Extra Reps Benefit Leak And Tebow

Even though the Florida Gators have only two scholarship quarterbacks on their spring roster that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Senior Chris Leak, who will be entering the fall as a four-year starter, and true freshman Tim Tebow are taking all the reps and the extra work is paying off with increased familiarity with the offense.

Coach Urban Meyer said after Friday's practice that giving Leak all the reps he could handle was part of the plan entering the spring. The real benefit has been Tebow's presence. He skipped his final semester of high school to enroll early at UF this spring so he's learning on the fly. Although he makes typical freshman mistakes, Tebow is working hard and will certainly be far more polished in August when the Gators begin two-a-days in preparation for the fall schedule.

"I knew we would saturate Chris," said Meyer. "Chris is doing really well. I like both our quarterbacks."

Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, who coaches the quarterbacks, says that Leak has shown plenty of improvement this spring. Leak had a good season in 2005, throwing for 20 touchdowns while only tossing six interceptions, but those numbers are expected to rise tremendously this fall largely due to his familiarity with the offense.

Mullen says instead of teaching Leak the basics of the offense this spring the coaching staff has been able to concentrate on making the offense more efficient.

"We've been able to spend a lot more time on how to attack the defense instead of what he's doing on offense this spring," said Mullen. "Last spring it was all about trying to learn the plays and learn what he's supposed to do. This spring it's about applying those plays to the defense.

"A lot of the improvement is because he's being able to play football without having to think about what he's doing. If you're thinking too much you're not playing. You're seeing a lot more playing this spring."

Tebow is an immense physical talent but he's shown the willingness to put in the time to learn everything he can about the offense.

"He's in our office all day long," said Meyer, who said that you can see the confidence growing in his freshman quarterback. "The element of the game that we don't let him do is peel that [red, no-contact] shirt off and go play ball. We're anxious to let him go do that but it probably won't happen until the first game."

Mullen thinks that Tebow has made exceptional progress.

"For a young guy, he's picking up the offense pretty fast and a lot of it is because he's getting so many reps," said Mullen. "He has no choice but to because we haven't slowed down and we've put it in full speed installation for Tim. He comes to see me every night and he tries to spend as much extra time as he can in there. He wants to learn, learn, learn. Those extra reps are helping him out on the field."

At the end of Friday's practice, which Meyer said was one of the better efforts of the spring, the Gators spent the last 25 minutes bringing the blitz from all angles. Both Leak and Tebow handled the pressure very nicely.

"Today they did a nice job," said Meyer. "That last part was only going to be 10 minutes but it went about 25. It was all blitz and that's the hardest thing for them."

THIN AT LINEBACKER: A growing concern for Meyer is the lack of depth at linebacker. He feels good about starters Brandon Siler and Earl Everett but when it comes to depth and someone to man the strong side, he just shakes his head.

Red-shirt freshmen Ryan Stamper and Eric Sledge are getting plenty of work but they have a long way to go. Senior Brian Crum hasn't had a particularly good spring. Sophomore Jon Demps has been held out this spring while he continues to rehab an ACL that was torn back in the fall.

"I think Stamper is trying but I don't think he's doing enough to earn praise," said Meyer. "Demps is injured, trying to live right and trying to do the right things, he's got a great body on him."

Meyer said that Demps could have been used this spring but he felt that there was no sense in trying to bring him back too early.

"If we pushed him we probably could have done some things but we didn't push it," said Meyer, noting that Demps' rehab has moved along at a good, fast pace. "It's an ACL. We need him. He's going to train hard in the summer and we'll need him ready in August."

Meyer will welcome three freshmen in the fall and they could end up being the depth at the linebacker position.

"They have to be ready to go," said Meyer, who visited with incoming freshman Dustin Doe a couple of days ago. Meyer said he talked to AJ Jones Thursday night and that he's "up to 201 pounds now." The other incoming freshman will be US Army All-American Brandon Spikes.

Until the freshmen get to Gainesville, the coaching staff has to look for possible solutions. In certain situations, safety Tony Joiner could play some strong side linebacker.

"Tony Joiner is really starting to grow," said Meyer. "Maybe we'll look at him in what we call some dollar things where you put him at the SAM linebacker. That's an area of concern."

EXPANDED ROLE FOR LATSKO: Meyer said the coaching staff is expanding the role for Billy Latsko from that of pure fullback to tailback. Latsko, 5-10, 237, spent last spring as a backup linebacker, but he moved to fullback in the fall. He showed the coaching staff last fall that he has sure hands so he can be an effective pass receiver as well as a dependable blocker. This spring, he's showing that he is a tough runner between the tackles.

"Billy Latsko is doing terrific," said Meyer. "We actually moved him to tailback for this spring. If he can run the ball effectively that opens up a lot of things. We'd rather him not be a pure fullback and we'd rather have him catch a shovel, run the ball. He's doing a good job for us. He missed about four practices because of a hamstring, but he's one of our best players."

One of the bright spots at tailback on Friday was sophomore Markus Manson, who had a solid practice for the second straight day.

INJURY UPDATE: Jim Tartt will have arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder on Monday. Meyer said that the surgery will heal quickly and Tartt is expected to be ready to go in the fall.

Freshman tailback Chevon Walker continues to be hobbled by a sprained ankle that is slow to heal.

SLOWING SOME THINGS DOWN: Meyer said that he's deliberately slowing things down for some of the veterans, particularly wide receiver Dallas Baker. Baker has had an excellent spring and Meyer knows he can depend on him. What he's hoping is that the extra reps will help some of the younger receivers.

"Guys like Dallas Baker I'm gonna pull out a little bit and force these young guys to make some plays," said Meyer.

One of the younger receivers that is starting to step up a bit is sophomore Louis Murphy, who had a good practice Friday to follow up a productive Thursday practice.

"Louis Murphy made some plays today," said Meyer. "We did a tackling drill and Earl Bruce (former Ohio State coach and Meyer's former boss at both Ohio state and Colorado State) was out here and he doesn't know so much about football after only coaching for about 50 years. He said 82 (Murphy) is one of your best receivers because we do tackling drills and he was 7-7 making people miss and some of those guys were 0-7. He had a pretty good day today."

SATURDAY SCRIMMAGE: The Gators will scrimmage on the practice field Saturday beginning at 10:15. Meyer said the scrimmage will be one of the important measures of how far the team has come this spring.

"I want them to show up tomorrow at 7:30 [a.m.] so I know they behaved last night and with a great attitude like they've had the last two Saturdays," said Meyer. "I hope they've got the music going, they're jacked up and ready to go play some football. If they do that we've got a chance to be a pretty good football team."

CRIME DOG SIGHTING: One visitor of note at Friday's practice was Fred McGriff, the former All-Star first baseman for several major league baseball teams including the Atlanta Braves. McGriff and Coach Urban Meyer first crossed paths when they were playing minor league baseball. Meyer was in the Braves organization with Plant City and McGriff was with the Yankees organization with Tampa.

"I was at a volleyball tournament in Tampa a couple of weeks ago and someone said Fred McGriff is looking for you," Meyer said after practice. "I didn't even know they call him "Crime Dog." That's how long I've been out of it. I haven't seen him in a long time. It was good to see him today."

McGriff coaches baseball at Tampa Jesuit. His son Erick was with him.

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