SEC FOOTBALL: Pain could be Leak's Buddy

So, Chris Leak was playing with an injury on Saturday against Mississippi State, eh? So, the third-year quarterback might be less than 100 percent in Baton Rouge this upcoming weekend, huh?

Folks, this has a chance to be the beginning of something beautiful for the Florida Gators. (A chance, but hardly a guarantee.)

We all know that Leak has had to make a very difficult transition this year, made all the more daunting because his natural inclinations and talents fit the previous system he played in, not the current one.

But Saturday's game against the Bulldogs --- and the subsequent revelation that Leak was playing hurt --- offer Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen a very simple area of emphasis in practice and the film room this week, as they work with their quarterback: salesmanship.

Meyer and Mullen should get Steve DeBerg or Boomer Esiason on the phone this week, because if there's one thing that can make this offense come to life without extraordinarily changing its scheme or framework, salesmanship is it. DeBerg and Esiason excelled as NFL quarterbacks not because of awesome athletic talent, but because of first-rate football minds and, even more importantly, the ability to sell a whole host of plays, tendencies, actions and movements with their fakes, ball manipulations, and acting jobs. By selling plays, DeBerg and Esiason lasted a lot longer in the NFL than their talents might have indicated. They enjoyed as much success as they did because they were football salesmen of the first order.

DeBerg's career --- not quite as good as Esiason's --- is actually the better and more inspirational story of these two, for it was DeBerg who reached Old Man status in the pros before finally hanging it up. His longevity in the NFL --- achieved against the backdrop of several painful injuries, some of which put a cast on his non-throwing hand for periods of time --- was made possible only because of his supremely slick and expertly manipulative ballhandling and salesmanship right after the snap. Craftiness was DeBerg's means of survival, and he used pain as his best friend.

Someone needs to tell Chris Leak that pain can be his best friend, too. It could be the best thing to happen to Florida football this year.

The one stock play in this spread option that merits a lot of focus --- especially in light of Saturday's game against Mississippi State --- is the inside shovel pass off a wide option look. The quarterback sprints to the boundary and sells an option pitch, only to abruptly pivot toward the middle and throw a slightly diagonal shovel pass to the inside. If you were paying attention Saturday, you would have noticed that the success of this play is not just based on Leak's read, but on his salesmanship. The times this play worked came when Leak sold the outside option convincingly; the times when he went through the motions were the times when the play got smothered.

This dynamic also applied to the passing game. When Leak seemed sluggish and locked onto his receivers, the predictability of Florida's attack made the Gator offense vulnerable and, ultimately, very unproductive. But when Leak was able to continue to rotate his head and actively flow through his progressions, presto! He made a significant play.

Don't focus on Chris Leak's shoulder. Don't even focus on this business of learning the spread option. The biggest key for Leak --- and the potential gateway toward substantial improvement for Florida's offense --- lies in Leak's salesmanship and ball manipulation. Leak's ability as an actor --- and quarterbacks have to be football actors as well as physical specimens --- is what can not only "get him through" the pain, but actually, enable him to thrive.

Let's face it: a time-tested truth of sports is that injuries, while obviously possessing the potential to be destructively debilitating, can also turn erratic performers into controlled, smarter players who stop being sloppy and realize-with newfound physical limitations --- that they need to be smarter and more creative to thrive. This injury gives Chris Leak --- and his coaching staff --- a chance to find a new horizon of football intelligence and creativity that can, ironically, bring out the very best of this offense. With new levels of salesmanship and ball manipulation at the beginning of each and every play, the Gators could create the confusion and uncertainty that the spread option is meant to sow among opposing defenses.

Pain. It could be the best weapon Chris Leak has had in his Florida career. Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen need to use pain to their advantage for the rest of this season.

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