On the eve of Florida's first full contact scrimmage, Urban Meyer likes what he sees of his team in terms of effort and enthusiasm but it won't be until he's seen the Gators in real game-like situations that he knows what kind of ball club he's got.
"I love the team so far," Meyer said Friday morning. "I like what's going on right now. I get to stand back and watch practice and I see a lot of effort. We're not very good right now but I like what's going on."
Meyer calls this upcoming season a year of accountability and development. He calls the 2009 season a "year of maintenance" since the Gators had almost the entire two deep roster on both sides of the ball returning. This year there will be plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball, so it's up to the coaching staff to bring out the best in the young players and get them ready to play football at the highest level in the toughest conference in the nation.
"This year we have to develop," Meyer said. "We didn't do a good job in '07. I'm not saying that as coaches we did a bad job, but we weren't prepared. We're prepared now. Now it's just how do you get those guys game ready? We better be on our game as far as coaches. Jelani Jenkins, when you take the first snap, is going to be out there somewhere and he's never played before so (linebackers coach D.J.) Durkin better have him ready to go."
The goal for Saturday's scrimmage will be to identify playmakers as well as solidify the starters on the offensive line. Defensively, the Gators have to get into a workable rotation on the line and figure out who the starters will be at linebacker.
"Offense is going to be playmakers and defense is going to be establishing a rotation up front," Meyer said. "I can't tell you who our starting linebackers are right now."
Meyer got good news Friday on the offensive side of the ball with the return to practice by slot receiver/tailback Chris Rainey, who missed a few practices due to a racing heartbeat. Rainey will participate in full contact drills either in Saturday's scrimmage or at the latest, Monday.
There was further good news when it comes to the offensive line. Matt Patchan, who suffered a hairline fracture of his wrist, got the cast off and will start running once again.
* * *
When spring practice ended Meyer was extremely pleased with the way the new members of his coaching staff meshed together. Now that they've had the spring and summer to bond, he's seeing the results on the practice field.
"I'm really impressed with what's going on with our staff," Meyer said. "It's a year of development and accountability and development is going on. We've only got a couple of weeks left to do it, though. That's the problem."
Meyer thinks this coaching staff could be the equal of the staff he put together from 2005-07.
"We've had arguably as fine a staffs as there are in college history in '05, '06, '07," Meyer said. "Those were terrific staffs. I'd put these guys so far in that category."
* * *
Along with Alabama coach Nick Saban, Meyer has been one of the more vocal critics of rogue agents who are casting a rather dark shadow on college football. At SEC Media Days, Meyer called for accountability for all agents and punishment for those who cross the line and break the rules. A couple of weeks ago, Meyer participated in conference call that was designed to get to the heart of the problem that has been a plague this summer and he couldn't have been happier with the level of concern from all parties.
"I loved the fact that you have everybody involved and everybody wanting to do right," Meyer said. "There were actually some agents on the phone, there was NFLPA on the phone, there was the commissioner and some college football coaches. It was about as positive as you can get because everybody wants to do right."
Meyer said that most of the agents want to do the right thing but there is a problem with those who continue to break the rules by offering illegal inducements to players. Players who get caught taking money or benefits from agents before their eligibility is complete are punished by the NCAA, but presently there is no system in place to punish the rogue agents. That is the area where Meyer says something has to change.
"There are obviously a lot of people who don't want to do it right but the majority want to do it right," Meyer said. "You don't have to be a brain surgeon to figure this thing out now. You want to stop some unethical, illegal activity. How do you do it? You punish them. The players get punished and you want to stop the other side too because one is going to be punished and deservedly so and the other side should get punished."
Meyer said there has to be the threat of punishment for offering illegal benefits and money to players or else the the agents will continue to do it. Meyer said there are also some things going on to clean up recruiting as well, moves that can only help college football.
"Recruiting ... there's some things going on too and then this agent relations so there are a lot of positives going on for college football," he said. "We can't lose college football. We just can't lose college football."
* * *
Meyer was pleased that freshman Robert Clark was the first freshman to lose his stripe. All freshmen at Florida have a stripe on their practice helmet when practice begins. When they lose their stripe, it's a sign that they have become real Gators.
Clark is a freshman from Palm Beach Dwyer who was early enrolled in the spring. Clark could crack into the rotation both at wide receiver and on special teams where he could see action on both punt and kickoff teams. Meyer loves the constant level of energy that Clark brings to every practice.
"He's the Energizer Bunny," Meyer said. "He goes as hard as he can. Wish he was a little taller, wish he was a little faster but he's tough as nails and making plays and he'll hit you. He's the first guy to get his stripe off. That was kind of cool to see that."
The other two freshmen who have had their stripes removed are linebackers Michael Taylor and Neiron Ball. Taylor has been particularly impressive.
"He strikes you and he loves the game," Meyer said. "I'm hoping he's our Stamper. He doesn't look like the physical, imposing guy but he strikes you."