Meyer Takes Early NFL Entry Very Seriously

DAYTONA BEACH --- When Chad Jackson first approached Coach Urban Meyer about taking the plunge and declaring for the National Football League Draft, Meyer admits there was a certain amount of apprehension on his part. He really wasn't certain that Jackson was quite ready to leave the University of Florida but he wasn't about to advise his star wide receiver that he needed to stay in school one more year.

Meyer admitted Saturday afternoon that he takes it very seriously when an underclassman wants to leave school for the National Football League. When he has his discussions with underclassmen, first and foremost, he wants to know their reasoning but he said he only gives opinions when opinions are asked for.

"Each case is an individual," said Meyer, who began his day in Atlanta watching a high school football combine before flying to Daytona Beach to speak to the Volusia County Gator Club's annual gathering, held as always at the Daytona International Speedway. "A coach or anybody that would tell a kid that this is what you should do that's a mistake. If they ask your opinion, that's your opinion."

Jackson was the second early entry into the NFL in Meyer's brief tenure at the University of Florida. The first was tailback Ciatrick Fason, a 1,200-yard rusher for Coach Ron Zook in 2004. Meyer was hardly on the University of Florida campus in January after his Utah team had waxed Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl when Fason came to his office to talk about going to the play for pay league.

"I didn't know C4 at all," said Meyer. "He came in [my office], we sat down and talked. He said 'Coach I got to take care of my two kids. I want to get married. I want to do this, this and this and that's why I'm going out.' I stood up, walked across the room and gave him a big hug and said God bless you, that's very admirable and you've gotta do that."

Meyer didn't try to talk Fason out of leaving Florida and says he would never do that.

"That would be a tragic mistake," said Meyer. "If he does come back and something happens, then you're at fault. You can give your opinion, that's all."

Fason was drafted in the third round by the Minnesota Vikings. He had a productive 2005 season in the NFL and he will see the field quite often in year two.

Just a few days prior to his conversation with Fason, Meyer had a smilar earlier Meyer had a similar conversation with his quarterback at Utah, Alex Smith.

"With Alex Smith he came back and said 'General Managers I have talked to said I am going to be a first round pick, maybe a top 15 pick so we shook hands and started talking about something else," said Meyer. "That was a no-brainer and he had his degree already."

Smith became the number one pick in the 2005 NFL draft when he was selected by the San Francisco 49ers.

With Jackson, there was a certain amount of skepticism on Meyer's part largely because the pre-draft evaluations were incomplete. It was just a few days after the Gators had waxed Iowa, 31-24, in the Outback Bowl and Jackson hadn't done any individual workouts for the pro scouts. Jackson tied the school record for catches in a season (88) so his productivity was certainly high enough to get the attention of the NFL scouting establishment in a draft year that was expected to be very weak for wide receivers.

"When that discussion came up, he had the goal of playing in the NFL and he had a goal of being drafted as high as possible," said Meyer. "The research we did was mixed because he didn't have that 4.3 time yet so that was not a no-brainer."

Jackson turned the heads of the skeptics in Indianapolis with a blazing 4.3 40-yard dash and in workouts at Florida's Pro Day and private session with coaches and scouts, his draft stock rose considerably.

"It turned out that with his workouts and his 40 times that it was a no-brainer," Meyer said.

At the time Meyer was speaking to the media, race cars were roaring around the speedway's famed tri-oval banked track and the 2006 NFL Draft was already in full swing. Only later in the day, well after he had finished his speech and signed plenty of autographs for fans from the crowd of 750 that attended the gathering, was Jackson drafted --- the number 36 player taken, fourth selection of the second round by the New England Patriots.

In assessing Jackson's abilities, he said, "There are some things he has to work on. He's really only played one year. That's the way you look at Chad Jackson. His first year, he really didn't play receiver. He played special teams. His second year he was a 22-catch guy (actually 29) or something like that and last year, he played a lot of football and made some great plays. Normally speaking, you need two years of football before you're ready to go to the NFL and he hasn't had it. He's had one year."

But, Jackson left on good terms and he will always find the welcome mat at Meyer's door. Meyer's only regret about the entire decision-making process is the distraction of being asked the same questions by friends, family and media during Florida's practices for the Outback Bowl.

"I enjoy talking about those things after a bowl game," he said. "Any distraction during the season … a couple of times the media, family and third uncles were all asking 'What's he going to do? What's he going to do? What's he going to do? I'm going to make it clear with the family, media and our team that those are great discussions to have after your bowl game like I've done in the past. You can't distract a team during the season."

SPRING ASSESSMENT: Meyer said that the recently concluded spring practice answered some but not all the questions the Gators had when practices began in late March.

"There are certain areas that exceeded our expectations," he said. "I think our quarterback situation is better than I thought it would be. I think our offensive line is better than I thought it would be. I'm a little disappointed with our D-line because we had some injuries and I thought they would come together as a unit better than they did. The linebacker position we needed to create some depth and we didn't solve that problem. We helped it a little bit but we didn't solve it."

Asked the greatest areas of need, he said, "Linebacker probably and just a lack of experience on the offensive line and then corner … those are the three areas."

ATKINS UPDATE: Speaking to the media before the event and to the Gator fans during the gathering, Meyer re-iterated that the situation with Avery Atkins is okay.

"It's a family situation which I think we've done a good job respecting his privacy," said Meyer, who told the crowd that Atkins was on track to finish the spring semester with a 3.5 in the classroom. "He's all set for summer school. His situation is not going to go away. He's just a young guy that has to learn to deal with something and we're helping him but it's all positive. He's back in Gainesville. He's getting ready for finals. He has two finals next week."

TEBOW AND INGRAM: Meyer told the crowd that freshman quarterback Tim Tebow and multi-purpose receiver Cornelius Ingram have really bonded and will be working together throughout the summer. Meyer said that the two aren't going home in Summer A. They will stay on campus where they can throw and catch daily.

OVER-RATED 40: Meyer said that the 40-yard dash is one of the most over-rated tools for judging football players. He reads all the stories about high school kids running sub-4.3 40s and the like and he doesn't buy it, particularly since he thinks it's not even the most important aspect of judging a player's ability.

"It's a great tool but I think it's over-rated and I think that the more I'm in this game," said Meyer, who said the 100-meter dash is a far better indicator of speed.

"The thing about 100 meter times … that's computerized and digital," he said. "With 40 times it could be that third uncle that sits in my office that sometimes says they run a 4.28 … well, it's not a 4.28."

Meyer said that what's far more important than 40 times is football speed, which he said is vastly different than any 40-yard dash.

"Football speed is what you want," he said. "Football speed is how fast you play when you're getting smoked, when you're getting ready to get hit. Nyan Boateng is the perfect example. His 40-time is still a little faster than his football time right now because he's still learning how to play. He hasn't played a whole lot of football. Game speed improves with experience."

OFF THE FIELD PROBLEMS: Meyer said that he's proud of the way the off the field problems with the law have been curtailed under his watch. He said there are still problems, but not the kind that resulted in players arrested and embarrassing the university and the football program.

"We had a lot of problems [last year] but they are all considered minor and all considered fixable," he said. "They just weren't brushes with the law like we saw in the papers. We're certainly not where we want to be at the University of Florida but it's actually better than it was a year ago."

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