2005 RECORD: 9-3 (5-3 in SEC East) RETURNING STARTERS: 12
WR Andre Caldwell (Jr.)
Electrifying wideout has fully recovered from broken leg suffered last September
SS Reggie Nelson (Jr.)
Punishing tackler had four sacks in '05
DE Ray McDonald (Sr.)
Run-stuffing end is back following surgeries on both ACLs
Big Man on Campus
Quarterback Chris Leak may be a fourth-year starter, but this will be the first time he has run the same offense two seasons in a row. His increased comfort with coach Urban Meyer's spread-option attack was evident in the spring. His passes were sharper; he made better decisions and made them more quickly. It helped that Meyer tweaked the offense to suit his passer's strengths: Look for Leak to throw more often on the run and downfield.
With Chris Leak comfortable at last in the offense, all the Gators need is a running back to emerge
Sign of the times in Gainesville: hardworking senior fullback Billy Latsko lining up at tailback in spring drills. Could Urban Meyer have made his displeasure with his regular tailbacks any plainer?
Well, yes, actually. Meyer was so underwhelmed by the performance of his tailbacks in 2005 -- at the start of spring ball he would describe their collective efforts as "trash" -- that he threatened to go to an offense that didn't use one.
On paper DeShawn Wynn, Markus Manson and Kestahn Moore did not appear to stink up the joint last year, when Florida's rushing attack averaged a respectable 146.8 yards per game. But that was almost 100 yards fewer than Meyer's offense had averaged at Utah in '04, and Chris Leak would've had an easier transition to the spread if the ground game had taken more heat off him.
Meyer's solution, in addition to signing a trio of blue-chip tailbacks, was to call out his veterans. "I'm not going to sit and watch that trash I watched last year," he proclaimed before spring practice. "We're very poor at the tailback position."
"The truth hurts," says running backs coach Stan Drayton. "The passion and leadership were not there. Guys were not playing to their potential."
The tailback position was thrown open to competition in the spring. While Moore, a sophomore, and early-enrollee freshman Chevon Walker missed most of practice because of injuries, Manson and Wynn were impressive. The most improved player was Wynn, a senior whose 621 yards on the ground and seven rushing touchdowns led the team last season but whose inconsistency maddened his coaches. Drayton, however, liked what he saw in the spring and describes himself as "really excited about what this group is going to do."
Not that Drayton, with less than three weeks left before the season started, had any idea who the starter would be. Look for Meyer to use the first two games, home dates with Southern Miss and Central Florida, to find a feature back before the Gators get into the meat of what may be the toughest schedule in the nation. -- Austin Murphy