ACK: Grading The Gators In Preseason

Camp Meyer is officially over and year one provided one of the most grueling camps in recent Gator history. Not only did the staff push this group to the limit physically on the field but the conditions in North Central Florida were as hot and muggy as I can ever remember. I think Florida accomplished its mission of having tough, hard nosed practices while limiting the amount of serious injuries to key personnel.

It is extremely tough for any new staff because they want to find out how good and how tough their players are after summer conditioning. The 85-scholarship limit is in full effect now at the Division I level and you can see a visible change in practice schedules and approaches by coaches. It is much different for most programs than it was even ten years ago. Overall, I am sure Urban Meyer is pleased with the results, but like most of us he awaits to see the finished product on the field in a real game setting.

Since Camp Meyer is officially over let's take a look at the Good and Not So Good:

GOOD: The switch of Ray McDonald to defensive end gives UF it's most imposing and talented front since the late 90's.

NOT SO GOOD: Senior linebacker Todd McCullough, who had a terrific spring, missed a lot of practice with nagging soreness in his knee.

GOOD: The starting five on the offensive line look very good. Lance Butler, Jim Tartt, Mike Degory, Tavares Washington and Randy Hand seem very comfortable and formidable in the new offense.

NOT SO GOOD: UF has only one healthy tight end (Tate Casey) going into the season and he is more of a receiver than a blocker.

GOOD: Andre Caldwell, Dallas Baker and Dallas Baker had strong camps and could be UF's best corps statistically since 1996.

NOT SO GOOD: UF may have to go with a freshman as one of its top reserves at receiver. The fifth spot which may still be up for grabs is held by Casey (tight end) and Gavin Dickey (backup quarterback).

GOOD: Chris Leak has become vocal leader. We know he has the talent and the experience but the next step has started and that is to lead his football team.

NOT SO GOOD: Meyer has yet to settle on a kicker and it may be a battle that has to be decided in game action. The competitors need to prove they can do it in front of 90,000.

GOOD: The rebirth of several players who seemed down the depth chart with the prior staff such as Brian Crum, Deshawn Carter, Mike McIntosh and Kenneth Tookes.

GOOD: Reggie Nelson, Avery Atkins and John Demps look to be a good as advertised. These new Gators should play significant roles this fall.

NOT SO GOOD: A running back did not separate himself from the pack in fall camp so it could be by committee until someone breaks out during the season.

GOOD: Chris Leak and Mike Degory are healthy and Brandon Siler, who has been held out recently for precautionary reasons after a minor concussion, should be healthy and ready to go. I think these may the most important players on the team.

NOT SO GOOD: UF's linebacking corps needs to stay healthy through the first half of the season until the backups can get their feet wet.

GOOD: No season ending injuries during camp Meyer and as the opener get closer this team will be getting healthier.

Random Thoughts:

RUNNING BACK SITUATION: Running back by committee isn't always a bad thing. In the mid 80's Lorenzo Hampton, Neal Anderson, and John L. Williams led the Florida offense. In the early 90's Willie McClendon and Erict Rhett shared time while in the mid 90's Eli Williams, Terry Jackson and Fred Taylor proved to be a deep unit. It can be done and teams can have success at the college level with several mouths to feed in the backfield. The one major difference in this group is that I don't think they are collectively as good as any of the combos I mentioned. Game one will provide someone with an opportunity to step forward and be the "feature" back. The running game is very important to this offense and someone needs to take the reigns. Before camp my gut was Marcus Manson and he may need to step up against Wyoming if the persistent rumor that Wynn will be suspended for one game is true. If that's the case, Wynn certainly looks poised to take the job in week two.

RECEIVERS: True freshman Nyan Boateng has been a very nice surprise for UF this fall. Boateng is a freshman who will definitely play in 2005. He has good speed and is built like a veteran who has been in the system. Dallas Baker had a strong camp which was his best August yet at Florida. The receiving corps will have to be tough this year as many routes are called across the middle of the field. One guy who has been relatively quiet but is cemented as a starter is Jemalle Cornelius. It will be interesting to see what his role is in the offense will be with real game action.

