SPRING: Day Five – Defense Wins Again

The defense is two-for-two after winning another goal line scrimmage during today’s practice. Usually the defense is ahead of the offense in the spring, and this year is no different, but it is surprising given the personnel losses on the defensive side and the returning talent on the offensive side.

Offensively, the Gators installed some new plays today, but didn’t have much success at all. The scrimmage was riddled with bad passes, errant snaps and poor blocking.

“They beat the offense handily today,” Urban Meyer said after the workout. “We just have to get rid of the fumbled snaps, and we’re having a lot of miscues. We’ve put in a few new plays. The offense is behind the defense in installation, but just with the talent level, we have to be doing much better.”

Tailback Chevon Walker was a bright spot for the offense, breaking one run for a touchdown, but aside from that, the offense didn’t get much production from the backfield, quarterbacks or wide receivers.

“(Walker) came out of a couple of piles and showed some speed,” Meyer said. “He has to, but (Kestahn) Moore is doing a good job, and he’s the starting tailback.”

Moore and Brandon James have been splitting time with the first team while Walker and Mon Williams have been assigned to the second team. Williams, though, suffered a setback today when he injured his knee during a non-contact drill. Meyer said he did not know the extent of the injury.

Despite returning four starters, the competition is heating up along the offensive line. Drew Miller continues to adapt after his move to center, and Maurice Hurt is now sharing time at the center position with Eddie Haupt on the second team.

“A guy like Maurice Hurt – I don’t think he played well today – but up until this point he’s the sixth and pushing, trying to become one of the top five,” Meyer said. “The Pouncey twins are very good players.”

Both Pounceys have consistently lined up with the second team at the guard spots, but both first team and second team offensive lines are being dominated by the inexperienced defensive lines. Derrick Harvey is the only returning starter on the d-line, but two emerged after today’s practice.

“The defensive line came on today,” Meyer said. “The two players that Coach Mattison pointed out were Brandon Antwine and Lawrence Marsh. In order for us to have at least a chance to compete in the Southeastern Conference, those two have to be players.”

The bottom line is, and Meyer has said it time and time again, the spring is when the depth chart is formulated. These three weeks will determine who sees the field next fall. The players are well aware of that, and now that they are a week into spring camp, the competition is heating up.

“You can’t have tryouts in the fall,” Meyer said. “I’ve never done that. You don’t have time. We’re game planning. The tryouts will be done, and the depth chart will be set with minor adjustments after the spring.”

One area of the depth chart that will be tweaked during the summer, though, is cornerback. With some of the guys banged up, and the Gators running Markus Manson and Joe Haden who are playing there for their first time with the starters, it’s an area of concern.

“We have four guys out right now (Wondy Pierre-Louis, Jacques Rickerson, Markihe Anderson and Ahmad Black),” Meyer said. “They’re minor injuries, but we need practice because we’re not very good there.”

The linebacker corps is beginning to take shape, but like the last couple years, there is not much depth.

“The guy that’s probably improved is (Ryan) Stamper,” Meyer said. “To have three guys plus him – we have the three freshmen who came in last year – we have four players there right now and that’s it.”

But Brandon Spikes has been impressive in practice and is gaining the confidence of his head coach.

“I expect him to do what he’s doing, which is be an emotional player like he is and pick up everybody else and be the starting Mike linebacker,” Meyer said.

Andre Caldwell could have come out after his junior season. He was projected as a mid- to late-round draft pick in next month’s NFL draft, but he decided to come back to Florida for one last season. After missing most of 2005 with a broken leg, Caldwell returned stronger than ever last fall with 679 all-purpose yards. And Meyer’s very happy that he’s back.

“The thing I like best about Bubba Caldwell is that his goals are very clear,” Meyer said. “His goals include graduating from Florida, winning and to be an NFL football player. He made a business decision, which at the times was the correct one.”

Caldwell not only had the support of his coaches and parents when making his decision to stay for his senior season, but also was able to rely on the advice of his older brother, Reche Caldwell of the New England Patriots.

“He’s got a little benefit with a brother who is living that life right now,” Meyer said. “He made a decision that was very educated.”

The best part of Caldwell’s decision, at least according to Meyer, is that he’ll graduate with a degree in December.

“There are a lot of guys that are living the life and put the diploma on the back burner and say I’ll just come back and get it,” he said. “That’s very hard.”