The change in Urban Meyer could be thanks to improved health. It could be from coaching a team he thinks is slipping under the radar this season.
New quarterback John Brantley has fed optimism through the entire program. National college football fans expect the Gators to fade with the loss of Tim Tebow, but there isn’t a player in the Florida locker room who believes it. That could explain the smiles on Meyer’s face Tuesday. He feels like he knows something that not many others do.
“I wouldn’t be excited if the guy who’s taking snaps wasn’t really good, but he’s really good,” Meyer said. “The excitement is about personnel.”
Another relief off Meyer’s shoulders is having his health issues relieved. His esophageal spasms caused him to announce his retirement before changing his mind, but they put a scare into him that shook his world.
The problem has been diagnosed and taken care of. He ignored the “don’t worry about the pain” answers that he was given from doctors, and finally got the answer.
However, diagnosing the problem hasn’t only helped Meyer. He has received plenty of feedback from others who were inspired to get issues checked out after Meyer’s story.
“I’ve had ridiculous amounts of correspondents or people who have gone because of what happened say they’re going to get things checked out,” Meyer said. “With our staff, it’s non-negotiable. We’re going to take this day and take care of some business here. Coaches are brought into an environment where they work through everything.”
Meyer will delegate responsibilities when the season starts. Linebackers coach D.J. Durkin was the special teams coach at Stanford, so he will take the burden off Meyer in that area. Durkin has done “a hell of a job” so far since arriving in Gainesville.
Right now though, Meyer’s focus is all on camp.
“During camp, you don’t change your schedule,” Meyer said. “We’ve done a better job than a year ago as far as sticking to the plan. We don’t need to work on curing the evils of the Florida Gator offense. We just need to make ourselves a little better. The biggest difference on offense is I’m not knee deep in it.
“During the season, I’ll make adaptations, but camp is camp. You go and go, then go to sleep and go again.
IMPORTANCE OF CAMP: The Gators spoke Monday night in meetings to emphasize the importance of fall camp. Florida will have 29 practices to figure things out before they open the season September 4 against Miami (OH). After that, they will only have 22 practices through the remaining 11 games.
Progress must be made between now and the first game if players want to see the field.
“All development and accountability is done here in August,” Meyer said. “During the season, it’s called gameplaning. Big difference. Last year, development was important but like this year and probably like we’ve never had. There’s never a wasted second of our practices right now.”
As in most camps across the country, things got off to a sloppy start for the Gators. Meyer can still easily see the talent all over the practice field.
“It’s the year of development and accountability, and we’re coaching as hard as we ever have,” Meyer said. “There is a lot of talent running around on that field. You’re going to be excited to see what it looks like. Not now. Awful right now.”
INJURY UPDATE: Chris Rainey was held out of Tuesday’s practice because of an accelerated heartbeat. Meyer expects Rainey to return to practice on Wednesday or Thursday.
Offensive tackle Matt Patchan will miss 10-14 days because of a hairline fracture in his wrist. Meyer said he will continue to work on the side, and the team will remain cautious with him.
Freshman wide receiver Chris Dunkley is being monitored because of a chronic hamstring issues that has bothered him since the fall of his senior season. Meyer referred to it as a 10-day injury.
FRESHMEN IMPRESSION: Meyer struggled to hide his enthusiasm about the freshmen class. The same shy grin has come to his face when talking about them since his press conference on National Signing Day in February.
“I love them as people, and I like their work ethic,” Meyer said. “We’ll find out more as we go. We opened that Christmas present and kept it open. I love looking at it.”
The gem of the class, especially for a team starving for pass rush, was defensive end Ronald Powell.
“Ron Powell is one of the best high school players I’ve ever seen,” Meyer said. “He’s an even better guy. When he came to campus, he stole our heart about being a worker, loving the game of football and wanting to be a Gator. That’s a special player.”
The expectations for Powell have already gone through the roof. There is talk of him starting at defensive end from the first snap of the football. The Florida staff has tried their best to minimize the hype to keep the pressure off him.
“We’re going to try more than ever to do that,” Meyer said. “How do you restrict an 18-year-old from being told he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread? Then you gotta go coach him.”
Matt Elam also looks like an instant impact player. He will see the field as Florida’s nickel back after making his presence known in the spring. Meyer said Elam’s body was “dumpy” or “chubby” after spring ball, and he changed his body in the offseason to make it “firmer.”
