Gainesville, Fla.—I’m spending a couple of days at Florida, the defending national champions. For a team that returns its entire defense plus the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, there is a lot of stuff going on.
I spent Monday visiting with assistant coaches and attending the afternoon practice. Here are a few observations with Florida’s spring game coming up on Saturday:
The basics will not change under new offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, but there will be a couple of tweaks. Addazio takes over for Dan Mullen, who is now the head coach at Mississippi State. Addazio was the Florida offensive line coach but he’s been a coordinator before so he knows the drill. The transition is going smoothly because under Urban Meyer, putting together the offense has always been a collaborative effort. Everybody in the room adds their expertise and the coordinator’s job is to, well, coordinate.
“My job is to make sure everybody in the room is looking at the offense with the same set of eyes,” Addazio said. “There are basic things we believe in and those are not going to change. We are going to do what we do.”
But you’re going to see a couple of adjustments in the Florida offense this fall. No. 1, they are working on an I-formation package that will put quarterbacks Tim Tebow and John Brantley under center. Meyer wants a downhill power running game when it is needed. He also wants to be able to put Tebow under center from time to time to calm down the skeptics who wonder about his NFL potential.
Florida will pick up the pace on offense. Florida averaged 43.6 points with only 62 plays per game last season. Meyer, Addazio, and new QB coach Scot Loeffler are working with a no-huddle, up-tempo package in a effort to get more plays and hopefully more points. “With the new clock rules you have to have it (the no huddle) in your offense,” Meyer said.
Tebow’s throwing motion looks better. The left hander has always had a long throwing motion. Despite the critics, he seems to make the big throws when Florida needs them. Just ask Alabama. But Loeffler, who has tutored a number of really good quarterbacks including Michigan’s Tom Brady, has worked with Tebow on his mechanics and footwork. During Monday’s practice it was obvious that Tebow’s throwing motion is now more compact and that the ball has a tighter spiral. Tebow has thrown his share of wounded ducks as a college quarterback. It is clear to me that Meyer is going to do everything he can, within the framework of the team, to help Tebow get ready for the NFL.
“I can’t tell you what the NFL guys are thinking but I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of good quarterbacks,” said Loeffler, who also worked with Chad Henne and John Navarre during his time with Michigan. “Tim has that IT, that all great quarterbacks have.”
John Brantley is going to be a star: A year ago Brantley, a rising redshirt sophomore, got a few chances to show off the talented arm that made him a highly-recruited quarterback out of Ocala. This season he will be a major factor in the offense as Florida prepares for the post-Tebow era. You only have to watch Brantley for five minutes in practice to realize that he has an NFL arm.
“He’s a special talent,” Loeffler said.
In 2006 Chris Leak was the starting quarterback and Florida developed a package of plays for Tebow, the freshman. This season Brantley will play that same role with a package of plays that will force opposing defensive coordinators to spend extra time preparing for the change of pace when Brantley comes in the game.
Florida is finding some depth on the offensive line: The concern going into spring was finding two new offensive tackles. Well, Florida has them and more. Carl Johnson (6-6, 330) and Marcus Gilbert (6-6, 308) are going to be the tackles and they will be good ones. But keep an eye on sophomore Matt Patchan (6-6, 250). He went over to defense last season to help out but is back on offense. He needs to put on some bulk but is athletic enough to do it. Also keep an eye on redshirt freshman Sam Robey (6-4, 290). He is the son of former Kentucky basketball star Rick Robey and is pushing hard to be starter. “I feel pretty good about offensive linemen one through four, but I think you have to have eight guys to play in the SEC,” Addazio said. “We have to identify five, six, seven, and eight.”
There was some disappointing news on Monday as guard Maurkice Pouncey had shoulder surgery and is out for Saturday’s spring game. Pouncey, a junior, will need three months to recover.
The injuries are piling up: Don’t expect a lot of fireworks for Saturday’s Florida Spring game. Pouncey was one of four additional starters who will not participate, Meyer said at the end of practice on Monday. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins and defensive linemen Lawrence Marsh and Carlos Dunlap will miss the game. Meyer said he may adjust the format because of all the injuries.