Extremely excited to get in the hotel with our players a week from Sunday. Right in the middle of an eight- to nine-day stretch where every night is occupied by speeches, Gator clubs, media days. As a football coach, I can't express enough that I'm really excited to get in that hotel starting a week from Sunday.
Year two, much clearer picture of the team. I've been asked that question very often. We've had some success, which I think is extremely overrated at the previous programs. Success is player driven. The fact we've had success is because we've had some experienced players coming back. This year is no exception.
We have 20 seniors, a roster breakdown of our team. We are a top-heavy team and a bottom heavy team, meaning we have 20 seniors, projected possibly 15 starters out of those seniors. However, the junior and sophomore class, there's not very many, it's just sheer numbers in that class. We have 34 players on our team that have four years of eligibility. Ideally you'd like to have 20/20/20 right across the board. We're not in that situation.
The positive is we have a senior-heavy team with a projected 15 starters compared to a year ago I believe we had very few seniors. Six to seven starters projected a year ago. That's the positives of having a senior-heavy team.
The teams I've been fortunate enough to be around and have great success are driven by seniors, and I'm anxious to get around these guys and see if they can provide the leadership we expect.
Perception is that we had an excellent recruiting class. I'll let you know that in three years. I think that's very important to understand. The great thing that happened a year ago, we signed 26 young men, and all 26 qualified, all 26 are on campus, and all 26, according to our weight staff, are headed in the right directions. That's unusual nowadays. But to sign 26, being ranked as high as they are, they're all on campus ready to go.
However, at the University of Florida, the bar has been set, 1992/'93. I keep hearing of great recruiting classes. Our evaluation on this recruiting class will be in about three to four years. The '92/'93 team walked out of there with five championship rings: Four SEC and a national championship. That's a great recruiting class.
All this other stuff is nonsense until you can evaluate that. I'm not telling you anything I haven't told our freshmen probably six thousand, seven thousand times since I had them on campus. That's how they're going to be evaluated, on championships won.
Depth remains a major concern, and that is pretty much the issue we had a year ago. You sign 26 this year, there's a potential of signing 27, 28 this year. That's not normal. That's a school that's dealing with a little bit of transition, which we've had. That's not ideal.
Ideal, you want to have the 15 to 20 scholarships each year and keep building the classes. That goes hand-in-hand with the negative of having a senior-heavy team.
Because of sheer numbers of that 26 freshmen class, we'll play quite a few. That's determined on how they perform, how they prepare, how mature they are. But there will be no predetermined redshirt players. We plan on playing as many as we can for backup roles as well as starters on special teams, and if they're good enough, get involved in the offense and defense.
Our goal is very simple. I'll close with this. If you've listened to me talk or if you followed our program at all, our goal is very simple, and that is to become a great football team. We're not a great team a year ago. Great teams have characteristics of extremely unselfish play, accountability to their teammates, and great self-discipline and discipline on the football team.
We were not a great team a year ago. We were a team near the end of the year I'd put it very close to being a great team. That team in the locker room after the Outback Bowl was close. All those characteristics, I believe we had that. Middle of the year I couldn't say that. I'm very pleased with the momentum stirred by the Bowl game and our last game of the season. I'm also realistic in understanding that our goal is very simple: to be a great team. The University of Florida at this point needs to have a great team. University of Florida needs to get back to a championship game at some point.
Last nine years we've been there twice. It's time to get back there. Our players know that. That's what's driving them. But more importantly than all of that is to become a great football team.
Thank you and I'll certainly answer any questions.
Q. Has Ryan Smith signed? Regardless, how concerned are you with the cornerback situation following the Avery Atkins fiasco?
COACH MEYER: I can't comment on the first name you mentioned. We're going to move Reggie Nelson to corner; he's going to start at corner. For obvious reasons, that's an area of concern. Sam linebacker corner, depth at the offensive line. If you had to say what are the three major concerns, that's it. Reggie Lewis is a player that's never played. Reggie Lewis is a player I have great respect for. He fought through some things, played well at times a year ago, buckled his chin strap a little tighter this spring and summer.
