Meyer Tour: Changes Made In Gators OL

ORLANDO --- The crowd of some 1600 or so Gators who filled up the exhibition hall at the Central Florida Fairgrounds Thursday night didn't leave disappointed. They arrived excited and full of expectations to hear Coach Urban Meyer speak at the annual Central Florida Gator Gathering, and when they left there was every bit as much electricity in the air as when the event began two and a half hours earlier.

Meyer gave a speech quite similar to the one that he gave Tuesday night in Lakeland, where about 1200 Gators gathered at the Polk County meeting, but there were a couple of nuggets in this one that sent a buzz through the crowd that included former Gator and NFL Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood. Meyer was giving the crowd his evaluation of the team, position by position when he made an announcement that he said would even catch one or two of his players by surprise.

The Gators ended the spring with an offensive line that had a first unit of Tavares Washington at left tackle, Lance Butler at left guard, Mike Degory at center, Jim Tartt at right guard and Randy Hand at right tackle. Meyer announced that Hand would flop to right tackle, Washington would move to Butler's left guard position and Butler would move out to right tackle. The move came as a bit of a surprise to the large crowd and Meyer said it might even be a surprise to Butler, who hadn't been informed of the change yet.

"I feel we can be very good on the offensive line," Meyer said. "We will be looking like a GREAT offensive line in August or I will have some issues with the strength coaches."

The moves coincide with Meyer's own description of what he wants from his offensive linemen. He's said all spring that he likes athletic tackles that can get down the field and run, and that he wants guards that are "road graders." Tartt, who will have surgery on his shoulder but will be rehabbed in time for August practice, has been described as a road grader type at 6-3, 315.

Washington finished the spring as one of the surprises on the offensive line. A product of the Mississippi junior college league, Washington played sparingly two years ago when he battled through injuries. He had surgery prior to the 2004 season, then when rehab didn't go quite as quickly as anticipated, he was redshirted. His emergence on the offensive line this spring was steady and by the spring game, he was performing at a very consistent level. Washington is 6-3, 310, with a body that looks far more like a guard than the left tackle position he played all spring.

Butler, who had started at guard the last two years, is 6-7, 310, lean and quick, the fastest of the offensive linemen. His emergence began two springs ago when he consistently got downfield to block for Florida's tailbacks and wide receivers. His quick feet and long arms make him far more of a natural at tackle. In Meyer's offense, the tackles are expected to get out in front of people to block.

Hand is lefthanded, so the move to left tackle won't be too difficult for him. He's 6-5, 310, and has started since he was a freshman at right tackle. Although he isn't as Butler he's very mobile and a bit more advanced in his pass blocking skills. It makes more sense to bring the best pass blocking tackle to the left side to protect the quarterbacks' blind side.

Degory, 6-6, 305, will be starting for the fourth year at center. Meyer said earlier in the spring that Degory is a good player now, but he expects his senior center to be great in the fall.

This is the same five starters that ended the spring on the first unit, just a different alignment and one that puts players in positions that coincide with what Meyer gave as the job descriptions at the beginning of the spring.

Jack Youngblood was present, signing autographs

Once again Meyer talked about leadership and how he expects both Chris Leak and Mike Degory to take a more active role in leading the team. Meyer has been on Leak's case to become a more vocal leader. It was the first mention that Degory needs to step things up.

"Are they good people?" Meyer asked rhetorically. "I never said they're not. They're great people. They're from great families. They've been raised the right way. They can come over to my house any time. I'm proud of them but they are not good leaders. There are too many issues where this group's hanging together over here, that group's hanging together and guys like Jack Youngblood know, you don't win a whole bunch of games that way because you don't trust each other and you don't force each other to live your life the right way and prepare the right way."

Meyer pointed out that just Thursday, Leak approached him with a workout and throwing schedule for quarterbacks and receivers during the three and a half months before August practice begins, noting that as a leader, "Leak's heading in the right direction."

While on the subject of Leak, Meyer said, "Can Chris Leak run our offense? Yes he can, and I'll let you know something about our offense. We don't have an offense. Our offense is built around what you can do well, so Chris Leak is going to be a fine quarterback for us."

