"Guys started getting healthy," Urban Meyer said about his increased optimism. "We had a real rough training camp and guys were dinged up. There were guys on the field that weren't ready, then all of a sudden you start getting guys with some experience on the field."
The injuries have healed, and the team chemistry is high. The Florida coaches put the team through a difficult training camp. Players have recovered from injuries suffered during it, but they are also beginning to get fully rested from the camp and back to full stamina.
"You see the team coming together," Meyer said. "Training camp is survival. That breaks down all barriers. Once you get into the season, it's not just survival. I was hoping that would happen, and we'll know more Saturday, but it is starting to happen."
EXCITED FOR NEWCOMERS: The youth on the field for Florida Saturday would scare some head coaches. Meyer can't wait to see it. The practices have given him a chance to look at the freshmen and new starters in difficult environments, and they are now ready for the real thing.
"I'm probably like Gator Nation," Meyer said. "I have thought about the first time we get to see some of those freshmen running around out there. I think we're going to be pleased. I'm glad it's at home and an opportunity for the ones that aren't starting to settle down. I've seen their faces in that stadium for the first time."
The same excitement wasn't there months and even weeks ago, when Meyer saw youth and inexperience dripping from his team. The difficult training camp caused them to mature quickly.
"I'm excited," Meyer said. "I can't say I was excited a couple months ago, because I was more concerned than excited. Now I've seen what Jon Bostic and Jelani do in practice, but most importantly I've seen what Johnny Brantley has done at practice."
With all the new players that take the field, there are a few Meyer is the most excited to watch.
"Trey Burton is one," Meyer said. "Matt Elam is going to get significant playing time. Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic aren't exactly household names, but they've really produced well in the last week. They're great kids. Those are four names off the top of my head."
The backup quarterback battle continues to rage on, but the coaches aren't sure what they will do. They have bodies for the job, but two of the three are playing other positions as well.
‘We're trying to dual teach Trey Burton," Meyer said. "We've got a true freshman in Tyler Murphy who's not very experienced at quarterback. He's a good kid with a lot of talent. Our ace in the hole is probably not going to play because of injury, but that's Jordan Reed. That's our dilemma."
Brandon Hicks and A.J. Jones will be the starting outside linebackers, but Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins continue to fight for the middle linebacker spots. Both players will see the field plenty of time.
The linebackers have been cross-trained at all three linebacker positions, but there is only one the Gators would trust to do that in a game situation.
"A.J. Jones is basically our Stamper," Meyer said. "He's the only one that we feel that comfortable with moving around. Jelani is smart, he just doesn't have the experience. TO play all three, you've got to be a special guy and have some experience. A.J. Jones is the only guy who falls into that category now."
MONITORING DEMPS: Jeff Demps will see plenty of touches at running back for the Gators, but he will also serve as the team's kickoff return man. The Florida coaches are aware of keeping him fresh, despite the number of times he will get the ball.
"We're very cautious," Meyer said. "Hopefully we don't return many kicks. In practice, I'm very cautious because he only knows one speed. Part of being run down is in the darn practice because he goes 40 yards every time he touches it at warp speed. We've backed down on him in practice things, non-essential running. He feels the best he's ever felt going into a game."
RAINEY'S IMPACT: Chris Rainey is up to 178 pounds and in the best shape to experience a breakout season. He has one position to focus on this season, easing him into the playbook while still maximizing his talent.
"It's his year," Meyer said. "He's got to perform and he's ready for it. He's stronger than he's ever been. He's now focused on one position. He has to give us the home run shot and he has the ability. There's no offense that can function without a home run hitter, and he's number one or two on our list of guys that can take it the distance."
BUILDING A PROGRAM: Meyer didn't take long to turn Florida into a top-level college football program. The product on the field was impressive from his second year until now, but it didn't come as easy as it looks. It came through hard work and finding out as much as possible about the University of Florida.
"The number one thing you do is find out exactly where you're at. The one thing we've always done is have great respect for the institution that we're at. You have to do that and sell the university. The first thing I did was invite former players back to come speak to our staff and tell us what it's like. I had no idea. I don't want to be an outsider. I want to be an insider as soon as possible, and that's hard to do. Then you get players in there and demand work ethic. Once you do that, you have a shot."
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