Sometimes Urban Meyer assumes the worst. Even with a 30-6 lead in the fourth quarter at Tennessee, the Florida head football coach sent Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and the rest of the No. 1 offense back onto the field.
To remaining fans in a rapidly emptying Neyland Stadium and others watching across the nation, it might seem like Meyer and the Gators were trying to run up the score on their vanquished Southeastern Conference East Division rival.
That was the furthest thing on Meyer’s mind.
“I’m paranoid,” Meyer said after Wednesday’s practice to prepare for Mississippi. “I’ve been that way my whole life – how there’s still a chance of something bad happening. That’s why I’ve got my best guys on the field.”
Meyer knows what the perception is, especially with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Tebow, running the offense. He also realizes that it’s not a good thing to risk your top players too many times in similar situations.
“That’s something I’m going to have to watch,” continued Meyer, who also knows he needs to start playing and developing his second-team players.
“It’s probably something I’ve got to do a better job of,” Meyer said. “We’ve got a job to win, but we’ve also got a job to develop guys.”
The position which needs to develop the most is the backup quarterback. It’s still a tossup between John Brantley and Cameron Newton, with each quarterback having his own strengths. Newton’s ankle injury may have played into Meyer’s decision to keep Tebow on the field. Fewer plays because of the 40-second clock also have been a factor in Meyer’s decision.
“Cameron is gimped up a little bit,” Meyer said. “He’s not right. He can’t perform because a big part of his game is moving around. Johnny has improved. He wasn’t as good today, but he had a very good day yesterday. I’d like to get him in the game so I could tell you.”
Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham practiced Wednesday for the first time after injuring his knee against Tennessee. Meyer expects him to play Saturday against Ole Miss (kickoff is 12:30 p.m. in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium).
Linebacker Ryan Stamper is still being held out of practice, but Meyer seemed less than concerned about his condition. Stamper, who broke a thumb in the season opener and had surgery, dinged up an ankle against the Volunteers. He participated in a few light drills with the team and should practice more Thursday.
“I’m expecting Stamper to go some tomorrow,” Meyer said. “I think Jermaine will be ready to go. Jermaine is much better today. I’m thinking they both should be ready.”
The emergence of sophomore tight end Aaron Hernandez has been a breath of fresh air for the offense. After Cornelius Ingram went down with a torn ACL in a preseason workout, it became clear it was time for Hernandez to step up. After being held out of the Hawaii game, Hernandez has caught a touchdown in each of the two games he has played, giving the Gators another option on offense.
“(Wide receiver) Carl Moore is coming,” Meyer said. “I just keep going back to wishing we could spread the ball around a little bit. We haven’t had many opportunities to.”
Spring practice gave freshmen cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Jeremy Brown an opportunity to earn playing time this fall. Jenkins has played a large role in the Florida defense’s success through three games, but Brown has been hampered by a nagging back injury.
“He has a significant back injury,” Meyer said. “They’ve figured out what it is, and he’s been working hard. I had him come out today in pads. Jeremy is a redshirt candidate, but I think he would have been playing for us.”