This is the time for young guys to show Coach Urban Meyer what they can do. Halfway through spring football practice, the freshmen and sophomores should be stepping up and showing what they can do but injuries at several positions where young guys have to step up have kept the Florida Gators from being nearly as productive as Meyer would like.
When Meyer watched his team go through a full contact practice Wednesday afternoon, it was without several players that need to get the reps in so they can be polished and ready when practice starts in earnest in August. At the receiver position, for example, Cornelius Ingram was out with a sprained ankle and Louis Murphy has swelling in his knee. Ingram came on strong at the end of last season so even though the Florida staff knows what he’s capable of doing, he needs to get more reps because he’s only had one season as a receiver. Murphy is a big, athletic receiver that has seen most of his playing time on special teams in his previous two years so the time on the sideline won’t help him make a push for a starting role on the offense.
Then there is Riley Cooper, who had a great freshman year on special teams. Against Western Carolina, he looked like a potential go-to receiver for the 2007 season but he won’t practice this spring because of foot problems that won’t clear up until the summer.
“In June he should be full speed,” said Meyer, who said that foot specialists have been working with the sophomore from Clearwater. “He played through a lot of pain last fall and he’s a guy that really needs spring practice.”
In the secondary, where the Gators are replacing three starters including both corners, injuries have kept two freshmen and two sophomores from getting needed practice time.
“Where we’re really behind is the corner position,” said Meyer. “Wondy [Pierre-Louis, sophomore] has not really practiced because of a pulled hamstring. Ahmad Black’s (hamstring) maybe had only a couple of practices, Markihe [Anderson, sophomore] is just getting back and [Jacques] Rickerson [knee] … that’s four names that haven’t had a lot of practice.”
On the defensive line where only one starter returns, there’s a bit of bad but non-threatening news, too. End Derrick Harvey, the most valuable player on defense in Florida’s national championship game win over Ohio State, is sidelined the rest of the spring because of a sports hernia. He will have surgery that will sideline him for a couple of weeks so it’s nothing that will threaten Harvey’s playing time in the fall.
With Harvey out, that puts a premium on the spring play of ends Lawrence Marsh, a big redshirt freshman from Augusta, GA, and sophomore Jermaine Cunningham, who got most of his playing time as a freshman contributing on Florida’s special teams.
“Defensive line, we were hoping we could be a little more advanced than we are right now,” said Meyer. “Lawrence is a guy we are counting on. Brandon Antwine (sophomore tackle), we thought would be further ahead. The guy that has been coming on that Coach [Greg] Mattison is very pleased with is Jermaine Cunningham.”
There are depth concerns at linebacker where the Gators have only four scholarship players on the spring roster. Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes (sophomore) has played at a very high level all spring. Dustin Doe (sophomore), A.J. Jones (redshirt freshman) and Ryan Stamper (sophomore) have all played well this spring.
Doe, who was arrested over the weekend after a fight that involved several people at a downtown parking garage, has been disciplined by the team’s Leadership Committee, Meyer said.
“Leadership met with him and some punishment has been put in place and he’s going to get his work done,” said Meyer.
Injuries are a problem in the spring but it’s a price that sometimes has to be paid since it’s a time for young players to show that they are ready to step up to a new level of play. Meyer said he spends plenty of time trying to find ways to avoid injuries, but the necessity of contact work always puts players at a certain amount of risk.
“There’s only one way to get better and that’s let them play,” said Meyer. “Spring practice, the way we attack it, is not for Phil Trautwein (senior offensive tackle). He’s supposed to shine up his play and get better. It’s for the Carl Johnsons (redshirt freshman tackle) and the Markihe Andersons and the three linebackers so you’re always going to be pulling guys out.
“You’re going to see, for example, Percy Harvin is not going to get a lot of carries. He doesn’t have to show me he knows how to run counter. He did that for 70 yards in the SEC championship game so I’m good with that but there are other guys that need to show us they can play.”
* * *
It was a winner-loser day Wednesday with an overtime scrimmage and some red zone work at the end of practice. Meyer said the defense won the scrimmage but he saw what he was looking for.
“We showed a lot of energy,” he said. “That was a lot of juice I was looking for during spring practice and they showed it today.”
Among the standouts at Wednesday’s practice were tailback (junior) Kestahn Moore, (senior) center Drew Miller, Spikes and (sophomore) safety Dorian Munroe.
“Kestahn Moore … we need a power back and he powered it home,” said Meyer. “He got home a few times. I thought Drew Miller has done good. He’s had a couple of snap issues and other issues, but to jump in there and play … I’m very pleased with Drew Miller. I like Brandon Spikes. He’s a standout right now that’s made a bunch of plays down here at the goal line. I think Dorian Munroe fits into the standout category right now. He stands out and he makes plays.”
* * *
Redshirt freshman defensive end Trent Pupello has not practiced the last two or three days. Meyer said he’s been back home taking care of some personal and family problems but he is still with the team.