A Final Draft Wrapup

April 29, 2009

In the end, three Gators got drafted and four more found jobs as undrafted free agents:

Percy Harvin, 1st round to Minnesota

Louis Murphy, 4th round to Oakland

Cornelius Ingram, 5th round to Philadelphia

Phil Trautwein to St. Louis

Jason Watkins to Houston

James Smith to Cincinnati

Kestahn Moore to Denver

It was a bit disappointing, all things considered. I had heard that Murphy and Ingram each had the potential to go as high as the second round. I never expected to see them have to wait until the fourth and fifth rounds to go.

In Murphy’s case, it may not have a happy ending. The Raiders at this point are a black hole for talent, though he does get to have JaMarcus Russell put football-shaped holes in his hands on Sundays. He’ll be a great addition to Oakland’s track team, along with Darrius Heyward-Bey, but whether Oakland will find football success is beyond me. Incidentally, I don’t think Heyward-Bey is any better than Murphy is, but the inanity surrounding 40 times at the combine made him a No. 1 pick. Go figure.

In Ingram’s case, it is probably a blessing in disguise. Philly had the best draft in my estimation, and with Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, and Ingram, no one upgraded their offense more. He did say in an interview that the Eagles would have taken him earlier if they had a third or fourth round pick, so that makes him (and me) feel better. Regardless, he’s going to be on one of the NFL’s best offenses within two years thanks to McNabb, Westbrook, Jackson, and his fellow draftmates.

It seems odd to me that neither of the tackles got drafted. I know that Trautwein and Watkins weren’t going to be franchise cornerstones, but I would have thought they’d be worth a late round pick. It seemse like the NFL hasn’t been liking Florida offensive linemen lately, though that will probably change whenever the Pouncey brothers enter their names in.

I am glad to see Moore get picked up by Denver. He has no shot at playing running back there, as Denver now has about 15 of them on the roster, but he could make it as a blocker and a special teams guy. Last season had to be tough for him, having lost his feature back role to a couple of freshmen. However, he apparently never complained and kept on picking up blitz after blitz to buy Tebow time. Say what you want about his running back play, and someone probably already has, but the guy can block and could be in the league for at least a few seasons.

I am also glad to see James Smith get picked up. He’s a former walk on who will be remembered by die hard Gators as the guy who recovered South Carolina’s ill-fated throwback during a kickoff last season. It’s rare that long snappers ever get drafted, so he really never had a shot at hearing his name called over the weekend. However, he probably has a decent shot at making a roster somewhere due to his specialization and demonstrated ability to play well on special teams.

Next year, Florida will have a boatload of guys in the draft. Seniors like Spikes, Tebow, and Cunningham will be there, and underclassmen like Haden, Dunlap, and the Pounceys will probably be there too. Some mock drafts for 2010 are already out there, but I won’t link to any since they’re of no use now. After all, at this time last year, Todd Boeckman and Cullen Harper were no worse than second round picks.

What I do know is that the thin draft is not a sign of weakness, as FSU’s and Miami’s were, but the last echoing effect of the final, uncertain year of the Zook era and the transitional class that Urban Meyer had to throw together at the last minute in 2005. Only five players who we’ll see take the field from that time remain: Dorian Munroe, Jonathan Phillips, David Nelson, and Ryan Stamper in the two-deep plus Cade Holliday on special teams.

Next year is when Meyer’s monster 2006 recruiting class (minus Percy, of course) finally hits the draft. But before that, there is the matter of the fall when those seniors lead Florida to its third title in four years.

Advertisements

Harvin to the Vikings

April 25, 2009

Percy Harvin didn’t fall out of the first round after all.

The Minnesota Vikings picked him up, which isn’t a bad place. They’re close to contending, but the black hole at quarterback looms large. Harvin and Peterson make two of a great Big Three, but they won’t go over the top without something better than Tavares Jackson under center.

Cornelius Ingram is probably the next Gator off the board.

Meanwhile, my Bucs didn’t just fall for Josh Freeman, but they traded up to get him. Raheem Morris coached at K-State so that’s why he likes Freeman, but that’s only going to make it messier when he doesn’t work out.


Gator Football Spring Practice Week 1 Wrapup

March 30, 2009

The Offense

Florida is experimenting with a fast-paced, uptempo offense. It is partially as a result of seeing Kevin Wilson’s Oklahoma offense in the national title game and partially as a result of seeing Kevin Wilson’s Northwestern offense in 2001.

I took a look at pace earlier this offseason, and I projected that the Gators would have scored about 55 a game last year if they played at Oklahoma’s pace. Urban Meyer may or may not have seen a similar figure from his stats guys, but he seems most interested in the way that an uptempo offense disrupts defenses.

