Leak Starting To Master Meyer's Offense

One by one the questions are answered. Coach Urban Meyer had a bunch of them when Florida finished spring football back in April but as the Gators begin their game-week preparations for their season opener with Wyoming, the list of questions dwindles on an almost daily basis.

The most important question at the end of spring practice was could quarterback Chris Leak handle Meyer's spread option offense? There was no question that Leak had the physical abilities to handle the position but there were lingering doubts that he could become the vocal leader that Meyer demands at quarterback as well as questions regarding the length of time it would take for him to become comfortable with his third offensive coordinator in three years.

At Monday's media day gathering, Meyer said that Leak is entering game week coming off the best two or three days of practice he's had.

"It's not just throwing the ball … everybody knows he can throw the ball but just the execution of the offense," said Meyer. "Flipping protections and doing all the things we ask our quarterback to do … he's done a heckuva job."

Leak comes into his junior year with 21 starts at quarterback to go with 5,632 passing yards and 45 touchdown passes. He was the top passing quarterback in the Southeastern Conference last season as a sophomore but that was under Ron Zook with Larry Fedora as his offensive coordinator. That was a shotgun offense that spread the field and distributed the ball to several different receivers but it was quite a bit different than the spread option offense that Meyer and his staff brought to Florida from Utah.

In the previous offense, Leak basically looked to the sideline as did everybody else to get the play. He didn't have to call a play or audible. All the plays, all the audibles were signaled in from the sideline.

"He would go through without saying a word during games," said Meyer. "He would not have to say a word. He would look over and everybody would be signaling and they would snap the ball when Mike Degory said it was time to snap the ball."

In Meyer's offense, the quarterback is THE man which means that Leak will be thrust into a far different situation, one in which he has a number of responsibilities. Because Leak was such a quiet guy --- almost a loner --- the big question after the spring was did he possess the leadership characteristics necessary to take charge of the team?

Meyer spent the tour of Gator Clubs calling out his quarterback at every turn. All the talk about Leak and leadership was a more than subtle hint that the days of quiet were over and the days of a vocal leader had arrived. Meyer let it be known that Leak's days of watching film alone had to end if the offense was to improve to the level that the coach expects. Meyer said that if Leak became the vocal leader that the team would follow.

"They [team] need to look at the general and the general of the offense is the quarterback," said Meyer.

Simply becoming more vocal was only a portion of the equation. Leak had to set the example for the team. At Bowling Green, Meyer had Josh Harris who stepped into that leadership role well enough that he plays in the NFL now. At Utah, Alex Smith stepped it up as a leader to the point that he became the number one draft choice in the NFL Draft last April.

For Leak to become the leader that Meyer demanded, the summer months were the most critical time. Because the staff can't get on the field to offer any coaching or assistance during the summer months, Meyer knew that Leak had to exert himself as a leader worthy of following.

"During the summer, leadership is not just vocal," Meyer said. "Leadership is the ability to bring guys in on his own time to sit and watch film with him."

Meyer also wanted Leak comfortable and assertive enough to be able to go up to a wide receiver who may have dropped the football or committed some other faux paus that dropped passes, wrong routes and missed assignments were no longer tolerable.

Degory said Leak's assumption of a leadership capacity was partly due to maturation.

"Now that he's a junior, he can be more vocal," said Degory. "As a freshman and sophomore, you're still kind of finding your own way but he's not a true freshman starting anymore. He's been through the battles and has the experience. I think he was headed that way anyway but Coach Meyer has definitely accelerated the process."

The Chris Leak that Meyer was hoping and expecting began to emerge. When August two-a-days began, it was definitely a different Chris Leak on the field than the one who had quietly made his way through spring practice.

"His leadership skills and his ability to function in this offense as a quarterback … it's night and day," said Meyer.

BACKUP QUARTERBACK: Meyer has not yet named his backup quarterback and though he wouldn't settle in on one Monday, he did say that the situation at the number two position is "a little better than it's been."

Meyer said that junior Gavin Dickey and true freshman Josh Portis have moved ahead of redshirt freshman Cornelius Ingram and that it would be possible for Dickey and Portis to take snaps in the Wyoming game.

"Gavin Dickey is there potentially," said Meyer. "And Josh is a little ahead of Cornelius although Cornelius will excite you sometimes. There's a chance you are going to see Gavin Dickey, Josh Portis and Chris Leak take a snap Saturday.

"We won't announce a backup because there's no reason to. I don't know who he is yet."

Meyer said that he would monitor Portis's excitement level after making that run through the tunnel to the roar of 90,000 fans in The Swamp before putting his precocious freshman on the field.

"That's just a touch different than Taft High School in Los Angeles," said Meyer. "I want to see his reaction."

CALDWELL IMPRESSIVE: It was in his junior year that the lights went on for Reche Caldwell, the former Gator wide receiver who is the older brother of Bubba Caldwell. After two seasons in which he showed flashes of his wealth of natural skills, Reche came on strong as a junior to post a superb season. Bubba seems to be following the same pattern. Meyer said Monday that the lights aren't just flickering anymore with Bubba, but they're starting to burn brightly.

Meyer said that in the spring, Caldwell was simpy a "nice guy," which is his term for players who try hard but don't accomplish much. Now, however, the nice guy is becoming a real playmaker.

"Bubba Caldwell is turning into the deal," said Meyer. "He's becoming a wide receiver. Before he was just a fast guy who would catch a couple of passes and run away from people but when they played a big time opponent and that guy was as fast as he was he didn't do very well."

Caldwell's career numbers are 62 catches for 863 yards and three touchdowns. Reche finished his career with 141 catches for 2,088 yards. In his junior (and final) season, Reche caught 65 passes for 1,059 yards and 10 touchdowns.

RESPECT FOR WYOMING: Meyer made it perfectly clear that neither the coaching staff or the players will take Wyoming lightly. The Cowboys of Coach Joe Glenn are coming into this game expecting to play well and believing they can win.

"All you have to do is watch the film," said Meyer. "They beat Ole Miss and UCLA [last season]. Then you see their talent and the way they execute on offense. There are no rah rah speeches because our team will be very ready to play."

Meyer said that Wyoming quarterback Corey Bramlett "might be the top quarterback we'll face this fall … he's an excellent player."

The Cowboys have a superb wide receiver in Jovon Bouknight who has 173 career catches for more than 2,500 yards and more than 4,000 yards of all-purpose yardage in his three years in Laramie.

"Bouknight is certainly an SEC caliber receiver," Meyer said.

This is the ninth time that Meyer has coached against the University of Wyoming in his 20 years of coaching college football. He said that there will be no lack of preparation for the team that Meyer beat 45-28 last season when he was at Utah..

"I know exactly what we're going to get," he said. "There are no secrets involved when you play a team like Wyoming. Maybe UCLA was shocked by them. Florida will not be shocked by the University of Wyoming because we know them, we've seen enough film on them and we have great respect for who they are."


Fightin Gators Top Stories