Spring Result: Almost Everything Accomplished

It was a very different spring in terms of preparation for the season to follow. When the defense returns it's two-deep, and the offense returns seven starters, there just aren't many holes to fill with unseasoned players. Solidifying the depth and pushing the starters was the main agenda and according to Florida Gators' Head Coach Urban Meyer, it was mission accomplished.

The Gators held their annual spring game on Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 65,000 and Urban Meyer was pleased with the outcome and again with the support that the fans of the University of Florida have shown since his arrival on campus.

"We had an excellent day," Meyer started in his press conference following the exhibition. "You don't want to take people for granted, but to see 65,000 people show up on a day like to day when they knew there was a chance you wouldn't see a lot of the Tebow's, Hernandez's, and Spikes'. I just want to tell the Gator Nation that it is something else. We average more for spring games, than most average for home games."

A lot of the starters did not play in the game and some others very little. This was a day for the backups to have their time and on a team as talented as the Florida Gators are, the backups should be able to put on a show and did. Meyer is very happy with the spring that just unfolded before him and what was accomplished.

"I saw some guys make plays that needed to make plays," he said of the scrimmage Saturday. "I thought John Brantley managed, I thought Jon Bostic is going to be battling for significant playing time. Frankie Hammond had a very productive spring, T.J. Lawrence, Jaye Howard, Omar Hunter, I could go on and on."

"We decided on offense versus defense and the reason was so we could substitute freely. I think the thing that pushed it over the edge to me was the Auburn receiver that broke his leg. You can't coach scared, we aren't going to do that during two-a-days. There are certain guys I have seen enough of. Jermaine Cunningham in his fourth year, Brandon Spikes in his fourth year, Joe Haden in his third year, Janoris Jenkins has an injury, Major Wright has started for all but three games (in his career),

Brantley is the strong armed quarterback and son of former Gators' quarterback John Brantley. The current gunslinger is one of the most talented players to ever sign at the position for the University of Florida. Brantley however is not the same style of quarterback the Gators have grown used to over the last couple of years. Meyer knows, when he is in the game, some adjustments will have to be made.

"It will be like Alex Smith or a little like Chris Leak," Meyer said of the way the game is called and played with Brantley at the helm. "We will run a different style than we do with Tim. We aren't going to eliminate that. Johnny is going to be fine, he really showed some good stuff, it's just going to be a different style of offense.

"He is a little bit of a dual threat, but he won't get the big chunks that Tebow does and he won't be the threat. We get a lot of vanilla defenses because of the threat. He won't win the game running the ball. The big question for him was his management skills. Be able to call a huddle and demand guys to get set and go and not pout when he has a bad play or get angry with himself that it takes two series to get it out of his system. That was his history here. I have seen great development with him, Coach Loeffler has done a great job and Tebow. Tebow's developed him. They are very good friends and that is the way Tim is."

There were a few keys to this spring according to Meyer. Adapting the offense a little further along and adding some elements previously missing. They also wanted to work on depth in some key areas on both sides of the ball.

"We wanted to work on some things schematically (on offense) and we wanted to find some depth," Meyer said. "At corner...we have some great competition at those spots. Obviously Joe (Haden) and Janoris (Jenkins) are there, but you have kids named Adrian Bushell, Jeremy Brown, Wondy Pierre-Louis who has played a lot of football here, Markihe Anderson and those guys are fighting like hell. We have four starting safeties."

"We messed around schematically on offense. On defense we wanted to improve the level of play on guys that have played and I think we have. The number one thing is we needed to develop depth on the offensive line, cornerback, and linebacker."

Another position that seemed to really improve over the spring was at wide receiver. On Saturday Frankie Hammond, T.J. Lawrence, and Deonte Thompson all stood out. That has been the regular pattern all spring according to Meyer. He also expects the competition to be fierce in the fall.

"I think there will be," Meyer said about the amount of competition the receivers are under right now and carrying on. "The good thing is when those guys leave the locker room they won't sleep on Frankie Hammond or sleep open everybody. A bad day in the weight room and the coaches know about it, the best thing we do around here is that everything is evaluated. I thought T.J. Lawrence had a heck of a day too. Those guys are all fighting for playing time and they will get playing time this year."

There is still one position on the roster that is in a "to be determined" mode as of now. The Gators lost Percy Harvin to the NFL draft after last season and the dynamic play maker has been very hard to replace so far. Meyer and company are still looking and really did not use any of these options this spring. Right now the leading candidates are a pair of sophomore running backs and a true freshman wide receiver that has not arrived on campus just yet.

"The key position ...is who is going to be the number three receiver like Percy," Meyer said. "We cannot lose that because it has created havoc across this country. To have a guy that has that ability...to be able to run a pass route and then come in and run some down hill runs, that is hard to defend.

"(Chris) Rainey or (Jeff) Demps, or (Andre) DeBose. That job description is to defeat man coverage and create match up issues and run the ball from the backfield. We have to find a couple of more, but right now it is going to be Rainey, Demps, and DeBose.

Meyer has mentioned DeBose more than once this spring and the dynamic play maker will be expected to play right away.

"He's a great player," Meyer said. "We have to get him right and that's Coach G's job and my job to get him right. We just don't have that guy and we need him. Denote is going to be fine and he runs the jet sweeps and he has to get a little better. You saw what I saw, we need that great first step guy, that hybrid guy. Everybody wants one and I think we have the best one in America coming in here."

Along with finding some depth at some positions a filling a few holes, the Gators found a surprise or two this spring. No player has seen a meteoric rise and quality play that would be deemed a surprise like true freshman Jon Bostic. The middle linebacker is already sitting second on the depth chart at the position and Meyer has been outspoken on him for weeks now.

"I love the guy," Meyer said of Bostic. "He's professional. His father played in the NFL. We sat in his home when we were recruiting and he said, 'I am going to be very serious about my job and I am going to take care of my stuff off the field,' and he has. He's been tremendous in the weight room and has tremendous skill on the football field. He's the guy that deflected Tebow's pass...he's done that all spring. He's playing, the redshirt is gone...now he is battling for a starting spot at Florida. Think about that for a minute, we have some decent linebackers."

The Gators also saw their best threat at catching the ball improve this spring. 2009 may be the first season since 1990 that a Gator tight end leads the team in catches. Aaron Hernandez has that type ability and the junior has seemingly accepted that type of role on this team.

"Aaron just completed the best three months of his life," Meyer said. "His serious approach to academics and to his off-season training. He hasn't had that. It hasn't been an easy high school to college transition for him. (Strength coach Mickey) Marotti was very impressed with his off-season and he carried it over to spring ball. Our quarterback has complete trust in him and that is a key deal."

With such a strong spring and with so much talent and depth coming back, the only thing these Gators seem to need to worry about is being complacent. According to Meyer, it is one of the few things he is truly not worried about.

"We are going to make it so hard that they are just going to try and make it to three in the afternoon," Meyer said of the conditioning and off-season workouts he plans for his defending national champion team. "We can tell them all we want, but I worry about them now until May 11th when we get them back. I worry about the break during summer school. I don't worry about training camp, there will be no question about that. I want to be in survival mode throughout summer and throughout fall."

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