The other big difference is that Tim Tebow will be taking some snaps under center. Tebow says it’s happening because it’s the way Scot Loeffler is influencing the offense, while Meyer says it’s happening to get Tebow more comfortable with it since he’ll have to do that in the NFL. It’s not that one is wrong and one is right, since the offense has always been a team effort under Meyer.

Many have pointed out that packages with the quarterback under center existed in Meyer’s offense in 2005 and 2006 when Chris Leak was running the show. That is true, and the I-formation is also coming back if they can find a fullback.

Behind Tebow, redshirt sophomore QB John Brantley is looking sharp.

Receivers

The question on everyone’s mind comes down to this: who will replace Percy Harvin? Meyer said around national signing day that he sees incoming freshman Andre Debose in that role. So far, that appears likely because no one has stepped up to take control of that role so far. Deonte Thompson, Chris Rainey, and Jeff Demps are the other candidates for that position.

Carl Moore was the invisible man for a lot of last season, which was odd for someone touted as a five-star guy from junior college. He’s been looking a lot better this year, now that

David Nelson and Aaron Hernandez have also looked good catching passes. Justin Williams has been practicing with the first team offense along with Thompson and Nelson. Riley Cooper is playing baseball and is not participating in spring football practice.

Personally, I’m thinking that the 2008 receiving corps is not going to be the best analogue for the 2009 corps in terms of fitting guys into roles. To me right now, 2006 seems like a better comparison given the personnel and likely ball distribution. Having Nelson as Dallas Baker, Thompson as Bubba Caldwell, Debose as Harvin, Moore as Jemaille Cornelius and so on feels a little more right. We’ll see.

Running Backs and Offensive Line

With Rainey rehabbing from surgery and Demps running track, Emmanuel Moody is the only scholarship running back at practice. Fortunately, he’s been playing very well so far though the defense has been stuffing him in goal line scenarios.

A probable cause for that is the fact that the offensive line has not been great. Partially that is because both Pouncey brothers are sidelined with injury right now, and the only other returning starter (Carl Johnson) is at a new position.

The younger guys who haven’t played much haven’t stepped up a whole lot. Things will get better when the Pounceys come back, but they alone won’t solve all the problems. It took half the season for last year’s line to gel, but hopefully this year’s crew will work themselves out a little sooner.

Defense

The defense has been dominating so far, but Meyer says that’s “usually” the case at this early stage of spring practice. It makes sense considering the offense is working through a lot of issues with new schemes and personnel while the defense is enjoying complete continuity.

The defense won the first scrimmage.

Defensive Line

Things are great at defensive end. They are so good and so deep that redshirt freshman Earl Okine has been moved to the inside.

With Torrey Davis kicked off the team and John Brown deciding to transfer, depth is again an issue at defensive tackle. Even the vaunted 2006 line needed Ray McDonald to move from the outside to the inside for depth.

As it turns out, things at tackle have been fine so far. Jaye Howard is bigger than ever and looking like a solid backup to starters Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders. Okine has been adjusting well so far. Omar Hunter, the guy Meyer called the Tim Tebow of the 2008 recruiting class, is finally in shape, healthy, and contributing.

Linebackers and Secondary

Brandon Spikes is happy to be back, and the Gators are happy to have him. He will be the unquestioned leader of what should be one of the top defenses in the country. This position is one of the best and deepest on the team, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Spikes, Stamper, and Jones are the first teamers right now, while Doe, Lorenzo Edwards, and Lerentree McCray are the second teamers.

The secondary is very crowded, especially at safety. Starters Ahmad Black and Major Wright are back, and both are playing well. Fifth year senior Dorian Munroe, injured all of 2008, wants his starting role back. Will Hill has been making plays. Dee Finley is finally on campus, and he’s looking athletic. It’s crowded back there.

Not much has been reported about the corners, other than that Janoris Jenkins has been taking some reps as a punt returner thanks to Brandon James being out. Freshman Adrian Bushell intercepted Tebow as well, and that’s about it.

I would expect that the position will be just fine with Joe Haden and Jenkins locking things down as the starters. The depth at secondary is something any other team in the country would be envious of.


Florida Gators 2009 Signing Day Wrapup

February 5, 2009

GatorZone has the official list of all 16 signees with their bios. The only player left who might join on is Tampa TE Orson Charles, who will decide sometime in the next couple weeks where he’s going. From what I’ve gathered though, we shouldn’t hold our breath over him coming.

