Meyer "Pumped" As Two-A-Days Draw Near

Saturday evening Urban Meyer picked up his phone and dialed Chris Leak's cell phone just to chat a bit. Although the start of fall practice is just a few days away, this wasn't a football call. It was purely social. Meyer figured Leak would be hanging around with some of his buddies, perhaps planning to go out to eat dinner.


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Leak was indeed hanging around with some of his buddies --- his wide receivers. They were on the practice field. Leak was throwing one pass after another and his wide receivers were running their routes, making catches, all of them burning off the energy that has been building up in the offseason. As pumped as Meyer is about getting started with fall practice, the players are equally ready.


      "That Chris Leak is out there throwing passes to the wide receivers on a Saturday night tells you something." -- Coach Meyer

"That Chris Leak is out there throwing passes to the wide receivers on a Saturday night tells you something," said Meyer, who admits that he and his coaching staff have just about reached their limits while waiting out the NCAA mandated time away from coaching that stretches from the end of spring practice until two-a-days begin in August.

Leak is honing his skills in an offense that is much anticipated in the Southeastern Conference. Meyer's offense has set records by the boatload in previous stops at Bowling Green and Utah, and it was at Utah that the nation finally got a long, serious look at this concoction which is a hybrid of a lot of different offenses. The passing game is part Bill Walsh west coast with its short routes and screens and part Steve Spurrier with clearing routes designed to open up the middle of the field. The running game incorporates elements of the old double wing offenses of the 1930s with the Woody Hayes power game of the 1960s. There's also some Tom Osborne in there with the option and then some tweaks and wrinkles that could only come from the deviously sick mind of a coach who enjoys the thought that defensive coordinators on the Florida schedule cancelled their summer vacations to try to figure out what they're going to do against the Gators.


Chris Leak at QB while WR Chad Jackson goes into motion

It isn't that Florida's offense is so complicated; it's the fact that all the plays can be run in all the different sets and mismatches are created by moving players around. An outside wide receiver may run streak routes but the same wide receiver moved to the slot suddenly must be accounted for by the defense as a potential running back, not to mention the wide receiver is now covered by either a safety or a linebacker so there is most likely a serious speed mismatch.

"The thing is there really are only a handful of plays, not that many at all," says Meyer. "The key is getting intelligent people to run it who recognize what the defense is doing."

If the defense tries to run a zone in the secondary, that opens up the running game. If they try to cover the wide receivers one-on-one, that opens up the passing game. The quarterback really doesn't audible. He merely steps to the line and first counts the defenders who are lined up inside the defensive ends. If there are more defenders inside the ends, then the play will go outside and likely it will be a pass. If there are more defenders outside the ends, the numbers favor the inside running game.

Shotgun offenses tend to favor the passing game at the expense of a solid running game. In most shotgun offenses, the running game relies mostly on finesse but in Meyer's concept, the power elements of the single and double wing are incorporated. By using the wide receivers to spread the secondary, it is possible to create numbers mismatches in the box so that once the running back is past the line of scrimmage there is little help from the safeties or outside linebackers.

If it is a running play, the slot receivers have wingback responsibilities. The offense uses a lot of motion, enabling the wingback to become a running back who will take handoffs or option pitches. Once in motion, the wingback can also be a lead blocker with enough momentum to wipe out a linebacker or a defensive end. The quarterback can use the wingback in an option play with his tailback, too. On that play, the quarterback resembles a point guard in basketball with a three-on-two fast break and a couple of speedy finishers bearing down on the wings.

Once the ball is in the hands of the wingback, there is also the passing option. Now throw in the element of quarterbacks Gavin Dickey and Cornelius Ingram stepping in at wingback. They are both exceptional athletes who have shown on the practice field that they are dangerous runners. Both have very strong arms. Dickey has shown in game situations that he can catch the football. Considering Ingram's background in basketball, no one would be surprised if he is as gifted a receiver as he is a quarterback. Having one or the other in the game makes a defense adjust but consider the possibility of both in the game at the same time, and it could indeed happen considering the way that Meyer delights in keeping opposing defensive coordinators burning the midnight oil. Watch this position carefully because Meyer may be on the verge of creating a new position --- one that is part quarterback, part running back, part wide receiver … a true slasher if ever there was one.

