Gators searching for offensive identity sans Tebow
By MARK LONG
April 10, 2010
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Even after three weeks of spring practice, Florida coach Urban Meyer doesn’t know what to expect from his offense.
Will it be a pass-happy scheme? Will it be a smash-mouth unit relying on the run? How will quarterback John Brantley handle the pressure of following Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow? Which receivers will fill the void left by the departures of Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez?
Meyer hopes to get a glimpse of the answers during the team’s annual spring game Saturday.
“Want to determine who we are on offense,” Meyer said. “I don’t know. We don’t have an offense. I told you that five years ago. Are you guys going to change a lot? We have no idea right now.
“We’re going to do what we do well. If that’s I-formation, if that’s shotgun, if that’s (backup) Jordan Reed at quarterback, if that’s throwing it all over the lot, I don’t know. Right now, I can’t tell you.”
The Gators anticipate finding an identity over the next five months, before Miami of Ohio travels to Gainesville for the Sept. 4 season opener, but it’s clear that an offensive unit defined by Tebow the last three years has some evolving to do.
Those 14 spring practices certainly helped, but there were also some hindrances.
Running back Jeff Demps missed the entire spring because he was concentrating on track. Backup running back Emmanuel Moody missed some time because of injury. Offensive linemen Mike Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, Carl Johnson and James Wilson were limited.
Receiver Carl Moore missed a few days because of personal reasons. Highly touted recruit Andre Debose, who missed all of last season following surgery to repair a torn hamstring, was mostly held out of contact drills.
All the missing pieces resulted in bad snaps, protection problems and fewer top targets to help Brantley hone his passing skills.
Throw in a new receivers coach (Zach Azzanni) and a new running backs coach (Stan Drayton), and the spring has been more about getting acquainted and finding a few key playmakers than getting the offense in rhythm and finding the end zone.
Meyer compared it to his first season at Florida, when the new coaching staff spent the entire spring just getting everyone on the same page and learning new formations and plays.
Players, though, insist little has changed even though they know they won’t easily replace Tebow’s short-yardage prowess and leadership skills.
“It’s the same plays,” receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. said. “No matter what the personnel is, it’s still going to be the same plays from last year and the year before that and the year before that. It’s just different guys in different positions still making the same plays.
“The offense is the same no matter what. Johnny’s still going to run it, still keep it, still pitch it. It’s the same concepts, just different people. Guys come in, guys leave, new guys come in and replace those shoes, and the train keeps rolling.”
But will the train have the same steam?
Tebow set several NCAA records, several Southeastern Conference marks and has his name all over the school record books. Hernandez was a sure-handed receiver who could turn short shovel passes into big gains. Cooper was a deep threat and one of the most tenacious blocking receivers in school history.
Florida also lost three other offensive starters — center Maurkice Pouncey, receiver Brandon James and receiver David Nelson.
Without them, the Gators aren’t sure what the offense will look like Saturday or in September.
“I don’t know,” left tackle Xavier Nixon said. “I’m just out here working hard and doing what I’m told to do. Whatever comes out at the end comes out. What do I think it will be? We’re going to be Florida Gators at the end of the day, and that’s all that really matters. Whatever happens, happens.”