Coach Meyer has said before that he wants former Gators involved as much as possible in the Gator program and he lived up to it by holding what he calls a "Gator Experience" during yesterday's practices."We started this because we felt like it is a tragedy if a player goes through a program like the University of Florida without knowing the tradition and power of the school. Yesterday we had [Former Florida football players] Darryl Perry, the fullback for Emmitt Smith, that's how he's known. He's also a very successful guy in Orlando. We had James Bates come to talk to our kids about some rivalries and we also had Jack Youngblood. That's how we finished up yesterday and I thought that was powerful."
STANDOUTS FROM PRACTICES SO FAR:
Coach Meyer took the opportunity to talk about a few standout players and positions from practices so far.
First, he spoke about Andre Caldwell: "One of the guys standing out on offense that I was really disappointed with in the spring is Bubba Caldwell. He's really doing terrific. In football, he's got a long way to go to become a pure receiver. He can beat you with speed but a lot of the times last year when he was playing guys as fast as he was, he didn't win. He is doing a very good job as far as attitude. After the first five days I can see Andre Caldwell doing a lot of the same things Steve Savoy did for us at Utah last year." Meyer also said that they've got to get the wide receivers six to eight touches a game to better utilize their talent. As far as Chad Jackson, Dallas Baker, and Jemalle Cournelius -- they're doing well at practices. Jemalle was said to have a hip pointer but should be okay.
As for the quarterbacks, Meyer felt that Chris Leak started slow at the beginning, but that he had, "probably had his best practice of the fall yesterday, which is only about the four or five that we have had so far. He finished extremely strong and really did a nice job." Meyer also added that Chris Leak "started out very slow as a leader, which as a freshman, you can't lead. Unfortunately, he had to play as a true freshman at quarterback. I have never really seen that. I saw Alex Smith go in as a true sophomore, and he struggled with it. His [Leak's] sophomore year, I wasn't here, but Mike Degory was the guy on offense to check protections. As the starting quarterback at Florida for two years, he never called a play in the huddle, set a snap count or changed protections. When you see that, it's kind of unbelievable. The center did all the protections. The guy on the sideline was signaling the plays. So, they got to the huddle, he lifted his leg and played. That's good. It's no-huddle offense. We ask a lot more of them. Everyone has to look to someone, and you can't look to the center. You have to look at the quarterback."
Meyer also said what he called the Gavin Dickey Experiment was going well, "We are going to put him at quarterback probably in three or four days to keep him vying for the backup spot. He's going to have some time at receiver this year." Coach Gonzales pointed out that the wide receiver position isn't as easy as it looks and that it will take Dickey some time to get used to it, especially physically, "A few days, he was cramping up and having issues just getting his body used to running. He's doing a good job and he's learning. We're as thin as I've ever been around right now. He can definitely help us."
Meyer's still high on Skyler Thornton, which he says "has been a pleasant surprise and is No.1 right now. He started in the spring and then fell off. We didn't talk about him much in the spring after the first two weeks because he just wasn't there. I'm hoping what happened in the spring doesn't happen now. Two weeks from now, if we visit again, and I don't say Skyler's name, that means the same thing happened. He just disappeared. But, he's been consistent. He has been running excellent. He had a great day today. Markus Manson is a guy who is still young. I was so jacked about him in the second half of spring practice-- a 4.0, his summer preparation and the way he loves to be trained. He was going to be one of my votes to take in. DeShawn [Wynn] has had an excellent set of days. But, the guy who is past him right now is Skyler."
On the defense, Meyer signled out the performances of the cornerbacks, which appear to be among the most solid positions on the team. He gave kudos to Jarvis Herring, Tony Joiner, Kyle Jackson, Avery Atkins, and Reggie Nelson. He also said Brandon Siler should not have any issues any more from spring practice. Not to be left out, he spoke about Vernell Brown being elected as a team captain: "Vernell Brown was elected captain. The one thing that coaches think they know, they don't know. The players know. That's why I love to let the players vote on the captains. The way we vote is that we put it on paper and the players sign their names, so if I saw an unusual vote, I could go to him and say 'Why did you vote for this guy?' I didn't have to because I saw it go the way I would hope. I saw Vernell Brown and he is unquestionably the starting corner at the University of Florida. He's a great young man and he can really play corner."
