Strong Finish to a Strong Spring

The measures of any spring season are whether or not the key players from a year ago continue to improve and whether or not some new players step up and make a name for themselves. During Saturday's Orange and Blue Game at The Swamp on Saturday, the Florida Gators achieved passing scores in both regards.

If we learned anything from Saturday's scrimmage, we learned that even a Tim Tebow (13-of-21, 200 yards, 2 touchdowns) who spent the last 48 hours with a high fever and upset stomach is still among the best quarterbacks in the country. We learned that Brandon Spikes (2 tackles) is still a force in the middle of the defense and that Maurkice and Michael Pouncey are big time players on the offensive line.

But running back Chris Rainey (11 carries for 76 yards/1 reception for 65 yards), who ran a 4.24 40-yard dash in the pregame festivities, showed that he's ready to compete on a big stage. Emmanuel Moody (14 carries, 111 yards) showed that he can be a feature back in the SEC if he can learn how to hold onto the ball. Carlos Dunlap showed that he is a freak of nature on the defensive line. And early enrollee Caleb Sturgis showed he can kick in front of a big crowd after he nailed a 57-yard field goal.

"I was about three feet away from our kicker and to look into his eyes in front of 60,000 people on national television and he's 17 years old," Urban Meyer said. "How do you get that game rep? It's not like that on a practice field. Go look around the country. It's not like this. This is a unique place, a special place."

The Gator Nation set a new record when 61,000 came out and set a new Orange and Blue Debut attendance record. The execution wasn't phenomenal at times, but the Gators made plays and limited mistakes in front of the nationally televised audience.

"From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank those fans," Meyer said. "That was a great experience. Player development is a process. Anybody that doesn't think that doesn't understand football."

Rainey stole the show, though. The sophomore running back/wide receiver made an unforgettable move on his former Lakeland High School teammate safety Ahmad Black to race into the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown reception. On a day that the Gators did not have Percy Harvin, Rainey had a Harvin-like day.

"I thought he would do that and he did that," Meyer said. "If he works diligently in the offseason and I can't do that cause it's the offseason. Tebow can, Brantley can, and Newton can. He's got to have a little self-discipline to improve his weaknesses. I think Chris Rainey is going to be a very good football player. Our goal is to get him to 182."

Rainey is currently at 177 pounds, so he's not far off from where Meyer wants him in August. Last season, Meyer referred to his play sheet for games that would list the number of touches for certain players. On Saturday, Rainey made his case to be included on that list.

"If he's really good he's going to touch the ball," Meyer said. "If he's good in the I, then we're going to line up in the I. If he's a good stretch runner and we don't run stretch, then we'll run stretch tomorrow. We run an offense based of off personnel, period."

Senior Kestahn Moore finished with an excellent spring, but Gator fans got to witness USC transfer Emmanuel Moody in person for the first time. Moody finished with more than 100 yards rushing and one touchdown, but he could have had another had he not fumbled on his way into the end zone on another play.

"He's not very good with ball security, and he won't play tailback at Florida if it continues," Meyer said. "He's very talented. We saw some great runs. He's got talent, but there is no chance he will play football if there's a chance the ball is on the ground."

Heading into the offseason, Moody has some work to do to move up on the rotation. Meyer said he's not concerned about not having one go-to-guy in the backfield, but he did say it requires a little more creativity from the coaching staff. Moore has earned the top spot, but Rainey proved on Saturday that he'll be in the mix.

"If Chris Rainey was 225 pounds or 215 and Kestahn Moore ran a 10.4 100-meter hurdles, you put those two things together and you're pretty good," Meyer said. "They're going to compliment each other. The Adrian Petersons are hard to find."

"I remember a couple times standing on the side line and not having a guy to throw to or to hand the ball to a few years ago," Meyer added. "We're going to have some fun this summer putting together this offense."

Given Rainey's great day, however, Meyer still said he's got some things to accomplish physically.

"The thing that Percy Harvin has over Chris right now is that Percy is cock strong," Meyer said. "Pound for pound, he's the strongest guy on the team. Chris is not there yet. As far as first step and speed, I don't know if Percy is a word, but he's got some of that."

There was some defense on Saturday, too. Both the Orange and Blue teams combined for four turnovers (2 interceptions and 2 fumbles) and posted six sacks. Carlos Dunlap stood out the most despite having some trouble covering the run.

"Carlos Dunlap did not play well against the run," Meyer said. "Three times I caught him in the wrong gap. Some of those big runs were his fault. He's going to be a force on pass rush in the SEC, and if you're a force in the SEC than you are one of the best in the nation at what you do. Steve Addazio made the comment to me that he's one of the best pass rushers he's ever gone against."

The rest of the defensive line has some work to do during the offseason, though.

"I'm still concerned [at defensive tackle]," Meyer said. "Matt Patchan had no offseason and he went out there and mixed it up. We got some bodies, but we do not have an SEC line at this moment."

The secondary was noticeably improved and played with more maturity. Wondy Pierre-Louis stuck out most to Meyer.

"I thought Wondy had a great day," Meyer said. "We tried to go after him because that's what they did against him last year. He had success today. … Wondy and Joe Haden are our first two but not by much. The good thing is that I think we have seven guys behind them that can play. If one guy decides to have a bad day like last year, we have guys behind them that can play. We didn't have that last year, and they all want to play."

Meyer and the coaching staff now turn the reins of the team back to strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti for the summer workouts.

"We have a great strength coach, but I don't care what they bench press," Meyer said. "I do, but we recruited some freak athletes here at Florida. What I'm concerned about is are they worried about all the crap out there or are they concerned about each other."

And Meyer said he'll know in July if the Gators are SEC Championship worthy in 2008.

"I'll know in July if we're going to compete for a championship," Meyer said. "Last year we had no chance. We still went with fight, fight and all that other stuff, but we had no chance. … It was a very positive spring. We're getting out of this thing with no major injuries and a positive attitude."

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


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