VETTEL: Several Big Winners This Spring

When the entire college football world thinks you have the next coaching superstar on campus, you've already had a pretty darn good spring. But the Florida Gators converted that good "karma" into good play through 15 practices and showed enough to indicate they will have an excellent chance to win every Saturday this fall.

Some key positions remain unsettled, notably the corner opposite Dee Webb, a legit speed rusher to come off the edge and which running back will be reliable day in and day out. However it appears some questions were answered during the four weeks of activity heading into the off-season program. Those answers provide the basis for my assessment of some of the biggest winners for the Gators this spring.

Todd McCullough: The veteran linebacker appeared to be taken aback by Coach Urban Meyer's declaration that he was in the category of a "good guy." In fact, when I asked him about it, his answer was a rather terse, "no comment." All the senior from Jacksonville did was respond to the challenge by having his best spring in Orange and Blue. He earned the coach's praise in the post Orange and Blue Game press conference and grabbed hold of the starting job at the strong side linebacker.

Tavares Washington: A fifth-year senior, the JUCO transfer had showed precious little during his first two years on campus. But Washington stepped up this spring the nailed down the job at left tackle. If you get a chance to watch the game on Sun Sports in the weeks ahead, make sure you catch his block during the wide receiver screen to Dallas Baker which ended up a touchdown. Also, if you haven't read Franz's article on Tavares, do so at once. It's superb.

Jim Tartt: For a redshirt freshman to earn praise is not common, but Tartt showed as much toughness as anyone this spring. Despite needed shoulder surgery, he pressed on during spring ball, played through pain and won the starting job at right guard. With four seniors up front for the Gator offense, Tartt will have plenty of guidance and should emerge as a key to the Gator line for several years.

Steven Harris: The junior from Coral Gables moved inside and became a force at defensive tackle. He has the size and quickness to be very difficult to block play after play. With a healthy Marcus Thomas and motivated Ray McDonald, Florida could have a three-tackle rotation as good as there is.

Josh Portis: It took a leap of faith for the talented signal caller from California to join up with Urban Meyer some three thousand miles from home. Portis showed signs of being a freshman throughout the spring, but Saturday he showed poise and performance far beyond his years. No, he's not a threat to take the job from Chris Leak, but he is my pick for the number two job. He's just a pup who should be winding down his senior year of high school but he has the look of a special player.

Charlie Strong: You didn't see it Saturday but the Florida defense for 2005 will be much more aggressive and much more interesting. There isn't a player on the field who won't blitz. There's not a lineman they won't consider dropping into coverage for a zone blitz. There's talent, depth (except at linebacker) and energy throughout. If a solid number two corner emerges and Marcus Thomas can return to full health, this group will be really good.

Ex-Gator Players: For years Florida fans have noticed that Miami and FSU always seem to have dozens of former players on the sidelines, exhorting the players to live up to the tradition they established while Florida had no such involvement. Frankly, former Gator players have not felt welcome for a very long time. Meyer has changed that in just three months. It didn't take a lot of effort or a lot of money, just a letter and a phone call. But now you see former All-SEC performers and NFL players at every practice. History and tradition are cool on the wall but if you want to impact today's players, it's much cooler in person.

Gator Nation: You got the hottest coach in the country. You got a talented team capable of making a return to Atlanta. And you got the attention of the nation showing up 58,000-strong for the spring football game. You're buying extra tickets again, booking hotels on the road and generally working towards getting back your swagger. Those are all positive developments that were very much needed.

Some Guys End Spring with Much to Prove

It's not all sugarplums and lollipops where the 2005 Gators are concerned. There are several players who need to step it up through the off-season to cement their place on this roster.

DeShawn Wynn: The talented but confusing runner from Cincinnati had a solid spring, but has to show his commitment throughout the offseason to be a guy Florida can truly count on. His physical conditioning and dedication will be monitored closely.

Dawayne Grace: Just about everyone handed the redshirt freshman the corner job opposite Dee Webb, but Grace will enter the offseason program clearly fourth among Florida's corners. He's a young player so it's not a criticism of him at this stage of his career, but if Grace wants to start opposite his former high school teammate he needs to add strength this summer.

Brian Crum: It is time for the much-traveled linebacker to make a statement this summer that the freshmen can get in line behind him. Crum has always looked the part, and I never liked him being moved to tight end. But he had a good enough spring to have Urban Meyer say he's close to being "a Florida linebacker." At 6-3, 232, he has the speed and athleticism to make Florida's lack of depth there much less of a concern.

Eric Nappy and Chris Hetland: No veteran should concede a job to an incoming freshman, and that includes kickers. Jonathan Phillips will come in to try and become the Gator placekicker but there's no reason these guys should step aside. Find a kicking coach, buy lunch for your snapper and holder and don't stop kicking all summer long.

Dallas Baker: A great spring game is a nice thing to have, but Dallas has the size and skill to be a matchup nightmare for opposing corners. No way he should settle for last year's 26 catches and 5 touchdowns. Get stronger, lock in mentally and make your uncle (Wes Chandler) proud.


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