UF'S OFFENSE: A PRESEASON REPORT

Picking up the pace

Florida's coaches are impressed with quarterback Chris Leak's grasp of the offense. But are his teammates up to speed?


Published: Sunday, August 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 1, 2004 at 1:08 a.m.

He started sensing it in the spring. With each snap, each practice, each scrimmage, the game would slow down just a little bit more for him, clearing his mind and making the decision-making process smoother and more natural.

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MAKING TRACKS: Florida's running attack will be fueled by (clockwise from front) DeShawn Wynn, Ciatrick Fason and Skyler Thornton.

ROB C. WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun

Things aren't unfolding in slow motion quite yet for Chris Leak, but it's getting closer and closer to that as he continues to gain experience.

"The older you get and the more experience you get, things start to slow down for you," said the Florida sophomore quarterback. "You gain a better understanding of what things can happen and the things you have to do on the field to be successful. You start to recognize defenses and what they're trying to do and what you have to do. The game slows down."

This process began last fall, when Leak took over the starting role as a true freshman, and carried over into the spring, where his overall game reached another level. Leak could feel it. The coaches could see it.

"He really had a great spring," offensive coordinator Larry Fedora said. "He picked up right where he left off at the end of the season and got better every day, every snap."

For the Gators, this is encouraging because so much of Florida's offensive hopes in 2004 will rest on the young quarterback's shoulders. But he's not the only young offensive player who showed in the spring that he's starting to catch on - to gain a better understanding of the offense and what it takes to make it go, Fedora said.

The receivers and tight ends made a move, so did the backs and linemen.

The potential began to emerge in the form of production.

"We thought we ended up spring on a great note," Fedora said. "We felt we kept getting better throughout the entire spring and there was a better understanding for everybody. Now, the guys are working hard this summer, and we hope to carry that right along into the season. We're looking forward to seeing what we can do.

"We met a lot of objectives in the spring. One of the main ones was to get the young guys a lot of reps and we were able to do that."

One of the major focuses was on the wide receivers and tight ends, where last year's starters must be replaced and where youth and inexperience abound.

Although none of the receivers emerged as the go-to guy, the coaches are feeling positive about what they saw in the spring. Young wideouts Andre Caldwell, Chad Jackson, Reggie Lewis and Jemalle Cornelius made plays and played with more confidence, and junior Dallas Baker began to show some of the consistency that's been lacking thus far in his career. And Markell Thompson and David Kenner gave a hint that the tight end position might still be a weapon without Ben Troupe.

"Dallas had a really good spring," Fedora said. "Overall, I was really impressed with all of them."

They caught Leak's passes - and attention.

"The whole group of receivers we have, they're no different than any receiver group I've seen in the past at Florida," Leak said. "These guys can make plays. If you get the ball in their hands, they're going to make plays for you. They're big-time receivers."

The Gators are hoping Leak and the passing game will benefit from a more consistent running game.

The coaches came out of the spring saying this is the deepest, most talented line they've had in three years and the Gators have some proven backs. Although DeShawn Wynn was slowed by an injury in the spring, he and Ciatrick Fason have shown they are capable of being big-play tailbacks. The ground game also could get a boost from sophomore Skyler Thornton, who was pushing Fason and Wynn for the starting role in the spring, and incoming freshman Markus Manson.

"DeShawn was injured and didn't do much. But Ciatrick had a good spring and Skyler got some good reps," Fedora said. "They're all going to play. And the offensive line is going to be a lot better than some people are expecting."

Overall, Fedora said not only are the offensive players growing more comfortable in the system, they're beginning to understand the up-tempo style the coaches have been stressing since Fedora replaced Ed Zaunbrecher as the offensive coordinator last spring.

"We're not where we want to be, but they're definitely getting a feel for it," Fedora said. "They understand what we're tying to do."

Leak certainly does.

"We're trying to attack the defense, that's the main thing we're trying to accomplish this season," Leak said. "We're going to go after the defense and keep the tempo going and try to score as many points as possible."

You can reach Robbie Andreu at andreur@gvillesun.com or by calling (352) 374-5022

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