Camp Meyer doesn’t begin until Friday night when the Florida Gators check into the team hotel where they will stay until school starts, but the next few days of practice will give him a chance to evaluate a lot of the young players on his roster. It has been a quiet offseason for Meyer and the Gators and that only added to the anticipation of Monday’s opening day of fall football practice.
The Gators practiced twice Monday. Freshmen, some of the redshirt freshmen and walk-ons practiced early morning and in the afternoon, the returning veterans took the field for a hard working two-hour session.
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In the morning session, freshman Adrian Bushell was present but not dressed out as he awaits notification from the NCAA Clearinghouse that he’s eligible to play football. Notably absent from the afternoon session were sophomore defensive tackle Torrey Davis and third year sophomore safety Bryan Thomas.
“Torrey Davis is dealing with some academic issues and some other issues,” said Meyer, who added that there is no timetable set for his return.
Thomas has had a cyst removed from his knee and he’s rehabbing it. It has been a string of bad luck with injuries for Thomas since he came to the University of Florida. He tore a meniscus in his knee in the spring of his senior year in high school at Zephyrhills and then tore it again just a week before the 2006 season began. Last year he was hindered by a variety of nagging injuries.
Meyer expects Thomas to return to the practice field fairly soon.
“He should be back here maybe when school starts, maybe before,” said Meyer.
With Thomas out for a couple of weeks and season ending injuries to Dorian Munroe and John Curtis, the Gators are thin at the safety position. In the morning session, freshman T.J. Lawrence, recruited as a wide receiver, was working out at safety in tandem with Will Hill. There is also some thought about moving freshman corner Janoris Jenkins to safety to add some depth.
“I think Janoris is a tremendous football payer and that’s safety position has been thinned out a little so he’s a guy [we’d consider moving] but we haven’t made that move,” said Meyer.
Munroe’s loss will be felt in more than one way. He was an outstanding special teams player and he could play both safety slots and the nickel.
“That hurt because he’s such a quality person,” said Meyer. “It hurt special teams and it hurt depth at safety.”
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Meyer said that All-SEC kick returner Brandon James will continue to work in the slot and at running back. Monday James, who is only 5-6 but 187 pounds, played in the slot and he looked very good with his route running and catching the ball.
“He’s a very natural catcher,” said Meyer. “He’s just short. The quarterback has to be right on the target with a short receiver.”
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All-everything Percy Harvin was seen running and doing a few drills on his own. Harvin is obviously bulked up, easily above the 200 pound mark and with an upper body that makes him look like the heavyweight champion of the world. Recovering from heel surgery in the spring, Harvin looks like he’s about 100 percent but Meyer said his wide receiver/tailback do-it-all will be brought along slowly in August.
“He came out today and opened it up a little bit,” said Meyer. “My biggest concern is not his heel but that some other part of his body is going to react like what happened last year with the knee and with the tendonitis in the hip and all that mess. That’s our biggest concern and we just want to do it right.”
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Meyer issued a statement about Ronnie Wilson earlier in the day that made it clear that Wilson has begun practicing with the team but still working to fulfill other requirements before he can be considered for reinstatement.
Asked for further comment, Meyer said, “He’s not back. We’re still evaluating him. I have a lot of history of giving guys opportunities. He’s 29 credits away from graduation and a lot of thought went into it.”
Wilson has passed 20 credit hours since the spring and he’s working to finish up another six credit hours in Summer B.
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With senior Phil Trautwein returning after missing last year with a stress fracture in his foot, the Gators can move Jason Watkins to right tackle where he’s more of a natural. With Trautwein and Watkins, Meyer has two fifth-year seniors at tackle and that’s a good situation to start the season.
Meyer says that Trautwein actually benefitted from missing the 2007 season.
“He needed that extra year,” said Meyer. “For his career and obviously for us, that was a blessing in disguise. He’s stronger, more prepared to be a senior offensive tackle in the SEC.”
Watkins started all 13 games last season at left tackle, but now he will move to right tackle where he’s more comfortable.
“With Tim (Tebow) as a lefthanded quarterback there is that whole theory about his right side is his blind side and you put your best tackle there but Jason Watkins has really improved as well,” said Meyer. “Phil’s a little more natural on the left side so we’re going to stay left and right with those two. Those two are great looking players and they have had great summers. That’s the way it’s supposed to look.”
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Another player who will be brought along slowly in August is wide receiver Riley Cooper, who doubles as an outfielder on the Florida baseball team. Cooper played baseball during the summer and just returned to campus about a week ago.
Since arriving on campus at UF, Cooper has had injury problems that have limited his playing time. Last year he had foot problems that plagued him throughout the season and limited him to eight catches.
Meyer said Cooper had a great practice day Monday but there will always be the concerns about his feet.
“I’m just worried about his feet getting a little sore so we have to manage him,” said Meyer. “I’m not sure he can go two times at practice [during two-a-days] but he had a great day today and we’re glad to see him back. We’re getting him treatment but it was great to see him back out here.”
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Meyer has been looking to find a go-to guy at tailback ever since he arrived at Florida but without success. This season it might not be a good idea to have one guy at the position. The Gators have an almost embarrassment of riches and a tremendous combination of size and speed to work with. Kestahn Moore is the lone senior tailback and the most experienced but he will be pushed by Harvin, who will double as a wide receiver, Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Moody, Mon Williams and Brandon James.
Instead of one guy to turn to, Meyer might just go with whoever is hot at the moment.
“I think everybody wants that one guy but I’ve never had one,” said Meyer. “At Utah we had those two, one that ran for 800 and one for 900 yards. Kestahn Moore and Emmanuel Moody looked good today and so did Chris Rainey. We’ve got some playmakers back there. I think we’re all set at running back.”
Meyer is hoping that Williams can return full speed from an ACL that kept him out all last season.
“He’s working awfully hard,” said Meyer. “He hasn’t been right since his knee injury. He had that one day in spring and he had an excellent practice and today he looked fine. Those knees are hard to overcome but he’s a tough kid and he’s doing very well.”