SPRING FOOTBALL: Final Report Card

Florida's first spring practice under Coach Urban Meyer is over with as many questions raised as were answered. Still, it was a good spring as first springs under new head coaches go, and if the players show the willingness to continue their hard work with the good attitudes they have shown the past four months, it could be a fall to remember for the Gators. Here is the final spring report card:

OFFENSE (B): The offense can put 11 players on the field who can play with anyone anywhere. A first string offense is not the question here and not the reason the offense grades B. The reason the offense grades B is because there are more questions than Meyer and Dan Mullen would like to see in the backups. There's no question there are talented backups, but they lack experience and that's the cause of the nervousness. The biggest question of all entering the spring was would Chris Leak prove adapatable to the new spread-option offense and that answer is a resounding YES.

QUARTERBACK (B+): Chris Leak proved he is coachable and capable, the two biggest questions that were on the coaching staff's minds entering the spring. He showed that he can pick up a new offense quickly and he also showed that he is more than capable of running the football. Changes in his release point gave him the kind of zip on the ball that Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen like to see. Josh Portis enrolled in January and showed that he is a big time talent who can run every bit as well as advertised. What was the big shock is the amount of touch he has on the ball. He's capable of making big time throws. The only thing keeping this position from grading A is the fact that Gavin Dickey split the spring between football and baseball and Cornelius Ingram, after missing the first three practices while he was with the basketball team, will require a ton of coaching up. This could be a very questionable position in the fall if Dickey signs a pro baseball contract. He's hitting .400 and playing left field like a Gold Glover. If he gets selected in the first ten rounds of the Major League Baseball draft in June, the odds are not good that he will be here in the fall. Ingram has the size (6-4, 220), the speed and the arm strength Meyer is looking for, but of the four quarterbacks, he had the least coaching in high school so he is a project at this point.

RUNNING BACK (B+): This is another position that should get a higher grade except for the fact that there are only three running backs which makes this a very shaky position. The three (DeShawn Wynn, Skyler Thornton and Markus Manson) are probably as talented as any three running backs you will find on any roster, but this is a position that is an injury or suspension away from questionable. Wynn has the kind of size (222 pounds) to bang inside the tackles. Thornton is the most versatile of the three, capable of delivering as a runner both inside or outside, or as a pass catcher. He is also the most dependable blocker. Manson is a highlight film looking for a place to happen when the ball is in his hands. He doesn't have the size to be a consistently productive runner between the tackles and he has to learn to block. However, he can take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Freshman Kestahn Moore should be ready to play immediately when he arrives in the summer.

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS (A+): There is no question that this is the most talented position on the team. Chad Jackson, Bubba Caldwell, Dallas Baker and Jemalle Cornelius are all deep threats and all are probably faster than any receiver Meyer had last year at Utah. If the spring is an indicator, Jackson and Baker will have all-star years in 2005. When Caldwell is on, he's as good as there is but he has to overcome consistency problems. Cornelius just makes plays. Kenneth Tookes and Mike McIntosh had their moments in the spring when they looked very good but both need to continue the hard work over the summer if they want to see the field in the fall. Throw in tight ends Tate Casey and Dane Guthrie and the Gators have a receiving corps that can play with anyone. Florida will go with two wide and two slot receivers most of the time. Freshman David Nelson might get a shot at early playing time and with Markell Thompson's future as a Gator questionable, freshman tight end Brian Ellis might become the number three tight end by default.

TACKLES (B+): The only reason this position doesn't grade an A is because the backup tackles are shaky at best. Tavares Washington emerged on the left side as a solid performer and Randy Hand has All-SEC written all over him at right tackle. They have the kind of mobility that Meyer looks for at tackle. At least one quality backup will have to emerge in August from the foursome of Phil Trautwein, Michael Brown, Carlton Medder and Jason Watkins. Of the four, Trautwein had the best spring. Brown came over from defense so he spent the spring learning a new position. Medder has spent the past two years transforming his body from fat to muscular so he could be ready to contribute if he has a good summer. Watkins has added 30 pounds of muscle since he arrived at UF in the summer of 2004. He's another one whose ability has to wait for his body to catch up.

CENTERS/GUARDS (B): This is another position that would have graded higher except for questions about the backups and the fact that Jim Tartt (right guard) will have to undergo three months of rehab from shoulder surgery. Mike Degory should make All-SEC at center and Lance Butler at left guard is a proven two-year starter who is Florida's fastest and most mobile lineman. If Tartt has any problems with rehab, Drew Miller would probably get the first call at right guard. Steve Rissler can backup at guard and he's the backup center behind Degory, too. Eddie Haupt and Ronnie Wilson got a ton of experience in the spring after taking early admission but Meyer is hoping he can redshirt both of them.

DEFENSE (B+): The good news on defense was the more aggressive style. Expect the Gators to blitz early and blitz often in the fall. Getting pressure on the quarterback is the name of the game now. Although the basic defensive sets will be the same as last year, what will change is the blitz packages, rarely used last year but a prominent factor now. The defense adjusted well to new coaches and the aggressive play but there are depth questions at linebacker and a corner to go opposite Dee Webb hasn't been found. Florida can probably put 10 players on the field defensively that will provide no worries for the coaching staff. That second corner will make the coaches age quickly if someone doesn't step up.

