Manson, Haden to try luck on Gator secondary


Chris Leak waits to throw at the University of Florida's Pro Day at Florida Field on Wednesday.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 9, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Former Florida players weren't the only Gators involved in the news at Pro Day on Wednesday in The Swamp.

UF coach Urban Meyer announced near the end of the workouts that two offensive players are moving to the secondary this spring - junior tailback Markus Manson and true freshman running back/receiver Joe Haden.

Meyer said Manson and Haden will get a look at cornerback, where the Gators must replace both starters (Ryan Smith and Reggie Lewis) and enter the spring with little experience and even less depth.

"We are (going to try Manson at cornerback)," Meyer said. "The player and a couple of coaches came to me (about it). It was not my idea. So, we're going to take a look at him. He's a great person who works hard and is an athlete.

"Joe Haden is playing around a little bit on both sides (offense and defense). He went today and worked out with the corners. That's his choice. Great athletes want to play."

Two offensive players who won't be moving to defense are sophomore wide receiver Riley Cooper and redshirt freshman Chevon Walker.

There had been speculation that Cooper would move to safety and Walker to cornerback this spring.

Both are staying at their respective offensive positions.

Kiffin high on Gators

Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin had high praise for Meyer and his program after paying his first visit to UF's Pro Day and Florida Field on Wednesday.

"I'll tell you, the staff here is awesome," Kiffin said. "You walk in the door and there's Coach Meyer and they've got a coffee pot going and some rolls there to take a bite on. The whole staff is organized from the get-go to the end of drills. It starts with the staff. That's why they won (the national title) here. It starts with the coaching staff and moves all the way down through.

"The reason they won a national championship is because of the character of this football team. The whole thing. You can talk about talent all you want, but what really wins for you is character. They've got guys who want to win and they love football. You've got to love football and they love football here.

"This is the first time I've ever been to this stadium. I'll tell you, if I was a recruit, I could come here. There are a lot of good things around here."

Including the talent level, Kiffin said.

"It's called recruiting, getting good players," he said. "I saw a lot of young guys, big guys, walking around, too (who were not involved in Pro Day). They must be what you call freshmen, sophomores and juniors. There are a lot of good players here."

Leak chucks it around

After looking very sharp throwing passes to the receivers, quarterback Chris Leak again was asked about his height by members of the media. At just one-eighth of an inch shy of six feet, Leak is viewed by some as being too short to be effective in the NFL.

Leak respectfully disagrees.

"One-eighth of an inch. ... That's the rim of a hat," Leak said. "Height has never been an issue to me. I played in the best league in the nation in the SEC and all my offensive linemen were between 6-5 and 6-8. I guess that proves that height isn't any kind of an issue.

"I felt real comfortable today. It's basically what I've been doing my entire life, throwing the football and performing well."

One of Leak's receivers Wednesday was his older brother C.J., who still aspires to play in the NFL.

This, that and the other

A lifelong Gator fan, former Buchholz quarterback Justin Rascati got his first chance to perform on Florida Field on Wednesday. Rascati signed with Louisville and transferred to James Madison University. He worked out for the scouts along with the draftable Gators on Wednesday and was impressive throwing the ball. ... Four players Brandon Siler, Joe Cohen, Smith and DeShawn Wynn accepted their 40 times from the combine and did not run Wednesday. ... Several former Gators watched the workouts, including Jarvis Herring, Cory Bailey, Jacquez Green, Willie and Terry Jackson, Keiwan Ratliff and Mo Mitchell. ... Numerous current players also watched, including Tim Tebow, Andre Caldwell and several members of the early enrollees, including Haden, Aaron Hernandez and James and LaShawn Pouncey.

Robbie Andreu can be reached at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com

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