In the early going of August practice, it’s the defensive line that is making life miserable for Florida’s young and inexperienced offensive linemen. They’re stuffing the running game and they’re putting a serious pass rush on both Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. It may look bad now but as the preseason practices continue, the experience should pay big dividends for the offensive line.
Through four practices, defensive end Jarvis Moss has been too quick to block and Derrick Harvey on the other end is having almost as much success. Up the middle, Marcus Thomas has been a hard to contain bull. It’s tough sledding for the offensive line but each day they benefit from going against such a talented crew.
“We were talking about that today,” said Coach Urban Meyer after a Wednesday practice which his defensive line put on another dominating performance. “Phil Trautwein (left tackle) is going against one of the best pass rushers in the SEC (Moss) every day in practice so he can’t help but get better and you’ve got Harvey on the other side and you’ve got Marcus Thomas inside. Ray (McDonald), as you’ve noticed, hasn’t done a whole lot (being brought along slowly after two knee surgeries). It helps a lot going against those guys, obviously.”
The defensive line is bolstered by the continued improvement of tackle Clint McMillan and the new and improved attitude of Joe Cohen. Cohen is heavier than ever before (305 pounds) but he actually looks lighter because he’s in the best physical condition of his career.
“Joe’s really doing good,” said Meyer. “He’s had three or four great days. He’s a much better player than he was in the spring. He’s one of the most improved guys.”
There have always been great expectations for Cohen but so far in his career the hype has been greater than the on the field production. Part of the reason for the lack of production might be injuries. He’s had a couple of surgeries including one last summer to remove a baseball sized calcium growth on his hip. That slowed his progress last year but he’s healthy and pain free now.
“He was injured a lot last year,” said Meyer. “He’s had those hip issues. He’s an up and down guy but he’s been all up. When I say up and down guy I mean he sometimes comes out and practices like he doesn’t like football and other days he does. We’ve had a long talk and Coach (Greg) Mattison (defensive line coach) has done a great job of getting him ready but he’s been right on the dot for four days.”
Coach Steve Addazio, who coaches the offensive tackles and tight ends, knows that facing the deep, talented defensive line every day in practice is only going to help his crew get better.
“I went through this with Dwight Freeney at Syracuse,” said Addazio. “He is a great speed rusher off the edge and every day we had to go against him it made us better. He raised the bar for us and it helped us immediately. We had to grow from that every day and I’m seeing the same thing here. Our guys are going to get better because they compete against the best.
“Jarvis Moss is one of the most talented pass rushers off the edge I’ve ever been around and then Marcus Thomas in the middle and Ray McDonald who isn’t going now and Joe Cohen … you’re talking about big and fast explosive guys. It’s a challenge for our offensive linemen to go up against those guys every day. It’s a learning experience for them but I see them getting better.”
Four-fifths of the offensive line seems set right now. Trautwein has the left tackle spot locked down and Drew Miller has settled in at right tackle. Steve Rissler is the anchor of the line at center and Ronnie Wilson is set at the right guard spot. The only place that’s a question mark is left guard where Jim Tartt is being brought along slowly since he’s returning from shoulder surgery. In his place, redshirt freshman Simon Codrington and true freshman Maurice Hurt are fighting it out for playing time.
“Jim Tartt has been held out of contact,” said Meyer. “Simon and Maurice Hurt are battling it out for it [Tartt’s spot]. Obviously Simon has never played and neither has Maurice Hurt so that’s an area of concern right now. I’m a little worried about that.”
* * *
The running back situation is another area of concern for Meyer. Senior DeShawn Wynn missed his second consecutive day of practice because he is sick and nobody seems to be stepping to the forefront, ready to become the man at that spot.
Wynn, who missed Tuesday with a 101 degree fever, wasn’t better and Meyer said, “102 today … they said he was going to get better. He’s not better.”
Working the tailback rotation at Tuesday’s practice were sophomores Kestahn Moore and Markus Manson along with true freshmen Mon Williams, Chevon Walker and Brandon James.
“It’s August whatever it is and normally speaking I would be able to say here’s first, second and third string, fourth string,” said Meyer. “I can’t tell you that.”
Asked if there’s a bright spot at tailback, Meyer said, “They work hard.”
* * *
True freshman wide receiver Percy Harvin continues to dazzle with his speed and darting moves. He’s got the speed (timed at 4.32 in the 40) to go deep and the moves and elusiveness to make a four-yard pass a 40-yard gain. He’s had four consecutive days of eye-opening practices.
Tuesday, he became the first freshman to have the stripe removed from his practice helmet. All freshmen have a stripe on their practice helmets. When the stripe is removed, it’s a sign that they have already earned their place on the team.
Asked why Harvin became the first to have the stripe removed, Meyer responded, “Making plays … he just enjoys football.”
* * *
Next to lose his stripe could be Jarred Fayson. Fayson has had some big plays at wide receiver but he’s also Florida’s emergency quarterback since Chris Leak and Tim Tebow are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. Fayson took some snaps at quarterback Wednesday and looked quite impressive.
Asked if Fayson is a worst case scenario quarterback, Meyer responded, “Worst case and also a best case. That’s one fast dude running quarterback for us so we’re doing it for both reasons so in case something happens but also if we want to change the game a little bit. Speed kills and he’s a natural at it.
“I don’t know if you got to watch him at it but when you start running the shovel and some of that stuff at quarterback that’s an eye-opener. He’s a talented guy and he’s a natural. I was very pleased that he went back there, took a snap and got going.”
* * *
Junior tight end Tate Casey missed all of Wednesday’s practice wearing an ankle boot. He suffered an injury on Tuesday and at first it was thought it would be serious.
“They thought it was a high ankle sprain and they MRI’d it and it’s a bruised bone so he should be back tomorrow,” said Meyer.
Clint McMillan tweaked a hamstring early on in Wednesday’s practice but after it was treated and stretched, he came back to finish practice.
Freshman wide receiver Jamar Hornsby missed Wednesday’s practice with a concussion. He will be out another four or five days. When he comes back, the staff may take a long look at moving him to defense.
“He’s an offensive player now but we’ll determine as we get going,” said Meyer.
* * *
Freshmen corners Jacques Rickerson and Markihe Anderson both had some good moments in coverage Wednesday. Anderson had an interception and Rickerson continued to show that he’s fluid and natural at the position.
“Jacques is probably ahead of all the other ones [freshmen],” Meyer said.
Wondy Pierre-Louis was slowed by a sore back Wednesday but he is expected back at full speed Thursday.
* * *
Among the freshmen linebackers, Meyer said that Brandon Spikes looks ready to be a contributor. He’s settled in as the understudy in the middle to junior starter Brandon Siler.
“The guy that I think that’s standing out is Brandon Spikes,” said Meyer. “I’m almost ready to say he’ll play for sure this year. He’ll be a backup but he’ll also be a special teams guy.”
The other two freshmen linebackers, A.J. Jones and Dustin Doe, can probably expect to see action at least on the special teams.
“We played a little with A.J. Jones at safety but we moved him back Sam (strong side) linebacker today so we have three freshmen linebackers and we like them all, Doe at Will (weakside), A.J. at Sam and Spikes at Mike (middle).”
Sophomore Jon Demps, coming off knee surgery that sidelined him the last seven games of last season, is looking good at the strongside where he’s battling with senior Brian Crum for playing time. Demps had his knee lock up a little bit on Monday but apparently he got over that quickly.
“He’s done pretty good,” said Meyer. “His knee was pretty sore the other day but he’s come along.”