Now that Percy Harvin is back at 100 percent after a high ankle sprain that severely limited him for three games, Florida’s strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti is catching a break. Until Harvin was ready to go full speed again, Marotti was spending most of his days at football practice making sure he knew where Florida’s freshman phenom was at all times.
“He [Harvin] was a mess,” said Coach Urban Meyer after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s an emotional guy that loves football. Some guys you don’t worry about. Some guys get hurt and I hate to say this, but I think guys actually don’t like to practice but that happens. That kid [Harvin] hates it. That kid wants to compete and he probably himself back a little bit because he kept going and going and going and wouldn’t sit out when they told him to sit out.”
Harvin sprained his ankle early in the Tennessee game. He got one carry for two yards the next week against Kentucky, sat out the Alabama game, then got one running play for nine yards and two pass receptions for 18 against LSU. Last week against Auburn, he carried five times for 62 yards and saw plenty of action.
While waiting for that time when the coaching staff cut him loose in a game, however, Harvin was continually bugging the coaches to let him practice. If the coaches lost sight of him, he would sneak into the huddle to try to get a few reps.
“We stand on the sideline and the kid doesn’t want to stand on the sideline,” said Meyer. “We have other guys like (Tim) Tebow and those competitive guys that can’t stand that.”
Meyer said Harvin would “keep asking and then go in. He would actually run on the field and you grab him and say you’re not ready yet.”
Meyer assigned Marotti to Percy Duty which meant keeping an eye on the Virginia Beach, Virginia freshman at all times.
“Coach Marotti is in charge of all that and I would see him grabbing him and saying get off the field,” said Meyer. “He would follow him around because the minute he would turn his back he would be out there practicing. Jemalle [Cornelius] is like that, too. That’s why Jemalle gets so run down. Coach Marotti is the guy that makes sure that doesn’t happen.”
Harvin has such speed and elusiveness that he needs to factor more into the Florida offensive scheme. He’s got 14 carries for 158 yards (11.3 yards per carry) and 10 pass receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. As good as he’s been so far, Meyer knows Harvin will improve.
“He’s getting better and better, too,” said Meyer. “He’s making play after play after play. He’s averaging something like 12 yards every time he touches the ball and a lot of that he makes himself but some are well-blocked as well. I think he’s one helluva player.”
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Harvin was one of the crown jewels in a freshman class that was rated by some services as the number one in the nation. Quarterback Tim Tebow has made his presence felt with 44 rushes for 246 yards and four touchdowns and 10-14 passing for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman wide receiver Jarred Fayson has seven carries for 49 yards and return specialist Brandon James has become a real weapon on kicks and punts.
Other freshmen that are seeing their share of early playing time are defensive tackle Brandon Antwine, corner Markihe Anderson, linebacker Brandon Spikes and defensive end Jermaine Cunningham. Maurice Hurt and Marcus Gilbert are providing depth on the offensive line and on special teams, Riley Cooper, Wondy Pierre-Louis, Mon Williams and Dustin Doe have all made big plays.
“I’m very, very pleased with the freshman class,” said Meyer. “We string a couple of those freshman classes together … that’s what Ohio State and Texas — guys that have been together awhile — and USC have put those kind of classes together. We haven’t but we have to do that, though.”
There are freshmen that are taking a redshirt this year, however, but some of them are tearing it up with the scout team. Meyer said to watch out for defensive end Lawrence Marsh, who has been dominating in some scrimmage situations.
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Meyer said that Tebow has made tremendous progress in the offense to the point that his role should be expanding in the weeks to come. In practice sessions he is showing the ability to run the offense and understand what is expected on each play. The next step for the freshman lefty is to prove he can take on an expanded role in game situations. So far, Tebow has been limited mostly to running plays in obvious running situations.
“I think understanding it and doing it practice I think he’s about there,” said Meyer. “That’s why he’s working so hard in practice. How ready is he in a game? We’re going to give him more and more and we’ll find out.”
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Expanding the roles of Tebow and Harvin are part of an ongoing discussion among the Florida coaches. There is no question the two freshmen have tremendous talent, but with the number of plays limited by new clock management rules that have trimmed two to three possessions on the average per game, spreading the ball around is somewhat of a problem.
“We have two good quarterbacks and we have a lot of discussion about who should play tailback, too,” said Meyer. “How many times do you hand it to Percy when you get 45-50 plays a game? Dallas Baker is one helluva wide receiver … but there are a lot of those discussions and Tim and Tim and Chris (Leak) are part of those discussions.”
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Redshirt freshman Ronnie Wilson didn’t play exceptionally well against Auburn so he hasn’t supplanted Jim Tartt at the left guard position. Still, Meyer has a lot of confidence Wilson and has great expectations.
“Ronnie hasn’t played football in three years,” said Meyer (Wilson missed his senior season with a broken foot and redshirted last year). “He’s going to be one of the best linemen ever to play here. He’s got that much talent.”
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The Gators will do a light practice Thursday with coordinators Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison (defense) and Dan Mullen (offense) in charge while the rest of the staff hits the road for recruiting. Meyer said that most of the game plan for the Georgia game has been put in place already.
“The game plan’s about done,” said Meyer. “A lot of the coaches left today to go recruiting. Tomorrow will be a coordinator’s practice, a lot of kicking game stuff, and then the players are out Friday, Saturday and Sunday and then Monday we start it up [readying for Georgia].”
Meyer said the team needed the week off for some necessary R and R, a real change from last season when the Gators limped into the bye week prior to the Georgia game looking like a M*A*S*H unit.
“Last year we needed it because we had guys out of the game,” said Meyer. “We were an injured team. Schematically we made some adjustments to suit our personnel that you can’t make in a two-day period. I looked at our schedule last week and we were full pads on two of the three days. We were worried about getting some run game going is what we were doing. It’s a much different year.”