For the most part the first team has been consistent, not great but certainly at a point that you can build on throughout the season. Last year's defense was as good as it was going to be by the Miami game and it was never going to get any better. Yes, they would intercept passes and cause turnovers but the run defense never got shored up and eventually would cost them games against Ole Miss and Iowa. If a weakness at the line of scrimmage is exposed early it most certainly will come back to haunt you later in the season. With that said I think what the Gator defense is missing is experience. I believe this unit will get better as the season goes along and it's run defense will be much better because #55 is in the middle. One thing they could do to help themselves is play fast, play with emotion and roll call at the ball. Florida needs the second unit to play with the same emotion and confidence that the first unit has displayed.
Snippets and Tidbits…
Practices are now closed and really any daily reporting of what goes on is limited to injuries and depth chart moves. I certainly understand why coaches want closed practices and believe there are many good reasons. I personally like to watch practice to get a feel for how guys are truly running and reacting to in-season coaching as opposed to finding out whether or not they will run some trick plays. I will use film study for the fall to get an idea of what UF is matched up against and try to get an idea of what UF might do.
One thing is for sure, Florida has plenty of offensive players. If Mike McIntosh would have been a freshman last year he may have seen heavy snaps over some of the seniors. McIntosh has been going against the three's but he has shown the ability to grasp Larry Fedora's offense quicker than any kid in the three years at Florida. Reggie Lewis resurfaced at practice this week and he could be a big part of UF's "Big Plays" this season. Lewis backs up savvy veteran OJ Small but has better speed than Small. If Lewis gets locked up on a linebacker in a certain coverage when on the field expect Leak to find him for a big play.
Chris has improved his field vision over the course of the year. Credit Ed Zaunbrecher for getting him more comfortable in the offense. I would say Leak, at his best, saw the field in thirds last year. I think he is seeing it in halves and possibly more right now. Last year I think Chris's number one priority when he dropped back was to find his primary receiver and avoid negative plays or turnovers. Now Leak is directing the receivers and looking for the void in defenses to get the big plays. He has also done a nice job in controlled down and distances of managing the field.
Larry Fedora often says he wants his offense to take what the defense gives them and Leak has shown he can do that with relative ease. If UF's line is as good as I think it could be then by midseason teams are going to have to pick their poison with Leak. Do we pressure and risk the big play or do we sit back and let him slice us up? This is what having a polished quarterback is all about.
Speaking of pressure, we have seen less and less of it from Strong's defense. While LSU hangs it's hat on constant zone blitzes and man coverages, UF feels it has the speed in the front four to create it's own pressure and cover. LSU's front four is more of a big solid gap control front while UF's front wants to get into gaps and pressure the situation. The style UF has is solid and good for the personnel they have with only one exception. With this style of defense you better have a ball playing Jesse at Mike. UF does but if he gets hurt look out vs the run.
This and That…
Terrence Holmes is so athletic it would not surprise me if he could play some corner in a pinch. UF has three solid corners right now but if the injury bug hit I think Holmes would be a natural move for Zook.
Tavares Washington is close to returning but like many injured players no one knows how his knee will react. Look for him to see limited action in the first two games if Colon could stay healthy. UF would like to have both for Tennessee and if things go well it may suit Wickline just as fine to continue to bring Washington along slowly.
Good news for UF's corners is that the group of receivers at Middle Tennessee State has a nickname -- the "Smurfs". Bad news is they are pretty talented and have a big play threat in Kerry Wright. Middle has twelve players on there roster from the state of Florida. Everyone knows of the Florida connection with coaches from Murfreesboro but throw in the fact that the Blue Raider offense is run by former UCF QB great Darin Hinshaw and this has a familiar feel to it. Larry Fedora once had a back rush for 311 yds in one game at Middle and a quarterback throw for six touchdowns while completing 15 straight passes in a game. Fedora and Andy McCollum worked together at Baylor when they were both assistants in the mid 90's. McCollum is considered a great recruiter and defensive mind.
Stat of the Week: 1989. The last time UF lost a season opener and it was at home to Ole Miss, 24-19.