Saturday morning practice: A for effort

Give them an A for effort and another A for attitude. Anything else will have to wait awhile. Urban Meyer’s not ready to give out grades for what he saw on the field Saturday morning, but if effort and attitude foretell the future, then the reports in the future will be good.

“That was a heckuva effort,” said the Florida football coach on the first day of what could be called Camp Meyer. Meyer said Friday at media day that the first week was nothing more than football practice, largely because his players were all still involved in their Summer B classes and tests.

Real camp, a time when Meyer has his team’s undivided football attention, began in earnest Saturday morning, the first of two Saturday practices at the University Village South practice fields. The Gators will go at it again late Saturday afternoon and then they’ll have Sunday off before another two-a-day session on Monday.

“That was one of the best efforts I can remember,” said Meyer. “We got them up at 5:45 for the first day of two-a-days and obviously it was cooking out here. I felt really good about what I saw. We’re awful. If we had to play a game we’d get our teeth kicked in but we’ve got three weeks for that. As far as attitude, that was one helluva deal out there.”

Camp Meyer is going to be the toughest preseason camp the Gators have had in his three years at Florida. It pretty much has to be since this is the youngest team he’s had. The Gators have 10 seniors and 11 juniors. The rest of the team is true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores which means Florida might be the youngest team in the country.

“I think a lot of guys are used to it,” Meyer said. “I’m sure the ‘07 class is looking at each other like what in the world was that. That was about three hours.”

And that’s just the start.

* * *

On the injury front, freshman tight end/fullback Aaron Hernandez had a stinger that will keep him out of the Saturday afternoon practice but he will be back Monday. Fullback Eric Rutledge hurt his hand but Meyer didn’t think that would be too bad.

Hernandez and Rutledge might make up two-thirds of a three-headed fullback this year as the Gators try to replace Billy Latsko.

Casey is more of a tight end but he’s familiar with the blocking schemes from the H-back/fullback position and he’s a good pass receiving threat. Hernandez has size (6-2, 256) and speed to go with outstanding pass catching skills. Rutledge is probably the best blocker of the three although Meyer is concerned about his weight.

“I’m hoping Rutledge will knock some more weight off,” said Meyer. “He’s 250 pounds and I think he ran like he’s 250. I’m hoping Hernandez and Tate (Casey) … between them three heads equals one.”

Another possibility at the fullback position is walk-on Jamaal Deveaux.

“Deveaux might play for us,” said Meyer. “He knocked a helmet off a guy in practice.”

* * *

Meyer admitted that he is concerned with freshman quarterback Cameron Newton, who is trying to recover from a hairline fracture of a vertebra in his back. Newton has been plagued by soreness in his back. He was seen pushing an ATV around Friday, which means he’s in The Pit.

“He hasn’t done a whole lot,” said Meyer. “A quarterback for Florida has to be able to throw. We’ll know soon because the other ones are throwing really decent.”

* * *

Third year sophomore Dorian Munroe was taking some reps at corner on Friday but Meyer said the 5-11, 207-pounder won’t be moving from safety. Munroe is trying to improve his one-on-one cover skills in case he is called to duty as the nickel when opponents go four-wide.

* * *

Freshman defensive end Justin Trattou was very close to losing his stripe Saturday but that will have to wait at least one more practice.

“Trattou was right on the verge and then he got a little heat, then he went in the tent and the stripe stays on,” said Meyer. “He was the closest one. He’s close. He’s busting his tail.”

Trattou originally committed to Notre Dame before switching to Florida when Notre Dame’s new defensive coordinator announced he was switching to a 3-4 defense. He’s from Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, New Jersey, one of the nation’s premier prep football programs.

Meyer said that it “takes about 15 seconds” to figure out which of his young players come from the top high school programs.

“You can tell Major Wright with George Smith down there [at St. Thomas Aquinas],” said Meyer. “You can tell about the Lakeland kids. You can tell the primo programs.”

Meyer said the difference in the players who played for programs that are big-time winners is that the players don’t have to be coached quite as much when they arrive in Gainesville.

“If you’re from a terrible, terrible program it takes you two years to teach them how to put your hand behind the white line,” said Meyer.

Given the choice in taking kids from great programs and kids from mediocre or bad football programs, Meyer says the kids from championship level teams have an edge.

“If it’s all equal we’re going to take that state champion instead of that guy that went 0-11 and through four coaches,” he said. “Hopefully as our program grows we’ll have a better selection.”

It’s not all easy pickings, however. Sometimes the player from a top level program has peaked too early while the players from lesser programs are longer on potential.

“Here’s the bad part about that,” Meyer said. “A lot of times when you get a kid like that he’s maxed out as a football player because he’s been so well coached. Then you get the other guy and coach him and wow, this guy turns out to be a great player.”

* * *

In addition to Deveaux, Meyer singled out walk-ons Michael Williamson, Joey Sorrentino, John Fairbanks, and Andrew Fritze for their efforts in practice.

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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.