Quality over Quantity

With just 16 players coming aboard, this makes Urban Meyer’s smallest recruiting class. It has one fewer player than the 17-member 2005 class.

Even so, it has a lot of quality according to those who think they know.

The collection of players average 3.94 stars apiece according to Rivals (the highest count on the site) and 3.81 stars apiece according to Scout (the fourth-highest there). ESPN rates half of the class in its top 150. That doesn’t even count S Dee Finley, who the network rates as the best player of the bunch, who apparently didn’t count since he spent a year at a JUCO getting eligible after signing last year.

With the top 23 defensive players returning, plenty on offense returning, plus a slew of young talents who either red shirted or played special teams last year, it doesn’t leave much space open. I read somewhere that Florida would have about 20 scholarships available for this class, so with a max of 17 coming in, that leaves spot either for walk-ons or next year’s class.

Meyer Likes It

That the head coach likes this bunch is quite apparent. He held a press conference at 1:00 to discuss his newest Gators, and GatorZone has a transcript.

The only players he singled out were LB Jelani Jenkins, a top-rated prospect and a 4.0 student, and WR Andre Debose. Jenkins exemplified Meyer’s ideal for a competitor since he never asked about who was on the depth chart. He describes Debose as a Percy Harvin-type who Meyer thinks one day can become the best player in the nation.

ESPN’s Chris Low has some comments Meyer made about the class and recruiting process in general. As he is wont to do, he grouses about the NCAA’s recruiting rules before gushing about Debose and Jenkins. He also talks about DE commit Gary Brown, recruiting in Miami, and negative recruiting other schools did against UF.

On that last point, it apparently was worse this year than it’s been in his time in Gainesville. He says other coaches “take a shot at your academics, at your coaching staff, win and loss record, offense, defense and that we don’t run the ball.” That last point is completely ridiculous considering Florida has run it more than pass it every year under his tenure.

He elaborated, “[t]hey are out there trying, and there are a bunch of guys working their tails off with a bull’s eye on the Orange and Blue. It was really bad this year.” Debose seemed to confirm that there was some negative recruiting going on in his comments about how other schools’ coaches told him not to go to Florida and being in Harvin’s shadow.

He also had good things to say about OL Jon Halapio and LB Jon Bostic.

Those Who Got Away

Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald gives a rundown of former UF commits who chose to go to school elsewhere in recent days. Late decommits are one reason why many college coaches are pushing for an early signing day.

I personally don’t get too upset over guys who change their minds. It’s a huge decision, they’re under enormous pressure, and they’re getting all kinds of advice from every direction.

If they come to decide that they need to change schools, then that’s their prerogative. I don’t buy that switching commitments shows bad character, since nothing is binding until the papers are signed and everyone knows that.

The fact that two Florida decommits ended up at Tennessee has gotten some Gators all riled up. New UT head coach Lane Kiffin has been getting a lot of headlines for hiring assistants away from other conference schools, and apparently he and his staff aggressively went after other schools’ recruits too.

Saurian Sagacity runs down all the reasons why Kiffin has been heating up the Florida-Tennessee rivalry and why Meyer might be gunning to run up the score come September as he did against Georgia last year.

It would probably gall them even more if they heard Kiffin’s press conference where within a minute he was boasting about turning two UF commits.

Etc.

GatorSports.com has a nice piece on new OT Xavier Nixon, who seems like a great guy and exactly the kind of high performer with high character that Meyer likes to go after. The front page also has some videos from the day.

Robbie Andreu grades the class and gives it a B+.

GatorCountry.com says Florida did well at every position except cornerback, where the Gators struck out entirely. Other sites say safety prospect Josh Evans could play corner, and with as stacked as UF is at safety (Black, Wright, Munroe, Hill, and Finley), I could see it happening if the coaches want it to.

Finally, if Meyer is going to single out Debose as potentially being the best player in the country, then I might as well put up his highlight video. Special thanks to Bruce and Fran for not putting painfully bad hip hop music behind it.


Four Gators Headed to the NFL Combine

February 3, 2009

ESPN SEC football blogger Chris Low has the list of all 54 SEC players invited to the NFL combine. Somewhat surprising to me was that only four Florida players were invited to come.

Granted the team was very young and automatic invitees Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes chose to stay in school, but that number seems low. The four guys were:

Percy Harvin

Cornelius Ingram

Louis Murphy

Jason Watkins

The name that jumps out to me as missing is Phil Trautwein. As I understood it, he could have left and been drafted after the 2007 season despite missing it with an ACL injury. I know he had about four false starts in the national title game, but I figured he’d at least be invited to the combine.

