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There are still so many questions that will have to be answered and it's unlikely all of them will be answered by the time the Orange and Blue Game gets here.
What we can tell is that the attitudes are different and that there is an edge of intensity in each practice and each drill. What we can tell is that Coach Urban Meyer and his staff are stressing team work and team building with a style that is very vocal, alternating almost equally between loudly critical and enthusiastically encouraging.
Meyer has talked often about how little resistance there has been to his new systems and new way of doing things. Watch practice and it seems quite clear that the team is buying into what he's selling. You can't talk to Meyer about football without him bringing up winning and championships. For the past three years, the Gators haven't won enough to leap over a bar set high from 1990-2001. There haven't been any championships.
"We're tired of losing," said Brandon Siler when he left practice on Friday. He laughed and shook his head at the mention of 15 losses in three years for the Gators. "We're hungry to win. We're ready to do whatever we have to do to win championships."
Other than a few who were redshirt freshmen back in 2001, there isn't a player on this team that's ever been part of any kind of championship at Florida. Those redshirt freshmen can claim an Orange Bowl championship but not a Southeastern Conference title or even an appearance in the SEC championship game. Everyone who's joined the team after the 2001 season doesn't even have a bowl championship under the belt.
That is precisely why the greatest changes that we will see this spring with the Florida Gators may not be on the field. The greatest changes we will see will likely be those made between the ears.
"Everybody wants to win and we're going to start winning around here," Siler said Friday. Siler is perhaps the poster child for buying into the Urban Meyer system. He's a top notch student, a polite, well spoken young man who has no issues either on or off the field. On the field he made freshman All-America in 2004. The NFL scouts who have seen him play are already counting down the days until he takes the plunge and enters the draft.
Siler bought into the system from day one when Meyer introduced himself to the team. He bought into it so well that he emerged as an outstanding recruiting asset in the month of January and the first week of February when the new Florida staff was putting together its first signing day class. He played a major role in saving a potential signing day reversal of linebacker Jon Demps.
Now, Siler is on the field, eager to show the coaches what he can do when he's in pads, where he becomes a 6-3, 235-pound missle hurling himself on a path of total destruction. He hears the coaches shouting, sees them in the faces of players and he feels the intensity being ratcheted up a notch or two each day. They're getting into the heads of the players, changing attitudes and getting everyone on the same page.
"A lot of it [winning] is between the ears," Siler said. "It's about self confidence, knowing yourself and knowing where you need to be. We have to be confident enough that we can count on each other."
Saturday morning's scrimmage was an experiment at getting into the players heads and changing attitudes. There was a winner and a loser in the scrimmage, just as there was a winner and a loser in each drill so that immediately charged up the level of intensity by the players and it sent a sense of eagerness and anticipation through a crowd estimated greater than 500 packing the sideline.
It started with a full contact drill that Meyer says has "been called anywhere from the Circle of Life to the … I mean it's kind of at the other places I've been it has its own names …the language that's involved I can't tell you exactly what it's called but it's still in."
The Oklahoma drill midway through the morning session featured hard hits and players who struggled to finish every play to the tune of coaches yelling encouragement for them to fight it out to the finish. The offense was on one side. The defense on the other and with each new set, as one player from the offense took on one player from the defense, the intensity level and excitement levels kept spiking, higher and higher. You could hear it in the cheers and jeers, cheers from one group for one of their own who had done well, jeers for the loser from the other group. The winner was met with a mob of encouraging teammates. The loser was met with a mob of encouraging teammates and a determination to win the next battle.
At the end of the day, the Gators went through goal line and red zone drills. How intense is Meyer during this part of the session? He called his defense back twice early on to chew them out for not breaking the huddle the way he wants and he did the same once with the offense.
If he wasn't hearing enough supportive chatter either from the offense or the defense, he would wave his arms upward, letting them know that he wanted them more into things emotionally. He wanted high intensity and that's what he got.
When the offense scored a touchdown, everyone on the offensive team from those who participated in the play to those waiting their turn rushed to the player who had scored. When the defense made a stop, the defensive player was mobbed by a rush of players.