He also mentioned that Ray McDonald is going to play an important role on the defense this year -- "Ray McDonald is doing a super job for us. You try to get your best four guys on the field at the same time. If you want to change a game put a monster at defensive end and as an offensive coach you sit there and game plan around him. Ray McDonald has the ability to change a game. It is hard for me to imagine that he isn't mentioned on preseason All-SEC teams, but that just shows you the expectations."
Coach Strong added that the expections for them are at a higher level than before "I think that because of the new era and because of the success Coach Meyer has had, the expectations are going to be higher. Then you start to look at our team and what we have coming back. You've got so many players that played when they were young and now they're back. That's why the expectations are so much higher. But this is the University of Florida. That's why we're here and that's why the program is the way it is."
As for special teams, which might be a concern this season, he gave the nod to Chris Hetland as the current #1 guy in the kicking battle, but says all the other guys have done well. No specific mention of Phillips. He also said Eric Wilbur hasn't punted yet and they're going to be very cautious with him despite already being cleared by the team doctors. Overall, Meyer says the expectations for special teams should be much higher and that they hadn't produced in the past. "It's hard to imagine that Florida was one of the worst teams in the country at kickoff returns when we have four guys sub 4.3 when we timed them in the 40. I think the longest return in the last three years was 30 yards. Good teams average 28 or 29 yards. We have Andre Caldwell and Tremaine but we have one guy that gets most of them, and one guy is going to be the lead blocker. That will be Andre, and we have Jemalle Cornelius, Chad Jackson and DeShawn Wynn. Andre Caldwell looks like he's the starter. Demetrice Webb is going to get an opportunity at punt returner. We have three that we're working out -- Demetrice Webb, Chad Jackson and Vernell Brown."
TALENTED, NOT TOUGH? -- Meyer still struck on the theme of the Gators having talent, but not toughness. "Our toughness and finish are the two things this team is being challenged on right now. If we do not, we will be an average team, again."
DON'T LOOK PAST WYOMING -- With Wyoming looming ahead in a few weeks, he gave a few thoughts on what to expect: "I voted for Joe Glenn as National Coach of the Year, Regional Coach of the Year and Mountain West Coach of the Year because I believe he was. You can watch his teams play on offense, defense and kicking. They are sound. They are excellent. Am I surprised they beat UCLA in a bowl game? No, not at all. What do they bring? They bring an excellent quarterback, probably the most experienced and talented that we will face this year. They have Bouknight, a receiver that I know very well from the last two years we [Utah] played them, and he torched us two years ago. Last year, we [Utah] did OK against him, but he is certainly an SEC-style wide receiver. What they do not bring is the same speed that we have down here in the SEC. So, our advantage would be speed. They have nothing to lose. They are going to come down here and keep it in front of them. I know exactly how they are going to play us. It's hard. They are not going to give you anything. They're not going to have some silly blitz where they're going to come after you and roll the dice at you. That's not the way he coaches, and that's not the way his teams perform. That's going to be a big game on Sept. 3."
WIDE RECEIVERS WILL BE UNIQUE -- Coach Gonzales says that their offense will be unique, especially for the wide receivers because they're going to run the ball more. "It's a unique offense in that we are going to create mismatches any way that we can. Obviously Chad and Bubba have played the receiver position, but we're going to ask them to run the ball. It breaks tendencies because now you have a receiver running the ball. It really helps our offense."
READY FOR THE HEAT -- Coach Meyer, coaching for the first time this far down south in the intense heat and humidity says it's all new to him, but that the sports administration staff are going a great job in making sure everyone is properly hydrated and not overheating. "If you watch us practice between period 17 and 18, before we go to team, they go in and down a Gatorade, and our training staff and weight staff are on it. They try to bring their body temperatures down two degrees. We have had some heat cramping, but our guys do a great job. We are not in the habit of guys losing a lot of weight. The six or seven pounds that they lose is all fluids, and they get it right back."
TEAM LEADERSHIP WILL BE MEASURED IN 22 DAYS -- Meyer: "We have a sign here, and it says that to change something in your life, you have to change the way you think, the way you believe and your expectations. But the thing about that is it's all immeasurable. I can't tell you what you're thinking. I can't tell you your beliefs or your expectations. What you can measure is your attitude, behavior and performance. That is where leadership comes in. I was very proud of what they did this summer. Attitude, how you go out every day, that was hot. We went hard today. Their attitude just kept going. Performance will measure that in about 22 days. That is how you measure leadership to me. So far, it is a passing grade because of what they did throughout the summer and since we have been here."