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The foremost thing you try to accomplish without the pads in week one is to check the conditioning. Are guys fresh, faster and in better shape than the last time you worked with them? UF had a 98 percent success rate in their conditioning tests last week.
Second,you look to see how "athletic" your team is. Guys at the skill positions have a chance to show some athletic moves without full contact. Third, you are looking for good timing in your offense and knowledge of your defensive systems. Coaches want players to shake of the "rust" and become very efficient in the first couple of days of practice. The less thinking and more reacting that goes on the better your team is going to be. Finally, I think what every coach demands and wants to see is enthusiasm out of his team. Guys should be excited and flying around looking to show the coaches that this year is going to be a great one.
Defenders should be having roll call at the ball and backs and receivers should be scoring on every play. Without pads on you look to accomplish these thing so that when camp "officially begins" once the hitting starts your team is prepared and ready to go. The first part of camp is mostly about the skilled guys and the young guys while lineman and veterans are chomping at the bit to hit someone. The first part of camp is like the appetizer at a good five course meal.
FRESHMEN OF INFLUENCE: You never want to get too excited about freshman until the pads go on but this year's class has some potential to help the Gators. I still want to see everyone when the bullets are flying and how the young guys adjust to the speed of the game. There are some freshmen that could become top backups and key special teams players this year.
Some of the guys could play prominent roles as soon as the Wyoming game. Avery Atkins is athletic and brash at corner and unless he is scared to put pads on will play this season. Jon Demps and Darryl Gresham have a chance to help the Gators at linebacker. Demps is the most highly regarded but both of these guys could really help special teams right out of the gate. You have good special teams when your backups at linebacker, defensive back and receiver are actively involved and very talented. Dorian Munroe is another guy that I will have my eye on at safety. He seems athletic and physically ready to help the team especially on special teams.
On offense Nyan Boateng has already received praise from Meyer which is a pretty good sign. Boateng who plays receiver has the advantage of coming in with no pressure and older receivers will have to step up or he could be the fifth or sixth guy this season. Finally, running back Kestahn Moore is a running back with quickness and should contribute this year. Moore could benefit from the cloud around Wynn and may be forced to play right away against Wyoming. I don't count Reggie Nelson in the freshmen group be he obviously will play and play a lot this year in the secondary.
GREAT QUARTERBACK DEBATE: Chris Leak is the starter, but the debate is who should be the backup? I think Josh Portis will win the job and has the potential to be really special. There is a difference between spring and fall practice and if he struggles it could set up an interesting decision for Dan Mullen and Urban Meyer. They would like to see Portis or Cornelius Ingram emerge as the clear cut number two so they can keep Gavin Dickey as the fifth receiver full time. Dickey is athletic, unselfish and the kind of kid every coach wants on his team. Dickey is solid at quarterback but not really a great passer and you really want to get him on the field. Ingram has just not played enough because of basketball and being redshirted so he has the most ground to make up. Dickey could continue to get some snaps at quarterback as a contingency plan should the other two get stuck in neutral. I think Portis can do it and that is what would be best for the long term outlook for this team but expect Dickey to do whatever is asked of him because he is a true team player.
NEWS OF THE WEEK: While many people feel the possible Deshawn Wynn suspension is the biggest news of the week, I cannot agree with that. First, regarding Wynn, I believe he must be doing something right for the coaches to have mentioned his weight being down and that he is in the mix at tailback. This offense is a run based scheme that will require some depth and for now he can provide that after the opener. I have said all along I thought Markus Manson would be the guy and now it is time for him to show what he can do. Skyler Thornton and Moore will provide a good battle in camp and Coach Meyer will address the Wynn situation prior to the start of the season.
The biggest news to me this week was the shuffling of the defensive line. Ray McDonald who was recruited as a defensive end will move outside in Joe Cohen's spot. This allows Greg Mattison the ability to put his four best linemen on the field at one time. It also helps with depth because Cohen will double train at tackle and end and Javier Estopinan has moved inside in large part because Michael Hill is no longer with the team. You have to be solid in the front seven and play great defense if you are going to compete for a national title. The development of Steven Harris has really helped the coaches make this move and I think it's a great decision.
Much is being made of UF and Leak being on the cover of Sports Illustrated and it certainly is a great honor. To me the fact that Leak is a junior speaks volumes about the success he could achieve this year. In 1965 Steve Spurrier led the SEC in passing and UF was 4-2 in the SEC. In 1991, Shane Mathews was a junior that led the Gators to the SEC Crown and was player of the year. Danny Wuerffel matched Mathews and took the Gators to the Fiesta Bowl where UF played for the National Title. Can Chris Leak achieve the level of these Gator Greats?
The Gators were picked third by Sports Illustrated and I am not sure why so many people are surprised. Everyone was pointing to 2005 as the year of the Gators. Leak's class which was the best in the country would be juniors and have the experience. Throw in National Coach of the Year Urban Meyer from 2004 and you might have the right mix for a run to Pasadena.
Wyoming was picked 25th by Sports Illustrated and is coming off a bowl win over UCLA. Florida's newly shuffled defensive front will have a chance right away to prove if it will be improved. Last season Wyoming gave up 40 sacks and returns 4 starters. If UF can't get pressure against that group it may not be a good sign.
Speaking of defense here are some numbers from the four BCS bowl winners that tell the tale of having a good defense equals a big season for Florida. USC was the National Champion and led the country with 33 turnover forced and 48 sacks. Auburn the Sugar Bowl Champion allowed only 4 rushing touchdowns the entire season. The Tigers led the nation in scoring defense last year at 11.7 points per game. Rose Bowl Champion Texas was the best third down defense in the country allowing on 26 percent conversion rate for the entire season. Finally, the Fiesta Bowl Champion Utah Utes grabbed 29 turnovers and were third in the country in turnover margin. Good rush defense, pressure with sacks, great third down defense and good scoring defense are four major areas that the Gators need to excel to reach a BCS Bowl and have a big year.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? John Reaves, quarterback from 1969-1972, is a commercial realtor and developer in Tampa. He has two sons, David and Stephen, and a daughter Layla that all have football ties. David is Spurrier's quarterback assistant at South Carolina while Stephen is a college quarterback at Michigan State and Layla is married to new Southern Cal offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin Reaves was the "gunslinger" at UF and will always be remembered for his performance in 1969 as a "super soph," throwing for 24 touchdowns.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Last year at Utah, Urban Meyer's team was only the fourth college football program since 1950 to win every game by more than 14 points.
Listen to the Brady Ackerman show on-line at www.floridasportstalk.com from Monday-Friday 7-10 a.m. Ackerman is also Sun Sports TV analyst for college football and Gator Post Game.