By all means, I'm no football guru; I learn more and more every day. One thing is certain, however, and that's how I've been fortunate enough to witness all but one practice, and have seen and talked with many of these players up close and personal this spring. With all the misinformation floating around out there, I thought I might give an honest evaluation of each individual player on our roster from what I've seen thus far.
Call this my quarterly report on the Gators since spring practice is one-quarter through. I'll simply go down the roster, and give any kind of info or update on every player...whether I feel they've either made progress or regressed this spring. I'll try to be as critical and honest as possible. Keep in mind, however, that I'm just a college guy that loves his Gators. I'm trying as hard as I can to be objective here.
#1 Reggie Nelson - I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn't a Reggie Nelson fanatic. This guy is unreal and simply doesn't disappoint out there. He's always fired up...most of his drills are done to perfection...he doesn't drop the ball if it hits him in the hands...and he motivates other players around him. He gives you a feeling of confidence knowing he's on the field. This is no secret...but just know that he's still Reggie, and has only fine-tuned his abilities. He's worked out with ONLY the safeties the entire spring, so take what you want from that when forming your opinions on whether he might be used at corner in emergency situations.
#2 Markus Manson - I believe Manson has the ability to be great at Florida IF they can get him to toughen up a little. We all know he's quick and has the ability to burst through holes like no other back on the roster...but he goes down easy and doesn't seem to have that physical toughness in his game. In the one-on-one tackling drills, he makes defenders miss and has great moves. But you put a hit on him and he's down...which, in my opinion, will make it very hard to be successful here. He's had some great runs in practice, by all means...but I just don't see him getting over that hump until he gets that toughness.
#3 Kyle Jackson - Kyle is one of my favorite players this spring. After a few rough spots last year, Kyle appears to have really stepped up and matured a lot. He's got that nagging little back injury, but if he's 100% come fall, look for him to be a valuable part of our secondary, if he's not a starter. He feels like he has a lot to improve on, which only proves that he's maturing. He looks really focused out there, but wants to be at that next level as fast as possible. I believe he's on his way.
#4 Avery Atkins - Everything positive you hear about Avery Atkins is true. It's amazing to see how fast this young man stepped up. You'd think from a sophomore corner, it might take a little more time to develop. He looks like he's been on the field for years at the college level. If he slips up on coverage, he positions himself perfectly to at least make the tackle...and that doesn't happen that often. He usually breaks the pass up or forces the QB to try to put the ball somewhere he can't. The thing I like most about Avery is his toughness, however. He's a little guy out there, but packs a HUGE punch. He's not afraid to take on someone twice his size and hits as hard as he can no matter who it is or how much bigger they are. He seems to pay attention to the little details as well, such as his footwork or simple things like hustling back to the end of the line rather than walking. He's excited to be out there and it shows.
#5 Andre Caldwell - Andre is still fragile goods at this point in the game. He appears to be full speed, but they really don't have him participating in anything that requires the slightest contact yet. There was a drill on Wednesday with a gauntlet of pads designed to slow the receivers down as they charge through it, which Bubba didn't even participate in. It's just nice to see him out on the field and he appears to have a full range of motion in his leg, as we've seen him juking defenders and making sharp cuts.
#6 Jemalle Cornelius - Look for Jemalle to be a critical threat at the receiver position this year. A lot of the focus is on Baker, as it should be because Baker is nasty, but look for Jemalle, in my opinion, to get 40-50 catches this year. Jemalle isn't the flashiest receiver, but he gets it done out there and doesn't drop many passes. He runs sharp routes, and is a great short yardage receiver.
#7 Cornelius Ingram - C.I. is one of the most intriguing players on the field right now. You look at C.I. and your mind just races with the possibilities. He's HUGE and hasn't lost any agility or speed with the added weight. He's also got incredible hands, which makes for a lethal weapon. The problem is...it's early, and he's learning a completely new position. He looks clumsy out there right now because he doesn't know what he's doing yet. He's lost. He's never blocked before, and he doesn't seem to know all the routes sometimes. If he gets the technical aspects of the position down, this might simply be the difference maker in our offense this year. The possibilities are endless with a player of his caliber at this hybrid position of TE/H-back.
#9 Kenneth Tookes - I just don't think Tookes has his mental game down to be successful on the field yet. There are times when you see him make a really exciting block or run a great route, but then there's just times where, maybe in a one-on-one drill, someone makes him look really bad. He just doesn't seem to be able to push through that wall that's been holding him back.
#10 Eric Wilbur - The kickers are out there about 10-15 minutes before the others, and it never fails...every single practice, I'll look over and just catch a bomb sailing through the air and say 'Wow, that's a great kick!' Every day. I wouldn't know how far some of this young man's punts travel, but I would guess that some of these things carry 50-60 yards. Nice tight spirals too usually. He does shank a few here and there though; would be nice to eliminate that.
#12 Chris Leak - In the first week of practice, I have to be honest...I didn't see much improvement from Leak. He looked good, but not great. I heard from Bob's report on Tuesday that he had a great practice and looked really accurate, so I was excited to get out there on Wednesday and watch him more intently. After Wednesday's practice, I'm a Leak believer. I've always known he's had talent, but just felt like maybe he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and might never develop here. He looked awesome in practice on Wednesday...very sharp. His passes were accurate, and if they weren't, it was because a receiver ran a bad route, which he was more vocal about. He's out there trying to fine-tune things now rather than just getting the play off and making things work. He looks really comfortable, and I think he'll surprise a lot of critics this year. I haven't seen him running many options to be honest either. They've been running a lot of shorter routes, which he's very accurate with. He's getting rid of the ball a lot quicker as well. Meyer stated he thinks Chris is completely different this year.