“He has earned a spot, and he’s going to play,” Meyer said. “We asked him to change his body a little bit, and he did this summer. Am I worried about us pumping his ego up? We’re just in survival mode at camp. I’m sure that will be a problem once he plays as a freshman because he is going to play.”
RECRUITING PHILOSOPHIES: The star-studded recruiting class has multiple players from instate, but others come from the Northeast or California. Meyer said the intention wasn’t for the Gators to recruit players from across the country, but it worked out that last year’s class had players all over the country that wanted to be Gators.
“We’re not trying to be a national recruiting team,” Meyer said. “When we find out there’s one of the best players in America who has tremendous interest in Florida, we’re going to war and we’re going to get him. But I would sign the whole state of Florida if we could. The best players are right here. That’s why this whole staff came to Florida. Within four hours of this doorstep we’ve got great football players. But it’s hard to turn down someone who is a great player. We’re finding more and more of it, but I’m always warning our staff that’s not what we’re trying to do here.”
LEADERSHIP SEARCH: Michael Pouncey and Justin Trattou have already been named team captions. Pouncey’s twin brother, Maurkice, left for the NFL, but that hasn’t affected him ability to lead the team.
“You can’t be a better leader than Mike Pouncey is for our team,” Meyer said. “We miss Maurkice, but it’s almost like when they separated, he took the load on his shoulders by himself instead of sharing it.”
Besides the two captains, Duke Lemmens and Ahmad Black could also be in the mix. It’s still too early for Meyer to assess the leadership levels, but he likes the early returns.
“It’s just practice number four, so I’d put it around a “B” level,” Meyer siad. “You won’t know until it gets hard. It’s been cool out there, not that hot. Leadership shows up when it’s tough, not when it’s easy. I’m watching every day as close as I can.”
RANKING THE PLAYMAKERS: The Gators have plenty of athletes who can make plays with the ball in their hands. They just don’t have experienced ones that will undoubtedly produce. That is what the Florida coaching staff is using fall camp for.
“They haven’t earned the right to be called great pieces yet,” Meyer said. “They’re not. They haven’t earned the right to be called that. We’ve got some pieces that we’re excited to see what we can do, but we haven’t had a full padded practice yet.”
Meyer did mention that Jeff Demps, Emmanuel Moody and Deonte Thompson have likely clinched their spots in the top playmakers on the team. He especially singled out Demps for having a great first few days of practice.
“It’s completely wide open,” Meyer said. “There are ten people trying to top six spots. Now what order, we haven’t determined that yet.”
ROSTER DEPTH: Meyer made multiple mention of being happy with the talent on the Florida roster, regardless of age. This could be the most talented roster from top to bottom, but the Florida coaches continue to focus on having depth.
“The minute you do, a junior leaves for the pros and sets you back a bit,” Meyer said. “We’re pleased with where we are but you never have enough. If they weren’t allowed to leave, you’d have a systematic way of replacing them. Now we’re thin at safety. If Major stayed, we’d have the best group in the country, but you take one guy out. We’ve just got to be careful.”
LEAVING HIS MARK: Some around the Utah program have given an assist to Meyer after they were added to the Pac-10. It didn’t surprise the Florida head coach that they were added, as he thinks it is a perfect fit.
“I think Utah is one of the greatest secrets in America,” Meyer said. “I didn’t know that until I flew out to interview. I had no intention of leaving Bowling Green, but I walked into the academic center and it’s one of the nicest I’ve ever seen. It’s Pac-10 facilities, Pac-10 atmosphere and Pac-10 location. I thought that eventually would happen.”
NOTES: Meyer said that if given his choice of punter and kicker, he would still take Chas Henry and Caleb Sturgis… Meyer said Chris Rainey and Janoris Jenkins will be involved in punt returns, while Rainey and Demps will be involved with kick returns. He mentioned Deonte Thompson and Chris Dunkley as other players who will get a look, and they will know more after a scrimmage this weekend… Chris Guido is serving as the team’s long snapper, and Meyer said he was doing a great job… Meyer singled out Josh Shaw and Josh Evans as two players that look much improved since the spring. He recognized both of them in front of the team after Tuesday’s practice.
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