It is awesome to see that Cornelius Ingram is going though. Gator fans certainly didn’t forget about him this season, but it’s good to know the scouts didn’t either.

Not getting a combine invite doesn’t mean a guy will be passed over entirely on draft day, but it does just about end a player’s chances of being taken early. I just figure this is a sign that Trautwein will be a late round choice. If he is good enough to play in the league, he’ll make it one way or another.


Spikes is Back, Harvin is Gone

January 15, 2009

The decision as to whether to turn pro or not depends on a lot of things.

One consideration is which position you play. Some positions, like running back and defensive line, easily translate to the next level. Others, like quarterback and receiver, are notoriously difficult to play well in a rookie season.

Another consideration is the year’s draft class. If your position is stocked with good guys, the numbers dictate that someone is going to fall to the second round when he could be a first rounder in a normal year.

From there you can go forever on smaller considerations like the type of scheme you come from, whether you’re injury-prone, and things like that.

The second consideration appears to be why Brandon Spikes will again be in Gainesville next season. With higher profile guys like Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis coming out, this year’s draft is stocked at linebacker.

While Spikes made a lot of improvement this season, most notably in leadership and pass coverage, he reportedly would be the guy who gets bumped to the second round. For that reason, it makes sense for Spikes to come back.

Percy Harvin is leaving however. I don’t think it was considerations one or two that got him, but more likely a host of other ones. The primary concern would be his injury-prone nature. I’ve said it several times: it makes more sense to be paid millions to rehab than to do it for a scholarship.

He also is coming out at the right time. Similar players Ted Ginn and DeSean Jackson had good years, so players like him are enjoying success now. Plus, he can operate the wildcat that is so en vogue.

He will have stiff competition for draft position from Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin, but if he can be healthy by the combine, Harvin will do fine for himself. The fact that he can be both a credible running back and receiver means he can have a nice long career in the mold of a Brian Westbrook or a Marshall Faulk.

I am very excited about the 2009 Gator defense, now that it officially has every member of the two-deep coming back. It could end up the best in school history. It will definitely have a shot of getting there statistically thanks to the schedule rotating Miami, Hawai’i, and Ole Miss out for Troy, FAU, and Mississippi State.

I also wish nothing but the best to Percy Harvin in the NFL. I have no doubt that if he can keep in one piece, he will excel on the next level. Thanks for being an awesome Gator, Percy, and you might give me a reason to actually pay attention to some part of the pro game next fall.


Tebow is Returning

January 12, 2009

With these words, Tim Tebow announced his intention to return to campus next season. It wasn’t as dramatic as the 04s’ return announcement where they dropped and broke a fake crystal basketball trophy, but it will do.

The immediate reaction has been to already name Florida as next season’s sure preseason No. 1 pick. Given that it took months for the consensus to form around Georgia as 2008’s preseason No. 1, it’s a bit hasty. However when at least 10 starters on defense, most of the offense, and the Heisman-winning quarterback are all coming back from a national title winning team, it makes sense to go ahead and call it now.

Tebow dropped hints all along the way that he would come back, the first probably before he even thought about 2009. During his famous speech after the Ole Miss game, he said that his goal for the season was to go undefeated, something that had never been done before at Florida. That signaled to me that no matter how the year ended, he’d have that unmet objective in the back of his mind.

Then of course throughout December he was asked about staying or leaving. The whole time he did an admirable job of making it sound like he was going to give the NFL a fair shot, but you could hear in his voice and read between the lines that his heart is not with the pros yet.

Percy Harvin hasn’t decided his course of action yet, but he meets with Urban Meyer today to help make up his mind. It’s encouraging that he said he’s leaning towards coming back, but honestly I’d tell him to leave if he asked me for advice. He’s been hurt so often, why risk another bad injury when you’re not getting first round money for it?

Ryan Stamper says that on the plane back from Miami, Brandon Spikes told him he’s coming back. I wish I still had the links (sorry), but I’ve seen one place where Spikes said Tebow’s decision would influence him greatly, and another where Charlie Strong said his advice would be to stay. Strong’s rationale was that Spikes might grade out a second or third round pick by the NFL draft report, and that the coaches only tell players to go if they grade out as first rounders.

Only one other Gator asked for a draft evaluation, and that was Brandon James. He has no intention of leaving early, but he desires to play in the NFL and wanted to know what he needed to do to get there. Makes sense.

I always try to control my expectations for this team, but I can’t this time. There is no reason to think that Florida shouldn’t be the national title favorite (catastrophic injuries not withstanding) with so many people coming back from a title-winning squad. I felt the same way about the 2006-07 basketball team, and the same applies with these guys.

How long is it again until September?