WITH CHRIS LEAKCOMFORTABLE AT LAST IN THE OFFENSE, ALL THE GATORS NEED IS A RUNNING BACK TOEMERGE
2005 RECORD 9-3(5-3 in SEC East)
KEY RETURNEES WRAndre Caldwell (Jr.) Electrifying wideout has fully recovered from broken legsuffered last September SS Reggie Nelson (Jr.) Punishing tackler had four sacksin '05 DE Ray McDonald (Sr.) Run-stuffing end is back following surgeries onboth ACLs
BIG MAN ON CAMPUSQuarterback Chris Leak may be a fourth-year starter, but this will be the firsttime he has run the same offense two seasons in a row. His increased comfortwith coach Urban Meyer's spread-option attack was evident in the spring. Hispasses were sharper; he made better decisions and made them more quickly. Ithelped that Meyer tweaked the offense to suit his passer's strengths: Look forLeak to throw more often on the run and downfield.
Sign of the timesin Gainesville: hardworking senior fullback Billy Latsko lining up at tailbackin spring drills. Could Urban Meyer have made his displeasure with his regulartailbacks any plainer?
Well, yes,actually. Meyer was so underwhelmed by the performance of his tailbacks in2005--at the start of spring ball he would describe their collective efforts as"trash"--that he threatened to go to an offense that didn't useone.
On paper DeShawnWynn, Markus Manson and Kestahn Moore did not appear to stink up the joint lastyear, when Florida's rushing attack averaged a respectable 146.8 yards pergame. But that was almost 100 yards fewer than Meyer's offense had averaged atUtah in '04, and Chris Leak would've had an easier transition to the spread ifthe ground game had taken more heat off him.
Meyer's solution,in addition to signing a trio of blue-chip tailbacks, was to call out hisveterans. "I'm not going to sit and watch that trash I watched lastyear," he proclaimed before spring practice. "We're very poor at thetailback position."
"The truthhurts," says running backs coach Stan Drayton. "The passion andleadership were not there. Guys were not playing to their potential."
The tailbackposition was thrown open to competition in the spring. While Moore, asophomore, and early-enrollee freshman Chevon Walker missed most of practicebecause of injuries, Manson and Wynn were impressive. The most improved playerwas Wynn, a senior whose 621 yards on the ground and seven rushing touchdownsled the team last season but whose inconsistency maddened his coaches. Drayton,however, liked what he saw in the spring and describes himself as "reallyexcited about what this group is going to do."
Not that Drayton,with less than three weeks left before the season started, had any idea who thestarter would be. Look for Meyer to use the first two games, home dates withSouthern Miss and Central Florida, to find a feature back before the Gators getinto the meat of what may be the toughest schedule in the nation.