From a health perspective, the bye week couldn't have come at a better time for the Gators, who have at least four starters who need the time away to get ready for Georgia. Florida's lack of depth makes any injury situation critical, particularly when it affects the linebacker and wide receiver positions, two spots with the least amount of depth on the team.
Linebackers Brandon Siler and Earl Everett were excused completely from practice this week but both are expected to be at or near 100 percent for the Georgia game, October 29. Wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius continues his rehab from a severe high ankle sprain and he could be back close to 100 percent for the Georgia game. The other two players of concern are guard Jim Tartt (sprained ankle to go with a chronically sore shoulder) and defensive end Ray McDonald (coming back from knee surgery).
Coach Urban Meyer said Thursday that the Gators needed the time away although he wished it came under better circumstances.
"I think any time you wish you had a darn win before it [open date] but it is necessary," he said. "I think we're one of the few teams in the conference that had played seven [games]. I was just looking at it the other day and most of them had played six and had a bye week up to now. I think this is the longest I've gone [in four-plus years as a head coach] without a bye."
The Gators have lost two of their last three games with both losses coming on the road against ranked teams. While Jacksonville's All-Tel Stadium has been rather friendly for the Gators over the past 15 years (Florida is 13-2), it is still a game away from the friendly confines of The Swamp and it will be against a highly ranked team so a bye week to get healed and rested has been helpful.
"With the lack of depth and couple of injuries we've had this is a great time to have it [bye week]," said Meyer. "It gives a chance for some of these guys to get healthy but also gives them a chance to clear their minds a little bit and come back Sunday ready to go."
Meyer is hoping that when the team re-convenes Sunday evening, everyone will be rested and ready to put complete focus on the practice week and preparation necessary for the Georgia game. Florida didn't have an intense practice week this week but the intensity levels should ratchet up considerably when practice gets under way Monday.
"We didn't kill them this week but we had to go out and try to clean up some things," said Meyer. "I expect them to be real fresh when they get back next week. We have to keep them fresh."
EVALUATING THE OFFENSE: During the past week of practice, the Gators have concentrated on fixing problems in the offensive line, getting rid of the ball quicker in the passing game and solving some issues with the running game.
Meyer said the focus on the offensive line has been "hard work, schematically making sure we do a better job and do a better job coaching them, do a better job protecting." He felt the play of the line would be enhanced by "getting rid of the ball a little quicker."
Getting the running game problems fixed would go a long way toward helping the passing game as well. Forcing teams to play run first or at least show a healthy respect for the running game would open the passing game up.
In re-thinking the offensive problems, Meyer indicated that the Gators have to find solutions for teams that are faster or at least as fast as the Gators.
"All year the fast teams have given us a lot of problems … the real fast ones," he said. "I thought we moved the ball on the teams we're faster than. It's the ones that are faster or as fast as, that's the thing we're really evaluating. Obviously the team we're playing [Georgia] is faster or fast as."
SAFETIES: The safety position will have a new look with sophomore Reggie Nelson moving from the nickel position to starter at free safety opposite Jarvis Herring. Meyer emphasized that he still has great expectations for free safety Kyle Jackson but that Nelson needs to be on the field more.
Overall, he said he likes what's going on with the safety position.
"Jarvis Herring is playing very well," said Meyer. "Kyle Jackson has played well. Some games he's played great, other games he's struggled a bit but he's going to be a fine player here. I think Tony Joiner has played okay and I think Reggie Nelson is going to play more safety."
Meyer called Nelson "a great football player." The sophomore from Palm Bay has four sacks, one forced fumble, one recovered fumble and numerous plays when he's been a chaotic force.