SEC Review: Florida

Urban Meyer sat before a media contingent and cried after his Florida Gators fell 21-17 to LSU on October 15th in Baton Rouge last year. Meyer expressed frustration over his spread option's inability to effectively move the ball and put up points. While this may have been a welcome sight to many Irish fans, the days of Meyer shedding tears over offensive woes should come to an end in 2006.

If Meyer's past history is any indication, the Florida offense is poised to explode this season. At Bowling Green and Utah, Meyer's offense made great strides in the coach's second year. In 2001, Meyer's first season at Bowling Green, the Falcons averaged 383.9 total yards and 30.2 points per game. One season later, those numbers increased to 448.9 yards and 40.8 points per game. At Utah, the year two jump was even higher. After averaging 374.5 total yards 28.7 points per game in 2003, the Utes racked up 499.7 total yards and 45.3 points per game in their undefeated 2004 campaign. Florida's 2006 averages of 373.4 total yards and 28.6 points per game should rise markedly in 2006.

Senior quarterback Chris Leak will lead the rise in offensive production. Leak, a starter since his freshman season, reportedly looked much more comfortable in Meyer's offense this spring after a somewhat rocky 2005.

Leak was pushed this spring by the presence and promise of early enrollee Tim Tebow. Many feel that Tebow's passing ability combined with his proven success running the ball make him the perfect fit for Meyer's offense. After looking a bit shaky early in the spring, Tebow made great strides as practice went on. The freshman starred in Florida's spring game, completing 15-of-22 passes for 197 yards and one touchdown. Tebow's play this spring ensured that he will see the field this fall – and not just in mop-up time. Tebow does not pose a threat to Leak's starting spot most believe, but Meyer will likely use the freshman in certain situations. If Leak were to get injured, the Gators look to have a reliable replacement in Tebow.

Leak and Tebow will have a lot of talent to throw to in 2006. Despite losing Chad Jackson to the NFL, the Gators return one of the deepest and most dangerous group of receivers in the nation. Dallas Baker, Jermalle Cornelius, and Andre Caldwell (who is ahead of schedule rehabbing an injured knee) all proved to be dangerous threats last season. In addition, incoming freshman receiver Percy Harvin might be too talented to keep off the field in 2006. Cornelius Ingram, the biggest surprise in Gainesville this spring, should present serious match-up problems for opposing defenses. The six-foot-five, 235 pound sophomore converted quarterback possesses the size and speed that make him a tough cover for smaller defensive backs or slower linebackers. Florida will line Ingram up at both wide-out and tight end. Junior Tate Casey, a reliable blocker, returns atop the depth chart at tight end.

Before spring practice began, Meyer publicly challenged his running backs to step up and play to his expectations. Markus Manson, Kestahn Moore, and DeShawn Wynn performed to mixed reviews this spring. Wynn seems to have been the most consistent of the three and was the only tailback to stay healthy for the entire spring, but the starting spot remains very much in question. Incoming freshman, Mon Williams, will have an opportunity to impress the coachers before the season starts. In all likelihood, the Gators will use the running back by committee approach for the second year in a row. Former walk-on Billy Latsko, a favorite of the Florida coaching staff, saw some action at tailback in the spring, but will most likely start at fullback during the season.

The Gators lost four starters off their 2005 offensive line. The lone returner, Steve Rissler, shifted from right guard to center this spring. A pair of redshirt freshmen, Simon Codrington and Ronnie Wilson, emerged at offensive guard this spring and should start in the fall. Junior Drew Miller, who started four games at guard last season, will play right tackle in 2006. Junior Phil Trautwein and sophomore Jason Watkins battled for left tackle duties this spring and the competition will continue in August.

On the defensive side of the ball, Florida should have no problems generating a pass rush. Senior Ray McDonald entered last season starting at defensive end after starting at defensive tackle the previous two seasons, but two knee injuries sidelined him for most of 2005. McDonald's rehab is reportedly going well and he should be at full strength by the start of the season. Junior Jarvis Moss played as a pass rush specialist in 2005 and recorded a team high 7.5 sacks. Playing full time in 2006, Moss should be one of the elite pass rushers in the nation. On the inside, seniors Marcus Thomas and Steven Harris return as starters at defensive tackle.

At linebacker, Florida returns its top two tacklers from 2005 in weakside linebacker Earl Everett and middle linebacker Brandon Siler. Everett and Siler will anchor the Gator defense again in 2006. Senior Brian Crum will likely start at strongside linebacker, but redshirt freshman Eric Sledge impressed the coachers this spring and has a chance to challenge Crum for playing time.

Florida lost three of its 2005 starters in the secondary. Junior Reggie Nelson returns at free safety, and junior Tony Joiner won the strong safety job in the spring. Sophomore Avery Atkins and senior Reggie Lewis look to be Florida's top two corners.

Senior kicker Chris Hetland and senior punter Eric Wilbur return as starters for the Gators. Both specialists proved very capable in 2005.

Florida returns a great deal of talent on both sides of the ball. The biggest areas of concern should be the inexperienced offensive line and secondary. With Georgia having lost the core of its 2005 team to the NFL and Tennessee coming off of its worst season under Phillip Fulmer, Florida should be considered the favorite to capture the SEC East title in 2006. Top Stories