Meyer is ready for fall practice
Published: Monday, August 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 1, 2005 at 12:51 a.m.
In the eight months since he took over as Florida football coach, Urban Meyer has learned the intense passion the Gators have in the state.
He's done the rubber-chicken tour, from Palatka to Pensacola, to points south and in between, rising up a Gator Nation of supporters who wanted to hear his plans to bring Florida to prominence.
The ancillary offseason activities wrapped up Sunday, when Meyer spoke at the Florida Sports Writers Association preseason football news conference. Afterward, Meyer joined his staff for the beginning of a one-and-a-half day coaches retreat. Fall practices begin a week from today.
"No cell phones," Meyer said. "No distractions. Just football."
Meyer caught some flak earlier this week when he suggested he may cut back his number of speaking engagements at Gator Clubs because of the time it takes away from his players. But it's clear that he made a strong connection with fans eager to see if he can duplicate the success he had a season ago in Utah, when he guided the Utes to a 12-0 record and a BCS berth in the Fiesta Bowl.
"The fans are hungry," Meyer said. "They want to see it back to the level where it was in the 1990s."
That challenge will begin when a two-a-day practices start in a week, in preparation for the season opener at The Swamp on Sept. 3 against Wyoming. Meyer said that the early practices will feature some contact, but won't be overly physical.
"You've got to feel bad before you feel good," Meyer said. "I want our guys to feel awful, especially in that first week. At the same time, the intent is not to beat up your team. It will not be as physical as it was the spring. That's the time when you develop toughness. The big thing will be focusing on finishing. Conditioning will be important."
It also will serve as more time for junior quarterback Chris Leak to adapt to the spread offense that has been successful for Meyer at both Bowling Green and Utah. It's an offense that produced two NFL quarterbacks, Josh Harris at Bowling Green and most recently top NFL pick Alex Smith of Utah, who signed a six-year, $57-million contract with the San Francisco 49ers last week.
Meyer challenged Leak to become a more vocal leader this spring.
"Everything that we've asked him, he's done," Meyer said. "From throwing mechanics, to leadership, to studying offense, to meeting with someone who is struggling."
Meyer pointed out that other leaders emerged this spring.
"It hasn't just been Chris Leak," Meyer said. "Jarvis Herring has been as much of a sultan as Chris Leak in that part of the game. Brandon Siler has been a leader. Mike Degory has been. We want to make sure that some our returning guys who were All-SEC guys take some ownership of the team."
Meyer made clear that the Florida team will revolve around the strengths of his players. The media guide features five players - Randy Hand, Tavares Washington, Mike Degory, Jeremy Mincey and Jarvis Herring - on the cover. Meyer, at his request, was on the back cover the guide.
"Players are more important than the system," Meyer said. "Discipline, work ethic, that will never change. That's what you as a coach instill in the program. But on the field we are going to do what the players do well."
That's what Meyer believes made the difference in his success at coaching stops in Bowling Green and Utah.
"The common denominator is good players," Meyer said. "There are a lot of good coaches who work hard but who haven't had the opportunity to coach good players. If you take an Alex Smith out of Utah, where are you? If you take a Josh Harris out of Bowling Green? It's a players program."
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