Posted: Thursday August 10, 2006 12:47PM; Updated: Monday August 21, 2006 1:11PM
Keep an eye on...
Freshman wideout Percy Harvin. Granted, this is no hot tip, seeing that Harvin was rated the No. 1 wideout in the Class of 2006. But on Wednesday, he was the first Gator freshman to have the black "stripe" removed from his helmet -- at the request of "big brother" Jemalle Cornelius, a senior -- marking Harvin's official status as a team member. "[Cornelius] told me, 'Welcome to the party,' and that meant a lot," said Harvin. "I've just been working hard and running good routes. I caught a couple of outs today and a touchdown across the middle."
Florida receivers coach Billy Gonzales said of Harvin, "He's very explosive. He's one of those special athletes, and he's dying to be good. He's got the desire to be the best in the country." Expect to see both Harvin and fellow freshman Jarred Fayson on the field from Day 1, albeit not in starting roles.
It's not one player, it's the entire O-line: tackles Phil Trautwein and Drew Miller, guards Jim Tartt and Ronnie Wilson, and center Steve Rissler. To be frank, they didn't look like an SEC-champion-caliber unit this week. They have a few excuses -- four of them are new starters, and the lone returnee, Rissler, has moved to center from guard. Plus, the defensive line they face in practice is one of the nation's best.
But if Leak is to come anywhere near his lofty goal of 50 touchdown passes, and the running game is to find its groove, the Gators' line cannot be as porous as it has been in practice. Meyer offered a blunt assessment, saying, "I like the way Chris is playing, but my biggest concern is the offensive line. I like their attitude, but they're just not very good right now."
My favorite camp play ...
... involved Baker, in a passing drill when he was lined up against star defensive back Reggie Nelson. Baker put a fake -- "It was a basic move that coach G [Gonzales] taught us called the three-step lock," he said -- on Nelson about 10 yards downfield. Nelson bit the turf, and Baker loped downfield to reel in a beautiful spiral from Leak. The wideout proceeded to yell out, "touchdown!" and run back to the receiver line flapping his arms and towel like a bird, looking right at Nelson. A boisterous group of fans, standing about 15 feet from Nelson on the sidelines, yelled, "Hey, Reggie. Man, if you fall, you gotta take him down with you! Take that penalty!"
"Reggie's not a bad corner at all," Baker said. "He just made a mistake and I capitalized on it. Nothing big. The rest was all fun and games."
Factoid that may only interest me
There was only one person on the field in Gainesville who wasn't wearing short sleeves: Meyer. Not that this is anything new -- the coach sports a long-sleeve, white cotton Gators shirt every day for practice -- but it's notable considering the intense tropical heat. Reporters (including myself) were sweating through their shirts, and players had rivers of perspiration running off them at all times, but Meyer offered me a very sound explanation: "I care about skin cancer."
The Gators don't head to a remote location for camp, but they do sequester their players. Their heralded freshman class has been holed up in a campus-area hotel since Sunday, and the veterans are set to join them on Friday, just before the start of two-a-days. ... Meyer's wife, Shelley, who has always been a visible supporter of her husband's teams (at Bowling Green, Utah and now Florida), was sitting beside the field on a blanket during practice Tuesday. During a break in the action, she took their 7-year-old son, Nate, out onto the field to kick field goals. He won't be challenging starting kicker Chris Hetland this season, but Nate has a lot of upside. ...
Not that Leak appears outwardly worried over Tebow's presence in camp, but at one point during a light passing drill, Leak started throwing spirals with his left arm, too ... Neither quarterback looked great on Wednesday; Leak was picked off twice in six passes against the second-team defense, while Tebow completed one of his first four attempts against the first-team D, but ran for a touchdown. ... Fayson, who was a quarterback in high school, took a few snaps behind center in drills on Wednesday, and could potentially move back to the position if Leak or Tebow were injured. ...
A couple of hundred hard-core fans show up each day to take in practice, despite the total lack of shade around the practice field. The Gators' practices will be closed to the public -- and the press -- after this week. ... You know you're in college football country when, after dropping into the Jacksonville Airport from JFK, you walk by the shoe-shine stand and overhear the guy telling a customer, "I hear Florida got trouble with the running backs -- Urban Meyer moved Billy Latsko, the fullback, to No. 1 in the spring!"