The first day of spring practice wasn’t without one big surprise. When the Gators came running out onto the practice field, there was James Wilson, the second semester freshman from Ponte Vedra Beach Nease who has asked Coach Urban Meyer about a transfer. Wilson went through the full practice with the Gators and afterward said he’s got an open mind about things.
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“Coach Meyer wanted me to give him a chance,” said Wilson, a 6-5, 305-pound offensive guard who was one of the most highly regarded offensive linemen in the country coming out of high school. “I was hurt when I got here so he said I never gave him a chance to even play with the team. I didn’t want to be fake or anything. I talked to my mom and everything and it makes everybody happy. It feels good to be back out here.”
Wilson had an injured knee when arrived at Florida and then he injured the other knee in a scooter accident on campus. He never got to play last season as a freshman and in January, he asked Meyer for a transfer. In interviews with other media outlets, he had indicated that he wanted to transfer to Wake Forest. Meyer said at a press conference two weeks ago that discussions were ongoing and that he had not given the release.
After practice Wednesday, Meyer said that the situation with Wilson is not finalized yet but that Wilson approached him Tuesday night about practicing with the team.
“I’m proud of him for coming out here,” said Meyer. “That says a lot about what kind of kid he is.”
Wilson said that he doesn’t know for sure what he’s going to do, but stated, “I’ll be here all spring.”
He hasn’t ruled out staying at Florida.
“Right now, I’m here so I’m going to make the most of my situation right now,” he said. “I’m still thinking about it. I want to keep an open mind and have a chance to play with the guys. I’m still weighing my options.”
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New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was at Florida’s first practice of the spring. Meyer called it sloppy and “not very good football” but he said he wasn’t worried about a perfect practice on the first day. What he is looking for is for the Gators to regain that edge they had when they won their last four regular season games of 2007. Whatever edge the Gators had, they lost it in the Capital One Bowl, a disheartening loss to Michigan.
“Billy Donovan says this many times, the minute you lose the chip on the shoulder, you’re not very good,” said Meyer. “For some reason we won those four games before that last game and that chip started disappearing. We had that chip those four games. We played some excellent football against our rivals and South Carolina. I mean great football. Best of the year. I saw the same thing everybody else saw with that defense in the last game [Michigan].”
Meyer has been impressed with the step-up in leadership shown by middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. In his pre-spring press conference, Meyer said that Spikes had been challenged by the staff to become a better leader. Apparently, he has taken the challenge and run with it.
“Brandon Spikes has been terrific,” said Meyer. “He has done everything and I say everything with an exclamation point, underlined twice.”
Meyer also indicated that Louis Murphy and Phil Trautwein have both stepped it up as leaders.
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One of the things that Meyer and the Florida staff will be working on this spring is re-building the chemistry on the team. The national championship team of 2006 had that chemistry, but something was missing last season.
“It’s amazing what we’re dealing with nowawadays,” said Meyer. “You throw your I-pod in, you come in bopping your head and you go in the locker room still bopping your head, you put on equipment and go out to practice, come back in, throw on your I-pod, punch in our cell phone, text people and then you leave. How are you going to develop any chemistry on a team?”
“We’re really going to attack the chemistry part, not that we’ve had bad chemistry but I don’t know if we were a very close team last year. Two years ago we were real close and there was a lot of good stuff going on there. We have to get back to chemistry improvement. That’s one of our goals this spring.”
Meyer said the team will be doing different things this spring to rebuild the chemistry and closeness. He’s already tried one unique method.
“We took the team paintballing the other night,” said Meyer. “I’ve never been paintballing. We’re going to do some other stuff just to get communication going. We’re living in a world … Just go walk on campus and you see those white things stuck in people’s ears … that means you don’t have to talk to anybody. I chew my kids out all the time. They come home wearing that crap and they don’t want to talk.”
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Meyer was impressed with the first day for his newbies. The Gators have six freshmen and two junior college transfers on campus and participating in their first spring practice.
“They were all flying around and that’s what I care about,” he said.
He praised freshmen corners Janoris Jenkins and Jeremy Brown, who have shown exemplary attitudes and work ethic ever since they arrived on campus in January.
“Janoris Jenkins and Jeremy Brown haven’t missed a class, haven’t been on a list, have gone extremely hard in the weight room and have worked hard in practice,” said Meyer. “They got ripped apart in one-on-one because they’re going against some pretty good players but they’ll be pretty good.”
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This is a spring in which the Gators will be integrating three new coaches — defensive line coach Dan McCarney, cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford and running backs coach Kenny Carter. Meyer liked what the new coaches brought to the field on the first day and ironically, they are coaching at positions that under-achieved last year.
“Lot of energy and a lot of juice,” said Meyer. “They are the three positions — it’s a tough word — that were inadequate.”
Bedford said that he’s excited to be a part of the Florida program. He coached with Meyer at Colorado State years ago and last year was the secondary coach at Michigan under Lloyd Carr.
“I think we’re going to be able to stop some people on defense,” he said. “I’m thrilled to death to be here and be part of something that I think is going to be very special.”
Bedford and Meyer were part of Earl Bruce’s coaching staff at Colorado State. While Meyer is older and more mature, Bedford says not much has changed since they first worked together in the early 1990s.
“The energy and the personality that you saw as a position coach you see the same energy as a head coach,” said Bedford. “He has been around some great head coaches like Earl Bruce and Lou Holts so he has learned from some of the best coaches in college football and I see a lot of the things that they did in him.”