Having a player who has never played have a great senior year, we've had that happen before. Most recently a kid named Vernell Brown, never played, all of a sudden came out and had a great year.
Reggie Lewis has to have that. Reggie Nelson is an excellent player. Then we have three freshmen scholarship players on campus, and they'll play as well. Depth is an issue at corner. Quality of player is an issue right now at corner. As you mentioned, might be something happening, but we'll worry about that when it happens.
Q. Can you describe from last year when spring ended to August, then compare from this year from spring ending till now, the difference in your team as far as attitudes? Do you feel the majority of your team has really bought into what you're selling here?
COACH MEYER: I think "bought in" is an interesting word. I've heard that quite often. For me to stand here in front of you today and say last year's team did not buy in, I don't buy that. I don't accept that. Young people, in my opinion, don't really buy in. I think there's enough respect amongst their teammates, you're at the University of Florida, your job is to go win games. Your job is to perform. Your job is to get a degree. Your job, if you're blessed enough, is to go play professional football. We say that very serious.
What's the difference between this year and last year, if that's the purpose of the question, I think the biggest difference is that we have a very clear understanding of one another, and that is there's not a player returning on our team that I don't know everything I possibly can about. I met with them repeatedly. We've been through a season, at times a very difficult season, at times a very good season together. That group won't surprise me.
The intriguing thing is going to be a week from Sunday moving in that Holiday Inn with those 26 freshmen, finding out what they're all about. When you sign 26 people, you have only 77 active players on scholarship of those 26, a bunch of those cats are going to play. That's the only thing that --I don't want to say a surprise element -- but that's the one I'm intrigued to find out a lot about.
Q. There was a lot of speculation last year about your offensive philosophy, how to play in the SEC. Could you talk about how that developed over the course of the season, what your offensive approach is going to be?
COACH MEYER: I think the two catch words now in college football of spread offense and west coast offense. There are multiple variations of it. Texas didn't do too bad with the spread offense; Penn State didn't do too shabby.
I think it's a personnel-driven offense. The variations, we don't have to discuss all those. I keep hearing the number one issue that comes up is Chris Leak. I get people that have been with me for a year and a half, understand where our coaching staff and how I stand, I will fight for players that I believe deserve being protected and stood up for.
Chris Leak, in my opinion, had a very good year in the spread offense. He won more games than he's ever won. His completion percentage was higher. He threw half as many interceptions. At the University of Florida, and most programs, you're not evaluated on yards thrown but winning championships. The only just criticism of Chris right now in my opinion is that he has not won a championship.
Chris, I keep hearing a square peg, a square hole, to answer your question about the offense. It's our job to make it a square peg in a square hole. We're going to make that happen. We did make that happen at times last year.
Can we improve? Certainly.
Can a spread offense work in the SEC? It's personnel-driven and it depends who you're playing in the SEC. It depends on -- West Virginia I keep hearing. West Virginia runs a much difference spread offense. They basically snap it to the quarterback, he goes at it. We're not that style of a spread offense.
In my opinion, you asked can it work. I've been asked that question. Absolutely it can work. Any offense can work if it's personnel-driven and you do a good job of matching the personnel with the scheme.
Q. Speaking of the cornerback situation, couple of freshmen, Jacques Rickerson, Wondy Pierre-Louis. What do you see in them? And if you could, what does freshman runningback Brandon James bring to the table?
COACH MEYER: You asked about the corner position?
COACH MEYER: Jacques Rickerson is on campus. He comes from a very explosive high school team. Markihe Anderson from South Florida, and Wondy Pierre-Louis, who might be the most talented of them all, is on campus. You just don't know until a week from Sunday.
Will they play? Sheer numbers tells you yes. Now, are they mature enough, tough enough? I'll let you know. Talent-wise, they're fast. Good size, good, athletic looking people. They're qualified; they're intelligent. All indications are they're going to play this year for us.
You said Brandon James?
COACH MEYER: Brandon's been the talk of the weight room. He is not very big. Florida has been absent of a dynamic returner. We took him for one reason: He's a play-maker with the ball in his hand.
