Wynn's New Improved Attitude Impresses The Boss

In this spring of tough love, the learning lab that is football practice for the Florida Gators had one of its first great success stories Wednesday afternoon. This isn't something that the crowd that numbered somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 at the practice field would have noticed, but it did catch the eye of the most important observer, Coach Urban Meyer.

In the middle of a practice in which he was setting the tone with hard running and extra effort, DeShawn Wynn took himself out briefly. It was only for a couple of plays then he was back in the mix where he continued to play hard. That brought the grin to Meyer's face.

"He [Wynn] has a little groin injury that we're still rehabbing," said Meyer at the conclusion of Wednesday's practice. "He pulled himself out for a minute and then he came back. The DeShawn Wynn of old, I'm told, would have stayed out."


Deshawn Wynn at today's practice as a wide receiver

Meyer knows all about Wynn and the word potential. When Meyer was coaching at Bowling Green, he saw Wynn play as a high school star in Cincinnati. Wynn dominated high school football in Ohio and when he signed with Florida, he was thought to have the potential to be one of the best backs in the Southeastern Conference if not the nation.

He's had some moments of brilliance, particularly during his redshirt freshman year when he had a 60-yard touchdown run against Miami, but he's gotten a reputation for not working hard in practice and a lack of toughness. During the past season, he rarely saw the field. His weight ballooned and his attitude was thought to be in need of a transplant.

The first signs that Wynn had turned over a new leaf was in the offseason workouts. Wynn went at it hard, losing about 15 pounds to get back to a weight that allows him to run with quickness and power.

Wednesday, Wynn turned in his best practice of the spring. He showed speed, power and elusiveness both between the tackles and on the outside. It was the kind of performance that Meyer expects out of the 5-10, 224-pound rising junior every day. Meyer expects more than an occasional good day of practice. He expects every day to be a good day for practice.

"Consistency is the key," said Meyer. "All the stories you've heard, well I've heard them too and I think they're true. This train's moving fast, either he's going to jump on it or that's it for him."

Wynn's performance highlighted a second straight practice session that Meyer felt was up to his high standards. Although he's seen flashes of brilliance and marked improvement in some areas in every practice, it wasn't until Monday that he felt the lights were really going on for his team.


Wynn as he looks for room to run free with the ball...

"I thought Monday and today were really good," he said. "I thought the first six [practices] you could take them and dump them but the last two I'm starting to get a little impressed. Monday, I think our assistant coaches thought they flew around better than they have. And today --- you can't beat competition --- today over a two hour practice and at the end they're playing as hard as they were playing, that's a good sign. I'm so proud of them. They did good today."

Meyer likes the continued improvement he is seeing each practice from starting quarterback Chris Leak. Leak is playing each day with more confidence which shows in his throwing and his decision making both in the pocket and when he runs the option.

Leak only solidifies his position as the starter with each practice. Meyer isn't concerned about Leak. The backup quarterback position, however, is a concern.

"I think Chris is doing real good," said Meyer. "I'm really worried about backup quarterback right now. Josh [Portis] keeps on coming. CI [Cornelius Ingram]… everything is so new and he's not played in so long and then there's [Gavin] Dickey. I didn't see Dickey out here, did you? He's chasing down line drives in left field somewhere, so I'm very concerned about that [backup quarterback position]. I think Chris Leak has picked everything up very well, though."

Just as Leak is making steady progress at quarterback, the first unit offensive line (tackles Randy Hand and Tavares Washington, guards Lance Butler and Jim Tartt, and center Mike Degory) is catching on with the new offense. Tartt got a stinger in his shoulder during Wednesday's practice. He was replaced on the first team by Drew Miller.

"Our first team offensive line did real well today," said Meyer. "Our backup offensive line can't block the five of us and you guys are bad looking guys."

Meyer liked the way that Skyler Thornton and Markus Manson ran the ball, noting after the practice that the Gators should have three outstanding running backs in the fall.

"We've got three backs right now running pretty hard," said Meyer, who praised Thornton for his scoring run on the last play of the Wednesday scrimmage, and Manson, who has picked up the pass protection packages well in addition to showing speed and some power.

DEFENDING THE PIT: Meyer grinned when asked if he enjoys seeing the agony on the faces of players who are assigned to The Pit.

"The Pit?" he asked rhetorically. "Yeah, it's good!"

Meyer called The Pit a four year old time tested experiment that has had a very positive effect on teams he's had at Bowling Green and at Utah. He's already seeing positive results from players who have had to spend time in The Pit.


The Pit is...well, the pits...

Players with minor injuries don't get to take practice off. They're down at The Pit where they work even harder than the players who are practicing. They run, they lift, they exercise. Just because players are injured, there is no time off. The Pit is expected to be grueling enough that it motivates players to get back to practice with a good attitude.

During Saturday's scrimmage, Ronnie Wilson, the freshman guard from Pompano Beach, was in The Pit. He was among a group of players who were seen lugging chains or carrying rocks and sand bags up and down the stadium steps in The Swamp. Monday he was the first player to get his name called in "The Circle of Life" drill and he responded positively. Wednesday, he got a great block on a reverse while working with the second string offensive line.

The idea of The Pit had its beginning when Meyer was playing football at the University of Cincinnati.

"I don't want people to get the wrong impression," he said. "The idea being when I was a player --- and I wasn't a very good one --- I would walk off the field and I'd be all beat up. I'd go to eat and I would look across from me and there would be that kid that didn't practice because he had an ingrown toenail or something. There you'd be, all beat up and that kid would still be eating the same meal and still get the same T-shirt and you'd think why the hell am I practicing so hard and he's not? So what I want it to be is when we go to eat tonight, I want them to tell how hard practice was but not just the guys practicing but the guys from over in the do not enter area."

PRACTICE NOTES: McKenzie Pierre, playing on the defensive line with the second unit, made a truly outstanding play. Meyer praised Pierre for making a great play but said, "He's a good young man but he's got to do something to help this team." Pierre will be a fourth-year junior in the fall. He's seen very little playing time so far. Meyer said, "That puts him in that label of still hasn't done anything here."

Chad Jackson turned in another brilliant day catching the ball and showing speed and power once he's caught the ball. "I don't want to put the label of big timer on him yet but he's got potential to be a really good player here," said Meyer.


Reggie Lewis on punt coverage.

While noting that Reggie Lewis didn't make a play that he could have made to help the defense during the scrimmage, Meyer said, "I really like Reggie but when it comes down to scrimmages and games, I've heard all the stories about losing by four points, five points, having lost by more than… well the bottom line is you lost and the defense lost today because Reggie didn't make a play. McCollum didn't make a play on one of the speed options and that's the reality of the game. You don't make a play, you can be a nice kid and all that, but you still lost. That's why the defense ran. Reggie had a chance to make a play but Reggie Lewis is going to be a good player here. He's going hard and I really appreciate his attitude and effort right now."


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