Meyer: This Will Be A Good Team

Basically, it's all pretty much a show from here on out. The last hard practice of the spring was held Wednesday afternoon, a full contact day where the defense got the best of the offense mostly in situation type work, leaving Friday's walk-through and Saturday's annual Orange and Blue Game to complete spring number two of the Urban Meyer Era at the University of Florida.

One by one, Meyer started pulling some of his starters throughout the day, letting younger guys with plenty to prove to finish up the day on the field. Although the offense didn't produce quite the way he wanted and there are obviously some holes that will have to be filled on the defensive side, there was no lack of effort.

"It was a lot like Saturday's scrimmage, a lot of great efforts," said Meyer. "You can see that we started pulling out some guys that have been here four years and they're playing great. Dallas (Baker) and Jemalle (Cornelius) we kind of pulled out … (Brandon) Siler and Earl (Everett) we pulled out a little bit … Jarvis Moss. We're starting to pull some of the guys out that you just have to give them off until August."

The reason Meyer feels comfortable pulling his two best wide receivers from this spring along with three of his best defensive players is attitude. In terms of talent on the field, there might not be as much this year as there was on the field last year when spring practice ended, but in terms of where the Gators are as a team, it's night and day.

Last spring, Meyer was still trying to figure out players' names and where they fit on the field. This spring, his players understand their roles, what's expected of them and they've spent the last three weeks trying to impress the coaching staff.

"I think the attitude is really good now," said Meyer Wednesday evening. "I didn't know a lot last year. I just kind of took a lot for granted but I know these players now. You won't play if you have a bad attitude. That's not going to happen."

Getting attitudes right and getting players united with the common goal of building the team has been a good portion of the coaching staff's emphasis both in the winter drills and spring practice. Meyer knows that everyone wants instant success on the field but his idea is to put the football program on the strongest possible foundation so that the success is long term and never ending.

"You've got to build a program," he said. "I talked to Jeremy (Foley, athletic director) about this a long time but it's very important to build a program. This might take a couple of years. It might take next year but we're not going to play you if you have a bad attitude. We won't recruit you if you have a bad attitude. I can't wait … I'm really excited at this point in year two."

Because the spring attitudes have been so good and the effort on the field has been consistently strong, Meyer is obviously encouraged by what he's seeing. When the Orange and Blue Game finishes up Saturday, it will be three months before he can practice the Gators again but he's hoping that the team-building efforts have taken root to the point that in August, he'll have a group ready to come together the way his teams did in his previous stops at Bowling Green and Utah.

"I'm jacked," he said. "I really am. I spoke somewhere and someone said, 'Coach, what's your goal?' What's our goal is to become a team … to become a great team and it's well documented that we're not. We're not panicking because there's not many great teams. There's a bunch of teams that win but a great team is an unselfish team that is completely committed to one another. It's one heart beat and we're not there but it's the closest it's been since I spoke to these guys in December of whenever it was a year ago."

When he needs to compare where the Gators are in terms of team building, Meyer looks no further than his buddy Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia. The Mountaineers finished 11-1 in 2005, winning the Sugar Bowl against Georgia.

"I think West Virginia had a great team this year," he said. "It's not my job and I'm not recruiting for West Virginia but that's a friend of mine and you watch them play --- offense, defense, kicking game. They hustle, they bounce around and their coach tells me how they practice."

During the Urban Meyer tour of Gator Clubs last spring, Meyer often talked about how in year two at Utah, his players complained when they didn't think they had practiced hard enough or they weren't being worked hard enough by the coaching staff. That team went 12-0 and won the Fiesta Bowl against Pitt in a BCS game. His first team at Bowling Green is another team he classifies as a great team although he says it was a team that didn't have a lot of talented players.

"I've had two great teams," he said. "One went 8-3. We didn't have great players but it was a great team, my first team at Bowling Green, and my last year at Utah was a great team."

It wasn't great records that made those teams great in his eyes. It was the unselfishness and the willingness to work together that made the teams stand out and that's what he's looking to build at Florida --- unselfish teams that care about each other so much that the players will lift up the ones that need some help and push harder the ones that are standing out on the playing field.

