The latest on Florida's deep secondary plus all the details from Florida's third day of spring practice. 1,324 words!
GAINESVILLE -- The Gators scrimmaged today for the first time this spring. Before we break down the details of a spirited and exciting practice, let's break down the status of Miami's own Dorian Munroe, the strong safety who returned this spring from a torn anterior-cruciate ligament.
[PICTURED, Dorian Munroe upends Knowshon Moreno. Will Munroe unseat Ahmad Black?]
Munroe, a proud Miamian and graduate of Miami Coral Reef, tore the ACL in his right knee last year a few months before his junior season. It was a devastating injury for Munroe, who was a projected starter before the injury. Munroe, now a fifth-year senior, was a significant reserve his freshman and sophomore seasons and had finally worked his way up the depth chart when the injury occurred. After a successful surgery and a grueling rehabilitation process, Munroe is back on the field this spring and finds himself in a fierce battle for playing time.
"At the University of Florida that's how it's supposed to be," Munroe said. "It's back to the way it's supposed to be. There's competition at every position. Every day you've got to go out there and bring your 'A' game and bring your best and I'm glad it's like that. It's going to bring out the best in everybody."
Munroe's injury brought out the best in him. He was in the Gators' training facility at 6 a.m. four days a week for six months to make it back in time for spring football. Munroe was actually cleared by team doctors to begin running and cutting at full speed back in December. He dressed out for the national championship game but did not play.
"I begged the coaches to get in that game just for one play but they didn't want me to take the chance," Munroe said.
Munroe is one of four safeties who Florida coach Urban Meyer considers legitimate candidates to start in 2010. The others are returning starters Major Wright and Ahmad Black and sophomore phenom Will Hill, who played nickel last season. A fifth safety, freshman Dee Finley of Auburn, Ala., is behind Wright, Black, Hill and Munroe on the depth chart. Finley (6-2, 211 pounds) attended a prep school last season after failing to qualify for the University of Florida in 2008.
"The way I look at it, we've got four starters at safety," Meyer said on Saturday. "Dorian was a starter, Will Hill basically is a starter and then you have the two guys that did start. And the Finley guy is a tough dude. I was real impressed with some of his stuff today."
During one drill, Finley ripped the ball away from receiver Carl Moore in mid air. It was one of several highlights for the Gators' secondary, which returns six players who combined for 20 interceptions last season. Hill had the best highlight, an interception on the goal line. Black also picked off a pass in the end zone during UF's goal-line scrimmage.
"The competition is intense out here," Wright said. "With so many guys coming back, we can't get complacent."
Munroe and Wright, the Gators' only scholarship defenders from Miami-Dade and Broward counties, are close friends and they're pushing each other to get better everyday in practice. Wright says Munroe is showing no signs that his injury is slowing him down. Munroe is wearing a knee brace on his right knee.
"We've got to come out with a chip on our shoulders," Munroe said. "We've got to come out everyday with something to prove. We're all out here with something to prove.
The defense performed well in the goal-line scrimmage, limiting the Gators' offense to zero rushing touchdowns. Redshirt freshman cornerback Adrian Bushell intercepted Tebow, to go along with the picks by Hill and Black.
“Defense won the first scrimmage. I think in the history of our scrimmages they usually do,” Meyer said. “I was not pleased. I kind of expected what happened. There are a couple positions we’re going to have to put an APB out.”
Offensively, UF had five passing touchdowns. Tebow connected with tight end Aaron Hernandez for two touchdowns. Tebow also threw touchdown passes to David Nelson and Carl Moore. Back-up quarterback John Brantley tossed an interception to freshman tight end Desmond Parks.
“You know who made the plays today were David Nelson, Aaron Hernandez, Will Hill -- the same guys who made them for us in the SEC championship game, national championship game,” Meyer said. “What we’re trying to do is [find] the guys that maybe haven’t made those plays. I was a little disappointed today in some spots.”
Offensive tackle is a concern. Marcus Gilbert and Carl Johnson both made mistakes during scrimmage and heard the verbal wrath of offensive line/offensive coordinator Steve Addazio. Meyer also said that he's still waiting for guard James Wilson to prove himself.
"Year three is coming up," Meyer said of Wilson.
Emmanuel Moody shines...
One bright spot for the offense on Saturday was the play of running back Emmanuel Moody. He didn't do much during the goal-line scrimmage drill, which actually starts at the 12-yard line and is more like an offense-defense situational drill than a scrimmage. ANYWAY, earlier in practice Moody did rush for two touchdowns in a similar drill.
Interior defensive linemen note:
Jaye Howard impressing; Earl Okine moves to defensive tackle...
Defensively, one of the players with the most to prove this spring is tackle Jaye Howard (6-3, 296 pounds), who will be a redshirt sophomore next season. Howard, one of the Gators' strongest players, has played well during the Gators' first three practices.
The Gators' first-team defensive tackles are Terron Sanders and Lawrence Marsh, but depth at the position took a hit this offseason with dismissal of Torrey Davis and the loss of John Brown (transferring, according to Urban Meyer). Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney expects Howard to be a solid second-team tackle, which means plenty of playing time next fall. But Howard hasn't earned a permanent spot in the rotation just yet, according to McCarney.
"He's getting better. You know, he got some playing time last year. He played a little bit for our program. Now it's time to step up and do a lot for our program," McCarney said.
Sanders is limited this spring with a calf injury and Matt Patchan, who played on the defensive line last year, moved back to the offensive line (although Patchan isn't practicing this spring either due to a recent leg injury suffered during a scooter accident). Defensive tackle Brandon Antwine is also sitting out spring practice with an injury. With Antwine, Sanders, Patchan, Davis and Brown out of the mix, that leaves plenty of opportunities for Howard, Omar Hunter (sophomore next season), Edwin Herbert (a JUCO transfer), Troy Epps and even Earl Okine. McCarney said on Saturday that Okine has been moved to defensive tackle.
"Really, four of the eight or nine top guys aren't practicing, so it gives more opportunities for other guys," McCarney said. "You step on the field for us you play with energy, passion and enthusiasm and if you don't, you don't play."
McCarney on Omar Hunter:
"It's time now. They've been red-shirted. You didn't play. You stood back and watched and you saw one of the best defenses in college football play the game, so start doing it like those guys did it with your name on your jersey. And that's what we're hoping they'll do. It's time. You've got talent. You're a strong guy. You're tough. You got pride. But you stood around and watched. It's time to go play now. And hopefully Antwine will come back and they'll be 100 percent but what if they don't. You've got to play out there in September. You've got to help us win. You've got to get ready for that. Is it pressure? Hell, yeah, it's pressure. It's time. There are no free lunches. They've been here on scholarship and it's time to start helping us win on game day."