The key to avoiding a letdown like Florida experienced in 2007 comes in the experience of the personnel.
"It's a little bit like '07, only we have better players," Urban Meyer said after Thursday's afternoon practice. "In '07, we took a hit because guys were playing that shouldn't have been on the field. Now you've got guys who should be on the field, it's just that we've got to develop them pretty quick. It's a huge difference. You don't want what happened in '07. When guys leave early, you have to replace them."
The key term the Florida coaches will use with this team is "accountability and development." There's no questioning that the players who will be on the field for the Gators this season are talented enough to excel. However, plenty of them have never been put in a strenuous situation.
Last season, Florida returned the entire two-deep on defense. The players had to avoid complacency and continue improving. This year's team has different needs because of their inexperience. It has also changed the sense Meyer gets from his team.
"It's a little different feeling, but it's still Florida," Meyer said. "It's still a bunch of good, well not good, probably great, athletes running around that field. It's the year of accountability and development. If that happens, we'll have a good team. If it doesn't, then we won't."
Being the year of "accountability and development" doesn't mean previous teams under Meyer didn't have it. However, this year's team does need to put the extra emphasis on development.
"Does that mean last year's group was unaccountable?" Meyer said. "No. It means they're gone. It's accountability. Our power of the unit speech that we give them every year is coming in about two days. Tight ends are responsible for being the best tight ends in America. Don't worry about the receivers. Worry about your position."
AGENTS FORCE PRACTICE CLOSURE: Meyer mentioned the decision to close all practices to the media and public was influenced by agent issues that have recently been brought to light by multiple schools.
"There is some discussion I've been involved in with agents," Meyer said. "A group of us have gotten together. We're trying to make changes, anything from signing balls and getting them sold on the Internet to people just showing up.
"You should have the right as a player to walk from here to there for practice and not be bothered. That's my fault. I tell my colleagues that you get dressed and walk across and people just maul you saying 'sign this.' You'll see a lot of people saying 'get the heck out of here' from now on and let the kids practice."
Meyer said he will err on the side of caution.
"I'm concerned about things that are NCAA violations and scumbags that are involved who shouldn't be involved. There's one way to control it, and that's 'get out.'"
LACK OF PROVEN PLAYMAKERS: There is plenty of talent at the playmaking positions on offense. The uncertainty comes in experience.
Deonte Thompson is expected to carry the load at wide receiver, but even he has failed to live up to expectations in previous seasons. The Gators lost their three leaders in receptions from last season.
"You can come up with a million reasons why," Meyer said of his team's lack of proven playmakers. "Andre Debose has only practiced three days at the University of Florida. Jordan Reed, who we're kind of counting on to be a playmaker, has been at quarterback. (Chris) Rainey was moved. Deonte Thompson, if he continues the way he's going now, should be a significant playmaker.
"It's very unusal. It's no one's fault, it's not like we missed in recruiting. It's just injuries or whatever has taken place. We should be further along, but it's going to take two weeks and we'll be right there. I hope we're right there."
The offense doesn't have a featured playmaker that is a household name, but Meyer hopes that will change. If it doesn't, he doesn't like the way the season could go.
"Someone told me, 'you don't have superstars this year,'" Meyer said. "Well, we better have superstars. I don't know who they are yet, but we better have a bunch of superstars."
PLAYERS NOT AT PRACTICE: Most of the Florida players were healthy and present for Thursday's first practice.
T.J. Lawrence was not at practice because he decided to transfer.
"He had good grades, but he's decided to go," Meyer said. "It was mutual. He tried to move on last year, but he's a good kid. He just wants to move on and get some playing time, I guess. I haven't had a lot of conversation with him. Last year, that's kind of what it was about."
Desmond Parks is expected to miss two weeks because of what Meyer called a "wrist procedure."
"He's not in camp now," Meyer said. "He's training and getting rehabbed, and he should be back in two or three weeks."
When asked if Frankie Hammond was at practice, Meyer replied with a simple "yes." Hammond was arrested for a DUI in June.
One player who did make it to campus just in time for the start of practice was Chris Martin. He signed with California, but decided he wanted to get away from distractions in the Bay Area. He called Coach Meyer, and the Gators took him without hesitation.
"He's on campus and practiced today," Meyer said. "He looks great. He's running around with the linebackers."
NEW LEADERS: The vocal leadership from Tim Tebow will be missed at quarterback, but Brantley has been clear of his leadership style. He leads by example, although he can get vocal when the opportunity arises.
Regardless of how he leads, there is no doubt he will have to. The importance of leadership from the quarterback position couldn't be overestimated, especially when looking at Meyer's teams that have been successful.
"You have no choice to be a leader if you're the quarterback. Chris Leak is probably one of the greatest stories of all time on how to develop a leader. He was not a good leader, and as a result, was not a good quarterback. He threw for a lot of yards, but if you lose five games a year, you're not a good quarterback. Then he flipped a switch and became not a good leader, but a great leader."
Mike Pouncey, who Meyer said is "on a mission," and Justin Trattou were named team captains Thursday.
"We made the decision to announce captains right now to take charge of this team. Ahmad Black is going to be involved in that. Lawrence Marsh is a leader on our team now. There will be more that show up soon."
FRESHMEN OPEN EYES: The returning players practiced before the sun came up Thursday morning, but the freshmen practiced in the late afternoon. The evaluation period is limited because they are running around in shorts, but Meyer likes the way his freshmen look.
"It was a great day today," Meyer said. "I can't think of a class that wasn't eager, and I can't think of a bad class other than our first one. It's not like we've got a whole bunch of bad classes roaming through the hallway here at Florida.
"This one is extra special. They're good guys and they look really good out there. We'll find out."
The freshmen defensive line class has grabbed headlines around the program and could wreak havoc on the depth chart. Ronald Powell will challenge to start at defensive end, while Dominique Easley and Shariff Floyd, who Meyer described as "a monster," will provide depth in the middle.
"Today they broke the huddle with the (first team freshman defense), and you had Lynden Trail, Powell, Shariff, Easley and Orr. They broke the huddle. I was just standing next to Tony Weaver, who is our defensive graduate assistant, and it was pretty cool to see. They all kind of look alike over there. It's really good."
DEFENSIVE LINE DEPTH: The freshmen provide plenty of depth on the defensive line, but the team will have veteran bodies across the board.
"It's as good of depth as we've had," Meyer said. "There are a lot of guys. Brandon Antwine, how long is he going to hold up? Marsh has had an injury. Sanders had an injury. The good thing is, like in beginning of '06, we had a group playing 25-30 snaps a game. If you can do that, you can play at the effort we expect you to play at. If you're playing 70 plays, your body just can't hold up."
CLARIFYING RAINEY: Meyer was quick to point out comments Chris Rainey made earlier Thursday were false. Rainey said that this year's chemistry is better because they got rid of the "prima donnas" and the "cliques" from the team last year.
"Completely wrong, inappropriate and non-thought out, which he does quite often," Meyer said. "And I love Chris Rainey. When I ask him a question, I give him a whole day to think about it."
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