I'd like to see him as our punt and kick returner. I don't know if that's going to happen. All indications are he's a very serious player, extremely strong, not very tall, but he's a powerful guy that is fast. I'm hoping he can help us in the return game this year.
Q. In the past you've been critical of your backfield, of your runningbacks. Did you see anything in the spring or heard of anything that made you be a little less critical of them?
COACH MEYER: Well, I was critical of the work ethic and attitude, not just the runningbacks. Talent is something you either got it or you don't. You try to develop it if you you're not where you need to be. How good are we? I still can't tell you that. I made the comment, I'm not real concerned about a run someone made three years ago. That does not impress a coach. How do you attack the game?
A year ago at this time, arguably as bad as I've ever seen. A group of three runningbacks that really was not anywhere near what the University of Florida should expect. Markus Manson and Deshawn Wynn are back. Completely different attitude and work ethic, which is all you really care about. I think Kestahn Moore is very responsible for that. He came in and worked. He came from a high school program where if you didn't work, you didn't play. That's the kind of program we have in Florida. If you don't work, you don't play.
Billy Latsko, a young person from Gainesville, we put him over there in the spring as well because of the work ethic, toughness, attitude. From what all indications are, it's completely different. Mickey Marotti, our strength and conditioning coach, is the person that would attest to that the most. Every day I ask him how our guys are doing. He comes back with the runningback position is completely different than it was a year ago.
Q. How important is beating South Carolina this year going to be to your success at Florida?
COACH MEYER: Well, I think it's no secret that I fell in love with Florida in the mid '90s and that's the reason I'm coaching there. I can't say that before that I was a big Florida fan. I fell in love with the university in the mid '90s, the passion, the stadium, the way they played, the players, everything about it.
I've also embraced Florida football history. Ray Graves is a great friend of mine, made a comment to me at one of the Silver 60s outings. He's never seen a staff put so much into embracing the history, bringing former players back, trying to do what's right to a proud history.
That includes a new tradition this year, having a captain's breakfast. That also includes having a cookout two weeks before the first game where last year had 400 players back. Also having a tunnel for the first game for former players. There's also a rule throughout the staff office if a former player walks in that office, you drop what you're doing to go see that former player and embrace him and get him back. That was missing at Florida.
It is a great history. That history also includes Coach Spurrier. In the '90s obviously also a Heisman winner. With all that said, the objective is to beat South Carolina when they come visit, and that's perfectly clear, that's the way it is.
I think it's a critical game. Is it the most critical game on the schedule? That week it certainly will be. But also I think because it's an Eastern Conference opponent, and the fact that a year ago they kept us from winning the east championship, that's all going to play into it. We'll handle that when that comes close. Our focus is Southern Miss to get ready to start the season.
Q. What do you expect out of Reggie Nelson at a new position, and is Steven Harris a full go now with the team?
COACH MEYER: What do we expect? Reggie Nelson is an excellent football player. He's a play-maker. He was on that on special teams before he assumed the free safety role I think Game 4, Game 5, whatever that was. We built him up to 199 pounds, now we're keeping an eye on that. He came in at, I believe, 180. Just the training table, the way he trains. Our concern is just to make sure, in our defense, corners cover people, really that's what we do.
We're a man-coverage team. I think he'll answer the challenge. We made that move back several weeks ago. He's been responding. We're keeping an eye on his weight and speed. He's training that way.
Second part of your question?
Q. Steven Harris.
COACH MEYER: Steven Harris, I wish I could say he's back in full speed, ready to go. I can't say that. I can say that at times it's there. I can say that he's a class away from graduating at the University of Florida. However, there's a lot of issues still remaining there. At the appropriate time, I'll let you know.
I will say there's still a chance he will play for the University of Florida this fall.
Q. How close do you think you are to fitting that square peg in the round hole when it comes to Leak? How has he handled the presence of Tebow on campus?
COACH MEYER: Real close. We've worked extremely hard on that, including the last few games of the season. I think the most important thing for Chris Leak is you evaluate the production last year, kind of came out of the season pretty quick. He had some very good statistics early in the year, most importantly I think we won the first three, four games. The common denominator is he had a healthy group of receivers on the outside.
