First Scrimmage: It Wasn't Exactly A Work Of Art

It was insufferably hot Tuesday morning, the 93 degree temperature made worse by 25 percent humidity, not exactly optimum conditions for Florida's first football scrimmage. The results weren't exactly optimum, either, because for every completed pass it seemed there were two dropped balls and for every nice running play, it seemed there were at least two plays blown up behind the line of scrimmage.

There weren't a lot of big plays, not even from starting quarterback Chris Leak, whose three completions in nine attempts in the regular phase of the scrimmage rank among his least productive workouts in the three years he's been a Gator. But, there were positive moments, enough so that both Coach Urban Meyer, and his offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen, saw some blocks on which they can build.

First and foremost, the scrimmage wasn't for everybody. Mike Degory sat out as did Jarvis Herring and Ray McDonald and a few others. They weren't playing because Meyer says they've played plenty enough in the past so he has no doubts about what they will do when the pads go on for real.

Todd McCullough sat because of some swelling in his knee and Reggie Nelson spent his day learning what it's like to have Coach Matt Balis pushing you to your limits in The Pit. Reggie sprained an ankle but he'll be fine, too. Marcus Thomas was held out because his back's been sore, but he got to run sprints with Balis hawking him every step.

This was basically a scrimmage for the second and third teamers, the guys that Meyer said Monday evening were doing something other than playing football. There was definitely some carryover from Monday for some of these guys on the second unit, but even there, Meyer found a few positives.

"I like our ones," said Meyer in his post-scrimmage comments. "There are some soldiers and warriors. I really believe that and until they prove me wrong, I believe they're going to go out there and spill it.

"I don't like our twos. There are some twos that are coming on and you saw some guys in there that want to tap out and don't want to go."

If you want to know the real positive of this scrimmage, that's it right there. In the heat and oppressive humidity, with coaches in their faces and letting those who weren't really pushing it have it with both barrels, Urban Meyer found a few more players who can play or who are at least making the effort to get to that point where he can trust them on the field.

Two of the ones who made a positive move were freshmen. Meyer has a new tradition that he's starting at Florida. Freshmen and newcomers have a black stripe on their orange practice helmets. Until they do something, in Meyer's words. "to be Gators," the black stripe stays on.

"You see some freshmen wearing black stripes on their helmets," Meyer said. "Their big brother on the team pulls it off when they've done something to become Gators. They're not Gators yet. Just because they receive a scholarship or you're on the team doesn't make you a Gator."

Reggie Nelson and a couple of others have already lost their stripes. Monday morning there were battlefield promotions for freshman running back Kestahn Moore and freshman offensive tackle Simon Codrington.

"Kestahn Moore got his off based on his performance in the scrimmage," said Meyer. "We usually don't do an on the field promotion like that. That's done in the team meeting at night but Kestahn Moore did a heckuva job today. We usually don't an on the field promotion like that. That's done in the team meeting at night but Kestahn Moore did a heckuva job today.

"The other guy who's really coming along is Simon Codrington. We took his off. He loves the game and he's got a long way to go but he's bypassing some guys who have been here."

The defense played like it belongs on the field for most of the morning while the offense, particularly among the backups, showed there are some players just waiting to be bypassed. Part of the offense's problems could be traced to Mike Degory. He spent the scrimmage on the sideline, working on tanning the growing dome where hair once grew wild and free. In his place, Steve Rissler was adequate at center but Drew Miller, seeing his first scrimmage action ever as a center snapping in the shotgun, had his share of struggles. Meyer has said all along that first and foremost in this offense, the snap has to be there.

Because the snap wasn't there consistently, Leak's timing was thrown off from the start and he never got into a good rhythm. Throw in tight bump and run coverage with the snap issues and it made for a bad day for Leak.

Then there was that teensy matter of focus. Mullen said that the defense got the job done because it came out focused and ready to play, unlike the offense, which misfired more often than it connected.

"I think the defense outplayed us today," said Mullen. "They played harder than we did. I think the beginning of the scrimmage that was quite obvious. We [the offense] came out and we didn't play hard. Our defense came out and played hard today and they hit us right in the face.

"That was the big issue. I don't know if they're ahead of us but they just played harder than we did. That's out job. We can coach that. We'll get our team to play hard."

Mullen said he kept waiting for something to happen that would kick start the offense but it took awhile. That's something else, he says, that will have to change and change pronto.

"We peaked sometimes and there were huge valleys," he said. "There were too many sways either way. We started off really slow and we were hoping that somebody would step up, not make a big play, just step up and change the attitude and get us back on track and it took for about three more series for that to happen.

"That's what we can't have happen. There will be mistakes made during the season but we have to bounce right back and keep the attitude of the whole team. We have to bounce right back and get ready to go."

Mullen may not have liked all the things he saw Tuesday morning --- in fact he admitted he was a bit frustrated --- but he's aware that this is a marathon and not a sprint. The idea is for the offense to keep getting better, even if it takes a couple of games to get the fine tuning right.

"It's not going to come day number one that we're out here and in our first scrimmage," said Mullen. "And, it might take us a game or two to get us at that level. We're going to have to keep learning for awhile."

Meyer saw the patches of sunlight that managed to beam through the clouds of frustration in the first scrimmage. There were four turnovers, which he deemed intolerable, but he also saw freshman Louis Murphy catch a long touchdown pass from a scrambling Josh Portis. He saw Bubba Caldwell juke Brian Crum on his way to a touchdown on a spectacular run with a screen pass. Caldwell's hips went one way, his head the other and Crum grabbed nothing but air before landing face first on the turf. Caldwell, meanwhile danced into the end zone like a ballerina.

"There were some good things happening," said Meyer. "It's not always bad. We get the perception that it's a bad deal. There were some excellent plays."

There just weren't enough excellent plays, that's all. But, it was only a first scrimmage, and the films will be far more revealing over the next 24 hours. By the time the Gators sit down to watch the film tomorrow, every play will have been reviewed and dissected 20 or more times. The coaching staff will have a far better idea which players are ready to step it up and which ones showed they aren't ready for prime time.

So give Meyer and his staff a Mulligan for scrimmage one. It wasn't a work of art, but if it helps the coaching staff get a better handle on who can play and who can't, then it was at least partially successful. The trick over the next two and a half weeks will be to turn Tuesday morning's abstract into a real work of art that can be appreciated by everybody..


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