Gators Experiencing Depth Crunch At WR

In the third quarter of Saturday's 35-9 victory over Mississippi State, Coach Urban Meyer took a look out on the field and wondered where the plays were going to come from. He had quarterback Chris Leak playing with a sprained shoulder, wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius out for the game with a high ankle sprain, tailback DeShawn Wynn doing limited duty after missing a week of practice and wide receivers Dallas Baker and Chad Jackson on the sideline dinged up.

"At one point in the third quarter we were down to zero playmakers who had any experience on the field," said Meyer during his Sunday morning conference call with the media.

Florida entered the season in a depth crunch at wide receiver with only four experienced players returning at that position. With Bubba Caldwell out for the season with a broken leg and Cornelius out, Florida played the bulk of the game with Dallas Baker and Chad Jackson as the only experienced threats at wide receiver. Baker came up big with seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown while Jackson caught seven balls for 78 yards. Jackson also had four rushing attempts for 28 yards.

Due to the depth issues, several backups saw extended playing time. Junior Kenneth Tookes didn't catch a pass but he played extensively. Senior walk-on Kyle Morgan started the game although he didn't make a catch. True freshman Nyan Boateng caught two passes for 44 yards in extended playing time and former quarterback Gavin Dickey caught his first pass of the season for 12 yards.

Boateng showed real explosiveness when he got the football, but he also showed that he's only a rookie.

"Obviously everybody saw with the ball in his hand that he has talent but then he has a missed assignment the next play, a holding penalty," said Meyer. "Game experience is priceless especially in the heart of the battle."

The depth issue could be clouded further if there are any problems with Chad Jackson's knee. He banged it up in the third quarter Saturday and while he returned to play, he was to be examined further on Sunday. Baker was out part of the third quarter with cramping issues but he should be fine.

If Jackson has to miss any time, the Gators will be scrambling at a position that already has issues. Meyer says he has to have 12 scholarship receivers to be in a comfort zone with personnel.

"We started the season with four experienced guys," said Meyer, noting that Caldwell was lost for the season in game three and Cornelius was injured in the second half against Alabama. During the week of practice prior to the Mississippi State game, Meyer kept hoping that Cornelius' ankle would respond to treatment.

"We were hoping he [Cornelius] would come back but the further the week went that wasn't going to happen so we were down to two experienced receivers," he said. "We've been known to play 30 snaps with five receivers, so just do the math. There were major problems out there. Ideally you would like to have five thoroughbreds out there running at wide receiver for you."

The problems at wide receiver were complicated by Leak's sprained shoulder. Leak injured the shoulder against Alabama the week before and required a cortisone shot before Saturday's game. During the practice week, Leak was very limited in what he could do. Wednesday, he was limited to 15 passes in practice and Meyer thinks that effected Leak's timing and rhythm early in the game.

"I think any time the quarterback doesn't practice it effects his throwing," said Meyer. "The speed post he's been pretty accurate on and he threw it high to Dallas Baker. That was a product either of a sore shoulder and/or a lack of practice."

Leak's limitations forced Meyer and his offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen, to give plenty of attention to backup Josh Portis during the practice week. Meyer thought the true freshman from Los Angeles made strides both in practice and during Saturday's game when he came on early because Leak's shoulder went numb for awhile after absorbing a big hit. For the game, Portis was 3-5 passing for 45 yards and an interception. He ran five times for 40 yards.

"He [Portis] actually did well until he threw that darned interception," said Meyer. "He's getting a little better each week and he's probably made normal progress for a freshman. I'm not going to say I'm extremely confident because I'm not but I'm more comfortable than I have been all year."

Meyer said that thought had been given to letting Dickey take snaps at quarterback since he's a junior with more experience than Portis, but to do so would create more problems at receiver.

"You take Gavin out of receiver and you really can't practice," said Meyer. "We've discussed it and right now the third guy would be Cornelius Ingram."

Center Mike Degory, limited in practice last week because of a problem with his MCL and with his ankle, played through his injury Saturday. Wynn, who didn't practice, saw limited duty with five carries for 24 yards and a touchdown as well as a 27-yard gain on a shovel pass.

Joe Cohen came out of the game dinged up at defensive end and that opened the door for Jarvis Moss to get in the game. Moss had one tackle for loss and continually was deep in the Mississippi State backfield applying pressure to the passer.

"He's really coming on," said Meyer, who mentioned once again that Moss is 243 pounds now after dipping down to 219 in the spring when he had a bone infection. "He's going to be a major contributor here. We have him for two more years as well."

A bright spot on the injury front is the progress of defensive end Ray McDonald, who had surgery on his knee after the Tennessee game. McDonald has made enough progress that he will be evaluated this week to see if he is available to play against LSU Saturday in Baton Rouge.

"He ran on game day," said Meyer. "They had him out there doing some running. The doctor is going to have a very thorough follow up on Monday. He looks to me like he's going to be able to do something this week but every indication is for sure, Georgia.

"We'll know more on Monday. He's coming along and the strength coach is very involved with our doctors. It's been pretty positive to this point."

MORE ON LEAK: Meyer said that even with Leak nursing the injured shoulder and unable to practice, there was not a question that he would be playing.

"Not one time was I ever told there was chance he wouldn't play," said Meyer.

Meyer said he talked to Leak Saturday night about the shoulder. Leak reported that the shoulder was still sore, but not nearly as bad as it felt the night after the Alabama game.

STRETCHING THE DEPTH: Meyer has great concerns that several players are required to play on all the special teams as well as significant snaps on either offense or defense.

"I made a comment that I don't believe we're a great team," said Meyer. "We have some players who are playing great right now. We need to have them fresh. I'm worried about getting them beaten down for the same guys are doing everything for us."

Meyer pointed to the contributions of Reggie Nelson and Vernell Brown. Nelson had two sacks on defense and a touchdown saving tackle when he made up 15 yards distance between himself and a Mississippi State receiver who had broken a tackle at midfield. Nelson also downed two punts inside the five yard line that led to safeties. Brown had two tackles and he broke up a pass plus he was a key member of all the special teams.

"You take Reggie Nelson off the field yesterday and I think it's a completely different game," said Meyer. "You take Vernell Brown off the field like we did on a punt and even though it was a penalty the guy runs the punt back."

At one point Brown limped off the field but he went back in a couple of plays later.

"Vernell came back in and played," said Meyer. "He was on punt return, punting team and obviously on kickoffs. Vernell Brown plays a lot of football for us."

With LSU looming on Saturday, Meyer knows that he's got to find ways to get rest for the players who are doing regular duty along with special teams.

"What we have out there is a group of players who are doing everything for the Gators right now," said Meyer. "My initial reaction is that I have to make sure these players are fresh for this game because it's going to be a very fast game in a tough environment."

TEAM VICTORY: Meyer called the win over Mississippi State the best "team victory" of the season. With the injuries taking their toll and the Gators having to rebound from a big loss up at Alabama, Meyer felt it was very important to come away with a hard earned victory.

"We've had four other wins and obviously one against a top five opponent earlier this year but this is our best team win," said Meyer. "This is a team that battled through some injury issues, battled through some major personnel issues. They were playing with passion, hitting people, flying around. It was our best team win. It was a team taking care of one another when obviously one area is struggling."

Fightin Gators Top Stories