ENDS (A): Jeremy Mincey's spring was consistent and ever so productive. He has the speed to be a disruptive force in the fall if he returns to campus with the same attitude he showed in the spring. Derrick Harvey grew 30 pounds during his redshirt season so he's got the size to go with the blazing speed. He had days in the spring when he couldn't be blocked. Joe Cohen is having some hip surgery that should allow him to move laterally with quickness. He'll only need 4-5 days of rehab, but the results should be dramatic. Cohen has a world of potential that needs to be realized. McKenzie Pierre had some good moments in the spring so he'll get on the field. Jarvis Moss has gained to 238 pounds. He still needs another 10 pounds of muscle, but more importantly, he's got to show that he is once and for all out of the tub and on the field. His injury problems continued in the spring with that same sore groin problem.

TACKLES (A): Marcus Thomas sat out the spring rehabbing from back surgery so until he's back on the field and able to go full speed he remains a question for 2005. Steven Harris emerged as a player here when he was moved inside. Ray McDonald was called out by Meyer early in the spring for not going hard on every play. By the spring game, it was apparent the calling out worked. McDonald has All-America ability. Michael Hill and Clint McMillan showed they are reliable backups who can make plays although neither is a prototypical 300-pounder in the middle. Brandon Daniel was injured and missed the spring. He will have to be ready to go in August to provide the necessary depth.

LINEBACKERS (B): The spring began with only two linebackers that Meyer knew he could count on in Earl Everett and Brandon Siler. With the emergence of Todd McCullough, who went from "nice guy" to player, the Gators now have a veteran group of starters that Meyer is very comfortable putting out on the field. Billy Latsko, who moved from fullback to linebacker, had some outstanding moments in the spring and he should be able to provide minutes in reserve this fall. Brian Crum has an NFL body and speed, but he's got to continue to progress in August to be a factor. Former fullback Eric Rutledge has the body and speed as well, but he didn't pick up the defense as fast as Latsko. The Gators signed four linebackers, all of whom need to arrive in Gainesville ready to play.

CORNERS (B-): Dee Webb only got more consistent all spring so he's solid at one corner. Reggie Lewis converted quickly from wide receiver. He's got the strength and speed the coaches like, but he's learning on the job. Vernell Brown has everything you're looking for in a corner except size. Tremaine McCollum is a little bit bigger than Brown and he's a very hard hitter, so like Brown, he'll see a lot of situational work. Dawayne Grace has the size and speed, but his spring was very inconsistent. He's still young, so there is time for him to emerge. He needs a good summer. Jermaine McCollum will see some spot duty at corner but his main contributions will be on special teams where he is a terror. Nick Brooks has the size and speed but the lights still haven't come on. Don't be surprised in August if you see the name Reggie Nelson at corner. He played safety in junior college, but he certainly has the speed and the athletic ability to handle corner. Nelson will be Florida's best football player wherever he lines up. Another who has a chance to step in and play immediately is freshman Avery Atkins, who is the real deal.

SAFETIES (A): The safeties played so well this spring that it may allow co-defensive coordinators Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison to tinker with moving Reggie Nelson to corner. Kyle Jackson continued where he left off last year with a very solid spring. Jarvis Herring remains the coach on the field who is a steadying influence and a playmaker that Meyer says should make All-SEC. The backups are Tony Joiner, Terrence Holmes and Deshawn Carter, all of whom played well throughout the spring although Holmes nursed a couple of injuries along the way. This went from a position with questions to a position that has few if any worries.

SPECIAL TEAMS (B-): There was no clearcut winner in the placekicking contest, the new punt formation had its dicey moments and the kick coverage units still need a lot of work. In the summer there will be a lot more emphasis on all these areas, plus the arrival of scholarship placekicker Jonathon Phillips. A B- here was about all that could be expected.

PLACEKICKING (B-): Neither Chris Hetland or Eric Nappy did anything to distance themselves although both had some moments when they looked very good. Nappy had a stronger final week of the spring but not so strong that he is head and shoulders better than Hetland. Phillips will arrive in the summer with a reputation for accuracy and a legitimate shot at winning the job since he will be the only placekicker on scholarship.

PUNTING (B): Eric Wilbur has his days when he hits rockets and then he has days when he's very average at best. He seems to be a better game punter than a practice punter. His average for two years at UF is better than 42 yards per punt, so expect him to be the punter in the fall. Nick Fleming had his best spring ever and showed that he can punt rugby style. The new punt formation seemed to be a problem early on, but Meyer used it at Utah last year and finished second in the country in net punting, so perhaps it's just a matter of time before the lights go on for the punt team.

OVERALL GRADE (B+): The players responded well to a new coaching staff that definitely was more vocal and in their faces. Learning a new offense proved easier than expected and the defensive players looked far more comfortable in the new, more aggressive style of attacking on nearly every play. As springs go, this was a good one. If it's followed up by a strong summer of hard work, then this will have been a most productive spring.

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