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Other than the fact that the players were in full pads, Saturday morning's workout seemed very similar to Florida's first two spring practice sessions. Except for two parts – a fierce 10-minute drill early in the session when the players gathered in a circle for some hand-to-hand combat – and the last 30 minutes or so, which featured an energized, entertaining Red Zone square off between the offense and the defense, with head coach Urban Meyer keeping score.
For the record, under some warm, sunny skies, the offense snapped a 10-10 tie (single points were awarded to the defense for stops, turnovers or outstanding plays, and points were given to the offense for scores), when quarterback Chris Leak scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line on a naked bootleg against the No. 1 defense.
"It was a good day," said Meyer, who was constantly waving his arms as if exhorting the crowd and exuberantly encouraging his players to celebrate as a unit after a score or a defensive stop. "In evaluating competitiveness and trying hard, I'd give it an 8 out of 10, I thought they did well. We did combatives – it was a very physical practice – for 10 minutes. Those kind of drills are new, so I was a little disappointed at the beginning with the intensity, but if you don't know what you're doing, it's hard to be intense. Next time we expect 'em to be much more intense with it.
"Overall, I'm not sure who won – yeah, it was 10-10 and then we ran a little naked (bootleg) at the end, so the offense won – it was a good competitive day today. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, we'll have a winner and a loser and the offense got it today. We'll go again on Wednesday."
Junior wide receiver Chad Jackson was the highlight player on offense, scoring four times on a pair of receptions and a pair of nicely-executed option reverse runs. Operating out of the H-back position, with the entire offense flowing right on the option, Jackson came back and took a pitch the other way, sprinting to the corner on two sweet-looking runs.
"They've got us at all different positions – they've got me at H, Dre (Caldwell) at X and Jemalle (Cornelius) at Z, but we all switch around playing the X, the Z and the H," Jackson said. "I'm just trying to learn all the positions right now. I'm kind of liking the offense right now. It's wide open, everybody gets to touch the ball. It's going to be a good offense this year."
Meyer said simply, "Chad can be a great one."
Both Leak and Portis had solid moments operating the attack in the Red Zone, with Portis appearing comfortable handling the option element. But Meyer is still a little squeamish talking about the offense in its infant stages.
"No they're not (picking up the offense quickly," Meyer said candidly. "That was awful. If you think that was good offense than we've got to show you some tape of what's good offense. That's not good offense. That's good effort, they try hard, but no, that's not good offense."
Meyer did say that both Portis and center Eddie Haupt (and to some extent, offensive lineman Ronnie Wilson who is slowed by a foot injury) have a supreme advantage on their fellow freshmen by being able to enroll for spring semester and go through spring practice.
"With (Portis), Eddie Haupt and Ronnie (Wilson) – Ronnie hasn't done much – someone made the comment the other day that Eddie is running center with the No. 2's (second-team offense) and one of our coaches said most kids his age are getting ready for the prom and he's out here getting screamed at by coaches in front of a couple of hundred people at Florida Field," Meyer said. "Same thing with Josh Portis. I wish every young guy could do that, get that extra six months under their belt, because Josh, Eddie and Ronnie are going to be so far advanced because they've been here. They're doing terrific."
Defensively, the linebackers continue to be the focus, simply due to the lack of numbers. Senior Todd McCullough was working with both the first and second unit and at times, the defense was in a nickel alignment with five defensive backs and just two linebackers even though the ball was near the 5-yard line. Converted fullbacks Billy Latsko and Eric Rutledge did get some action in the middle and former tight end Brian Crum lined up at outside 'backer.
"The main thing is we don't have enough numbers," said co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Charlie Strong. "The new guys I'm working with, Latsko has done well, Rutledge has done well, two guys we moved inside, and Crum. We've got some numbers there, we just got to develop some young ones. It's so hard to tell how they did, it looked like they did well. We came out and competed, which is the main thing."
The final piece of the puzzle on Saturday was the performance of the running backs, which Meyer stated was going to be a key. All three tailbacks – juniors DeShawn Wynn and Skyler Thornton and redshirt freshman Markus Manson – ran well, with Thornton converting a number of carries into scores.
"I think the running backs did real well," Meyer said. "I've got to go back and watch the tape, but I think Skyler ran hard – all three ran real hard. You're darn right it was a big day for 'em and without watching the tape, they had a good day today."
NOTEBOOK: Senior offensive guard Lance Butler was excused from the workout to attend a family function, so in his place, sophomore Drew Miller worked with the first unit at left guard and sophomore Carlton Medder jumped inside with the second unit . . .
Redshirt freshman Michael Brown has indeed shifted from defensive tackle to the offensive line. Meyer mis-spoke during his spring preview press conference when he said Michael Brown would miss spring drills due to shoulder surgery – it was actually fellow redshirt freshman Branden Daniel . . .
You hate to do it, but the stupid media question of the week to Meyer came Saturday afternoon, after just the third practice of spring: "Have you seen any guys yet that you might be able to weed out?"
"Weed out? That's not fair," he said. "I mean sure, absolutely, but I'm not going to tell you who they are. You're darn right I do. But that's the good thing about young people, they always have an opportunity to change.
"We won't make any final decisions on who's back and all that until after spring practice. Absolutely there's guys, but I'd rather talk about the guys I know we can play with and win with."