By MIKE McCALL
I've covered a ton of Florida football practices over the past few years, but Friday's had to have been one of the best interview-wise. There was lots of great insight on a range of topics from Urban Meyer and a few players, so let's get right to it.
First off, linebacker Dustin Doe has cleared up his legal issues and should return to the team soon, but Meyer isn't ready to bring him back aboard just yet. He said Doe is training on his own to get in shape, and he will likely suspend him for at least one game, if not more.
It's easy to see how the whole situation has irritated Meyer, as the charges were easily avoidable.
“He’s a good guy, but don’t drive," Meyer said. "Don’t drive. I don’t
understand it, and I don’t want to make light of a guy’s career, because he has
a lot of promise. The great thing is that it’s not over. We’re certainly not
turning our back on a guy for that kind of situation, but we live in the United States of America,
and there are laws. Follow the laws.”
Meyer also talked about his desire to give guys second and third chances, and how much it hurts to tell a player he has finally struck out.
“Awful. It’s one of the worst things, because we’ve seen
what happens around here. We had a devastating thing happen a couple of years
when the chances run out. It’s different than when we were all younger people.
‘Okay, you go somewhere else and do something else.’ Now, you get consumed and
something tragic happens. We try not to do that often, we have around here, but
it’s not something we’re proud of.”
The incident Meyer was referring to is that of defensive back Avery Atkins, who was found dead in his car at the age of 20 after a failed attempt to come back to the team. It's one thing to read these quotes from Meyer, but to watch him say it is another thing, and it makes you stop and think before criticizing his decisions to give people second chances.
Rainey primed for big year
According to lineman and high school teammate Mike Pouncey, Chris Rainey is going to show fans a new side this season. Namely, a side that knows the playbook. For the full story, check out my UF notebook in tomorrow's Herald.
The O-Line Shuffle
Mike also said his brother, Maurkice, is 100 percent healthy. Maurkice has been held out of most of the contact stuff with a shoulder injury, but Mike says it's just precautionary and he'll be back Monday.
In his brother's absence, Mike has been playing center, with the line looking like this:
Matt Patchan Carl Johnson Mike James Wilson Marcus Gilbert
and he expects the starting 5 to look like this:
Patchan CJ Maurkice Mike Gilbert
but it could also look like this:
CJ Wilson Maurkice Mike Gilbert
CJ Maurkice Sam Robey Mike Gilbert
This position battle should be fun to watch, but I'd put my money on the expected starting 5. If Mike played center while Maurkice was out, it means they're not seeing what they want from Robey, and Wilson hasn't been healthy long enough to make a real push and outperform Patchan just yet. Or as Meyer puts it, "We're not getting the full James."
For those of you on Stripe Watch, you can add two more names to the list. Receiver Stephen Alli--a GatorClause favorite--and lineman Nick Alajajian--a spellcheck disaster--both had the black stripes removed from their helmets Friday morning in a ceremony that no doubt included tiki torches, a fire walk and animal sacrifices.
Here's what Meyer had to say about Alli (pictured here with Andre Debose back in his striped days):
“Stephen Alli got his stripe off today, which was really,
really cool. He’s kind of a crowd favorite because everyone knows he’s kind of
raw. He goes as hard as he can, and he’s like a deer sometimes just flopping
around out there, but he’s going to be a good player.”
Meyer stopped short of saying he expected Alli to play this year, but he's not ruling it out. As someone who enrolled after just three years of high school, Alli could probably use time to pack on some muscle, hone his route-running and learn the offense.
“I’d say no, but if he makes the jump he made from Week 1 to
Week 2, it’s a possibility. I mean he’s doing things that only 6-6, 215-pound
fast people can do. That’s jumping over people and making catches. It’s pretty
cool, and our quarterbacks like that for some reason.”
One thing that has surprised me a little this offseason is the level of respect that the older players seem to have for the freshmen. All of the newbies I've talked to have said they haven't been picked on or hazed in the least, and it's really fostering a professional atmosphere. Meyer addressed this too, pointing out that it wasn't always this way, as predecessor Ron Zook left him a bit of a mess in that department.
“When we first got here five years ago, we had freshmen in
a separate locker room," Meyer said. "It was a bunch of tin lockers over there, and think
about this for a minute. This is a bigtime college football program, and we had
some fights and stuff because they treat the freshmen like they weren’t people.
‘Don’t walk through here, we’ll kick your tail or shave your eyebrows.’ It took
us a while to break that great culture we had here. It was tremendous. You
don’t win many games, but you beat up freshmen and shaved eyebrows. It was
absolutely unbelievable. Now I have a freshman who is going through some hard
times, and he stood up in front of the team the other day with tears streaming
from his eyes and said, ‘I want to thank the older guys for taking care of me.’
It’s called a team, not some silly nonsense.”
Obviously, there has been plenty of good news for Florida fans lately, and I think this is right up there as a huge sign of the program's health. These guys care about each other, and you're likely to see that carry onto the field this year. It's really remarkable when you consider all the starpower out there right now.
Haden calls Will Hill the best player on the defense
As if the safety logjam wasn't already interesting enough, cornerback Joe Haden said he and Brandon Spikes have been talking about how backup Will Hill has been the best player on the defense during the fall.
Hill hasn't been working at nickelback, so it'll be interesting to see how he's used. Could be at corner, could be in a three-safety package, or he could even beat out Major Wright or Ahmad Black for a starting job. There are no signs either way, though Black was briefly in Meyer's doghouse for skipping a team meal after coming into camp underweight. He was suspended for a few practices.
"I have no idea (how to get Hill on the field)," Haden said. "I leave it up to the coaches, that's why they coach. They're making the money."
Howard drawing praise
There's always plenty of praise flying around for guys during the spring and preseason, but one way to tell when it's for real is when you hear it from multiple people who offer it up freely.
Over the last two weeks, players and coaches alike have singled out defensive lineman Jaye Howard as a breakout player. Friday, Mike Pouncey and Carlos Dunlap did the same, saying they believe he'll end up a starter.
Howard is currently battling Terron Sanders for the defensive tackle spot alongside Lawrence Marsh, and though he has packed on some weight, he could still see a little time at end as well.
Dunlap No. 3 on Kiper's big board
Speaking of high praise, Dunlap got some of his own this week when NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper released his list of the top draft prospects. He listed Dunlap third behind Sam Bradford and Eric Berry.
Don't get me wrong, Dunlap is a freakish talent, but I'd like to see a little more proof on the field before making him a top-five pick. He does have the potential though, and he's taking the compliment in stride. He deflected most questions on the subject by talking about his teammates.
“Right now, I’m really just worried about the season and how
our team performs," Dunlap said. "It’s an influence to work harder and meet everyone’s
expectations. If they expect those things of me, I’m going to try and get the
guy next to me to play up to that level too, so the harder he plays or the more
plays he makes, it makes it easier for me to do the same.”
Tony Dungy came and spoke to the team last night, offering advice that mostly centered around improving the players as men. Dungy, Mike Shanahan and Lou Holtz have all been guest speakers this offseason.
Meyer also said that Caleb Sturgis is giving Jonathan Phillips a run for his money at the starting kicker spot, which should be decided next week.
“Sturgis and our lawyer are going at it pretty