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March 15, 2005

Gator Spring Football Guide: Offense

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QUARTERBACK

RETURNING: Junior Chris Leak, redshirt junior Gavin Dickey, redshirt freshman Cornelius Ingram

NEW: True freshman Josh Portis

GONE: Justin Midgett

OVERVIEW: Florida has four scholarship quarterbacks, but only two of them will be at every spring practice. Dickey is playing baseball, while Ingram will remain with the basketball team as long as its season continues. That leaves Leak, the incumbent, and Portis, the highest ranked prospect ever to commit to Utah. The Woodland Hills, Calif. Native followed Urban Meyer to Florida, enrolled in January and will get an early jump on his career, and possibly the top backup job, during the spring. Leak had a solid sophomore season, earning second-team honors from the SEC's coaches while throwing for 3,197 yards and 29 touchdowns. Both numbers were the best in the SEC.

MEYER QUOTE: "There's a notion that (Leak) is not athletic. He's very athletic. He can do everything we'll ask him to do. That's without seeing him with a pad on - it's watching tape from last year and watching him run on the field in competitive drills."

KEY QUESTION: Can Leak groove to Meyer's system?

It's not automatic. Leak is a workout demon with the discipline to learn a new offense, but his adjustment may take time. Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen will tailor their offense to Leak's strengths, but the spread option is considerably different than UF's scheme under Larry Fedora. If Leak has a weakness, it is that he is too mechanical. He needs to loosen up before he takes the next step towards stardom. His 29 touchdown passes were tied for the fourth most in school history, and he set a UF record against an SEC opponent by tossing six touchdown passes against South Carolina. Meyer and Mullen insist that Leak has more tools than Utah quarterback Alex Smith, who is projected as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. But are they the right tools?

RUNNING BACK

RETURNING: Redshirt junior DeShawn Wynn, junior Skyler Thornton, redshirt freshman Markus Manson

GONE: Ciatrick Fason

OVERVIEW: We're talking wide open. UF has only three tailbacks on scholarship, and any of them could emerge as the starter. Wynn has the most experience, but his career has been stuck in reverse. Since rushing for 329 yards in UF's first six games as a freshman, he has gained 440 in the last 19. He averaged 3.7 yards a carry last season and lost his second-string status to Thornton. It's not like Thornton ran wild. He averaged 4.2 yards on 55 attempts with a long run of 16 yards. Neither Wynn nor Thornton was a significant factor in the passing game, each making five receptions. Manson showed promise in the preseason but was not ready to play. Meyer's offense does not use a fullback.

MEYER: "The No. 1 concern is tailback. We do not have a guy we can count on. It's just the way it is. I've heard that 'this guy has potential' or 'that guy has potential.' Potential is not a great word to use around our staff. It's, 'what have you done?'"

KEY QUESTION: Who will accept Meyer's criticism as a challenge?
Meyer's words got even harsher as he warmed up at his pre-spring press conference. He described UF's tailback troubles as "a little bit of a panic situation because the three running backs "haven't done a thing around here." Ouch. He even said he might have to use tight end Dane Guthrie at tailback. One of these guys needs to get angry and try to prove Meyer wrong. Wynn scored on a 65-yard touchdown run against Miami in 2003, but he was about 15 pounds too heavy as a sophomore and has not lost that extra weight in the offseason. He has never regained the confidence he exhibited before sustaining a high-ankle sprain as a freshman. Thornton probably would have entered spring drills on top of the depth chart if Ron Zook were still coach. Manson, whom Meyer described as a nice guy he knows nothing about, has to show him why the previous staff pried him away from his native Alabama.

WIDE RECEIVER

RETURNING: Senior Dallas Baker, junior Andre Caldwell, junior Chad Jackson, redshirt junior Jemalle Cornelius, redshirt junior Kenneth Tookes, redshirt freshman Michael McIntosh, walk-on sophomore Kyle Morgan.

GONE: O.J. Small

OVERVIEW: Small led the SEC with 63 catches, but UF still is loaded with talent and speed at receiver. Caldwell caught a pass in every regular-season game, finishing with 43 receptions for 689 yards (16.0 average) and three touchdowns. Jackson was a big-play specialist, averaging a whopping 22.3 yards on his 35 catches and pacing UF receivers with six touchdowns. Baker did not become as reliable as expected, but he had 26 catches and five touchdowns. Cornelius was a mystery, making only 12 receptions despite starting five times. He led the team in routes run without having the ball thrown in his direction. Tookes (one reception) and McIntosh are next in line.

MEYER: "Baker, Jackson, Caldwell, Cornelius, McIntosh and Tookes have been fantastic. I'm really anxious to see the athleticism and see them play a little bit."

KEY QUESTION: Who will be the H-back?

It's the question everyone wants to know, but the answer will not be revealed until spring practice starts. Meyer's offense has a receiver go in motion in the backfield on virtually every play, setting him up for several shovel passes. Utah's H receiver, Paris Warren, caught 15 passes for 198 yards against Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. Will it be Caldwell, whom Fedora used as a slot receiver? Caldwell scored on a 61-yard reverse against Arkansas. Will it be Cornelius, who is terrific after the catch and did not touch the ball as often as he should have a year ago? Meyer coached wide receivers for 12 years before becoming a head coach, and he has loved the work ethic of UF's receivers since he arrived. Any thought that the receivers would balk at the idea of the unconventional H-spot has been quashed.

TIGHT END

RETURNING: Senior Markell Thompson, sophomore Tate Casey, redshirt freshman Dane Guthrie.

GONE: David Kenner.

OVERVIEW: Florida had a heck of a recruiting haul at tight end last year. Casey made a mark as a true freshman, with half of his eight catches going for touchdowns. He can get downfield. Guthrie was hurt in preseason drills, forcing him to be redshirted, but he looked dangerous in his brief practice time. Thompson, a juco transfer, s


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