Even the normally quiet Chris Leak got into things. Meyer has made it clear that he wants Leak to leave behind his quiet leadership to become more vocal and more visible. After throwing a touchdown pass to Chad Jackson, he ran hard at the line of defensive players behind the goal post, celebrating by jumping up and down in their faces. Several defenders gave him a collective shove, then looked at each other as if to say, "Aliens have taken over the body of Chris Leak!" Later, after another touchdown, he ran and leaped high on top of the circle of players mobbing Chad Jackson.
The scrimmage really didn't prove anything. Meyer even said afterward that it wasn't very good offense on display.
"That was awful," he said. "If you think that's good offense then we have to show you some tape on good offense. It was good effort. We tried hard, but it was not good offense."
The emphasis here is on trying hard and good effort. Meyer has been around football long enough to know that good things happen only after they've been done right with enough repetition that doing things the right way and successfully becomes almost second nature. This team isn't anywhere close to that point and it may take a long time before they get there.
Until then, it is effort and enthusiasm that he wants as the building process continues. It is intensity he's seeking and a change of attitudes. He wants all his players on the same page. He wants everyone to understand that there is a winner and a loser in practice just as there is a winner and loser in football games.
The Meyer attitude is that if you get accustomed to winning in practice, you will win in the games, too.
Day three of Urban Meyer's first spring is complete and it way too early to tell with most of the athletes who is going to be a good football player and who is going to be left behind or how much the players know about the new system that is in place. However, it is not too early to tell that the players continue to buy into what he's selling. In fact, he's done this so well that he doesn't even have to sell anymore. All he has to do is ask for or demand and it gets done.
A FEW MOMENTS WITH DOC: Florida's new safety coach is John "Doc" Holliday, who's built an almost legendary reputation as a recruiter from his days at West Virginia and at North Carolina State. Holliday was the spigot on what seemed to be a faucet that was pouring south Florida players into both schools. Now he's at Florida, happy he's made the change, and adjusting to a new way of doing things.
"I was kidding those guys the other day that I couldn't get them to go to NC State so I had to come join them here," said Holliday, already a familiar face to so many players on the Florida squad whom he tried to recruit the past three or four years. "It's great to be around these kids. We have some really great kids and some very talented football players."
Holliday is enjoying the intensity and the team building that's going on in practices.
"When the lights go on we know these kids are going to compete like crazy," he said. "There's always going to be a winner and there's always going to be a loser so they're going to really compete. Some of them are in different positions so they're kind of feeling their way through all this but for a first day in pads, they really got after it pretty good."
One of the players in anew position is DeShawn Carter. Considered one of the top corner recruits in the country his senior year in high school, he's rarely seen the field at Florida. Now, going into his senior season it's a last chance for the 6-1, 210-pounder to get on the field and make a name. Holliday is his position coach and looking forward to working with him.
"In all fairness to him, he bounced over there yesterday (Friday) for the first time," said Holliday. "He'd been sitting in a lot of meetings, so we knew he was very willing and a super young guy who just wants a chance to compete.
"He's got good size, good speed and a lot of range. He's probably a much better safety prospect than he is a corner at this point."
Not only has Carter changed positions, Holliday is coaching defense for the first time in a long time.
"I coached offense the entire time I was at NC State," he said. "But if you're a football coach, give yourself a couple of weeks and you can coach just about anywhere. It's kind of fun for me because when I was in college I played as a defensive player so it's kind of fun to get on this side of the ball."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Someone said there's my man Eddie (Haupt) over there and he's running center with the number twos," said Meyer of the true freshman from Merrit Island, an early enrollee at UF who is skipping his last semester of high school. "Most kids his age are getting ready for the prom and here he is out here getting screamed at by coaches. Same thing for Josh Portis (early enrollee freshman quarterback). I wish every young guy could do that and get that extra six months under their belts because he's going to be so far advanced just like Eddie and Ronnie (Wilson, early enrollee freshman lineman) because they've been here."
SEEN AT PRACTICE: Remember Aubrey McFadden? He's the huge offensive tackle from Jacksonville who signed with Florida State in 2004 but ended up at Nothwest Mississippi Junior College when he couldn't get a test score. He was a very noticeable presence on the sidelines Saturday…Also seen was Ryan Stamper, who signed with Florida back in February. Best guess in size and weight for him is 6-3, 220-225.