Another headache for the defensive coordinators will be seeing Jemalle Cornelius and Bubba Caldwell in the slots. Both were all-state quarterbacks their senior years in high school who showed they can run and pass the ball effectively.

Meyer's passing offense forces opponents to cover man-to-man. Sounds simple enough, but the reality is that there aren't that many teams even in the Southeastern Conference that have safeties with enough speed to play effective man coverage. Lift safeties for corners and you sacrifice tackling. Leave the safeties in and you sacrifice speed.

If the defensive coordinator chooses to double even one receiver, it effectively leaves the defense vulnerable to the running game. By going four wide on every play, the safeties have to cheat to the outside of the box so not only is the middle open to the run, it's open to the deep pass. Put one or two safeties in the middle of the field and yes, there is a better chance the running game can be stopped, but linebackers are then forced to cover wide receivers. Take linebackers out of the game and replace them with corners to cover and once again, tackling is sacrificed.

The spread offense isn't a new thing but Meyer's hybrid version has enough effective elements to be the ultimate nightmare for a defensive coordinator.

"This offense is a lot of fun," said Meyer. "I've been a part of offenses that were like going to the dentist's office, but this one spreads the ball around and opens up the field."

Fun, here, should be defined as fun for Florida. Because NCAA rules mandate only 20 hours per week can be spent on football --- and that includes the game, practice, film sessions and team meetings --- Meyer's offense isn't going to be fun for opponents. It is not the kind of offense for which 20 hours is enough time for a defense to prepare.

When you consider the potential problems this offense will create for opponents, it is little wonder why Meyer and his staff are so ready to get practice started. Spring practice ended on such a high note but they've been unable to coach their players since April.


Josh Portis is in at QB on this drill

"I'm pumped," said Meyer. "I think our entire coaching staff is ready to get on the field where we can coach football again."

Two-a-days begin August 9 and Meyer pointed out that "it's actually only 34 days until the season starts."

In 34 days he gets to run through the tunnel at The Swamp for the first time with the stadium bursting at its seams with orange and blue clad crazies ready to erupt the moment the first players rush onto the field. He's been around big time college football long enough to recognize that there are the kind of polite fans you find at Nebraska --- they applaud a good play by the opposing team --- and the rowdies who make The Swamp a deafening Saturday experience.


      "A lot of higher ups in college football say it's the most passionate stadium in college football. There's an enormous responsibility that comes with that." -- Coach Meyer on The Swamp

"A lot of higher ups in college football say it's the most passionate stadium in college football," said Meyer. "There's an enormous responsibility that comes with that."

The responsibility is to win. After 12 years that included six Southeastern Conference championships and one national championship under Steve Spurrier, Florida fans were spoiled by winning. In the previous three years, each with five losses, it's a restless Gator Nation, ready to get back to winning big and no one is more ready to deliver than Urban Meyer.

Fueling the excitement is the fact that Meyer believes the Gators will reach their goal of having 80-90 percent of the players in the Champion's Club before the season begins. At every stop on the spring tour of Gator Gatherings, Meyer has told the crowds that if the Gators are in that 80-90 percent range with Champion's Club, then Florida could be in for a very special season, the kind that fans will remember forever.

"We (Meyer and staff) met on it Thursday and it's the assistant coaches who have the final say," said Meyer. "We're really close and it looks good that we'll get there. Right now we've got two or three that we're not sure of but they could get there and that would definitely put us over the top."

The clock is ticking down. Practice begins in a few more days. The football season kicks off in 34 days. This is what Urban Meyer lives for.


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