SPRING: Meyer's Anticipation High For O And B Game

It is at moments like this, on the eve of the annual Orange and Blue spring football game, that Urban Meyer knows exactly why he made the choice to become the head coach at the University of Florida. A crowd of 40,000 is expected and no one would be surprised if that soars to somewhere in the 50,000 range.

The Orange and Blue Game is the most anticipated spring game since 1990 when another first year coach took over. Steve Spurrier's first spring game was played in Jacksonville at the Gator Bowl because the artificial turf at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was ripped out and a new carpet of real grass was growing in its place. Ron Zook's first spring game three years ago drew a crowd of approximately 30,000, but all of Gainesville and the state of Florida didn't have the buzz of anticipation that will be seen in The Swamp Saturday afternoon.

Meyer's been through a big spring game with a huge crowd before. When he was a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 1986 there was a promotion that led to a huge turnout of 50,000, but in this, his fifth year as a head coach, the anticipation is the greatest he's seen.

"I'm just anxious," he said Friday after the final practice of the spring. "People keep asking me if I'm shocked, if I'm surprised and no, that's the reason I wanted to come here because this is different than most places. My expectation level is that it is different here, that it's the best there is. I can't wait until tomorrow."

It has been a spring of learning for Meyer and his staff, a feeling out period in which both coaches and players have become comfortable with each other as well as a time when a totally new offensive scheme is installed. Gone are the days of a pure drop back offense where the quarterback is expected to show nerves of steel in the pocket. In the new scheme, the quarterback has the option to run the ball on every play and by making defenses accountable for the quarterback on every play, one-on-one matchups are created in the secondary.

Defensively, the base defense hasn't changed much. Charlie Strong is still here and he's joined as the co-coordinator by Greg Mattison, whom he coached with at Notre Dame. They know each other well and share similar philosophies. What has changed with the defense is the blitz package. In the Orange and Blue game, the defense will be playing a base 4-3 and allowed only two blitz packages. In the fall, the blitz packages will range from a single corner or linebacker to a bring the house mentality when it seems everyone wearing orange and blue has the quarterback targeted.

There have been off the field changes in the way things are done that have contributed to this being a good spring on the field and a quiet one as far as off the field incidents. It's all part of a change in mindset as Meyer is trying to lift the team from the doldrums of three straight five-loss seasons to that of a championship mentality. The championship mentality has not been achieved yet, and Meyer isn't ready to declare this a lights out spring, but he likes what he's seen.

"I wouldn't call it a great spring because I don't know yet but I thought it was a really good spring," he said.

Saturday's game is more or less a reward for a job well done by his players. It's a chance to have some fun and do something other than the same old same old every day.

"Practice after a while stinks and you want to go play a game," he said, "so they get to go play a game and we'll see what happens."

There are players like Mike Degory, Jarvis Herring and Earl Everett who won't see the field Saturday. Chris Leak will play but he'll have on a red non-contact jersey. He's needed because Gavin Dickey is with the baseball team in Athens, Georgia where the Gators are playing the Poodles.

"We decided that we saw enough that there's going to be opportunities for him [Dickey] to help us play next year," said Meyer. "If I'm the baseball coach, I'm fighting for him, too. Shoot, he's doing pretty well, so he'll play baseball tomorrow."

There may be other players that are pulled fairly quickly Saturday, and Meyer indicated there might be one or two that he decides won't play at the last minute.

"I may get nervous before the game and if I want to yank 'em out, I'll yank 'em out," he said. "Call it a head coach privilege."

Some of those who may not see much action are first team offensive linemen such as Randy Hand and Lance Butler. The first team offensive line has done better than expected in picking up Coach John Hevesy's zone blocking schemes. Pulling the first teamers will give more playing time to the second and third unit linemen, most of whom are young and quite inexperienced.

"I don't think we're done but the other day I think we had one of our better inside drills which is zone blocking," he said. "I think our first string offensive line is going to be fine. I'm hard on the second team offensive line but they're all freshman so I think they're going to be fine as well. The first string has really come on, though."

Throughout the week, he's been asked continually if he's ready for the spring game and the big crowd. All week long, Meyer's answer has been the same.

"Yeah, I'm really ready, I'm excited for it," he said. "I'm excited to see our guys compete. It's going to be fun for the crowd, the families and our players."

Doc Holliday will remain a Florida Gator for now.

HOLLIDAY IS STAYING: Coach John "Doc" Holliday pulled his name out of consideration for the head coaching job at Marshall University to remain with the Gators and Meyer says that it happened because "to walk away from that, it tells you the power of Florida football and the power of the assistant coaches on this staff."

Meyer said that Holliday was on the verge of being offered a five-year contract to succeed another former Florida assistant coach, Bobby Pruett, as Marshall's head man.

"This had nothing to do with money," said Meyer. "It had something to do with a guy who looked like he was going to have a chance to be the head football coach at Marshall, a place where he grew up. Here's a guy who's been one of the most respected coaches in the game.

"Here's a guy that turned down an opportunity to be a head football coach, who turned down a five year contract --- or it looked like it was heading in that direction --- and he couldn't walk away from his players. That's powerful what that says about the University of Florida."

Holliday coaches the safeties for the Gators. He's also known as one of the great recruiters in the country. At North Carolina State he almost singlehandedly changed the Wolfpack from an Atlantic Coast Conference bottom feeder to a respected program by bringing in an infusion of talented South Florida kids.

By staying, Holliday keeps intact a staff of assistants that Meyer feels is as good you will find anywhere in the country.

Meyer said, "Someone made the comment, 'Coach it looks like you've got a group of all-star coaches.' I really believe we do. I think I have some all-star coaches on this staff. I think Doc Holliday's one of them."

SPRING SUPERLATIVES: Asked if there are some players who have looked better in the spring than he anticipated, Meyer responded quickly, "One guy. Earl Everett."

#30 Earl Everett hopes to be a force this football season. Also shown are: #13 Brian Crum, #40 Brandon Siler, and #22 Reggie Lewis.

Everett will be a junior in the fall. He's started two years at outside linebacker and Meyer thinks this could be an outstanding season.

Earl Everett is one of the best football players I've ever seen," said Meyer. "He is a legitimate big time player and he's a great young man. His speed, athleticism and toughness is as good as I've seen."

Two other defenders earned high praise.

"Jarvis Herring (safety) has come on as a guy I see as a legitimate All-SEC caliber player," Meyer said. "Dee Webb (corner) makes plays and has that potential."

On the offensive side of the ball he singled out wide receivers Chad Jackson and Dallas Baker for their consistency during the spring as well as the play of center Mike Degory.

"On offense the most consistent guy has been Chad [Jackson] and then Dallas [Baker]," said Meyer. "Bubba [Caldwell] at times looks great."

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