Progress Steady But Slow For Freshmen WRs

David Nelson got received his Welcome Wagon basket Tuesday morning. Running a pass route across the middle in Florida's first scrimmage, Nelson received his official greeting from safety Kyle Jackson. Jackson and his shoulder arrived pad high as the football arrived, separating Nelson from the ball and leaving the 6-6, 200-pound freshman from Texas wondering if the speeding truck that hit him had run a red light.

There were a couple of anxious moments as Nelson hit the turf, but the rangy freshman got to his knees, shook his head and then managed to put his feet under him. He was pretty shaky as he made his way back to the huddle. He knew he had just received his initiation into the big time.

Jackson's hit was a good one, but as wide receivers Coach Billy Gonzales conceded, probably not anywhere close to some of the ones Nelson will absorb during his college football career. What was important to Gonzalez was that Nelson got back to the huddle, shook off the cobwebs and then got back to practicing at full speed.

The first big hit at that next level is often very revealing. The good receivers will bounce back up and go at it again, but there are others who discover that they don't like the heavy contact, particularly over the middle.

Gonzales says the first hit is also important because it ends the speculation about when it's going to occur. He said that freshmen spend a portion of their practice time when they first arrive on campus wondering when the hit will happen and where it will come from.

"You get anxious about catching that ball and until you get that first big time hit you think about it and when it's going to come," said Gonzales. "You obviously don't want to take a big shot but as it comes through you'll take a couple."

Getting that first big hit out of the way is just part of what the freshman wide receivers go through. Gonzales says it's almost a two steps forward and one step backwards kind of thing. The toughest part is the learning curve. The young guys have so much coming at them in a short period of time that they are often dazed and confused. Just remembering the play can be difficult.

Gonzales said that the young guys will make some plays that let you know they're improving and then "just when you think they're coming on we'll put another couple more plays in and their production drops off."

Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen added, "You put in an entire offense and they start to scramble and wonder where am I supposed to line up on this play?"

Florida has four quality wide receivers on the depth chart in Dallas Baker, Chad Jackson, Bubba Caldwell and Jemalle Cornelius. Tate Casey is the only tight end who is playing. That leaves three open slots for wide receivers to step in for playing time because Coach Urban Meyer says that it takes eight receivers to run in and out of his spread option offense for it to be effective. That opens the door for Nelson and fellow freshmen Nyan Boateng and Louis Murphy.

Mullen says the three freshmen are all making progress but they're not ready for prime time quite yet.

"Louis Murphy has shown me toughness that he can block and he's an exceptionally quick learner," said Gonzales. "Nyan Boateng made some plays early and then I kinda hadn't heard from him awhile. He's coming back now, getting more confident. He wasn't playing with confidence because he couldn't remember all the plays. David Nelson was the same way. David Nelson is very smart but he was thinking too much that 'I have to do this, I have to do that' that he forgot about getting open and catching the ball."


Nyan Boateng tries to elude Sledge

Mullen said the young guys are "getting there. Freshmen improve in significant gains. I would like to see them a little further ahead. It's hard to see their talent right now because they're thinking every play. When they're thinking every play it's hard for them to use all their talents."

Gonzales knows it's just a matter of time before the reps in practice are of the quality that he will have the confidence to insert the young guys in a real game. The young receivers were brought to Florida because they have the ability to be playmakers and Gonzalez said this offense is all about getting the ball in the hands of the people who can make the plays.

"We spread the ball around," said Gonzales. "The whole scheme of our offense is to get the ball to our playmakers in space. At the end of the game all of our receivers should touch the ball a bunch of times; all or our running backs should touch the ball a bunch of times. We're not an offense that we're looking to get the ball to one guy 40 times and nobody else touches it. We're going to spread it around to all the playmakers."

Even if they are freshmen.

FILM REVIEW: The day after the first scrimmage (Wednesday) saw the Gators go two-a-day in shorts and shoulder pads. Meyer said he was pleased with the effort the day after a very hard scrimmage.

"From Charlie (Strong, co-defensive coordinator), who's been here for awhile, and some of the players, that scrimmage was a hard one," said Meyer. "I let them go out with shoulder pads and shorts first and second practice. I really appreciate their effort today."

After reviewing the film of that scrimmage, Meyer said that he didn't read too much into it.

"Film's always never as good as you think or as bad as you think," he said. "There were some really good plays, some really good effort. We're just really far behind offensively. I don't know if saw our two minute drill but we've got a long way to go."

Mullen said that the offense may not look good right now but it is making progress each practice. He said that what is most important is for the players to get the repetitions.

"It's not a complicated offense but it takes time," he said. "What it is about is taking advantage of the defense gives you. Until you've seen enough of the looks over and over again it's hard to make that split second decision to take advantage of it.

"And that's what we're trying to do …accelerate that learning process, give everybody all the looks so we're ready to go."

Although he's learning the offense same as everyone else, it helps that quarterback Chris Leak has two years of starting experience as he makes the adjustment from the offense he ran the previous two years before Meyer became Florida's coach.

The main job for the quarterback in this offense is to make sound decisions about what to do with the ball. Making those sound decisions is all about recognition and Leak's experience helps.

Mullen said experience quarterbacks should do well in this spread option offense because "they recognize the looks. It's not like all of a sudden they don't know how to read a defense or they haven't been in a game situation when it's live and all of a sudden, the pressure's really on. We've already overcome that hurdle. Now we just have to get him [Leak] to see all the plays against all the defenses."

OFFENSIVE LINE UPDATE: The first team offensive line continues to be one of the team's strong points. Mullen likes what he sees of the first unit.

"Our pass protection has picked up with our offensive line with the ones," said Mullen. "[Offensive line coach] John Hevesy is doing a great job and he's got [tight ends coach] Steve Addazio down there working with him. Fundamentally, our offensive line has gotten a lot better with pass protection. That's critical for our offense."

But it isn't the first team offensive line that's a concern. It's the second unit, which now has a true freshman as the number two left tackle, backing up starter Randy Hand. Simon Codrington of Miami has supplanted two redshirt freshmen (Jason Watkins and Michael Brown) to take over that spot.

"We just have no depth, our backup left tackle is a true freshman," said Meyer.

Mullen said that Codrington is a good prospect who will be a very good player, but right now he's battling to learn while at the same time he's performing against the first team defense.

"Here's a guy trying to learn those fundamentals and trying to catch up with the speed of the game, going against the number one defense every day," said Mullen. "He competes. That's the most important thing. We'll coach him up and we'll get him to learn it all, but he competes and I'm happy with his effort."

INJURY UPDATE: Sophomore defensive back Reggie Nelson's ankle problem is not a sprain, but a staph infection, according to Meyer.

"He's getting better," said Meyer. "They're saying two days probably; four days is the worst; tomorrow is the best. He's getting better. It's an infection, not a sprain. I kinda was surprised by that, too."

First team right guard Jim Tartt (shoulder) missed practice again but only because his shoulder is still sore. Meyer said he will be find. First team left tackle Randy Hand was back practicing too. His sore knee is better.

Defensive tackle Marcus Thomas was dressed and participating in drills but not contact.

"I don't think he did all the individual drills but we kept him out of main contact with the team," said Meyer.

Thomas is coming back from back surgery and the soreness has been anticipated. He is expected to have some days with soreness off and on for the next month or two.

Freshman center Eddie Haupt has a bulging disk in his back. Haupt was already a candidate for a redshirt. Meyer said that the disk problem ended all the speculation about holding him out.

"He will definitely redshirt," said Meyer. "I met with him and his family today and we're going to try everything before surgery. Surgery is a last resort."


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