Gators Will Get Well Deserved Day Off On Sunday

After two weeks of going at it hard on the practice field, the Florida Gators will get Sunday off, a well deserved rest according to Coach Urban Meyer and a chance for a team that's banged up a bit to do some healing. Despite the nicks, bumps and bruises, Meyer is generally happy with where his team is with just two weeks to go before the season opener with Wyoming on September 3.

The Gators have responded to the pushing that's come from a coaching staff aware that the expectations for Florida football are significantly higher than they were at previous stops at Utah and Bowling Green, but also aware that the talent base is strong enough to merit the extra effort.

"We're grinding them pretty hard," said Meyer after Saturday morning's practice. "We're pushing them much harder than we have in a first year, which we can do because there is some leadership."

The leadership has come from players like quarterback Chris Leak and center Mike Degory on offense, and on defense, from linebacker Brandon Siler, safety Jarvis Herring and end Jeremy Mincey. Meyer has continually praised those five players as much for their off the field leadership as he does for their on the field play.

Meyer puts a premium on winning and losing, even in the repetitive drills and in the weight room. Cornerback Vernell Brown has said "Everything we do around here is about winning even if you're just walking to the bathroom."

When it comes to winning and losing, Meyer says that Siler and Degory are all about competing to win.

"Brandon Siler … you don't see him on the losing side very often," said Meyer. "Mike Degory … you won't see him on the losing side very often."

With that kind of leadership and intensity, Meyer's staff has prodded and pushed the players at every practice to go a little harder, to do a little bit more. On the offensive side of the ball, Meyer feels that he can push more than he did at the previous two stops due to the experience of Leak and Degory. Leak has started 21 straight games and Degory has started 38 consecutive games.

"It all starts with the center and the quarterback," said Meyer. "When we went to Utah, we didn't have a quarterback and they had never operated out of the shotgun. There is some carryover here and there are some skilled athletes so we're prettying them pretty good."

INJURY UPDATES: On the injury front, Dee Webb left practice with his arm in a sling, the result of a shoulder injury. The shoulder wasn't iced down, however, and Webb did not seem to be in tremendous pain.

Reserve tight end Markell Thompson sustained an ankle injury Saturday morning. Wide receiver Dallas Baker had some tightness in the back that appears to be just a minor muscular strain and Nick Brooks had some heat issues at the end of practice that were taken care of immediately by the training staff which got him off the field and under the training shed where he was iced down.

Junior college transfer Reggie Nelson missed another practice due to staph infection in his foot, but Meyer said that everything he hears is that Nelson will be cleared to practice again on Monday.

Linebacker Todd McCullough (sore knee) and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (sore back) are expected to be back practicing on Monday. True freshman defensive back Avery Atkins, who missed Friday's practice to attend the funeral of a family member, was back Saturday morning.

"I love his attitude, he's a good kid," said Meyer.

DEPTH ISSUES: While the Gators have had a few players with nagging soreness or dings that have caused a few missed practices, Florida has had only two significant injuries in August and both were to players vying for spots as reserves on the depth chart. True freshman center Eddie Haupt has a bulging disk that will require time to heal so he will redshirt this year. Redshirt freshman John Curtis, a walkon wide receiver from Rockledge, went down during the week with a knee injury that will require surgery.

It is an important development that the Gators have been able to avoid key injuries, particularly to starters, since depth is indeed an issue. But, as Meyer said after Saturday's practice, depth is always an issue.

"Depth is a major, major concern," said Meyer, "but I bet if you polled the top 30 teams in the country, depth is a concern at all of them except maybe USC. From what I hear they're three deep.

"We're not three deep. I've never been three deep."

MEYER'S CONCERNS: The team continues to make good progress on the field. The offense is looking good with Leak starting to ratchet up his game, and the defense is looking like it has a chance to be exceptional.

"Chris Leak had a good day today," said Meyer. "It's day-to-day with him but obviously there is a level of expectation we have at the quarterback position. I'm feeling better and better that he's going to live up to it, so he had a very good day today."

The first unit defense looks fast and aggressive, and it appears that there is some depth developing along the line and the secondary but the linebacker depth continues to be a concern.

There are also depth issues once you get beyond the first team offensive line and also beyond the top four wide receivers.

"Depth and what's going to happen when it's time to win a game with a minute and a half left I don't know," said Meyer.

The coach has questions also about the team's toughness. Mat drills and spring practice were deliberately designed to be more difficult as a way of bringing out the toughness in the team. Although Meyer sees improvements there, he won't know for sure how far the team has come until it actually plays in a game.

"The only question I have is how tough are they?" said Meyer.

DAY OFF ON SUNDAY: With two-a-day practices about to wind down, the Gators will get their first day off in two weeks on Sunday. Classes will begin next week so the last practice day with two sessions will be Monday. Meyer said the day off is deserved.

"It's important for them," said Meyer. "The fact that classes get started and the 20-hour rule goes into effect next week … and we just have to make sure we're ready to go. I do believe they deserve a day off."

RANKINGS: The first coaches' poll came out Saturday morning with Florida starting the season ranked tenth and Utah, the team that Meyer took to a number four national ranking and a 12-0 record last year, unranked.

Meyer said he doesn't put much stock in preseason polls and that Florida's ranking is probably undeserved.

"The team [Florida] went 7-5 last year … I don't know how people do that [rank the team that high]," he said.

As for Utah, he said coaches "look at the quarterback (Alex Smith, first choice in the NFL draft) leaving and the fact that three of the four top receivers are gone."

OFF WITH THE STRIPES: True freshman wide receiver David Nelson lost his stripe Friday night as did walkon freshman wideout Cade Holliday. Holliday is the son of safety Coach Doc Holliday. Holliday is a 5-11, 184-pound true freshman who played high school football at Green Hope, North Carolina.

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