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On a chilly, gray afternoon that seemed more suited for fall than spring in terms of temperature, Florida finally hit the practice field Thursday afternoon to kick off head coach Urban Meyer's initial spring practice session. With weather pushing the start of spring drills back a day, the attendance was a little thinner (in the neighborhood of 150), but the enthusiasm of the players wasn't dampened at all.
"The first impression is that it was great to be out here," Meyer said. "It was sloppy, as you would imagine the first day. The obvious things were too many balls on the ground, throwing and catching on offense. On defense, I asked the defensive coordinators how they did and their comment was it was sloppy today. But the intensity, the attitude, the things you measure – you don't measure anything else right now – were very good."
The Gators were in shorts and shoulder pads and spent the majority of the nearly 2 ½ hour session in unit work with their position coaches. The offense did get together on the far practice field and run through some plays, at least the ones that have been installed. Like most coaches, patience is a difficult trait for Meyer.
"You always wish it was a little further ahead – I can't wait to have a third (year) spring practice – I haven't had one," Meyer said. "Once this is the third year in the same offense, bang you're out and darn near the full offense is in. We put in two plays today. We have a bunch more than two plays in this offense. I'm anxious like most coaches. I wish we were further ahead, but it is what it is."
All eyes will be glued on the quarterbacks, with Chris Leak and true freshman Josh Portis the only scholarship QBs taking snaps on Thursday. With Cornelius Ingram still with the basketball team and Gavin Dickey off with the baseball team for a weekend series at Ole Miss, Leak and Portis got plenty of work. As you'd expect on the first day operating a new system, the quarterbacks were a bit tentative and Meyer knows it will take a little time before they loosen up.
"I think what happens is you get used to having a quarterback who's been in the system for a couple of years and (he) comes out and just lets it go," Meyer said. "I don't think either Chris or Josh let it go today. They kind of babied the ball around because they weren't sure. All good quarterbacks like Chris or Josh, if they're not sure where it's going, they're so worried because we place such a premium on taking care of it, they don't let it rip.
"If you watched them throw, you'd think they didn't have very good arm strength, but they're just not letting it rip. I've seen Chris throw, I've seen Josh throw, so I'm hoping they'll let it rip a little more."
Toward the end of next week, Meyer expects the players to start feeling more comfortable with the offensive system.
"In the first five days, you're going to see the complete installation (of the offense) – I just wish we could get through these darn five days so we could get the offense in," Meyer said. "There are people coming out here waiting to see a good offense and you're not going to see one for a little while."
Meyer smiled when he made that last comment. He knows the sharpness is not going to be achieved overnight, and all in all, felt it wasn't a bad first day on the practice field.
"It's like you'd imagine," he said. "You'd like there to be more carryover, coaches always wish the ball was zinging around, everyone's catching it, there wouldn't be a ball on the ground and that obviously didn't happen if you watched it.
"But the thing I'm impressed with is the athleticism of our receivers – we've got some pretty good receivers in this program. I thought our tailbacks did a nice job. I thought our corners – Dee Webb for running track all offseason, I thought came out and did a nice job. I wish I had more for you – but shorts, first practice in spring, not a whole lot going on."
Notebook: It's way, way, too early to formulate any sort of depth chart, but at least on the first day, Tavares Washington was lining up with the first unit at left tackle, alongside Lance Butler (left guard), Mike Degory (center), Steve Rissler (right guard) and Randy Hand (right tackle). The second unit featured Carlton Medder and Jason Watkins alternating at left tackle, Drew Miller at left guard, Eddie Haupt at center, Jim Tartt at right guard and Phil Trautwein at right tackle . . . During full unit drills, Jarvis Moss was operating with his hand on the ground as a defensive end, even though he's listed as a linebacker . . . There were a lot of options plays run by the offense, including one play where Tate Casey, operating at H-back, took a pitch around right end from Leak . . . In addition to the spectators (and media) being able to sit down, the names have returned to the backs of the players jerseys. Last year, it said "TEAM" across the top of every player's practice jersey . . . Florida will practice from 3:55 to 6 on Friday afternoon and is slated to practice at 10:10 on Saturday morning, with a bit of scrimmage work expected to complete the first week of spring drills.