(UPDATED) The answer to the $64,000 question Thursday came in a prepared statement from Coach Urban Meyer that confirmed rumors circulating all day that senior defensive tackle Marcus Thomas had won an appeal of his suspension and would be allowed to play Saturday in Florida’s Homecoming game with LSU. Thomas has missed three games this season for testing positive for marijuana use.
Thomas missed the first game of the season against Southern Miss for failing a random test during the summer. He played against Central Florida and Tennessee, but then was suspended for six games the week of the Kentucky game after it was revealed he had tested positive a second time. Thomas announced he would appeal the suspension but for the past two weeks there was little news regarding his status.
Wednesday word leaked out that Thomas went before the student judiciary committee with his appeal and throughout the day Thursday there were reports that he would be reinstated. The Las Vegas betting line, showing Florida a one-point underdog, moved Thursday afternoon in Florida’s direction (Gators now two point favorites), another indicator that Thomas had won his appeal.
Following practice Thursday, a prepared statement from Meyer was issued that read: “The committee has heard an appeal from Marcus Thomas and made a recommendation to amend his sanctions. The appeal process followed the proper procedures of the committee, which included a recommendation that is made independently by the committee and then approved by the Athletic Director and the President of the University. Marcus has some work ahead of him, but he has been grated the opportunity to play in the LSU game. Beyond that, he will continue to have a set of responsibilities and obligations for which he will be held accountable.”
Thomas had been sighted Tuesday and Wednesday at the practice field — the first time he had been seen anywhere near the practice field since the Tennessee game — but Meyer said that both instances were simply conditioning drills. Meyer said in his post-practice briefing Thursday that Thomas had things to take care of that had limited what he could do.
“He’s got some obligations in the evenings that he has to take care of so he comes out earlier and gets some conditioning and some work done actually with pads on and those things,” said Meyer.
Florida’s defense is ranked number 13 in the nation overall and it is tops in the country against the run (allows 50 yards per game). In the two games that he played Thomas contributed seven tackles and three sacks for 24 yards in losses.
Meyer said he can’t know the impact of having Thomas back because “he has not practiced with the intensity and all that” but having the 300-pounder back in the middle will definitely impact the way the Gators play defense against an LSU team leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring.
“Obviously having him in there is going to help but we also played pretty good without him so I think it’s important,” said Meyer. “Is it the catch-all? Absolutely not. We proved that the last couple of weeks.”
Where Thomas may have his greatest impact Saturday is team morale.
“I think he’s a very good football player and he’s a good chemistry guy on the team,” said Meyer. “He’s invested a lot in this program.”
No further details were available about the appeals process or any punishment beyond the suspension that could have been handed down.
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Whereas Meyer got good news regarding Thomas there was good news and bad news concerning senior tailback DeShawn Wynn and freshman wide receiver Percy Harvin. Wynn suffered a twisted knee in the second half last week against Alabama while Harvin has been trying to work his way back from a high ankle sprain suffered against Tennessee three weeks ago.
Wynn’s status is highly questionable.
“I don’t think he’s going to go,” said Meyer, who did said that Wynn did indeed feel better Thursday than he’s felt all week. “They found out something else that is not right with it [his knee].”
But, Meyer wouldn’t totally rule Wynn out of the game.
“They [training staff] keep holding out that we can do something tomorrow,” he said. “DeShawn Wynn I would say doubtful but I’m not going to rule him out. We’ll know more tomorrow.”
The news for Harvin was better.
“Percy was about 90-95 today so there’s a chance he’s going to go,” said Meyer. Harvin saw one play in the win over Kentucky and was held out altogether last week against Alabama.
Harvin’s importance is the burst of speed and elusiveness he provides the Florida offense. He’s handled the ball 16 times for a 14.3 average every time he touches the ball.
“That’s one of the fastest teams in the country that’s going to be playing on the other sideline,” said Meyer. “How do you beat speed? You match it with speed and he [Harvin] helps us do that.”
In another positive development, redshirt freshman guard Ronnie Wilson will be seeing his first action of the season, providing more depth along the offensive line.
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Florida lost to LSU, 21-17, last season in Baton Rouge, a game in which the Gators were seriously lacking speed and playmaking ability, especially at the wide receiver position where Bubba Caldwell was out with a broken leg, Jemalle Cornelius was hobbled by a high ankle sprain, Dallas Baker had a high ankle sprain and Chad Jackson was fighting through some hamstring problems.
“They [LSU] did look faster than us in the secondary and faster at wide receiver,” said Meyer. “Offensively we were beat up a little bit and guys weren’t making plays. We’re going to be at much better strength this year.”
Quarterback Chris Leak, who endured one of the worst games of his career against LSU, has had a good practice week and Meyer anticipates that he’ll play much better this year.
“He’s ready to go,” said Meyer. “He’s had an excellent week of practice. He’s much more confident and the players around him are much better this year.”
Meyer wouldn’t go so far as to say that he’s confident but there was a certain edge about him Thursday.
“I wouldn’t say confident,” he said. “I’m excited. I’m excited to see our guys play because I’ve seen them in battle a couple of times now and they’ve performed well especially when it didn’t go our way. There’s going to be some things in this game that won’t go our way. I think we have a better team this year.”
And which team will have the edge?
“The most prepared, most invested, toughest team is going to win this game,” Meyer said.