We lost Bubba Caldwell, production dipped a little bit. We lost Alice Baker in the first quarter against Georgia, production took a big swing. Jemalle Cornelius when he sprained his ankle against Alabama. We had a little sweep in the middle there where we struggled very much on offense, more so than Chris Leak in a square peg, round hole theory is that personnel on the outside was not conducive to SEC conference play.
When they can lock you down, man-coverage in this offense, as most offenses, they can plus you in the running game. That's when we really struggle.
It was not by accident. I wish I could say it was great coaching or that Chris Leak got that much better by the end of the year. It wasn't. Dallas Baker was full speed in the Bowl game, and so was Cornelius, last two game, and production went back up. It's a perpendicular necessarily-driven offense, like every other offense in America. If those cats are healthy on the outside, your quarterback tends to have a little more production.
If those guys stay healthy, we just got to do a good job doing what Chris does well. That's very clear now.
The question of Tebow, that's the great thing. Chris is here. What a tremendous familiar, what a tremendous person. I think he's much better than he was a year ago. I didn't feel that a year ago. I felt like Chris, wasn't made clear to him, he didn't do a very good job.
I'll make this statement, it's being voiding in a couple positions. Your obligation as an older football player in college football is to take care and teach a younger player how to play. That's been done for a hundred years, 150, history of college football. When a freshman comes in, he learns from the upperclassmen. If you're void of an upperclassman that has an ability to teach or maybe you don't want to learn from that guy, you tend to struggle at that position for several years.
Chris Leak learned how to play college football from Chris Leak. He never had that luxury. He was handed the ball game two, game three, said, Go play. That's not the normal transition high school to college. Tim Tebow has a great advantage over Chris Leak. He's learning from Chris Leak how to play the quarterback position.
Our receivers, you have Percy Harvin, Jarred Fayson and several more are learning from Dallas Baker, Jemalle Cornelius and Bubba Caldwell. There's a very good relation between Chris and Tim. Chris, now that we made that very clear to him over and over and over again, that when is responsibility is to develop the backup quarterback, not necessarily fight with him. It's been very good. It's only getting better and better every day.
Q. You talked a little bit about you guys all know what to expect from each other. How about you and your second year, what is your comfort level like as the head coach at Florida?
COACH MEYER: Well, like I said, experience is a valuable tool. The best experience, the best thing that really coaches, all the coach, what about this, what about this, what about media day, fan day, what about the Swamp. All that matters in coaching, really when you cut it down, the way to win a game is to make sure your players play extremely hard and knowing your players. Everything else, God bless it, really nothing to do with it.
The best thing we got going is the fact that I know these guys. A week from Sunday, I can't tell you how much I can't wait to get in that hotel with those players and spend time with them. Some people dislike training camp. I'm a head football coach that loves training camp because I live with them. That's the greatest time of the year.
That's the best advantage I have from year one to year two is knowing the players, and I think them knowing us.
Q. You made this statement, The only criticism of Chris, in my opinion, is that he hadn't won a championship. Everybody talks about records. Wuerffel's record for this, this record. In your mind for Chris to be among that elite, as far as Florida quarterbacks, he has to win a championship if he wants to be mentioned?
COACH MEYER: You made a comment that I don't believe is true. "Everybody is talking about those records." They're not.
Q. Not the players, the media.
COACH MEYER: To me, that's everyone. The players are not talking about records. What's really important to the players is winning that game, getting to Atlanta. Two times in the last nine years, we've been to Atlanta. The reason Rex Grossman, Shane Matthews, Wuerffel are great quarterbacks, in my opinion, people involved in coaching, is the fact they have a ring that said they were the best at what they do, not because they threw for some yards. The objective is not to throw for yards.
That has not been brought up. I will never bring up. If I hear that coming up, I want to cease the interview with Chris because that's a distraction. Chris' job is to win a championship. The best thing going, Chris agrees with that. That's all that matters, is find a way to win that championship.
