VETTEL: Mid-Spring Football Practice Observations

Well, the Gators are now at the halfway point of their first spring under Urban Meyer and things are progressing pretty well. It's obvious the players have bought into the disciplined approach Meyer brings to every aspect of the program. He challenges his players to play harder, to play through pain (not injury, there's a difference) and to maintain focus.

He voices his displeasure when things are not done the right away, whether it's something major, like a turnover or something simple like violation of his rule against leaving helmets on the field. When Meyer took over at UF he made it clear the amount of resistance he encountered would directly impact the amount of the success the Gators would have in 2005. If that barometer is an accurate measuring stick, Florida's chances of making 2005 something special are pretty good.

Now I'd like to offer five areas that have most caught my eye during these two weeks either in what they have shown… of what they haven't.

1. QB Talent is Extraordinary

After Saturday's scrimmage one thing that's very clear is Florida has an abundance of riches at the most important position on the field. Chris Leak was a given, and he has seemingly taken to the option portion of the offense effectively. His mechanics look better, smoother and his deep throws have never been more accurate. Gavin Dickey, despite limited practice time had a fine scrimmage and will be the man to beat for the number two job. Josh Portis is gifted both as a runner and thrower and looks far more poised than a rookie should. Cornelius Ingram has had just one week and his scrimmage time was limited, but the one time he took off running, it was 30 yards before a defender was in the same zip code.

Chris Leak has looked very impressive so far.

2. Running Backs Have Responded

Before the Gators ever stepped on the field, Urban Meyer called out his veteran running backs, making it clear they had better produce on and off the field in order to step into the void created by Ciatrick Fason's departure. Indications are DeShaun Wynn and Skyler Thornton have taken that challenge and both ran very hard in the first full scrimmage. If they maintain that effort level and focus from now through the summer program, Florida will be fine at running back.

3. Offensive Line Will be Capable

While Tavares Washington is not going to be the elite left tackle every team wants, it looks like he'll be good enough to give Florida a solid and deeper offensive line this fall. While O-Line boss John Hevesy will continue to stress the nasty mentality he wants his guys to bring to the field, Florida certainly can get the job done. With proven performers Randy Hand, Lance Butler and Mike Degory and the potential being shown by Steve Rissler, Drew Miller and Jim Tartt UF will have the bodies to do what needs to be done. Jason Watkins and Phil Trautwein look like they're making progress and I will be eager to see how much strength they can add by August.

4. Defense Needs To Find a Pass Rush

Maybe it's the fine play of the veteran line on offense, but the Gators defensive front has struggled to generate pressure without blitzing. I was hoping to see some pressure off the edge from Derrick Harvey or Jarvis Moss but it hasn't been there yet. Brandon Siler and Tony Joiner have been effective at blitzing, but the best defenses get good-to-excellent pressure form the front four. A completely healthy Marcus Thomas should improve the situation in the fall, but pressure off the edge has to be found somewhere.

The offensive line has been able to keep the rush in check lately.

5. Secondary Will be Much Better

If I were to pick the strongest, deepest position on this football team, I would have to go with safety. Jarvis Herring has been tremendous this spring and Kyle Jackson is an All-American in the making. Tony Joiner is making strides and Terrence Holmes is solid when healthy. Deshawn Carter looks pretty comfortable back there as well and Reggie Nelson was the most impressive signee two years ago from the video I saw. When he comes in this unit will be filthy. The corner opposite Dee Webb remains competitive but I really like what I've seen in Reggie Lewis after just two weeks of playing the position. Give him an off-season to work one-on-one with Florida's receivers and get more comfortable over there and I think he has a great chance to take that job.

Much to do in Final Two Weeks

Before spring ball comes to an end there's still much for this team to try and do. The recently relocated linebackers must show some progress and give enough confidence that Florida doesn't have to throw freshmen into the two-deep from day one. The corners, Vernell Brown and Dawayne Grace in addition to Lewis have to continue to battle and compete. And I want to see gifted young defensive linemen like Moss, Harvey, Tranell Morant and Julian Riley to show signs of become playmakers.

Offensively, the unit needs to get sharper in executing the option package and the line/backs need to make strides in picking up blitzes. Receivers have to be more consistent and stop having the one or two drops a day that keep practices from being complete.

Still Florida's first two weeks of the spring have gone about as well as anyone could have hoped. Crowds have been large and enthusiastic and effort has continually improved throughout. This is a talented football team that appears committed to this staff and the "Meyer Way" of doing things. If the next two weeks offer more of the same, Florida will enter the summer strength program on as much of an up-tick as any team in memory.

Kiper Says Crowder Dropping In Draft

You may not have noticed, but ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Mel Kiper is now projecting Channing Crowder to drop out of the first two rounds of the draft. In a recent "chat" Kiper mentioned that Crowder's four knee surgeries and concerns about his durability are pushing him down most draft boards.

Channing Crowder at UF's Pro Day opposite Jim Bates.

When Crowder announced his decision to leave school I wrote that I thought he had a lot to gain by staying in school. If Kiper's analysis is accurate, I may turn out to be right on target. Even though Crowder has not had an injury free fall since 2000 I find it hard to believe someone of his immense talent and physical gifts can drop out of round two. In round one, Channing Crowder is a gamble, but in round three he's a steal.

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Have a great week.

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