#13 Brian Crum - I'm really disappointed with Crum thus far. Bob mentioned they might have him playing out of position here and there, but he just doesn't seem to be comfortable on the field. He appears to be in the wrong position to make tackles a lot, and he's diving for the tackle rather than squaring off and containing. I really haven't seen much solid play from him thus far, which is disappointing because the kid looks like a football player. He's a perfect physical specimen. He just doesn't have the football knowledge yet it seems.
#14 Richard Fetherolf - Fetherolf is a RS Freshman who's been working out with the safeties. I've noticed him in the drills quite often actually, but unfortunately for him right now, we're just too deep at safety for him to probably see the field this early in his career. He shows the ability to develop, though, and has a lot of energy out there. I've seen him make some big hits on guys like Nelson, who are pretty aggressive themselves. Like I said, he's caught my eye more than a few times...so might be someone to watch to see if he develops.
#14 Eric Nappy - Nappy has been kicking field goals behind Hetland and Phillips and is participating in the kick-off drills as well. I honestly haven't paid much attention here, and it's hard to tell what kicks are good and which ones aren't from our angle.
#15 Tim Tebow - Obviously a lot of pressure has been put on Tebow to fill the shoes of the next legendary QB at UF. Like everyone else is saying, he looks like a freshman out there. He doesn't have his timing down...he holds the ball too long...he doesn't trust his receivers yet, and consequently bails with the run too often...but just when you start thinking he's looking his age out there, he'll make a beautiful read and throw a strike that raises your eyebrows. He seems to be very comfortable with the short game right now. He's got a rocket for an arm, and unfortunately looks like he's trying to force the ball into a small space, as opposed to timing the routes. This will come with time, and I'm very confident he has tremendous potential. There were a few designed option runs for Tebow on Wednesday that got me excited. Also, he had a few option pitches where he took a pretty good shot from a few linemen and bounced right back up. Aside from that...Tebow just sounds cool out there. Leak is very quite when calling the count; Tebow steps up there and sounds like he's going to kill someone. He's a football player, and once he learns the offense, he'll be exciting to watch. He doesn't seem to have much touch on his passes though...it's not real pretty yet.
#16 Butch Rowley - Rowley is listed as a long-snapper, but is currently taking snaps as the third string QB. He's listed as 6-1, 192 pounds. He's a RS sophomore who transferred here with Meyer. He took a RS his freshman year in 2004 under Meyer at Utah, then transferred here and sat out a year last year. He's eligible this year, and has taken quite a few snaps out there thus far. From what I've seen, many of his passes are very accurate, but I'm not sure on his status as to whether he's definitely the third string or not yet. Keep an eye on this one.
#17 Nyan Boateng - Nyan got roughed up a little a little on Wednesday and sat out for a brief period. He appeared to be okay later in the day. Nyan looks precise out there, and seems to be a favorite target of both Leak and Tebow. His name is heard more and more as the practices go on, and he appears to be pretty tough in the one-on-one drills. He has a few blocking issues that he needs to work on, but he's got great hands and runs sharp routes. Look for him to make a big impact this year.
#17 Curtis Carr - Carr is a RS Sophomore who runs drills with the safeties. I'm impressed with Carr actually. We're stacked at safety, but this kid catches my eye consistently as well. He's a big hitter. I've seen him knock people on their backs numerous times, and he appears to have good hands. By all means, he's deep on the chart, but it's nice to know that we have the depth we do at safety.
#18 Tremaine McCollum - This is sort of a touchy area. We all know the corner position is extremely thin right now, and I'm really concerned with the back-ups at this point. The twins (well, I guess right now, Twin...because Jermaine has an arm in a cast) are not proving themselves at all this spring as of yet. They seem to get smoked on tougher/sharper routes, and are out of position quite often. You get a feeling the coaches are very concerned with this situation because Heater seems to take it easy on these guys because they're all we've got at this point as back-ups. This is a problem area in my opinion. I feel like if McCollum goes in, look for him to be exposed at this point in the game. It's still very early though.
#19 Tony Joiner - Tony gets my most improved player of the off-season award. What a completely different player this guy is. Tony is flat out tough this year. Players know when Tony hits them now. He goes all out on every play, and seems to be in the right spot on most of them. His anticipation is better...his awareness is better...and he's a better football player in general. His passion for the game seems to have been elevated, and he's having fun out there. The players notice it and seem to have a newfound respect for him. He's constantly getting praise and excites a lot of the players on the defense with his play.
#20 Joe Cohen - To be quite honest, I really haven't watched much of Cohen. When they run the offense vs. the defense in the ladder drills...there's no D-line. The only chance I've gotten to see him was Wednesday in the full scrimmage, and he appeared to make a few plays...but nothing special. He's held his own in the one-on-one drills, and really hasn't made much noise thus far. I'm really just flat out ignorant on how Cohen is doing up until this point because I haven't seen much of their drills.
#20 Anthony Gay - Tony Gay is a RS Sophomore RB on the roster, and is listed at 5-9, 171 pounds. He's tiny. In fact, it really gives you an idea of what size Brandon James is because they're pretty close to identical in size...and that's small. Gay doesn't have the moves that James appears to have though. He's quick, but doesn't seem to have the vision. He did make a great adjustment on Wednesday in a run where he was stuffed up the middle, but bounced off and hit the sidelines for a nice gain. At this size though, you kind of feel like they just need something special to off-set the drawback of his size...which I haven't really seen from Gay yet.
That concludes #'s 1-20. I'll continue to update you on the remainder of the roster from what I've seen up until this point. Like I said, I'm no football guru obviously...but I HAVE been out there every practice, with exception to one, and have seen these guys in person and have spoken with a few. The purpose of this is to just give you somewhat of a trustworthy evaluation of the players from someone there, and not just people regurgitating what they've heard.