Meyer’s demeanor: color him confident

Urban Meyer’s post practice remarks were brief and to the point. No wasted words. Not too much time spent talking about his team or Hawaii for all that matters. He really didn’t say much but he didn’t have to. His demeanor the last week to ten days has said more than words could ever say.

Saturday starts year four of Urban Meyer’s tenure at the University of Florida and expectations are as high or higher than they have ever been. It only takes a scan of the roster to see that the Gators have superior talent at every position and plenty of it. The second and third teamers on this roster would start at most places.

How deep is this roster? It’s deep enough that first teamers volunteer to earn a spot on kickoff and punt block teams. Why? Because they know that the second or third teamer that’s busting his butt in practice knows that one of the proven ways to get Urban Meyer’s attention is to make a dent on special teams.

That’s how keen the competition is for playing time. It’s the kind of situation that lends itself to winning football. Combine talent, depth, work ethic and team chemistry with a sense of urgency through competition and you have the ingredients for a team that is capable of not only reaching for the stars but grabbing them.

And that is exactly why Urban Meyer has this air of confidence about him right now. You’d think he’d be somewhere between apoplexy and a mere panic attack because he’ll be opening the season against Hawaii Saturday (12:30 p.m., Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Raycom TV) without Percy Harvin, college football’s most electric player, and Brandon Spikes, one of the two or three best middle linebackers in the college game.

No Harvin? No problem. He’s got playmakers out the wazzoo and several of them are every bit as fast or faster than Percy. With Harvin he has an embarrassment of riches. Without Harvin, the cupboard is still jam packed. 

“You have Riley Cooper, you have Louis Murphy,” said Meyer Thursday afternoon. “Carl Moore has had a brilliant camp. You have four running backs right now that we’re convinced can go in the game. We have excellent quarterback play and a strong offensive line. We’ll be okay.”

Okay? Did he say okay?

Tell me how many coaches wouldn’t hire a hit man to run out on the field with a lineup of skill people that could look like this — Tim Tebow at quarterback, Emmanuel Moody at tailback, Aaron Hernandez at tight end, Brandon James at the Percy position and Louis Murphy (4.27 40) and Deonte Thomspon (4.28 40) on the outside?

Remember that part when we were talking about second and third teamers that would start most everywhere else? You think there aren’t a bunch of coaches out there that would love to have John Brantley or Cameron Newton at quarterback? I can think of a couple dozen off the top of my head. How about Chris Rainey or Jeff Demps or Kestahn Moore at tailback? And how about Carl Moore, Riley Cooper or David Nelson at wide receiver? Or Rainey or Demps at the Percy position?

No Spikes? A little bit more of a problem than no Percy-cution but this is Ryan Stamper’s fourth year in the program and he’s earned the confidence of the coaching staff. Plus, Hawaii is a run-and-shoot team so the Gators will really only need two linebackers most of the time. They’ve got veteran starters Dustin Doe and A.J. Jones plus sophomore Brandon Hicks, who is hungry and ready to prove himself. Remember that part about the second teamers that push the first teamers every day, to the point that the first string guys are all volunteering to play special teams, too? Hicks is one of those guys pushing every single day. He’s another reason why Meyer isn’t all that worried with Spikes missing this game.

Remember all those problems at defensive tackle last year? Meyer has some guys that can play there, too. Lawrence Marsh, coming off a training camp that was better than his first two added together, will start at the nose tackle and behind him are juco transfer Troy Epps and Omar “The Dentmaker” Hunter, one of the most publicized freshmen in the Meyer era.

Over at the three technique tackle, Meyer said Thursday that Terron Sanders and wild thing freshman Matt Patchan would be getting the snaps.

There are only two reasons to have true freshmen in the rotation at defensive tackle for a season opener. Either there aren’t enough bodies to go around and that isn’t the case, or they’re just really, really good.

Hunter and Patchan are that good. That’s why they’ll play. That’s why Meyer doesn’t sound the least bit nervous when he talks about what’s happening on the interior of his defensive line.

When you listened to him talk about the defensive line last year, there was always this feeling that he never once liked what he saw. He had what’s better known as brave face syndrome. He put on his bravest face and said whatever he could to sound positive and kept on saying it even when nobody was really buying it.

He doesn’t have to sell these days. He knows he’s got talent, he’s got depth and he’s got a team that has pretty much done it all the right way off the field since the spring. He sees offensive linemen that can’t wait to get over to Jim Tartt’s house to eat what Mike Pouncey calls “grilled crocodile” and he has to nearly shoo his team out of the locker room. When he does, they remain in a pack and head over to somebody’s house or someone’s dorm room. They’re always together on and off the field.

Meyer has more chemistry going on in his locker room than Lavoisier had in his Paris lab when he was proving the phlogiston theory obsolete.

This is the reasons Meyer doesn’t have to say all that much about his team. His mannerisms and the tone of his voice do it all for him. His demeanor alone could write a script for this team a hundred different ways and it would sound pretty darn good.

He did his best Thursday to make Hawaii sound good.

“We’re playing a big time college football game with a team that went 12-0 [last year],” he said.

The Lou Holtz theory at work. Make the other team sound like the reincarnation of the Lombardi-era Packers even if they might struggle stopping The Sisters of Santa Clara in the red zone.

There’s a reason the odds makers have the Gators winning by four or so touchdowns, Coach.

When he did talk about the Gators Thursday, Meyer sounded like they are just happy to finally line up against another team. He did his best to sound nervous even though he’s mentioned a few times that this team has put together an August camp that’s better than any of his three previous Florida teams and one of those teams, by the way, won a national championship.

“As a coach you’re always making sure every i is dotted and every t is crossed and all special teams and all the new players going and warmups and guys showing up on time and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “I’m happy and I know they’re ready to go play a game. I’d always like another week to get ready but we’re ready to go.”

That’s what you really need to know.

The Gators are ready to go and Urban Meyer is feeling really good about his team.  Everything else we’ll find out starting Saturday at 12:30.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.