Although the Florida Gators are only two days into spring practice it is evident that new quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler has had an impact. He’s only been on the Florida staff for two and a half months, but already there are changes in the way Tim Tebow delivers the football and the way backup quarterback Johnny Brantley handles adversity.
Loeffler came to the Florida staff after a year in the NFL with the Detroit Lions but prior to that he was the quarterbacks coach at Michigan where among others he worked with Tom Brady, the three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback of the New England Patriots.
“He’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever been around,” said Florida’s head coach, Urban Meyer. “He brings a little different approach to the game.”
Tebow is throwing with less of a sidearm delivery and bringing the ball more over the top, starting his delivery behind his ear. Instead of the usual wobble that we’ve grown accustomed to with Tebow’s passes, more often than not, the ball is traveling on a tight trajectory.
Throwing tight spirals has never been a problem for Johnny Brantley, who has an NFL caliber arm. Brantley’s greatest problem has been a long memory but even that seems to have disappeared now that Loeffler has taken over as the quarterbacks coach.
“[As a] quarterback you have to have amnesia,” Meyer said. “You have to get that bad play out of your system fast and Johnny has never done that. [In the past] I would say something and I would see him drop his head, bite his lip or not focus on the next play. [Today] I saw him have a bad play and then come back to make a bunch of good ones right in a row.”
Loeffler’s impact will also be felt during the spring in Florida’s approach to next year’s offense. The Gators are planning to work with quarterbacks under center and they’ve already begun implementing a hurry-up style similar to the one Oklahoma used to wear out opponents last year.
“Someone made that comment that there’s always another wrinkle,” Meyer said. “We’re messing with our cadence and we’re doing some other things. He’s [Loeffler] obviously a very knowledgeable guy.”
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The Gators will put on the pads and hit for the first time Saturday morning (practice 10:10-12:40). Meyer said he will have a good idea how good the team is going to be when they show up at the locker room at 7:30 a.m.
“I’ll know at 7:30 in the morning when they come in if we have a good team or not,” Meyer said. “If they come in like they don’t like it, like they were more interested in what was going on Friday night, then we’ll probably have a real bad team like we had two years ago. If they come in here serious about their approach I think we might have a chance to win a couple of games.”
The defense is ahead of the offense right now, which is no surprise, but the offense will get a chance to show its stuff in the scrimmage.
“The defense is way ahead like you would imagine,” Meyer said. “Tomorrow is going to be a big day. Tomorrow is full pads, our get tough drills period three and period four, then we’ll finish with a short yardage goal line scrimmage.”
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The Gators return 34 of the 35 players who were on last year’s travel squad on the defensive side of the ball but there a few question marks. After losing John Brown and Torrey Davis in the offseason, there have been some concerns about defensive tackle but Meyer seems optimistic.
“I think we’re going to be pretty good,” he said. “You have (Terron) Sanders and (Lawrence) Marsh [who started last year]. Jaye Howard has been terrific. It’s only been two days but he’s really going hard. He’s almost 300 pounds. Then you have Omar Hunter. We’re going to have Brandon Antwine and Troy Epps [in the fall]. We have a little bit of depth and then we have Gary Brown coming in.”
Sophomore William Green has gained approximately 30 pounds (he’s 235 now) since he first arrived in Gainesville and he expects to see the field much more this fall. Meyer thinks Green has a bright future but it’s obvious he has to continue to gain weight and he has to work on his speed.
“His speed has got to continue to improve,” Meyer said. “His motor and his first step are tremendous. He doesn’t have that Jarvis Moss speed. He’s got the Jarvis Moss go hard. He’s going to have a great year for us.”
Redshirt freshman Earl Okine is another young player Meyer expects to make a move this spring. Okine was a 6-7, 240-pounder when he enrolled in classes in January of 2008. He’s 280 now.
“He’s bench pressing 400 pounds,” Meyer said. “He’s either going to play or he’s not. If he waits till July to go make his push or August, he’s going to watch a lot of football for us instead of playing.”
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Jeffery Demps is a part-time football player this spring. He will be splitting his time between football and track. He was on the track Friday. Demps ran a 10.01 100 meters last summer at the US Olympic Trials, the fastest time ever recorded by an 18-year-old and he followed that up by rushing for 605 yards and seven touchdowns in the fall as a vital part of the Gators national championship offense.
Meyer has no problems with Demps splitting time between two sports.
“Demps is not there because we let him run track later in the week,” Meyer said. “Monday and Wednesday is football for Demps and Thursday through Saturday is track.”
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With All-American kick returner Brandon James still on crutches after having a pin put in to stabilize his broken foot, the Gators will be trying out several on punt and kickoff returns this spring.
“Demps, (Chris) Rainey, Janoris Jenkins can catch kicks and Deonte Thompson,” Meyer said. “We finally have some people that can do it.”
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A conspicuous visitor to Friday’s practice was Andre Debose, the do-everything offensive dynamo from Sanford Seminole, one of the real prizes of Florida’s 2009 recruiting class. When Demps arrives in the summer, he will be given a shot at taking over the inside slot position vacated by All-American Percy Harvin, who has moved on to the National Football League.
“[He’ll play] the number three receiver spot like Percy,” Meyer said. “I’m hoping that’s what he is. That’s what he was recruited to be.”