Gators Peaking in Practice

It's been a long time since Urban Meyer has been able to walk off the practice field a happy man, but with signs of an improving defense and a ton of talent on offense, the Gator football team is starting to show the kind of energy the coaching staff is looking for.

"We had our best practice since two years ago yesterday," Urban Meyer said. "We had our best Friday practice. It was the most intense, the most enthusiastic practice we've had yet. The execution wasn't there but I don't care about that yet. After the last two days, those kids deserve a day off because they worked their tails off."

A couple of players, including Chris Rainey, are starting to make a move towards more playing time in the fall.

"I already have in my mind who is going to play next year," Meyer said. "We're only half way through spring, but there are a couple of guys that have made plays that haven't made many plays around here."

Defense rules

Heading into the spring it was the defense that had the most questions, but once again, they dominated the offense in a practice that involved nothing but scrimmaging. Where in the first couple of workouts, the offense was able to score at will, the defense has made it increasingly harder for the offense to even pick up first downs. In some of the situational drills, the offense, like last year, had to turn to the legs of Tim Tebow to pick up a first down.

"The last couple of practices have been pretty good," Meyer said. "Carlos Dunlap and some others, it's all about making plays and trying to get off the field. We're trying to put them into situations similar to last year. That's the difference between winning those games two years ago. Two years ago we made a play and got a victory. I can think of four or five times off the top of my head where we needed a stop and got one – Tennessee and Georgia. Last year we didn't do that. I'm very pleased with the last couple of days from the defense."

Safety Jamar Hornsby made quite a bit of noise on the last two plays of the day. First, Hornsby crushed Tate Casey when Casey came across the middle to make a catch. Hornsby timed his hit perfectly and jarred the ball loose. Casey stayed down for several minutes and had to be helped off the field. He then picked off Tebow on the final play of the day.

"He made a couple of plays at the end, but I keep going back to Carlos [Dunlap]," Meyer said. "He made two sacks back-to-back. The scrimmage was real close until that happened."

The pressure of leading the defense has been squarely put on the shoulders of Brandon Spikes and he's had a few big days. Yesterday, he broke up pass after pass and today he made several tackles. Meyer said it's up to the middle linebacker position to lead the Florida defense.

"It's inherent for the position," he said. "It's hard to ask a cornerback to be the guy. The safety and linebacker can – Reggie Nelson and Brandon Siler from a couple years ago. Last year, we didn't have that."

Meyer said it's taken some time for Spikes to step into his role as a team leader, but he's starting to get the hang of it.

"Brandon's a guy that's not comfortable with that role sometimes because he wants to be liked by everyone," Meyer said. "But he has to take that role or we're going to be very average again. That's his choice. If it were my choice, he would be leadership all of the time."

Another thing Meyer is starting to see from the young defensive unit is an understanding of their roles. Hornsby made that point after practice that after spending hours in the film room, he can now recognize things and do his job more effectively.

"It's good to see a good defense," Meyer said. "We're not seeing as many confused looks. Confused looks lead to bad players, bad offenses, bad defenses and bad teams. I'm starting to see them disappear. There used to be a lot of confused looks on defense, but they're starting to go away."

One thing the Gator defense has to watch for in the remaining two weeks of spring football is red jerseys. Over the last two days both Tebow and Cameron Newton have been hit hard by their teammates.

"I gotta watch that," Meyer said. "It just gets so competitive out there and when you say win or lose and that defense has been getting chewed out now for four months. We just have to be smart."

Harvin decision looming

Percy Harvin was on the practice field for Saturday's scrimmage, but once again he wasn't suited up. The talented Gator wide receiver has been shut down all week because of a chronic heel injury, and Meyer should learn of Harvin's fate today.

"We're going to meet today," Meyer said. "There are about three different doctors involved. We just want to make sure that we're doing the best treatments possible. I'll announce on Monday exactly what's going to happen."

Harvin appeared to be fine walking around the practice field on Saturday, but his heel is aggravated when he runs. Surgery is one of the possible options. He spent most of the practice hanging out with future Gator T.J. Pridemore.

Notes

  • Emmanuel Moody has been impressive at times, but at other times he's looked confused. During Friday's practice, offensive coordinator Dan Mullen yelled at the USC transfer for lining up in the wrong place. Meyer is still unsure of what his role will be.

    "He's very talented. It's still too early to tell what his role will be, but he's talented and his attitude is tremendous. He's learning. He's a little behind, which shouldn't be because he was here all fall. He's a very talented player."

  • With both Aaron Hernandez and Tate Casey, the Gator offense has been experimenting more with the tight end role.

    "You're seeing a lot of different closed formations with a tight end," Meyer said. "We have to take advantage of the talent that we have."

  • John Brantley didn't throw at all in Saturday's scrimmage. Meyer is still concerned with his shoulder injury from the offseason workouts.

    "He's throwing 7-on-7s on non-padded days," Meyer said. "The trainers said he's trying to push himself, but if he reinjures it will set him back quite a ways."

    Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


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