Starting over, sorta, to earn the swagger

This just in: Florida coach Urban Meyer delayed the start of spring practice today because of a delay in the shipping of new oversized helmets.

Well, not really, but you get the idea: The biggest obstacle that the 2008 national champion Gators must overcome this season is overconfidence.

Swagger is OK. Swagger is good.

Swagger, however, must be earned on the merit of how you play today, not how you played last year. For that reason, Florida’s spring practice will have open competition for most positions – except maybe quarterback and middle linebacker.

This is the message that will be delivered by Meyer and his coaching staff starting now as well as throughout the year. Despite two national championships in three seasons, the level of play is expected to be better.

When I caught up with defensive coordinator Charlie Strong Tuesday evening and asked him how it felt to look at a depth chart loaded with experience two deep, that’s precisely how he saw it.

As a matter of fact, Strong will be going back to basics this spring and emphasizing fundamentals – a rather surprising approach by a coach who has an embarrassment of riches.

What Strong has seen, however, in reviewing the tapes from 2008, is sloppy tackling, players not wrapping up and finishing, and some poor technique.

“We have a number of starters back and a dedicated group that really wants to be good,” Strong said. “But we just can’t afford to let complacency set in.”

As an example, he used the spectacular interception made by safety Ahmad Black against Oklahoma in the national championship win.

“Maybe Ahmad doesn’t make the proper steps in practice,” said Strong. “Are we just going to let that go by? No, we are not.”

Not much of anything the Gators did last year will have one whit of impact on what they will do this season.

Well, I take that back. There is this plaque at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with the words of Tim Tebow’s Mississippi post-game outpouring of “The Promise” to the media. That’s a legacy, so it’s like a living, breathing document.

Just how “The Promise” will help shape the future of football at Florida remains to be seen. The man who made it is still going to be in a Gator uniform for one more season.

It was a “promise” about last year, however, and new covenants must be made among these players.

Meanwhile, although Tebow isn’t getting the pub that Lane Kiffin seems to be getting these days – can we ever turn on a TV show these days without seeing the face of a guy who has never even coached a college game? – there has been a bit of reaction lately to the new Tebow plaque.

On Tuesday, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon were asked to address the question on ESPN’s “Pardon The Interruption” whether memorializing “The Promise” with a plaque was “corny” or “cool”?

Wilbon: “Do you find this ‘cool’ or simply ‘corny’?”

Kornheiser: “I’m a pretty cynical fellow and even a sarcastic fellow and even I find this way cool. I mean, he made the speech and he was crying when he made the speech … and if it didn’t work I’d be able to make fun of him. They never lost another game! They won the national championship! This kid delivered the mail! And if they want to put it up there, then put that plaque up there.”

While Wilbon agreed it was OK and not corny, he added that this sort of “godding up” of athletes “is dangerous.”

I’m wondering if they had weighed in on blabbermouth Kiffin if they’d have found him “cool” or “corny.”

Of course, unless they were on the ground in Gainesville and have experienced the full impact of Tebow the person and Tebow the football player, nobody in the media looking from the outside in could fully appreciate his influence on the game and the people.

Strong, who has been around Florida almost as long as the Century Tower and sees the best of what the Gators have had to offer since the 1980s, is still a little awed by Tebow’s “promise.”

No, he said, he’s never seen anything like it.

“Tim is a real person, a person of great integrity and character,” said Strong. “He took a football team under his wing and showed great leadership. And just watch the way he played.”

I didn’t need to ask Charlie whether he thought the “Promise” plaque was “cool” or “corny.”