Bryan Thomas, the freshman safety out of Zephyhills, became the first injury casualty of the two-day old preseason drills when he had arthroscopic surgery on Monday. Thomas went down with an injury to the same knee he had scoped about seven weeks ago just a little bit into Sunday’s first practice session.
“He had surgery today,” said Coach Urban Meyer Monday afternoon after Florida’s veterans completed their practice session. “They’re saying it was not an ACL. It was a blood vessel that burst near his ACL so it’s very painful and 4-6 weeks which hurts us a bit on the back end.”
Thomas was expected to contribute from day one at safety, a position which has taken a hit when Reggie Nelson was moved to cornerback before August drills began. Juniors Tony Joiner and Kyle Jackson are penciled in as the starters at the safety slots with Dorian Munroe and Nick Brooks as the backups. True freshman A.J. Jones, who played linebacker in high school but has been at safety in the first two practice sessions, will probably get a long look to move into one of the backup positions.
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The move to corner has been a smooth one for Nelson, whom Meyer said had a great practice Monday afternoon. The 6-1, 195-pound sophomore from Palm Bay played some corner in last summer’s two-a-day practices before settling in as the nickel back and then stepping into a starter’s role at free safety.
“He’s one of our best players,” said Meyer. “He had a great day today. In fact, both Reggies (Nelson and Lewis, the first unit corners) had really good days today. Yesterday was okay. If those two can hang in there and we can get some help from somewhere else at corner we’ll be fine there.”
Jermaine and Tremaine McCollum are currently the backups at corner among the veterans. Freshmen Jacques Rickerson, Wondy Pierre-Louis and Markihe Anderson will all get long looks starting Tuesday when practice is combined with the freshmen and veterans.
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Wide receiver Bubba Caldwell continues to look very sharp as he makes his comeback from a broken leg suffered in last season’s third game against Tennessee. Caldwell had to have surgery that implanted a rod in his leg but he’s come back looking stronger than ever and apparently, he hasn’t lost a stride.
“I know he feels really good about himself which makes us all feel good,” said Meyer, who has admitted in the past few months that losing Caldwell put a serious hitch in Florida’s offensive plans. Caldwell was a defense stretcher that always commanded a double team.
Since breaking the leg on the opening kickoff of the second half of the Tennessee game, Caldwell has been diligent with his rehabilitation, something that Meyer has noted with pride.
“I know one thing, he’s a different guy [since the injury],” said Meyer. “When I went up to spend two days up there [New England Patriots] … I had heard stories about Reche [Caldwell, Bubba’s brother who plays for the Patriots] here and up there he’s all business. Bubba, in the last year, has become all business which is really good.”
Caldwell’s business-like attitude seems to have caught on with the entire wide receiver corps. Meyer really likes what he’s seeing of them so far in terms of improved attitude and improved effort on the practice field.
“I think Coach G [Billy Gonzales] has done a great job with him [Caldwell],” said Meyer. “You look at the whole position group. When we got here it was nothing but a bunch of underachievers.
“We kept hearing about Chad Jackson this and what did he have? 22 catches [in 2004]? And then Bubba Caldwell had 40 catches but really didn’t run routes and Dallas Baker is a guy who had good spring practices but never played. And we lost OJ Small who was a terrific player but I think that whole group has really grown up.”
Baker, who finished the season with 52 catches last year, wasn’t at practice Monday because he was taking care of a personal matter but he will be back Tuesday.
Jemalle Cornelius and Cornelius Ingram had outstanding practices Monday as did redshirt freshman David Nelson, about whom Meyer said “after two days he’s the most improved receiver we have and he’s come a long way.”
Cornelius is a senior and looking like a veteran. Ingram is a third year sophomore that has made the transition from quarterback to H-back/tight end with remarkable ease.
“The first time he ever practiced at receiver was the bowl practice,” said Meyer. “Spring practice he made great strides. He’s almost ready to play. He’s pretty close to being game ready.”
Meyer said that he expects 2-3 of the freshman wide receivers to be contributors this season and with their addition, he’s almost got the position stocked the way he wants it.
“I made a comment that we need 12 to play,” said Meyer. “We’re getting close to 12.”
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The freshmen will join the veterans Tuesday and for the rest of the week, there will be one practice with the entire team. Meyer said he’s eager to get the entire team together.
“The tempo of practice picks up because you have all the guys going,” said Meyer. “Right now we’re adding 34 guys tomorrow, the new guys on scholarship and the walkons.”
He’s expecting all the young players to step in with the attitude that they are here to compete with the veterans for playing time.
“What you have to do is make sure the young guys respect the old guys but they’re trying to get their jobs,” said Meyer. “If there’s competition there is no balancing act. Everybody is going after each other’s job. We have 26 guys coming in here and there are going to be some pushes. I’m anxious to watch.”
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Meyer had a little bit of a scary moment Sunday with sophomore linebacker Jon Demps, who had ACL surgery after last year’s LSU game. Demps’ knee locked up a little bit Sunday but he was practicing without any problems Monday.
“I don’t want to say he’s 100 percent because we have to see when he gets hit,” said Meyer.