"I was ready," Meyer said after practice. "I enjoyed it, loved it. I saw a lot of people out here. The field is looking terrific. Those are a bunch of wide-eyed young players. It was awesome."
Meyer's already had the chance to see some of the '07 recruiting class first hand. Several members were early enrollees and worked out in the spring. But this was Meyer's and the staff's first chance to work with guys like Deonte Thompson, Chris Rainey, John Brantley, Major Wright and Lorenzo Edwards, among others. The only one that didn't make it onto the practice field was five-star offensive guard James Wilson who is still out another three weeks because of a knee injury.
"It's not fair to single one guy out or two guys out, but I'm very impressed," Meyer said. "I was impressed that they fought through it. The heat index was 110 I think today. They did good, but I can't wait to see the old guys tonight."
Two players who were questionable for the start of practice were in uniform and working out on Sunday. Defensive tackles Torrey Davis and John Brown struggled with clearance, but Davis is cleared and Brown is getting closer.
"The rule is to be certified and cleared you get two weeks," Meyer said. "So he's got from now to 14 more days to be officially cleared. He's unofficially cleared, but it looks like it's going to go that way or else they wouldn't let him practice."
The Gator defensive line faces depth issues heading into the fall, but Meyer and line coach Greg Mattison had a full group of highly-rated freshmen to work with. Justin Trattou worked out at end and looked very polished technically. Mattison remarked after practice about how well coached he was in high school.
Also at end was Jay Howard who is very quick off the edge, and at tackle, Mattison had Brown, Davis and Dunlap.
"He's a giant," Meyer said about Dunlap. "We won't know [where he plays] for three weeks."
The Gators also showcased a lot of speed at both the wide receiver and secondary positions. Paul Wilson was physical as always after a solid spring, but it was Thompson who gained the most attention. The speedy wide receiver broke free for a pair of touchdowns during one-on-ones, beating Bryan Thomas on one.
"I was talking to Vernell Brown and I said, ‘boy this is a fast group,'" Meyer said. "When you watch the John Jones's and Lorenzo Edwards's and Major Wright's, those body types, you expect Deonte to be fast, but it's that middle level. Two years ago on special teams, we suffered at times because we didn't have enough bodies like that. In my opinion they're all going to play."
Only one quarterback worked out during the first session – John Brantley. Brantley was the only one not to work out in the spring, but looked impressive during the drills. His arm is strong, he's accurate and showed good timing for the first day.
In Meyer's two-plus years, this is the most optimistic he's been about a group of newcomers after the first workout.
"Because of sheer numbers, they are going to play, but they're that talented," he said.
But Meyer is also a realist and knows that the month of August will probably not go as well as today.
"They are in survival mode," he said. "I was that age one time. They were excited. We showed the highlight tape today and then all of a sudden we get out here, and they're just trying to get through it. You can tell right now the ones that are going to play. I can, I'm not going to tell you, but I have a pretty good idea of who's going to play."
As for the heat, it's business as usual in North Central Florida during the first week of August, and if they're not used to it, they better start.
"They're going to go through this for four years now," Meyer said. "Most of them are from Florida so they are used to it. We have a bunch of trainers and doctors, so when it gets too hot we put them in the tent for a little bit and then send them back out."
After practice, it was time for a little initiation for the newcomers. They were sent back to the locker room to sing the fight song for the veterans before they grabbed some dinner and the older players get ready for practice.