Q. Has there been much buzz among the coaches regarding the Auburn academic issues? Given that, do you go back to your own school and say, Do we need to check out our own issues here if we have any problem with that?
COACH MEYER: I read the story. I also read the stories about finding guys paying $300 and getting high school diplomas. I'm kind of old-fashioned. I believe, we all do at Florida, doing it the right way.
Certainly I think when you read it, you kind of sit back in your chair and say, My goodness, that's not the way it's supposed to be.
I don't know if it's true or not. We did meet with our academic people. At the appropriate time we'll meet with our players. But that's as far as it goes. I have great confidence. We have an excellent graduation rate. We have an APR rating that's fine, all that. We really keep an eye on those things.
Those are all concerns. When you read that, it just -- you want to make sure it's going correct on campus, being done the right way.
Q. At the end of the year you said something to the effect that, We're going to look at this road record thing, I'm going to stay up nights, look at every aspect of this, change what we have to change to make this better. After what you experienced on the road last year, what have you done differently and how will your approach be different this year to make sure you can go into places like Auburn and win?
COACH MEYER: That's a great question. We have three tough road games again this year, minimum. I mean, more than that. Anywhere you go in this conference is tough.
We did evaluate that. I went myself to several places. We have a history of great road wins. I got to work for a guy that has had a history, Lou Holtz. We actually had him in to speak to the staff about road.
I think the number one thing we have to improve, this is just an opinion, is that tough teams tend to win on the road. Had James Bates over to my house one night. A lot of time former players talk about playing in the Swamp. Unique players, tough players, often remark about winning on the road. Notre Dame went through a stretch when Coach Holtz was a coach, they won 19 straight road games with a very difficult schedule. Our schedule is very different on the road. James Bates would make a comment after his career, all the SEC championships, the national championship, one of his great thrills, one of the great things about playing at Florida during those years was the ability to go in someone's home and beat them. I had him speak to our freshmen about that. He'll speak to our varsity about that as well.
Toughness is the number one element. I made this comment a year ago. I don't believe -- I believe we were an extremely tough team a year ago. Our plan to win on the road is very similar to planning on winning at home, that is play great defense. At home against our rivals, we gave up 7, 10, and 7. On the road we didn't do that, we didn't play very good defense. Our objective offensively is to score in the red zone and to not turn the ball over. We didn't do that on the road. Twice we gave our opponent short fields, extremely short fields, one- and two-yard drives to score. And have a great kicking game as well.
Game management, I'm not sure how much will change. I think our approach and toughness is something we've been working on since we've been there. If we're a tough team, I really believe we'll have success on the road.
Q. The few places you went?
COACH MEYER: I went to New England, I went a couple places, then I had Coach Holtz come in to visit with us.
Q. What is your opinion on Internet message boards, the things fans post on them?
COACH MEYER: The whole Internet thing, it just horrifies me because I just read the articles. I don't really understand how to do it. I have a 15-year-old, 13-year-old. My wife is tough as nails. Guess what, we don't have it any more in our house. I'm going to have her take all the instant messaging out of the University of Florida, if she can. I don't think she can do that.
I'm very ignorant about that. I know it's extremely damaging to people's self-respect, from what I've heard. It's a concern that we teach. We tried to educate our people. We try to recruit people with self-respect, and won't get involved in those kinds of things.
It's a different era, man. I read some of that stuff. My gosh. Just concerned. Are we doing all kinds of things to prevent it other than talking to our guys? That's the only thing I know how to do.
Q. You mentioned Percy Harvin. What does he bring to the table? Do you expect to make an immediate impact?
COACH MEYER: One of our goals on offense, I had a dream of being the fastest team in America. Whether that will happen, who knows. We want speed. I think speed equates to big plays. I just finished up a study with the help of some NFL friends, teams that start a drive without a big play in that drive, the chance of scoring is 10%. 1 out of 10 times you're going to score points if you have no 12, 15, 16, 18-yard play. You have two big plays in a drive, your scoring percentage now goes up to 50%.
