Spring Practice Injuries: Good News, Bad News

With only two more practices before Saturday's Orange and Blue Game, the Florida Gators are looking as much like a M*A*S*H Unit as they are a football team. It's a who's who of Florida football on the sidelines because of injuries, minor dings and some personal issues but there are two ways of looking at the situation. It's kind of a bad news/good news deal.

The bad news is that there are a lot of very good football players that are not participating in spring drills. The good news is that a lot of young players are getting far more reps than usual.

That makes it a Catch-22 for Coach Urban Meyer and his staff. Sure, it's good to see the young guys in action, especially those that are using the extra reps in practice every day to make a case for playing time this fall. The bad news is that some of these veteran players out of action for all or part of the spring really did need the time on the field this spring to make progress toward raising their games to a higher level.

In the case of wide receiver Bubba Caldwell or defensive tackle Ray McDonald, the missed time shouldn't be a real problem. Caldwell is coming back from a broken leg suffered in the Tennessee game so he really does need the time to get back to the same or better level physically than he was last fall. McDonald had ACL problems with both knees so he needed the time to strengthen the knees and get his speed back.

Kestahn Moore, however, is one that really needed the spring to improve on a season-ended performance that showed his potential. Moore rushed for 277 yards as a true freshman last year but it was his performance in the Outback Bowl that opened eyes. He led the Gators with 13 carries for 87 yards against Iowa including a 29-yard run where he showed speed, power and elusiveness.

He was expected to take a quantum leap forward in the spring but he's been unable to participate in even minor drills because of a bulging disc in his back. Moore got some individual workout time Monday afternoon, the first chance he's had for even light work in the spring.

It's bad news that he couldn't participate but there is good news. He will not have to have surgery and he is expected to return at full strength in the fall.

"He's got a bulging disc and that's just set him back," said Meyer, who noted that there are 12 starters or potential starters sidelined this spring.

"I think I counted 12 potential starters that are going to miss the spring game and that's concerning me a little bit," said Meyer. "We're going to decide Thursday and I'm going to look at the numbers but we've got a responsibility to be ready in August to play against Southern Miss. I've got to do what's right. I'm going to make sure the young guys play in the Orange and Blue Game but I've not seen this many dings. We have 12 guys are either dinged up or there's an issue and they're either starters or part-time starters."

But, there is a bit of good news.

"None of them are going to miss the fall as of now," said Meyer.

Among the players missing Monday's workout were guard Jim Tartt, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder Monday morning, defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, who has hernia surgery last week, defensive tackle Steven Harris (personal issues, will be back in the fall) and cornerback Avery Atkins (personal issues, will be back Wednesday).

OFFENSE OPENING UP: Monday's practice was highlighted by a sharp effort in the passing game from quarterback Chris Leak and wide receivers Dallas Baker and Jemalle Cornelius. Compared to Saturday's scrimmage, there were far more medium to deep routes thrown, largely due to the presence of Baker and Cornelius who were able to get open deep regularly.

Baker and Cornelius both caught deep balls for touchdowns and turned some mid-range slants into long gainers.

"They [Baker and Cornelius] had very good days today and I think Chris was throwing the ball very well," said Meyer.

Meyer felt the play on the offensive line wasn't as crisp as he would like to see Monday but overall, the offense was better.

"I don' think we've played very good on the offensive line," he said. "We took a little step backward there, but what I'm really seeing better is an understanding and awareness in the offense."

Cornelius Ingram continued to show what he can do with a couple of outstanding catches, one an over the shoulder grab on a 30-yard crossing pattern. Kenneth Tookes had a couple of nice catches on slants and David Nelson, Nyan Boateng and Louis Murphy all had very productive days. Freshman quarterback Tim Tebow had some nice throws including one on-the-run laser of a 20-yard out pattern that he threw while rolling to his right, normally a very tough throw for a lefty. He hit Murphy between the numbers.

Murphy's work in the passing game and on kick returns caught Meyer's eye.

"We put him back at kickoff return," said Meyer. "We had some guys back who just run into people. He does have some elusive ability. We're hoping he grows up because he has some ability."

HARVEY GRADED CHAMPION: Defensive end Derrick Harvey, who had two sacks and a tackle for loss in Saturday morning's scrimmage, graded champion for his effort. Meyer said his 6-4, 260-pound third-year sophomore has had an up and down spring but he's really started to make a move this spring.

"I think these last couple [of practices] have been pretty good," said Meyer. "He actually graded champion in the last scrimmage."

Harvey was considered one of the nation's top defensive ends when he signed with the Gators three years ago. He is one player about whom the word potential is used quite often.

"Potential is just an awful word," said Meyer. "It means you're not very good yet but you're supposed to be. He's becoming a decent player."

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