Great teams, he will tell you, are teams that come to work every day in practice with the intention of giving everything they have. He wasn't sure what he had last year at this time and during the course of a 9-3 season, he found some players willing to put everything on the line both in practice and in the games and others that took awhile to figure things out.

When he surveys the team that he'll be putting on the field in the fall, he sees a totally different set of attitudes and a work ethic that's better than what he's seen since he's been here.

"This team's much different [than last year]," he said. "I'm concerned. We lost some good players, some really good players but the team is much different. I've got a new leadership committee that I can talk to. We had a two and a half hour meeting yesterday and it wasn't really a meeting … it was just talking and I've not really been able to do that, so the team's better.

"I don't know if we'll be better production wise, however. You look at it and you lost some pretty good players … lost three great players on defense and lost some linemen and that's going to hurt us. But, as far as attitude and liking to practice and coming out here and going at it, it's much better. It's a good team. This will be a good team."

Meyer seemed quite excited with the progress that's been made by quarterback Chris Leak. Leak has been more decisive this spring and he's playing with a level of confidence that's higher than at any time in the previous three years at Florida.

Compared to the spring of 2005, Leak is light years ahead. For most of the spring he's shown a better command of the passing game and a willingness to take off and run when there are positive yards to be had and no open receivers.

"Chris Leak, great spring, much further along," Meyer said. "He wasn't particularly sharp today but he had a very good spring. He's anxious for the summer. I think he knows he's going to take it to the next level."

One of the chief reasons for optimism is the improvement at wide receiver. Dallas Baker has continued to show he's going to be a highlight reel in the fall and Jemalle Cornelius came on very strong in the final week, showing a level of speed and playmaking ability that he hadn't shown before. Also the emergence of Cornelius Ingram and the continued healing of Bubba Caldwell (ahead of schedule on rehab of a broken leg) gives Meyer reason to think the wide receiver position will be stacked in the fall.

"We've identified four receivers that are a little bit ahead of the others and we have to develop depth behind them," he said.

Wide receiver depth has started to emerge in the final week of the spring. Kenneth Tookes has had a solid and productive spring. Coming on strong in the final few days have been Louis Murphy, David Nelson and Nyan Boateng.

Meyer said the running back situation still has a way to go but he has found encouragement there because of the hard work and good attitudes.

"We're not much better [than we were earlier in the spring] but the attitude is tremendous," said Meyer. "I don't know how good we are. I question that but the attitude is there and if you keeping working, things usually get better and they are starting to get better."

One player that has consistently caught Meyer's eye this spring has been defensive tackle Clint McMillan, whom Meyer once again praised Wednesday.

"Clint McMillan has had a terrific spring," said Meyer. "He has earned playing time. I want to see him finish it now in The Swamp."

LOOKING FOR THE NEXT VERNELL BROWN: One area where Meyer hopes to see improvement in the fall is production from some of the fifth year players. There are several that haven't done much to distinguish their Florida careers.

"There are some guys that have been here for awhile and to be honest --- there's no nice way to say it --- but they haven't done a whole lot. I hope there are some Vernell Browns out there that haven't played a lot of football and then all of a sudden they're going to help us."

TEBOW TALK: Meyer continues to be bombarded by questions about freshman quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow has had some outstanding moments in his first spring practice, moments when he flashes enormous potential, and he's had others when he looks like a typical freshman. Meyer is not going to push Tebow too hard, too fast.

"I did an ESPN piece today and sure enough that [Tebow] came up," said Meyer. "I said Tim Tebow is a freshman, actually a senior in high school right now, and that's what he is and we're going to protect him and let him go play quarterback at the University of Florida. It's great for him and he's one guy that I think that can handle it."

ORANGE AND BLUE GAME: The teams will be drafted Thursday morning. Coach Stan Drayton will coach one team and Coach Chuck Heater will coach the other. It will be a regular football game, not one of these offense vs. defense scrimmages that have been seen at other schools.

"Someone said … even one of our coaches said why don't you do offense vs. defense?" said Meyer. "I'm not quite sure how you even do that. I don't want to do that so we're going to divide teams and have some fun with it, winner/loser."

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