Excuse me, if you have none, you can score 10% of the time. If you have one, it goes up to 50%. If you have two, you score 80% of the time.
The way my simple mind works is big plays equal scores, so let's recruit speed. Percy brings speed to our table. I have not worked with him yet. He's been there all summer. He's impressed our weight coaches. We get him a week from Sunday. That's what he brings to the table.
Q. You're very much a player type of coach. You addressed this somewhat last year. They are legislating more and more to keep football coaches away from their players, yet you're held accountable for everything they do on the field, off the field, academically, too. Is it about time in your mind that maybe the powers that be reevaluate this thing, such as athletic dorms, giving the coaches more opportunity to spend time with the kids?
COACH MEYER: I think that's a great debate. I'm opposed to athletic dorms because I think they're student first. You put football players in a dorm, you can maybe go over and see them all. I think the collegiate experience is a wash now. I know for years at Florida, they had Yon Hall. That was the way it was. I like having the football players spread out a little bit.
The area I think I continue to battle is the fact when I hear coaches that don't go spring recruiting, and the text messaging where it's annoying to recruits or whatever. I don't buy that. I don't accept that. I love to go out. Our staff, we believe if we're going to offer a scholarship, you're going to visit with the AD, the principal, the faculty member on that campus to find out what kind of person you're recruiting. We believe in that. We had 26 sign, 26 make it. We're proud of that. In my opinion it's not by accident. Our guys worked very hard at it.
Same thing with text messaging. I can't call you, but I can text you and say, Call me, let's talk. That's a great way to open lines of communication, find out what you're recruiting.
I think there's constant discussion on limiting recruiting, which that's the pipeline of our profession. I'm opposed to that. I think recruiting, communication and relationship is the number one thing to recruiting. If you take that away, it's too much hit or miss.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH MEYER: Thank you.
Quarterback Chris Leak
(On the upcoming season) "I have high expectations for the season, very excited for the seniors and have great confidence for the offense. It is the second year for everybody and we are all more comfortable. Everybody is more understanding of what they need to do."
(On the offense) "The biggest thing is knowing and understanding about what everybody has to do, to learn. It takes time for everything to happen, to have all the receivers on the same page. And for everybody to know what to do in a split second."
(On adjusting to Coach Meyer's system) "Coach from day one said that he wanted to build this system around me and strong players like me. I just have to go out and think about my teammates and be there leader. We have to know how to breakdown the defenses."
(On the new recruits) "One of the great things about being at the University of Florida is that we are going to have great Top 10 recruits every season. Guys like Tim [Tebow] are very eager and ready to bring something to the team. It is always good to have second and third team players that are ready to play, great to have depth behind you."
(On his mindset for the season) [being a target and having to look over his shoulder] "I never have had to do that. Coach said this is my team. To be the leader and the captain, I know the responsibilities to lead the team and to be prepared. It gives me great confidence to know that the guys are ready."
(On his senior year and Tim Tebow) "I can't think about that. I have to think about making my team better. As a leader, I have to make sure that they are prepared for every game and every challenge."
(On the Alabama loss and the rematch this season) "Anytime you have Bama on your schedule it is a game to anticipate. It is going to be a great game. They have great traditions. It is always going to be a great game for the families to watch and a lot of fun. The team looks forward to that game."
Defensive End Ray McDonald
(On being preseason favorites in the East) "It's something we shoot for; we always want to be No. 1. We're not No. 1 in the country, there are a lot of top teams ahead of us, so that's just motivation for us to use this season."
(On quarterback Chris Leak) "I think Chris is a great player. He handled the offense well in his first year, and I know he'll do an even better job this year now that he knows the offense. Chris is a real humble guy, he doesn't worry about what people say. He's a real leader."
(About Coach Urban Meyer) "Me and Coach Meyer had a real great relationship. He brought in a great staff."
(On the Tennessee game) "We don't really look ahead; we play one game at a time. We talk about that. We're just worried about our first game against Southern Miss."
(On playing on the road) "I love to play on the road. Of course, I'd rather play at home, but I get energy from listening to the other team's fans. I get energy from anyone's fans, just the noise."