SPRING: What to look for in the backfield

Spring practice starts for the University of Florida football team on Wednesday. In the second spring of his tenure as the Head Football Coach at Florida, Urban Meyer has fewer questions about the roster. This is the first of a series leading up to practice in which I will take an in-depth look at the roster player by player.

With Chad Jackson being the only offensive skill player with a lot of playing time leaving the team from last season's roster, the skill positions will be looking to add quality depth and prepare some back ups to get in and play.

Meyer has been emphatic that senior Chris Leak (6-0, 210) will be his quarterback this season. On Saturday in Ocala, Meyer reiterated that Leak improved dramatically the last two games and he in fact deserved less heat than he took from last season. Leak ranks fourth on the all-time UF list in yards passing with 8,271 and only 2,604 yards behind Danny Wuerffel in first place. He has also thrown for 663 completions only 59 behind Shane Matthews's top spot. Leak has been a target for too many critics while having spent three years with three different offensive coordinators at UF.

Leak will be asked to run more and better this year. It is something he was forced into last season and never had to do before. With only two quarterbacks on roster and only Leak with any experience at the collegiate level, it is likely he will be asked to go in a non-contact jersey for much of the spring practice. I expect Leak picking up coverages will get better as his feel for this offense matures into his second season. Having to change what he was doing so often in three years is a lot to handle, much less trying to figure out how everything fits against opposing defenses.

What I want to see this spring: I really want to see Leak get his feet wet with contact. Maybe not against the first team defense that could really hurt him, but Leak needs to feel some contact in the off-season and get used to running in addition to throwing the ball.

The only scholarship backup at quarterback is true freshman Tim Tebow (6-3, 229). Tebow, who is an early enrollee was in high school in December and comes in with a big time resume and a ton of leadership skills. He will not rest as the backup and will try and press Leak for the starting job. However, he has a lot to learn and that is a ton to put on a young man even of his conviction.

Tebow is a more natural fit to the Meyer offense. He is big and strong and can run and had over 1,000 yards rushing as a senior in high school to go along with his 3,000 yards passing. He will get his turn.

What I want to see this spring: I want Tebow to learn. Unlike Leak, I want him to sit back and throw the ball and not worry about running and getting yards. I want him to challenge the defense and try and hit the right receiver. The quarterback in this offense doesn't have to be an expert runner. He just has to know when to run.

In the pre-spring press conference two weeks ago, Meyer took all kinds of shots at the running back position and the players manning that position on the roster. The fact is, no one really took control and became the man last year after a few were given a real chance to do so. Most of the same guys return for this season and this spring.

Senior DeShawn Wynn (5-11, 232) returns in 2006 after a decent year last season. He led the team in 2005 with 621 yards rushing and six touchdowns on the ground. His 4.8 yards per carry were very nice but he had a little problem with durability. Wynn showed flashes of greatness, but again was not able to maintain that.

What I want to see this spring: His shoulder injury last season kept him from being the bruiser these coaches want him to be. At moments he would plow through defenders and others he would tip toe at the line and look worried about getting hurt. Hopefully the shoulder is better as Wynn would do himself and the Gators a favor by being that guy that can get the hard earned couple of yards every time they are needed. I would like to see him be that bettering ram the Gators want.

Sophomore Markus Manson (6-0, 210) has a ton of ability and some great speed. He also showed flashes of it last year when he finished with the second most rushing yardage on the team at 365 yards and his 4.5 yards a carry was also a nice average. He seemed to not get a chance as some others, but that must be because something he was not doing that the coaches wanted him to do (i.e. blocking).

What I want to see this spring: Manson's running last year were marked by several runs of 10 plus yards. If I had to pick on something it would be his ability to break the arm tackles instead of knocking off that long run. Like Wynn I want to see him run tougher, unlike Wynn I am not talking at the line of scrimmage but once he gets one on one with a defender. I want him to make him miss or break that single tackle.

Sophomore Kestahn Moore (5-10, 212) was a big surprise last year. His very memorable run against LSU last season was his best, but one thing everyone always said about him was he ran hard. The coaching staff really loved his tenacity on the field and as a true freshman he actually started the opening game. If Moore had Wynn's size, he would be a beast to contend with.

What I want to see this spring: For all of his toughness, Moore is also a 100 meter track athlete. He has some wheels that were showcased very little. I want to see him make some of those big runs we didn't see much from the Gators last year.

True freshman running back Chevon Walker (6-0, 192) will get his first taste of spring after graduating from high school early also. I am a little surprised they list Walker at 6-0, because I saw him in person at camp last season and he wasn't that tall. Walker is another tough runner and he also has wheels. He is a slasher a lot like what Markus Manson looked like in his high school high lights.

What I want to see this spring: Just show me something. Get in there like Moore did last year and don't be afraid to perform with the rest of the guys. The Gators have been down to their fourth and fifth tailbacks in recent years and Walker may have a great shot of playing this season.

A big surprise in a couple of ways last year was the fullback position for the Gators. First of all, it was a position that didn't even exist until mid way through the regular season. Second, once Billy Latsko was inserted into the position he played well beyond what the coaching staff thought he was capable of.

A Gainesville native and senior, Latsko (5-10, 231) showed that he can block well and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. The staff doesn't want to have to rely on him often, but they know Latsko is going to do the right thing when inserted.

What I want to see this spring: Give Latsko the ball in short yardage and let's see how he can move the pile. He is hard-nosed and intelligent. He is not likely to put the ball on the ground. Maybe he is the short yardage guy the Gators are looking for.

Junior Eric Rutledge (6-0, 243) was moved over from linebacker where the depth will be getting better after the freshmen arrive in the fall. Originally signed as a fullback, at his height and weight he could probably be an ideal candidate for the position. Even from the same high school, he was a Terry Jackson type of runner at P.K. Yonge in Gainesville.

What I want to see this spring: Actually designated as an H-back, Rutledge is running into a logjam at the position with Cornelius Ingram and Trent Pupello likely playing the same type of role in this offensive system. He needs to show this spring that he can contribute, or it will likely never happen for him.

That completes the backfield portion of my pre-spring roster analysis. The Gators have plenty of weapons in the backfield, but making them all click in harmony is what this spring is all about.

Look for the wide receivers and tight ends analysis coming soon.

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