Competition will be the Focus this Spring

The Florida Gators hit the practice field for the first time this spring on Wednesday afternoon, but don't tell Urban Meyer they're coming off a national title. The focus this spring, as with past springs, will be to clean up some things from last year and to begin working on the depth chart for the fall.

Urban Meyer had to turn the reins of his football team over to the strength and conditioning staff for the offseason workouts over the last couple of months, so he's glad to be back with his team on the football field.

"It's the typical first practice reaction," Meyer said after Wednesday's workout. "I love being out here and I love our players."

The hype surrounding the defending BCS Champs has already begun. The start of spring practice is drawing national attention since the Gators return all 11 starters from one of the nation's best defenses from a year ago and most of the key elements on offense, including quarterback Tim Tebow. But Meyer isn't thinking about the '09 season just yet.

"We're not worried about next year," Meyer said. "There's a lot of competition for spots out here. The linebacker position is wide open. The safeties, you tell me who's going to play? I can tell you four guys that started or should be starting. There's a lot of competition."

With fierce competition at just about every position with the exception of quarterback, Meyer sees it as the best opportunity to keep the team from getting complacent after coming off the success of last season.

"(Strength coach) Mickey [Marotti] is very involved," Meyer said. "The only way I know how to do it is to make it the hardest summer they've ever been through. We just need to make it real hard. But I think the competition won't allow that to happen. We encourage competition and make sure we have it around here."

After the 2006 championship season, Meyer leaned on Gator basketball coach Billy Donovan on how to bounce back from a national title. Meyer, though, was quick to point out that this year's squad is a better comparison to Donovan's team that returned its five starters for the following season. So once again, he'll seek Donovan's advice before trying to string together back-to-back titles.

"In '07 it was a completely different deal," Meyer said. "We had a core of football players that weren't ready to play. For me to talk to Billy Donovan after the '06 season when no one was coming back, but now we have everyone coming back."

Besides Tebow, the Gators return their other emotional leader – Brandon Spikes on defense. Spikes had the chance to leave early like wide receiver Percy Harvin did to test the NFL Draft. But instead, the senior linebacker is back to improve his game.

"I know Brandon very well," Meyer said. "I know the draw and the pull. I've sat in those meetings. I think he made the right decision and if he left he would have made the right decision. One thing I was really impressed, now that we got the program going, kids are taking their time. There are no snap decisions. Percy's was a well though out decision. Brandon James, Jermaine Cunningham. There were some other guys when we first got here and left and were seventh round draft picks. That's not right."

Meyer's program continues to grow as he enters his fifth season in Gainesville, and he's definitely putting his stamp on the program with two national and conference titles. And Meyer added another one of his touches when he added a plaque with Tebow's now infamous Ole Miss post-game speech outside the new football facility.

"It was my idea," he said. "I'm not interested in where we'll be 10 years from now. I might be toes-up somewhere. I'm not a big fan of, ‘hey, lets wait.' I thought it was a speech that Gator Nation should see on the side of a building."

Meyer said the Gators would work on several things this spring – some old, some new.

"We'll work on our cadence and our speed tempo, no huddle," he said. "We're messing around with some stuff. Scot Loeffler brought some stuff that we're going to take a look at on offense."

NOTES
  • Meyer on Matt Patchan not practicing … "He had a scooter accident. He told me he'll be out in about a week. He's a fast healer and has had a lot of opportunities to heal up."
  • On Omar Hunter … "He's not in shape but he's getting closer. That body is a work in progress. He had a good day today and we'll find out Saturday."
  • On Torrey Davis and John Brown no longer with the team … "We're trying to help those guys. It wasn't a disciplinary deal. It was decisions that were made for all that were involved. There's a chance Torrey Davis could come back after he does what he needs to do."
  • On Emmanuel Moody … "He's in a great frame of mind. We'll see what happens. I'm a big fan of Moody."
  • On Deonte Thompson … "He falls in that same category. They're all good guys. They just need to play a little better."
  • On Riley Cooper playing baseball … "He proved he can handle it and he proved it for us late in the season."
  • On Earl Okine … "He's bench pressing close to 400 pounds and he's a long-levered guy. He has to play this year. He's a high quality guy, high character guy."
  • On Tebow under center … "I think we're in the right to help him. We're just trying to help him get comfortable under center. You remember the national championship game with Chris Leak, we want to have a package in there. In the national championship game we had 35 snaps under center. We just want to get him comfortable. Last year he wasn't comfortable."
  • Carlos Dunlap missed practice with an abdominal strain and is expected to be out about a week.



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