Dan McCarney, formerly the head coach at Iowa State and just last year the coach that turned George Selvie from a third string center into a first team All-America defensive end at South Florida, is the new task master for Florida’s defensive linemen. He runs a high energy practice with plenty of emphasis on fundamentals and pass rush skills.
He’s got plenty of able bodies, too. The Gators have 10 scholarship defensive tackles and seven scholarship defensive ends so there is no shortage of talented players. Monday morning, in the workout with the freshmen and walkons, McCarney got a great effort from redshirt freshman John Brown, true freshman Omar Hunter and Ron Wilson, formerly an offensive lineman but now walking on after working through some legal difficulties.
In the afternoon, freaky end Carlos Dunlap and do-it-all Justin Trattou, who can play anywhere up and down the line, had consistent and often spectacular workouts. Tuesday afternoon, with both freshmen and the veterans working together for the first time, the effort was good enough that Meyer admitted he’s starting to get encouraged.
“I like the way they’re being coached,” said Meyer. “I like their work ethic right now. We were doing some drills at the end of practice. I’m starting to see some stuff. I’m getting a little encouraged.”
By no means is that an endorsement that the defensive line has arrived, but considering how frustrating the line play was last year and how sporadic it was during the spring, an encouraging day has to be a good thing for Meyer.
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The Gators have depth and experience on the offensive line but they’re moving cautiously because of some injury problems. Starting left guard Jim Tartt is being brought along slowly due to shoulder surgery from the spring. Backup tackle Carl Johnson is still not at full strength in his wrist after breaking it in the spring. Backup guard/center Maurice Hurt is recovering from a scooter accident.
Tartt is Florida’s most experienced lineman with 29 career starts under his belt. He knows the offense so there is no need to rush him back.
“We’re just being cautious,” said Meyer. “He’s a fifth year guy. He’s got a lot of experience. We’re just keeping him in great shape. Attitude is good.”
In his place Tuesday afternoon was Marcus Gilbert, who is slotted to back up Jason Watkins at left tackle, was working with the first team line at left guard. Gilbert can handle the work but Meyer would much rather have his full two-deep rotation ready to start the season.
“We have to get him, Maurice Hurt and Carl Johnson ready,” said Meyer.
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Also working his way back from injury is redshirt freshman wide receiver Paul Wilson. Wilson missed most of the spring with a dislocated kneecap. He’s wearing a cast on his right wrist because he had surgery back in June but that hasn’t stopped him from getting on the field.
“He can’t catch [because of the cast],” said Meyer, although Wilson did make a diving catch of a Tim Tebow throw when he was running a short out pattern during the two-minute drills.
Wilson’s hustle and hard work to stay in good shape while meeting all the physical demands of the conditioning program encouraged Meyer to put him on the field with the offensive unit Tuesday.
“We made a decision because of his fresh legs to bring him in and he worked his butt off,” said Meyer. “He deserves a chance.”
Although Wilson probably won’t be 100 percent ready to go by the first game (August 30, Hawaii), Meyer won’t count him out.
“He probably won’t be ready for the first game, maybe will be ready but he’s trying his butt off out there,” said Meyer, who said Wilson’s surgery in June was “rather significant” for a displaced bone in his wrist.
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Freshman defensive back Adrian Bushell was once again on the sidelines in shorts and a T-shirt. Meyer indicated that he is still waiting the go-ahead to begin practicing from the NCAA Clearinghouse.
“He has clearinghouse issues that we’re still waiting on,” said Meyer. “We should know something in the next couple of days. That means he’s not allowed to practice.”
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Some of the young Gators are starting to look like real football players. Linebacker A.J. Jones came in at 180 pounds as a true freshman last year but he’s not a cut 225 pounds and apparently he hasn’t lost a step of speed. Running back Chris Rainey, who showed up at 156 pounds last summer, is now 182.
Meyer said some of the weight gain has to do with the training table menu. While kids might get good meals at home, at the training table they get the kind of nutrition that is good for weight gain and muscle growth.
“They come to a place like this where the training table has good meals,” said Meyer. “It’s not uncommon for guys [to put on lots of weight].”
Jeremy Brown, who enrolled in January from Orlando Boone, weighed 160 in the spring. He’s up to 178 now. The added weight and the hard work in the weight room has put him on the fast track to play in 2008.
“Really smart kid,” said Meyer. “One of the hardest working guys on the team. He earned a lot of respect from our team. I imagine he’ll be one of the guys playing as a freshman.”
AJ Jones put on 45 pounds in two years. A lot of these kids, the high school habits they have … Chris Rainey is pushing 180 now.