remainder of the spring while Dickey will get to as many practices as he can. Both of them have some learning to do, but Mullen is happy just to have them on the field.
"It's going to take some time to for them to catch up but it was great to have them all out here," he said.
Dickey got in some quality throws during some of the drills. He's ahead of Ingram because his baseball schedule has allowed him more chances to study the offense, plus he has actual game experience. While Ingram has been away almost every other weekend the past two and a half months because of the basketball schedule, Dickey went on his first baseball road trip this past weekend. He has had more time available to familiarize himself with the new system.
"He's played here and played in games in the past," Mullen commented about Dickey. "He has experience. He's done a great job of trying to manage both sports. He comes in and tries to get meeting time whenever he's available to keep up with the learning process of the offense. He just hasn't been out here to physically do it but that extra work he's had in coming in and trying to get extra work in meetings has paid off for him and you can see he has a little bit more poise than some of the younger kids just because he's been in game situations."
Leak, as focused as always on his way to today's practice
Portis made some spectacular throws in Monday's practice. Any questions there might have been about his arm strength and accuracy were greatly exaggerated. He's putting those to rest with each practice and making the kind of progress that Mullen likes to see.
"He's doing good," said Mullen. "He's 17 years old. I think probably 99.999 percent of the kids his age are trying to figure out and getting a little nervous about how to get a prom date and he's out here checking blitzes and running a spread offense. He's done very well in keeping up where he needs to be right now.
"The hardest adjustment coming to college football is the speed of the game. There are a lot of throws you can get away with in high school, but that two foot window closes to about six inches in college football so the timing of it and the speed of the whole game he's got to catch up to."
Mullen has also been working on mechanical issues with Leak, who has started two years and led the Southeastern Conference in passing last year.
"We're trying to get the ball out quick and with some more power," he said. "Chris has great touch on the ball but as a great quarterback you have to have a full handle and you have to have the zip."
Meyer noted that the two additional quarterbacks diminish the number of repetitions in the offense for Leak and Portis, but it's a situation he wants and thinks the team needs.
"It helps when you see four good looking athletes out there, and they're all good kids but it is a hard offense to learn and you have to rep, rep, rep," Meyer said. "There are positives and negatives, but the positives certainly over-rule the negatives."
WELCOME BACK GATOR GREATS: Meyer is fully immersing himself in Florida football, including embracing the history of the program. Each day, more former players and even former assistant coaches like Jim Collins (most recently of Marshall) are showing up to catch a glimpse of what's going on. This is something the new coach wants and expects to see more of in the future.
"In a selfish reason it helps recruiting and it helps the PR of the university," he said after Monday's practice. "In an unselfish reason it's what you're supposed to do. It's the right thing to do. The Florida's of the world, there aren't many of them. I've been in some really good programs that take care of former players and I've seen some that don't. I want to be one of those ones that do.
"I became a fan of Florida football in the '90s. That's because of the great players that were here. We wrote them a letter. We're going to invite them back. We're going to do as much as we can to make it comfortable for them."
He said he's already met with quite a few former players, has continued to write letters and he's getting phone calls back.
"They say this is great and they're excited to be a part of it," he said.
He said he's trying to get former players back to the Orange and Blue game, trying to find the best way to get as many back in Gainesville as possible.
"You can ignore them, that's horrible and then you can start asking them too much," he said. "I'm just trying to feel it out and see where we're at. I'll know a little more in the next few weeks."
JOINER'S STATUS: Meyer said that safety Tony Joiner, who has missed the last three practices, is still on the team.
"Personal issues that he's dealing with right now but that should be ending soon," Meyer said.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Taking about the offense, Meyer said, "Growing pains. I just watch the offense so much and it's not what you're used to. I want to see something down the field. I appreciate their effort. That's all you worry about right now is intensity and effort because they'll learn. There's a lot of new things out there for them."