MEYER TOUR: Meyer Sees Similarities In Leak, Smith

FORT PIERCE -- Urban Meyer will tell you that it really isn't fair to compare Alex Smith, the Heisman Trophy runner-up and his quarterback in 2004 for undefeated Utah, and Chris Leak, his quarterback for 2005 at the University of Florida.

After all, Smith has quarterbacked an unbeaten college football team, made the Heisman Trophy finals and he's been selected first in the NFL Draft. While Leak has been Florida's starter for the last two seasons, he still hasn't taken his team to a championship.

So comparing the two quarterbacks really isn't fair, especially at this point in the two careers, but Meyer admitted Friday night that he's starting to see some similarities and he really likes what he is seeing.

Talking to a sold out Gator Gathering at the Pelican Yacht Club, Meyer gushed about the leadership qualities that Smith showed at the University of Utah and how proud he is that Leak, who will be a junior in the fall of 2005, is starting to become the assertive leader both on and off the field for the Gators. Meyer told the packed house of 380 that although it's way too early to start comparing Alex Smith and Chris Leak, he is beginning to notice more and more similarities and fewer differences.

Relating a story about Smith, Meyer talked about the preparations for one certain team in 2004 when Utah was starting its preparations on a Sunday afternoon for a team that ran a funky defense that was hard to decipher. He said that the coaches came in at noon to watch film and Smith joined them.

Because the opponent's defense was so unorthodox, Meyer said they kept going over the film time and time again in a room that was completely dark. Realizing it was getting late, he checked his watch to discover it was midnight, a full two hours past the time when he likes to get his coaches home on Sunday evenings.

"The lights were out six straight hours and I was running the clicker," said Meyer. "I turn on the lights and there's Alex Smith. He's been there from 12 o'clock to 12 o'clock watching film with the coaches. No one does that but that's how competitive he is when he wants to get out on the field.

"Now how does that relate to Chris Leak? I see a lot of the same characteristics in them. It's too early to compare but I see a lot of the same characteristics in them."

Earlier in the week, Meyer said that Leak is much further along at this stage of the game than Smith was. When he took over at Utah, Smith was buried at third on the three-deep roster behind two quarterbacks that Meyer says really weren't very good. Leak, on the other hand, stepped in to start at Florida as a true freshman, and last year as a sophomore, he was the most productive passer in the Southeastern Conference.

"He (Leak) is much further along," said Meyer at an earlier Gator Gathering. "Chris Leak has started two years in the SEC. When we got Alex Smith, he was a third stringer."

While there are questions at just about every stop on the Meyer tour about Leak's ability to master the nuances of the spread-option offense, Meyer notes that the offense didn't come easy to Smith. He wasn't quite the natural picking it up as some might think.

"He struggled at first but he was the most competitive and intelligent football player that I've ever been around," said Meyer, who has many times noted that Smith got where he is by working harder than anyone else and by being the brightest player with the greatest football aptitude he's ever been around.

Smith made his mark at Utah, well enough that when the NFL came calling in April, he was the very first selection. Leak has two more years at Florida and he will have a chance in the Meyer offense to set school records for passing and total offense. Meyer knows that Leak has the physical abilities to set records, but what pleases him most is that his quarterback is beginning to understand that as the trigger man of the offense, he is what the coach calls the "commander and chief" who sets the standard that everyone on the offensive side of the ball must live up to.

"Chris Leak's becoming the leader of this football team," Meyer said. "I've got a feeling that they (the team) are coming together. I've really got a feeling about this team."

* * *

Meyer told the Gator Gathering that it is time for the divisions in the Gator Nation to cease and desist, that it is time for Gators everywhere to be united behind the university and the football team.

"I've heard about the split in Gator nation . . . about the division," Meyer said. "That's nonsense! What are we doing? We're the one percent of one percent! We should be the one school that everybody wants to be like, not the school that I sat eight states away and thought what is going on there? This is the same school that I sat and watched on TV back in the 90s where the fans were "boom!" … just nuts. Everything was nuts. We're going to get that back!"

Meyer talked about during the 1990s, during the era of Steve Spurrier and the Fun 'N Gun offense that he fell in love with Florida football. He loved the swagger, the style and the relentless way the Gators went after other teams both on offense and defense.

"Back in the 90s when I first fell in love with the University of Florida, I loved the way they played," he said. "I loved the discipline they played with, the effort, the passion … just wiping teams out, not beating them, but wiping them out and the players kept going and going and going. That's what separated them from the rest.

"That's what we're going to get back."

Meyer said the goal is to make Florida the disciplined, tough team that plays harder than everyone else and out-executes everyone else. He said that the Gators will get to that point only when they've worked so hard that there is that supreme level of trust among teammates.

"We want to be the team that goes out and executes and plays with passion," he said, "and when someone's struggling the other guys are picking them up because they work and train together. Football is a physical combative game and if you don't trust your brother next to you you're going to lose."

* * *

Meyer mentioned some recruiting needs during his talk. He said that the Gators will be signing a minimum of five offensive linemen this year. He also said that the Gators will go strong after wide receivers and defensive linemen.

"We're going to sign a bunch more receivers because in our sets we need about 12 because we run four and five in there at a time," he said.

* * *

Recalling a certain Thursday back in October when Utah seemed well on its way to the undefeated season, Meyer said his wife confronted him one evening when he got home from practice. Shelly saw the signs of a great season, much like she had seen two years earlier when Meyer was a hot commodity at Bowling Green. Before the season ended at Bowling Green, Meyer was on a lot of radars about coaching vacancies.

"She told me I know it's going to happen … we're going to go through this again," Meyer said. "I said don't you dare say this! It's like going up to that pitcher in the seventh inning when he's throwing a no-hitter and saying, 'by the way, do you know you have a no-hitter going?'

"We looked at each other and she said to me, 'Let's decide right now that the only chance, the only way we'd ever leave the University of Utah is to go to the best of the best.' I think Florida is the best of the best. When I took the job at Florida I thought it was the best job in college football. Six months later, I know it's the best job in college football."

Fightin Gators Top Stories