* * *

While on the subject of quarterbacks, Meyer said that backup Gavin Dickey will "do a little bit of everything." Meyer indicated that Dickey will have a package of plays designed to his strengths which means that there will be times when he's on the field as a wide receiver or a running back in addition to seeing time at quarterback.

"Is he going to be a quarterback?" Meyer asked. "Yes. Is he going to be a receiver? Yes. Is he going to be running the ball? Yes."

Meyer said that he's quite proud that Dickey is having such an outstanding spring playing left field for Florida's fifth-ranked baseball team.

Meyer also said that Cornelius Ingram didn't look like he had played football for two years in the first ten days of spring, but said that in the final five days, Ingram showed that he has the ability to play the position at a high level.

"He's a tremendous athlete and a great kid and we want to keep him here," Meyer said. "I know he has lots of people pulling at him saying do this or do this. We want to keep him."

He said that it has not been decided about redshirting 17-year-old true freshman Josh Portis. Portis threw for 253 yards and four touchdowns in the Orange and Blue Game last Saturday and he's taken the bulk of the number two quarterback snaps with Dickey playing baseball.

"That's a decision [redshirting] that I haven't made yet," Meyer said, "but he's a terrific young guy."

A record crowd of over 1,600 showed up to hear Meyer speak in Orlando

Meyer indicated that he wants to bring a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and that he is more than willing to cut the defense loose with blitz packages to disrupt and create havoc. At Utah, his teams were known to blitz from any angle in packages that ranged from one corner to sometimes bringing the entire house. The blitz packages were installed early this spring at Florida and he felt the team picked it up well.

"I thought by the end of the spring we were an excellent blitzing team," he said.

Coach Meyer up at the podium speaking to Orlando Gators.

Meyer said that the next three and a half months will determine if the Gators are an excellent team or very average. He said that if the team has an excellent offseason and players keep their focus on getting better as players instead of getting into trouble off the field, that the Gators have a chance to have an extraordinary 2005.

"We got to get this really cranked up," he said. "How do you get it cranked up? You get a little bit of discipline involved, you demand accountability from your players, you have a great offseason and you attack it head on. You don't run from issues. How do you attack issues head on? You become a team.

"We're not a very good team. We have really good individuals but they play like individuals sometime. You want to know why we have a bad kickoff return team? It's because the guy returning kicks doesn't trust the guys blocking for him."

He indicated that much of the trust he expects with this team will be developed over the next three and a half months. Once again he indicated that this offseason will determine how good the Gators will be in the fall.

Asked if there would be a ring of honor with the names and numbers of the former great players at UF like Emmitt Smith and Jack Youngblood, Meyer said that this was a great idea. He also said that there are some discussions going on to address issues like that.

We had a discussion today," Meyer said. "We have opened our doors to the former athletes and football players at the University of Florida and are you kidding me, when Jack Youngblood walks back to Gainesville he better be treated better or we're not doing our job.

"We also discussed an entrance to the football facility. There is no entrance. You go to that Gator Room and you walk up some stairs to the football offices. What you should have is a big beautiful building that you can walk into and you have the heritage of Florida football. You have the national championship, you have the Heismans, you have the people like Jack Youngblood and all the great players. That has been addressed and we're working on it."

* * *

Asked about junior college All-American Reggie Nelson and the possibility that he might play corner when he arrives, Meyer responded, "Well the first thing that he's got to do is line up and pass a test. He's a great kid who comes from a good family but he has not made it yet. There's a chance he will, an excellent chance he will.

"He will be one of our better players. We'll put him on the field somewhere. From what I understand, he's not just a good player. He's a great player."

* * *

Asked to talk about the heart of his coaching philosophy, which is four core values, Meyer said, "There is a difference between making a mistake and breaking a core value. Making a mistake is jumping offsides, wearing the wrong T-shirt, being five minutes late for class, getting a speeding ticket. A core value is what we believe. Honesty is number one. Number two is treat women with respect, then no drugs and no stealing.

"You make a mistake you're just like all of us. You make them. You break a core value there's something in there that's not going right and we either have to sever ties or we have to do something drastic action to get things corrected. That's' very clear to our players."

Fightin Gators Top Stories