Meyer should adapt offense to suit Leak's abilities
Posted: Sunday July 30, 2006 1:04AM; Updated: Monday July 31, 2006 11:26PM
Chris Leak went from throwing for 3,197 yards in his last season under Ron Zook to 2,639 in his first year with Urban Meyer.
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HOOVER, Ala. -- Chris Leak is a numbers guy. How many touchdowns will he throw this year? "Fifty," he replied. How many yards did he average on designed runs last season? "Six point eight yards."
But how many SEC or national titles in his three years as Florida's starting quarterback? Zero. And that's the one statistic, and the one criticism that the senior can't seem to shake.
"Here's the bottom line," Gators coach Urban Meyer said during Friday's SEC media day. "If you're playing quarterback at Florida or playing quarterback at any school with tradition, you need to win a championship."
So the criticisms pile up: You hear he's a square-peg trying to fit in a round hole when it comes to Meyer's spread-option offense. You hear he can't run. You hear he should just give the ball to freshman Tim Tebow and take his spot on the bench. And last week, you hear his father, Curtis, say fans don't want a black quarterback breaking DannyWuerffel's Florida records.
You may hear it, but Chris Leak doesn't.
"My main focus is on winning games and winning championships," he says.
What kind of alternate reality is this? A three-year starter who is closing in on every significant passing record in Florida history is one of the most vilified players in the country? How can a player that came in with more hype than The Phantom Menace be going out like he's Jar Jar Binks?
Somehow, Leak has successfully fallen behind Notre Dame's Brady Quinn in every Heisman conversation. Notre Dame's golden boy is hyped for his made-for-Sunday game, but don't forget that Leak is a prototypical drop-back passer, too. While Quinn gets to carve up offenses in CharlieWeis' NFL-style offense, Leak is forced to make the most out of an offense that requires the quarterback to be able to rush and throw on the run, which doesn't exactly play up to his strengths.
Just think what he'd do if he was in Weis' offense?
Leak proved under Ron Zook, his coach during his first two years, that he can put up ungodly passing numbers (3,197 yards and 29 touchdowns his sophomore season) in a more traditional system. But he won't have that chance again at Florida unless he adapts, and Meyer for one, doesn't buy into the talk that Leak can't change to fit the scheme.
"I don't agree with the square peg in a round hole," Meyer says. "It's our job to make it a square peg in a square hole or a round peg in a round hole, and we're doing that.
"Chris is not a great runner. Can he be a functional runner? Absolutely. He had some great games running the ball a year ago. Every quarterback at some point, in my opinion, has got to make plays with his legs sometimes.
"Chris certainly has the ability. He just has to be a little bit more productive at it."
The problem is Leak isn't former Utah quarterback Alex Smith or even Josh Harris, who led Meyer's offense at Bowling Green. When Meyer's scheme is under the right direction, it's a thing of beauty. But as long as Leak is at Florida, Meyer's best bid is to not change the quarterback, but change himself. Now, revamping everything just to highlight the talents of a guy who won't be there next year may seem crazy -- especially if Tebow's game is as made for Meyer's offense as Smith's was -- but Leak is a talent that can't go to waste while Meyer works in the players better suited for the system. And you have to look no further than Penn State last season to see what can happen when an offense is tailored to better utilize a quarterback's natural gifts.