Gators start spring practice today


Florida's Mon Williams pushes away a defender during spring practice in 2007.

Jarrett Baker/Special to The Sun
Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 12:19 a.m.

For months now, the most popular question fired at Florida football coach Urban Meyer has had to do with Emmanuel Moody, the much-talked about transfer from Southern Cal.

Facts

Florida's 2008 schedule

Aug. 30 Hawaii
Sept. 6 Miami
Sept. 20 at Tennessee
Sept. 27 Ole Miss
Oct. 4 at Arkansas
Oct. 11 LSU
Oct. 25 Kentucky
Nov. 1 Georgia (Jacksonville)
Nov. 8 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 15 South Carolina
Nov. 22 The Citadel
Nov. 29 at Florida State

Could he be the dynamic tailback the Gators have been searching for the past three years?

"I don't know. I get asked that question constantly," Meyer said. "I hope so. I walk by him every day and I don't say hello to him. I just walk by and say, 'Boy, I hope you're really good. I hope you're really, really good.' Now, when he sees me coming, he'll say, 'I know, you hope I'm really good.'

"There's not a better person. He's extremely articulate. He's very smart, very religious. He wants to be a pastor one day. The substance is unbelievable. I hope he's really good."

It is a hope shared by Gators everywhere who are beginning to wonder if the tailback position is ever going to match the production of the other skill positions on a potent Florida offense.

DeShawn Wynn couldn't do it two years ago.

Kestahn Moore came close but didn't quite get there last year, and returns to try again.

The competition this spring also will include speedy sophomore Mon Williams, who is returning from a knee injury, kick return specialist Brandon James, who has the moves but may lack the size to be an every-down back, and redshirt freshman Chris Rainey, maybe the best breakaway threat at the position.

And, of course, there is Moody, who appears to have the credentials to fit the job description. He's big, he's strong, he's fast, he was a Parade All-American coming out of high school, and he was good enough to start four games as a true freshman at talent-laden USC two years ago before making the move to Gainesville.

It's easy to see why his debut is one of the most anticipated events of the spring.

"He's very athletic and he's one of the strongest backs I've ever been around," new running backs coach Kenny Carter said. "He's got a lot of things he brings to the table.

"You just don't start at Southern Cal and not be the real deal. I'm real excited to see the things that he'll be able to do."

Moody and the wide-open competition at tailback is one of the critical battles of the spring. The others are all on defense, on the line (especially at tackle) and in the secondary (especially at cornerback).

Tailback, defensive line and secondary are the areas where the Gators fell below expectations last season, according to Meyer. As fate would have it, UF has new assistant coaches in the areas of need Carter, defensive line coach Dan McCarney and cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford.

"Those are the position groups that were inadequate by Florida standards last year," Meyer said. "We have young players there, but they are talented young players. All those (new) coaches have chores ahead of them."

Another important competition will take place at quarterback, where sophomore Cameron Newton and redshirt freshman John Brantley will decide who backs up Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Meyer said the Gators hope to play two quarterbacks next season, depending on whether Newton or Brantley are ready to handle the responsibility.

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