Spikes Questionable

When the Florida Gators run out of the tunnel at The Swamp on Saturday afternoon to kick off the 2008 season against Hawaii, a couple of their key players may not be with them. Percy Harvin's status for Saturday is still up in the air, and now the leader of the defense, Brandon Spikes, may be questionable.

Brandon Spikes led the Gators with 131 tackles last season, but Urban Meyer disclosed during his Monday press conference that the junior middle linebacker has a sore right foot and his status for Saturday is unknown. The news comes after Spikes had his best fall camp since arriving in Gainesville.

"He's never had a good offseason," Meyer said. "He has never had the strength or complete commitment to the offseason but he has this year. I think he is one of the best linebackers in college football and is ready to take that next step."

Percy Harvin's status is still up in the air for Saturday even though he worked with the team on Saturday. Harvin didn't take part in the full practice, but it was the first time he was involved in contact drills. Last season, he posted more than 1,600 all-purpose yards and is the Gators' best offensive threat after Tim Tebow.

"I don't know if he'll play; I'll know more later in the week," Meyer said. "He still has a reaction where once he goes for a little bit he needs to watch it because he gets sore on it."

In addition to Spikes on the defensive side, the status of defensive tackles Matt Patchan and Omar Hunter are still up in the air. Patchan will take part in contact on Monday for the first time after aggravating his pectoral muscle over the summer. Hunter, on the other hand, has practiced for four straight days after sitting out most of fall camp with a sore back.

"He's starting to show the things that got us excited," Meyer said.

A year older

Last year's squad lacked two things – chemistry and experience. After the Gators blew out Tennessee 59-20 in week three, many began making comparisons to the '06 squad that won the national championship. But Meyer knew better, and knew that last season wasn't going to be as easy as the win against the Vols.

"Leadership and the character of a team don't show up until you get hit right in the mouth, and it was exposed last year," he said. "The team before that went through the loss at Auburn and they came through that on fire. This is a much different team and I am proud to say that it isn't even close to what it was a year ago."

Meyer said he's seeing signs that this year's squad is closer than last year's, but he also said last year's team didn't know how to prepare during fall camp. With a season under the belt of last year's rookies, Meyer believes the '08 team is ready for Saturday.

"Last year we had a very young team and I don't think we understood how to prepare," Meyer said. "I think our kids are on a mission. When we play like we did last year and start reading and believing things, it's not good. I don't see that at all this year, though."

The two areas that Florida really needed improvement were at corner and running back. Meyer is thrilled with the progress of both position groups since last season.

"Those two spots were very inadequate last year, but I think that they are way above adequate now," Meyer said. "We had to take a high school receiver and make him a fulltime starter in the Southeastern Conference at cornerback. If you do that, you're asking for problems but we were exposed. Another guy was Wondy Pierre-Louis who was no more ready to start than I was, who was also exposed but is now a much better player."

The biggest leap is at running back where the Gators have five talented running backs fighting for playing time. Kestahn Moore has won the battle to become the starting all-purpose back, but Emmanuel Moody is hot on his tail.

"He is a high character guy that shows up every day and got better," Meyer said. "When a player and a position coach find what buttons to push, they open each others hearts up and got it done. He is a completely different player than he was last spring and he is ready to go out there and play college football. It's been a while. He is a high-character guy and he and his position coach are very close."

Notes

  • The defense will show, at times, a 3-3-5 look with Joe Haden playing nickel and Janoris Jenkins moving into his cornerback spot. The next one in is Jacques Rickerson. Brandon Hicks is the first linebacker in after the starting three.

  • Rainey is extremely excited to finally get back on the field after missing most of last season after a shoulder surgery. Said Meyer, "He is so excited to play. He probably has a tough time keeping his Lucky Charms down when he eats them in the morning. He is walking around the place like you would want young men to be. That's what it's all about to see a person who just can't wait to get out and live his boyhood dream of playing in this stadium and he is going to play a lot."

  • What can Tim Tebow improve on after a Heisman Trophy season? Said Meyer, "I think pocket presence and obviously to be able to win a game in a two-minute drill. We have worked extremely hard on the pocket presence and that comes from experience."

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


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