No, aliens have not kidnapped Chris Leak to Mars and replaced him with one of their own that's a dead ringer. This is the Chris Leak that is stepping it up as a leader, showing confidence in himself and his teammates, unafraid to get on someone who's made a mistake or dogging it just a bit in practice.
"A different guy," says Coach Urban Meyer with a confident smile. "He's a completely different human being right now and it has something to do with confidence, it has something to do with leadership and it has to something to do with commanding respect. He's doing one heckuva job."
Leak looked like a quarterback that has a total grasp of the offense at Wednesday afternoon's practice. He was decisive with his reads and knew where he was going with the ball. In this practice he rarely threw deep but on 15-18 yard slants and out patterns the throws were accurate and got there in a hurry. Unlike last year when he never seemed comfortable sprinting out, he showed quickness and kept his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage so there was no wasted motion with his throws.
Tuesday's practice was indicative of an offense that is showing signs of the kind of explosiveness that Meyer had in year two at Utah.
"The offense is really coming on," he said. "I'm very pleased right now with where we're at."
GOOD COMPETITION: This was day five of spring practice and Meyer thought it was the best yet, particularly from a competition standpoint.
"We have full scrimmage days which we haven't had yet but we also have winner-loser days," said Meyer. "At the end you saw the defense [Wednesday's losers] had to run just a little bit. Everything we do we try to compete."
As Meyer was speaking to the press, a scuffle broke out between Kenneth Tookes and Nyan Boateng, wide receivers who were doing a pass catching drill. Meyer observed and as the players were separated, turned his attention back to the media.
"I think the one way to bring out intensity in our practice is either self-respect or competition," he said. "I think that's what you're seeing out here is a lot of competition … a lot of guys getting heated. I think even when you see that kind of nonsense [the scuffle], if someone is not holding up his end of the bargain he's going to get called out and if a leader calls you out that could get ugly sometimes."
The increased intensity in practices is one of Meyer's goals for this spring. Last year, players spent the spring trying to learn new roles in new offensive and defensive schemes, plus they were learning how to adjust to a new coaching staff. This year, there is familiarity and that's bringing out a better effort.
"You call it having relentless effort to be great," said Meyer. "I don't think a lot of our team had that last year but I'm feeling better and better about this year's team. From what I was told by Donnie Young [former Gator great offensive linemen on the 1996 national championship team] and some of the players that were on that '96 team, that's what they had. They were so upset when they would fail in practice. They had that relentless effort to be great."
MOSS COMING ON: One of the bright spots for Meyer in the first five practices has been the play of defensive end Jarvis Moss. Moss was a pass rushing specialist last year but his body has filled out and he's showing signs that he will be a dominator whether it's against the run or the pass this year.
"Moss played okay last year," said Meyer. "He was kind of flashy in pass rush but he couldn't play against the run. Moss is one of our most improved guys as well."
Moss had 7.5 sacks last year, tops on the team, even though he didn't start. Because he was coming back from a serious medical condition, he didn't even see the field the first time until game three.
HOOPS MOTIVATION: Meyer says he will continue to use the motivation of Florida's basketball team to bring out the best in the football team, but says he has to be careful not to over-do it.
"I use it a bunch but I have to be careful to over-use it," he said. "That's the best way to teach is to have an example and that's a great example right here on campus."
Meyer said he's not worried that people will classify Florida as a basketball or a football school.
"If I was a gymnastics coach I'd be a little upset," he said. "It's kind of a volleyball school, too. Am I worried that there will be empty seats in the stadium? No, I'm not worried about that or if the Gators clubs will [lose their enthusiasm]. I think it's all great.
"I'm a basketball fan, Billy Donovan fan and a fan of the great teams. It's funny, but I keep hearing that the pressure's on because of what the basketball team has done. No, it's not. It's great. It's a great thing for the University of Florida. I think the gymnastics team would say that it's a gymnastics school. I think our baseball team finishing number two last year would say it's a baseball school. [It's a] great athletic school."
YOUNG GUYS ON THE RISE: Three young guys have caught Meyer's attention in the early going of the spring, true freshman offensive guard Maurice Hurt, redshirt freshman guard Ronnie Wilson and sophomore cornerback Avery Atkins.
"Maurice Hurt is going to play next year," Meyer said. "He's going to be really good. He should be getting ready for the prom and he's going to play for us next year. Avery is doing a really good job. Ronnie Wilson is doing a really good job. He's starting right now."