Head Games? Meyer? Say It Ain't So!

With two weeks of August practice under their belts and a little less than two weeks remaining before the Florida Gators open their season with Wyoming in The Swamp, the only two certainties are that attitudes have definitely changed and the offense is indeed a work in progress. Other than that, it's all a guess and in all probability, that is exactly the way Coach Urban Meyer wants it.

Attitudes are the telltale sign that Meyer's whole life approach to football is taking anchor with this football team. For attitude changes to take hold, they have to start at the top. Meyer has been the model of consistency, making everything a win or loss situation for his players. Create the burning desire to win even in the small things and it will permeate its way through the entire team. A team that refuses to lose is a team that will claw and fight through the tough games, particularly in those fourth quarters where meltdowns became a way of life the last three years.

Attitude also begins with a coaching staff that sees everything as a black and white. There are no gray areas and that means the approach is completely no excuses allowed.

If you watched practice in the spring, then you're aware that one of the fastest ways to flip the tirade switch with one of the assistant coaches was for a player to offer up an excuse. Apparently the lessons learned in spring have carried over because August has been virtually excuse-free on the practice field. The lack of excuses has translated into fewer screaming sessions by coaches who have instead devoted their time to teaching.

Changed attitudes are also evident with classroom performance. The overall team GPA is the highest it's been in years, reportedly a full half-point higher than what it was back in January. Earlier in the week, Meyer said his starting defensive linemen all were below 2.0 when he arrived, but now they are well above the GPA Mendoza Line.

A third area that it's evident where attitudes have been changed is in the way the players go at it in practice. Make no mistake about it practices are hard to the point that they're almost brutal when you throw in a heat index that daily is at least five or six points above 100. Despite the heat and the intensity that is expected out of each player, it's rare to hear coaches getting on a player for failing to go hard on a play or during a drill.

If you need further evidence of that, take a look at players like Nick Brooks, now challenging for a starting position at safety. Brooks was at or near the top of Meyer's "don't like list" back in the spring because of his lack of effort and bad attitude. Now, the fourth-year junior from Warner Robins, Georgia is playing hard, making a contribution every day in practice and showing the attitude of someone who's seen the light.

The attitudes are important for Meyer because he's engaged in an interesting team building concept, the likes of which haven't been seen around here or perhaps anywhere else in the Southeastern Conference. Meyer is of the opinion that the foundations of championships are built on the backs of disciplined teams that share a collective mindset that is one and the same with the leadership at the top. The philosophy worked well enough to turn perennial bottom feeder Bowling Green into a 17-game winner in two years and middle-dweller Utah into a 22-game winner that included last year's perfect 12-0 season.

Of course, the question since Meyer took the job at Florida was could he implement that kind of mindset with the Gators without a player revolt or mass exodus? If there has been a revolution it has been one in which the old ways were abandoned and Meyer's new ways have been embraced. Tree Morant and Dane Guthrie bolted the program for the desert at Arizona State but other transfers never materialized. So much for the massive exodus.

The offense can only be considered a work in progress, at least if the first scrimmage is a true indicator of where things stand. After a spring in which the passing game looked borderline marvelous and the running game looked anemic, it is the passing game that has been sporadic in August. Chris Leak, thought to be a pure pocket passer, not only took off on the option in the first scrimmage, but he showed some jets as he pulled away from the secondary in what would have been about a 60-yard touchdown run had the whistle not blown to stop the play.

The Fab Four wide receivers --- Dallas Baker, Chad Jackson, Jemalle Cornelius and Bubba Caldwell --- all have had their outstanding moments in August, but when the pads went on and hitting was allowed, each of them had at least one critical drop in the first scrimmage. Baker (poster child for changed attitudes) has been the model of consistency in practice but even he had two drops last Tuesday.

The running star of the spring was redshirt freshman Markus Manson but he's been up one day and down the next since drills began in August. Skyler Thornton has had the same kind of August. Meanwhile rising from the depths of a season and a half of mediocrity has been DeShawn Wynn, who has become a model of decorum, hard work and consistency in August. If there is a surprise in the running game it is true freshman Kestahn Moore, who runs hard on every play.

Meyer takes time to praise his first unit offensive line on an almost daily basis and almost in the same breath he talks about the distance between the first unit and second unit O-lines. Seniors dominate the first unit O-line while freshmen are filling up the spots on the second unit.

With all these inconsistencies in practice it is only safe to say that with two weeks before game one, the offense has a lot of ground to make up. No one is expecting the Gators to be a polished offensive machine in game one, but Gator fans are holding their collective breaths because they see the mighty Vols coming to town in less than a month. Tennessee is not the kind of team that treads softly on an opponent struggling with its offense.

In public, Meyer makes it a point to mention all the inconsistencies and weaknesses. So far, it doesn't come across as pour-mouthing --- something that one of his coaching mentors, Lou Holtz, turned into an art form. Because it is a transition year for the Gators --- a new offense and a new coaching staff --- no one is expecting miracles of Red Sea parting proportions so talk that the offense isn't where it needs to be and that there are glaring problems and weaknesses are more or less expected.

There is also a lack of steady information coming out about August practices. Practices were only open to the public for one week and those practices were held on a commandeered rec field across from the performing arts center on the southwest side of campus. Fans were herded into the south end zone and the media into what amounted to a cattle pen on the northeast end of the field. To put it mildly, the view was terrible.

After a week of "open" practices, the doors have been shut and the Gators have practiced in private, leaving only those lingering images of an erratic first scrimmage and a few practices in which the offense sputtered. Intended or not, those lingering images are serving Meyer's purpose. It's bad enough for opposing defensive coordinators that they can only watch films of Utah and Bowling Green because there are no films of the Gators running the spread option but now there are no reports to let them know if the passing game struggles continue and if there are problems on the offensive line or with any phase of the game.

There is no question in anyone's mind that Florida has the personnel to be extremely good on offense but without daily reports coming out of Gainesville to confirm what Meyer is doing, opponent's defensive coordinators are going to have to guess how he matches players to his offensive schemes, a key component of proper game-planning. Maybe Meyer didn't intend it to be this way when practice started two weeks ago but considering his penchant for head games with players, it would not be a surprise if he's making it a point to get in the heads of some defensive coordinators.

Almost every school on Florida's schedule is on the NCAA-mandated 20-hours-a-week practice/game plan now, meaning there is precious little time to devote to the Gators. It's hard enough to scheme for a team when you have a reasonable clue what they're going to do; next to impossible when you only have a trickle of information flowing your way.

Maybe that's why Urban always has this sly grin on his face at the end of practice.

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