BRADY ACKERMAN: Some Battles To Watch Next Week

The 2005 fall practice begins in less than one week for the Florida Gators. The excitement and enthusiasm around the program is as high as I have seen it since I made the switch from small college assistant coach to the media and sports radio.

I have attended and hosted some of Urban Meyer's speeches and gatherings and every time I leave more impressed. I even had the opportunity to go one-on-one with Florida's new coach in a broom closet at the SEC Media Days! Okay, it's not what you think … the throngs of SEC media wanted a piece of him and he kindly granted me an interview for my show with his wonderful daughter Gigi present along with Florida SID Steve McClain.

You have to give Urban Meyer credit for giving everything he has to the Gator Nation and media since he got the job. Many folks forget he finished a long undefeated season at Utah, then put a staff together and hit the road recruiting without ever taking a break. One thing I can guarantee is Coach Meyer is ready to quit talking about himself and his program and start coaching some players and calling some ball plays. Hey, isn't that really why Florida hired him?

Here is a quick glance as some camp battles I will have my eye on during August. Just for fun I will also take a stab at who may win the job. This team has a chance to be pretty deep so don't be surprised if UF comes out of fall camp with multiple players at several positions.

OFFENSE:

RUNNING BACK: Deshawn Wynn seemed to have turned the corner in the spring. He reminds me a lot of Tyrone Moss at Miami in that both guys have NFL potential but have seemed a bit "thin skinned" at times. I have heard he has had a terrific summer in the weight room. I am a big fan of Markus Manson and think he really could be special in this offense. Skyler Thornton is a tough runner and need to elevate his game a bit to be "the guy."

ACK'S GUESS: I think Manson gets the first crack against Wyoming and if he does what I think he can do, Wynn may end up being Wally Pipp. This should be a running back by committee but great running teams always have someone emerge and my money is on Manson. If I am wrong we may finally see the next NFL back at Florida in Wynn.

RIGHT GUARD: Jim Tartt emerged from the spring as the starter and maybe one of the big surprises of the spring. Drew Miller was highly recruited and has the opportunity to be a really good one for the Gators. Tartt's recovery from injury could play a factor during camp and open the door for Miller. If he can't step up don't be surprised if the versatile Steve Rissler gets in the mix.

ACK'S GUESS: I will assume Tartt will be healthy and hang on to the job. If he's not Miller is a pretty good option.

BACKUP RECEIVERS: Urban Meyer's teams have had many guys catch tons of balls. Dan Mullen would like to carry six reliable receivers into every game. I got the feeling that after spring Kenneth Tookes and Mike McIntosh had some work to do. You know UF will line up with Andre Caldwell, Dallas Baker, Chad Jackson and Jemalle Cornelius in the four wide receiver set. They will also use Gavin Dickey and Cornelius Ingram some as well. But who can become the next guy especially if one of the big three goes down? I like McIntosh's speed but something tells me he is on the outside looking in. Dickey will likely be the fifth guy as Meyer has stated this summer.

ACK'S GUESS: I don't think a guy will emerge for the sixth spot unless it is a true freshman. Look for UF to filter the top four with tight end Tate Casey, Dickey and maybe a young back. The sixth guy could be a walk-on so I will take Kyle Morgan.

DEFENSE:

TACKLE: Coaches love having battles at defensive tackle because that means they have enough "bodies" to get into the rotation. You cannot play a game with just two although UF has done that in the recent past, going with only Marcus Thomas and Ray McDonald last season and burning out Ian Scott in the middle in 2002. I think Coach Greg Mattison and Coach Charlie Strong will play five guys this season but they cannot afford any more attrition. The battle to see who starts between Marcus Thomas and Steven Harris could take until the Tennessee game to decide. Harris was dominant in the spring and a huge surprise on the inside for Mattison and Strong. Thomas has NFL ability and if he can get back from the injury, he could be the force many thought he would be, when he shunned FSU for UF.

ACK'S GUESS: Once again injury plays a role in this battle but I will take Harris starting against Wyoming with Thomas ready for Tennessee. Both guys will play but Thomas really could be something special if he can stay healthy. Both guys should benefit from having each other.

LINEBACKER: Todd McCullough is a trooper and has been through it all at UF. He has endured some tough injuries and even was called out by Meyer prior to the spring. McCullough prospered under adversity and he is a very capable starting linebacker in the SEC. It will be interesting to see who lines up with him out of the freshman class. I would guess Jonathon Demps because of his athleticism and he was so highly recruited. I believe he is a young player that UF wants to play alot and he would benefit by learning under McCollough who is a savvy veteran.

ACK'S GUESS: McCullough is everything Meyer likes in college football players so he gets the nod on opening day.

CORNERBACK: Here is what we know: there is Dee Webb and everyone else. Two highly recruited players --- Reggie Nelson and Avery Atkins --- will get a look and a chance to take away Vernell Brown's job. Brown is a coaches dream with his work ethic and attitude. The downside is he cannot match up "without help" against Tennessee's big physical receivers. Reggie Lewis is not going to go quietly as well so the whole secondary situation could be something to watch in camp.

ACK'S GUESS: Defensive back always provides fun camp matchups because things can change everyday with guys having ups and downs. The book on Nelson tells me he has something special to get on the field. I think he and Vernell will be on the field with the other three in nickel situations. Don't count out Atkins. If he has the maturity to handle the big time his talent is similar to the "Lethyl" one, Lito Shephard.

I can't wait to see how it all plays out in camp and I will give my quick takes every couple of practice days. I appreciate Gator Country for giving me the opportunity to write about the game I love --- college football --- and the team I played for and now cover with the media. I will always do my best to give you my insight, opinions and knowledge based on my playing and coaching career. I am a football guy and will always be a coach at heart. I hope you enjoy my perspective and always hope that it is something a bit different from what is the mainstream media.

FINAL THOUGHTS: First, Urban Meyer has really done a great job with ex-players. A newsletter goes out to any football player who has lettered at Florida. Each week I may add a "where are they now" into a column so you fans of the program can also find out what happened to your favorite Gators. .

Where are they now?

ARDEN CZYZEWSKI (kicker 1988-1991): For those who don't remember he made one of the great kicks in UF history in 1989 at Baton Rouge with no time on the clock to beat LSU, 16-13. AC was clutch and he married a former track star at UF. He and Maria have two children. They live in Boston where he is head of marketing for Puma.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: Meyer's offense has been dominant in the red zone the last four years. His teams have scored points almost 90% of the time in the redzone his four years. For the record that's over 15 percent higher than undefeated Auburn did last year in there great season.

The Brady Ackerman Show is weekdays 7-10am on ESPN Radio Gainesville and Ocala and at www.floridasportstalk.com. He works with Sun Sports TV College Football and Gator Post Game.


Fightin Gators Top Stories