When it comes to Bubba Caldwell, Urban Meyer has always expected the best and that dates back to his first days on campus back in December of 2004. It’s a close relationship between the wide receiver and the head coach of the Florida Gators but even Meyer has been surprised at what he’s seen during the month of August.
Caldwell has always been somewhat of a team leader but during this August, he has taken leadership to a brand new level. It’s a combination of vocal leadership and watch how I do it that is getting the attention of Meyer and Caldwell’s teammates at wide receiver, a group that Meyer calls the most consistent on the team.
Meyer was expecting Caldwell to step it up this year, but he didn’t know that the senior from Tampa could have this much of an impact.
“I’ve seen a side of Andre Caldwell that to be honest, I didn’t know existed,” said Meyer. “He’s a next level guy right now. The leadership, the work ethic, the non-stop, I mean he’s grinding. I love Bubba, always have, I love that family but I’ve never seen him grind like this.”
The leadership is evident in the way Caldwell’s teammates are following him around as well as following his example on the playing field.
“Percy Harvin goes wherever he [Caldwell] goes,” said Meyer. “Jarred Fayson, Riley Cooper … that whole group. They’re responding. That’s our most consistent group. It’s also probably our best leader or one of them.”
Caldwell is coming off a junior season in which he caught 57 passes for 577 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran 21 times for 102 yards and a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass to Tate Casey in the SEC Championship Game against Arkansas. He is within striking distance of two records that have stood for 36 years. With 44 catches he can pass the 172 career receptions of Carlos Alvarez. Caldwell needs 976 yards to top the Alvarez record of 2,563.
Meyer says the way Caldwell is grinding it out in practice is a pretty good indicator that his most experienced wide receiver is going to have a great year.
“Some guys have great senior seasons and others don’t but that’s usually a great indication,” said Meyer, who added that he’s going to make sure that the ball gets in Caldwell’s hands often.
“We’re going to set him up,” said Meyer. “He’s going to have a great senior season.”
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In addition to Caldwell and quarterback Tim Tebow, whose leadership Meyer says is off the charts, the Gators are seeing three others step it up as players the team will follow.
“I think Drew Miller (senior center) has done a great job,” said Meyer. “On defense Derrick Harvey (junior defensive end) has done a great job and Tony Joiner (senior safety).”
Harvey isn’t a vocal leader but Meyer says he knows how to get the job done and teammates respect him.
“Just like that press conference after the national championship game (Harvey was the defensive MVP) he didn’t want to say much but he’s trying to do it [lead],” said Meyer. “He’s trying to be himself. I don’t need cheerleaders. I need guys that go in dorm rooms, take them out for sandwiches and talk to them, motivate them and by work ethic and he’s doing all that.”
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Besides the wide receiver position, Meyer said two other position groups have been steady and consistent throughout the August drills.
“I think Tebow (quarterbacks) has been consistent and the position also I think is tailback,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m actually saying that but I think our tailbacks have actually been consistent. That’s ball security and pass protection. Everything else is recruiting but if you can teach them protect the football and protect the quarterback then you’re doing a good job.”
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The Gators will go in shoulder pads and shorts tomorrow and then they will join former Florida football players in the annual preseason barbeque that honors ex-Gators. The team will have Saturday evening and Sunday off and then Monday starts game week as the Gators start their serious preparation for opening game opponent Western Kentucky (September 1, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, 12:30 p.m.).
“We’re going to go in shoulder pads and shorts and we have the former player barbeque tomorrow afternoon which means it’s here,” said Meyer. “It’s officially here — game week, Florida style. I can’t wait.”
Meyer said he can see that the team is ready to change the practice routine and start prepping to play a real game.
“I think they’re so sick and tired of practice,” he said. “I get that feeling and that’s typical. The first thing they all do is find out if we’re wearing full pads or not. I can see that and that changes next week.”
The Gators don’t have the game face on quite yet, but that will change quickly.
“I haven’t seen the light at the end of the tunnel yet because they’re all just trying to get to tomorrow,” Meyer said. “I’m sure we’ll see that when we get to next week.”
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Meyer said that the former player’s barbeque has become a big deal for the team. This will be the third year he’s held it and more than 500 people (former players, their wives and families) are expected.
“No question [it’s a big deal],” said Meyer. “That and the captain’s breakfast when one of those guys come back and talk and spend time with them. We always have great speakers and there’s no doubt our guys appreciate that. When we build this facility (new offices, weight rooms, trophy room, etc.) that’s going to be devoted to number one recruiting and number two the history of Florida football and all those great players are going to be rewarded for that.”