This Time, Ingram Has A Role To Play

Saturday night will be the third time Cornelius Ingram has run out of the tunnel with the Gator football team on opening night. But make no mistake, for Ingram this opener is very different. After two seasons as running out there as a backup quarterback unlikely to see much playing time, Ingram will take to Florida Field knowing he has a significant role with this football team.

He’s kind of a receiver, sort of a tight end. He’s an outside receiver, and a slot guy in traffic. Cornelius Ingram can be all of those things and more depending on the Gators’ game plan and the opposing personnel. One thing for sure, the Hawthorne product is a match up nightmare for opposing defenses; a situation that Florida intends to exploit this season.

I asked Florida Head Coach Urban Meyer about how the Gators intend to make use of Ingram’s talents.

UM: “We’re going to play him closed and open. In closed, that’s the tight end and you look at the SAM linebacker. If you’re playing man coverage, however you draw that defense up the SAM linebacker most of the time has to cover him because you have three other receivers in there. That’s a good match up for us because he can really run. He just has to become a better blocker. The only thing I worry about him is he hasn’t played in a game. He did not have a good day yesterday (Friday), but a really good day today. I just hope he doesn’t — as he gets closer to game time — start thinking about the game instead of improvement.

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Well, Ingram has played a little bit, seeing action in two games last season and gaining eight yards in two carries against Louisiana Tech, but he certainly has not seen the kind of action he’s likely to see Saturday when Southern Miss comes to town. It’ll be an exciting night for the third-year sophomore, and I spoke with him about it.

LV: Cornelius this is the first season opener when you know you’re going to have a significant role. Does that give you a different mind set heading into Saturday night?

CI: I think so, especially knowing that I’m going to play. I’m just trying to approach practice every day like it’s a game and making sure I get everything down pat.

LV: How would you describe your position? Are you a tight end or a receiver?

CI: It’s a little bit of both. I think it’s a great situation for me that Coach Meyer and Coach (Billy) Gonzales have put me in. I can be attached as a tight end or split out as a receiver and create mismatches. I told the coaches I really don’t care; whatever it takes to help the team win I’m willing to do it.

LV: When you are in the backfield and then go out in a route they’re probably going to put a linebacker on you. You like that opportunity?

CI: (grinning ear to ear!) Yeah! I go against some of the best linebackers in the country every day and they push me really hard. I’m not going to say I won’t go against linebackers like we have, but I feel pretty good about the situation.

LV: Coach Meyer says Tim Tebow will play opening night. How is it different catching the ball from the two of them?

CI: I just try to focus in and keep my eyes on the ball and look it in no matter who throws it. Chris is right handed and he has more of a spin on the ball. Tebow’s ball doesn’t spin as much but it comes pretty fast. I’m just focused on running the routes and making sure I catch the ball.

LV: How hard has the transition to full-time receiver been for you?

CI: It’s been a lot of work with Coach (Billy) Gonzales, Coach (Dan) Mullen and everybody (the other receivers) and I thank them a lot for working with me and bearing with me. A lot of people think coming from quarterback it’d be cake to just go out there and play receiver. But you have to get out there and block and run routes. It’s a different experience, especially when you’ve never done it before. But I’m very confident we’ll get it done.

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Cornelius Ingram is a gifted athlete who chose football over basketball last year and seems ready to make that decision start paying off this fall. Look for the Gators to exploit his abilities by focusing on matching him up against opposing linebackers, few of whom has any chance of keeping up with him. If the Gators maximize his skills, Ingram will be one of the emerging stars during the 2006 campaign.