QUARTERBACKS: Meyer recently said that Josh Portis has pulled away from Cornelius Ingram as the backup quarterback at UF. Gavin Dickey has also gotten snaps in recent practices and will provide depth should Chris Leak get injured. I think you will see Dickey in the game at quarterback with a package. Dickey may be used much like "Slash" Stewart was at Pittsburgh or on a regular basis like DJ Shockley with Georgia. I do think he will play at quarterback this year and run the option package. Dickey is a bright kid who can handle both spots.

SECONDARY: With Reggie Nelson missing more than a week of practice his shot to overtake Vernell Brown was basically over. He still has a shot to be the nickel back and he should play a bunch against Wyoming and Louisana Tech. Expect UF to have five defensive backs on the field a lot in the first two weeks and Nelson is competing with Deshawn Carter for that fifth spot. Reggie Lewis, Nick Brooks,Tony Joiner and Carter have provided some quality depth to the secondary and the unit is the deepest on the defensive side of the ball.

LINEBACKERS: The big three have been held out of a lot of contact lately but I expect to see Siler and Everett on the field a bunch in the opener. In nickel situation Todd McCullough is out of the lineup so he has some time to get 100% ready for the Tennessee game. The Volunteers are more of a pro style attack and UF will need three linebackers against the boys from Rocky Top. Brian Crum, John Demps will probably be the next two off the bench and Eric Rutledge has had a good solid camp.

DEFENSIVE LINE: I have already mentioned the front four and certainly how Marcus Thomas's back responds will have much to say about the success of the unit. The tackle position is fortified by the fact that Joe Cohen can move inside, along with Javier Estopinan, Clint McMillan and Lutrell Alford. You may see a lot of the 3-3-5 look in the first two games which should keep the linemen fresh because of the spread attacks. This is also an option for Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong should some guys get banged up.

RECENT SCRIMMAGE, AUGUST 23: UF held a 120-plus play scrimmage in which the offense finally had some big plays. The Gator running backs and receivers were not able to consistently move the ball against the defense but were able to rip off big chunks of yardage. The misdirection in the running game and the downfield passing game were highlights of the scrimmage. Defensively the line continues to develop into a force with the pass rush and has really played the run well in camp. The secondary, victimized by some terrific throws by Leak, continues to be in position on every throw. There were some sloppy plays including bad snaps and penalties. There were also some drops by the receiving corps which haunted UF in the last (open to the media) scrimmage. It was once again a long, physically demanding scrimmage in which the team proved it's in shape for the upcoming season.

WYOMING SNEAK PEEK: In their final scrimmage of the preseason the defense dominated the much more experienced offense. Joe Glenn says he has six linebackers that can play and the Cowboys are two deep in the secondary. Wyoming has had a couple of guys nicked up but should come into the game healthy and confident. The offensive line that gave up 40 sacks a year ago should be much improved. The key for the Cowboys will be the running game which struggled a year ago. Joe Glenn has always had strong running game wherever he has coached.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: College football is beginning with some serious win streaks on the line. USC has won 22 in a row, Utah 16 and Auburn 15. Boise State has won 21 regular season games in a row and Iowa has won 19 straight home games. These teams will be fun to watch. It will also be interesting to see how long UCF's 15-game losing streak extends in the 2005 season. Of all the streaks the first one Meyer would like to make a run at is Iowa's home winning streak. UF dominated at home in the 90's which is why they were always in the hunt for a title.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Pepe Lescano was a Gator quarterback from 1985-1987. He backed up the legendary Kerwin Bell and turned out to be a solid player. Lescano sells heart valves in Ft. Lauderdale for ATS Medical and is married to Stacy. They have three children, twins Max and Nicole and daughter Katie.

Got a question for Brady? Click here!

Listen to the Brady Ackerman show on-line at www.floridasportstalk.com from Monday-Friday 7-10am. Ackerman is also Sun Sports TV analyst for college football and Gator Post Game.


Fightin Gators Top Stories