Meyer: Gators moving onto Phase Two

The Florida Gator football team got back to competition style football Monday when they finally started working on game preparations for the Capital One Bowl against Michigan on January 1, 2008. Head Coach Urban Meyer believes his team will be prepared and talked about some of the key players for this year’s bowl game.

For the last couple of weeks, the Gators have been studying and staying in shape and practice time was more geared towards fundamentals and strength and conditioning. During that time, Meyer went on a whirl wind recruiting tour that took him from coast to coast and all parts in between. Now he says, it is time to get back to preparing for the Gators next and last opponent of the season.

“Today is phase two, which is game planning,” Meyer said. “So we’ve got game planning pretty much done. We were sloppy but it was a good effort today.’’

Meyer is excited to take his team out one last time this year and believes his horses are running as good as they have run basically since the time he arrived at the University of Florida.

“What you don’t want is your team packing it in on you,” he said. “Our kids not only didn’t pack it in, they played their best football in the last four weeks. That South Carolina game and the FSU game is as well as we’ve played in two years around here. So that says a lot about the guys on this team.’’

Meyer has enjoyed his time recruiting and now he says it is time for him to get back to work with the team he will take to Orlando to try and win a tenth game. The team goes until the 21st of December, when they will get a five day break for the holidays and then reconvene in Orlando.

“It’s cyclical where I can’t wait to get back around these guys,” Meyer said. “There’s also times you can’t wait to get away from it. So it’s good that we get to spend time and on the 21st be a dad for a couple of days and then get back to work.’’

Florida junior receiver / tight end Cornelius Ingram (C.I.) has filed the paperwork necessary for the NFL draft as an early entrant.  He has not declared and is expected to go in the draft if projected to be drafted in the first three rounds. Cornelius leads the team with seven touchdown receptions and has 33 catches for 491 yards on the season. Meyer and the Florida offense use Cornelius’ size and agility match ups against defenders, but says Cornelius there are things he could work on.

“C.I. has very functional speed, that’s something we’ve got to work on is getting him a little faster,” Meyer said. “What he is, he’s very quick and very efficient for a guy that big. His hand-eye coordination is as good as I’ve ever been around.’’

Another junior that has requested his projected draft status and is expected to go is defensive end Derrick Harvey. Harvey led the Gators with 14 tackles for loss and tied for the team lead with sophomore defensive end Jermaine Cunningham with 6.5 sacks. Harvey is projected in some circles as a first rounder and Meyer agrees that his star player is a good one.

“I think he’s had a very good year,” Meyer said. “When you took (Jarvis) Moss from the other side . . . he’s had a very good year. Tennessee was probably his best game. He’s really grown up from where he was two years ago.’’

Meyer will need Harvey, Ingram and company to be at their best for Michigan, a team that thought they deserved to be in the national championship game a year ago.  They are a talented bunch and according to Meyer should be at their best for the bowl game.

“It’s going to be a big-time challenge,” he said. “I watch (Michigan play) and I watched them play a lot on film and their issue is a little bit like we had two years ago on offense. When they’re guys are hurt, they are struggling. From what I keep hearing everybody’s going to be 100 percent so . . . there are a bunch of NFL players on that team, especially on offense. If they are all healthy, we’re going to have our hands full.’’

On negative that may lead to a positive for the bowl match up is the insertion of Aaron Hernandez more prominently in the fullback role. Senior starting fullback Eric Rutledge will be missing from action in the bowl game due to a one game suspension that will end his career as a Gator. The Gators may get a glimpse of something great to come with Hernandez playing those snaps at fullback.

“I think he’s going to be great, Meyer said. “I think Aaron Hernandez is going to be one of the better tight ends-fullbacks to ever play here. I really do. He gives you a little bit more of a weapon too because he can catch and run and he’s real fast.’’

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Tebow mania

The autograph hounds are everywhere after practice and most are lining up to get the signature of Timmy Tebow, as he signs it. Meyer wants to try and get things done regularly even though it may be a little difficult for Tebow and the rest during these times.

“We came out one day and they were driving him in the golf cart around that way (the other exit where media park on Mondays) so I nixed that,” Meyer said. “I don’t want him driving around in a golf cart. Dan Mullen . . . Danny’s his mom around here. He does a good job.’’

Meyer isn’t exactly sure what to expect for Tebow during bowl week either. He expects it to be different.

“I bet it will be,” he said. “You just have to be careful. Danny will be in charge of that.’’

Florida Today writer David Jones is always ready to ask that question that Urban Meyer is ready for and it is usually a humorous question.  Jones figured Meyer might be getting some of his family some autographed memorabilia from this year’s Heisman Trophy recipient.

“You mean you haven’t had him sign a few things for your Christmas present list?’,” Jones asked.

“I will after our practice on the 21st. I’ve got a whole bag of stuff.’,” Meyer replied.

“Are you serious?’” Jones asked again with a grin.

“No. I’ve been asked. But no.’,” Meyer said.

* * *

The Capital One bowl will be played under the auspices of the Michigan program being headed in the future by one of Urban Meyers best friends in the coaching business. Rich Rodriguez has agreed to terms to be the new head coach at Michigan and will take over the team after the bowl game as he starts recruiting for them in the mean time. The word on the street is Rodriguez will help his new team with some of the intracacies of defending the spread offense employed by himself and the Gators. Despite that, Meyer is happy for his friend and expected him to take the job..

“Rich is a very good friend of mine, so if I hear (he helped Michigan with tips) he won’t be a very good friend of mine,” Meyer said sarcastically.  “I talked to him every night for the last five days. So I knew. I think Michigan is a great place and West Virginia is a great place. They got a great coach. He’s really good.’’

* * *

One senior that will not be playing in the bowl game but will be there for preparations is left tackle Phil Trautwein.  Trautwein was going to be a returning starter from the national championship team, but small fracture in his foot wouldn’t allow him to play in the 2007 season where he was expected to be a force. Trautwein was able to red-shirt and Meyer knows that is a blessing for next season.

“That’s always the worst part of coaching and obviously the worst part of being a player,” Meyer said about the injury. “But the minute I heard that, Phil needed another year. You look at him right now, he’s getting ready to have a great, great season (in ‘08). He graduated from Florida, he’s going to work on his master’s degree. So there are a lot of positives. I felt more like that, the minute I heard that. But that was a crushing blow in the locker room.’’

“It’s a blessing for our team. It forced guys like (Carlton) Medder to step up, (Jason) Watkins really stepped up. You’d like to have him because he’s a good leader, too, but if you look at next year’s offensive line, that could be something special.’’