DAY 3: Tough Conditions Require Change Of Fields

The anticipation of fall practice for Florida football has been tremendous but in week one, both fans and media have had to get used to less than optimum conditions. The old practice fields are still being worked on and that has brought about a new practice environment that is less fan and media friendly. It has been an adjustment but so far everyone seems to be making the best of it.

The fields at the practice complex have been recently sodded so they're not quite ready for the wear and tear of the big boys in cleats. That has meant moving practice to a field over near the peforming arts center that doesn't allow the fans their normal access or good viewing areas for the media. There isn't nearly as much space at the new field, either, so fans and media aren't the only ones challenged here. Adding to the problem have been afternoon rains that made Wednesday's second practice impossible at the new field. So adjustments were made.

The condition of the temporary field was so beaten up that the coaches moved practice to the new Field Turf that has been installed beside the two grass fields at the regular practice complex. That left fans and media hacks alike to try to figure out what was going on at practice two full football fields away. Well, there wasn't much information that we could gather, but here is the condensed version.

On the near field, Eric Wilbur was punting the ball gently, definitely not putting any power behind the kicks. The good news is that I didn't see him practicing yesterday. The bad news is that he used yesterday to take it easy on the surgically repaired knee (torn meniscus). Coach Urban Meyer says he will be ready to go in two weeks.

As far as the practice goes, all I could really see were the long throws in the pass-skel and team drills. I will say that the offense definitely threw the ball downfield a lot more than it did this morning. Josh Portis was very sharp from what I could tell and it seems he threw 20 yards or more about a dozen times. He did throw a couple of interceptions on the day, but threw some frozen ropes deep to mostly the younger receivers. I saw Nyan Boateng catch two pretty fades on the left side from Portis after getting by the defender and David Nelson had a great catch.

That is about it for today but let's give you a synopsis of the week so far, just before the pads come on.

Offense:

They have struggled so far this week. There have been some big plays and defense is supposed to be ahead of the game early. Without pads, the offense should be doing better in my opinion. The word I hear is that Meyer is not very happy with it.

The quarterbacks haven't been particularly sharp all week. Chris Leak had a good day yesterday, but not great by his standards. Portis has shown flashes but not consistent. Cornelius Ingram has shown a few good plays, but not enough. It is hard to pin the malfunctions in the passing game on the quarterbacks as receivers have run wrong routes and have been tied up at the line of scrimmage.

The receivers have played well but have been dogged by the relentless play of the defensive backs. I can't imagine them seeing harder competition than what they have gone up against, but they still need to step up. The fact is, the receivers are now the veteran group on offense outside of the line and they should be doing well against this secondary, especially without pads. Tate Casey has been open and has made some great plays, but has also uncharacteristically dropped a couple of balls. The big four receivers have all had hiuge plays but really, just not enough of them. I would say Dallas Baker has been the best of the receivers so far this fall.

I remember one big play from Skyler Thornton. Markus Manson has shown a lot of flash and dash. I haven't seen anything from Wynn that makes me think he will be great this year. Still, the running backs won't really get much of a chance to shine until the hitting begins, which is Friday.

The offensive line is very hard to judge without pads. It seems they get beat by blitzes sometimes, but when they aren't allowed to actually hit someone a defender comes free that normally wouldn't. The big scare on the line is Jim Tartt, and his injury today. I am not sure what the status is there.

Defensively there is a lot more good stuff. Up front the move of Ray McDonald may help collapse one side the line while Mincey wreaks havoc from the weak side. This may give teams fits as they try and shift blocking one side or the other and try to figure out where to double team. Stephen Harris inside certainly should lose speed, although no one is as quick off the snap as McDonald for the middle. Cross your fingers Gator fans because Marcus Thomas has looked reasonably healthy, although it's easy to see he has missed a lot of conditioning work. Joe Cohen and Derrick Harvey add depth and Clint McMillan may not be far behind. Coach Greg Mattison says he only needs six to get it done up front and the cross trained players like Cohen, Harris, and McDonald can only help things.

Admittedly I have done a poor job of scouting the linebackers. One thing is for sure, Earl Everett has made plays. I believe he has at least three interceptions and many more close calls. He is always on the ball in his area and has been breaking on the ball like a great free safety would. Brandon Siler seems to be getting healthier in running but still has a little limp. Todd McCullough from all accounts has played very well. Brian Crum should be the fourth linebacker and could play any spot. Billy Latsko has been solid but not spectacular and freshman Jon Demps should play this year. That is two deep and with a few players than can play multiple positions, I think linebacker will be alright.

The linebacker depth may not be an issue, especially against spread teams. I can see the Gators playing a lot of nickel personnel defenses and effectively with the way the defensive backs have played. The unit as a whole has been very active, attacking the offensive players and making life difficult for the offense. At corner, I can see a rotation of Dee Webb, Vernell Brown, Reggie Lewis, Tremaine McCollum, and newcomers Reggie Nelson and Avery Atkins. At safety, look for Jarvis Herring, Kyle Jackson, Terrance Holmes, Tony Joiner, and Dorian Munroe to eventually take place. That is a solid group for a position that seemed scary in the spring.

Disclaimer: The pads come on Friday morning. This entire article could be moot by noon on Friday.


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