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March 23, 2008

Spring practice week one: On Fire, Misfire

We continue our coverage of spring football practice with a look at the players who have and haven't been performing up to par. At the end of each week of practice and before the start of the next week, GatorBait.net will take a look back and identify those who are and aren't performing well in a weekly on fire and misfire.

On Fire: It's already becoming redundant. Over the first week of practice, take a sampling of who spectators thought was one of the top five players on the day and the name Percy Harvin would likely be one of the first names mentioned.

He hasn't been in the backfield at all, but that hasn't stopped him for making play, after play, after play, after play. Each and every practice - he's had at least one (and sometimes two or three) plays that drew a reaction from the crowd.

On Fire: In most cases when a five-star prospect comes in, no matter if he is good or not, he doesn't quite live up to the advance billing because so much is expected of him in the first place. That wasn't the case this first week when it comes to evaluating the performance of receiver Carl Moore.

No he isn't as big as advertised, but he has been every bit as good.

On Fire: Before the pads go on, there's really not a lot that can be learned from a running back. You might see some acceleration and explosion, but that can be seen looking at a track star. You might see a player make a cut, but you know he's doing so knowing he isn't cutting back into a collision.

Only when the pads go on and the banging starts can you really get a feel for what a running back brings to the table.

It's only been one practice, but Emmanuel Moody doesn't hit top gear as fast as a Chris Rainey or cut as well as a Brandon James, but he has more size than either of them.

Over the first week he's shown that he has very good hands, the ability to run inside and out and he holds on to the ball (something Mon Williams didn't do on Saturday).

Kestahn Moore is still lining up some with the first team, but if Moody keeps up this pace, he'll have separated himself from the pack by the end of spring drills.

On Fire: Coming off a season finale' in which they were eaten up by the Michigan Wolverines on the field and beaten up by the UF fan base for their part in the Capital One Bowl loss, the young secondary has played well over the first week.

Particularly some of the young cornerbacks.

Joe Haden, Jacques Rickerson, Moses Jenkins and Janoris Jenkins have all had their moments during the first three practices.

If Florida can improve the pressure they put on the quarterback, some of these youngsters will have a chance to prove they can become a defensive strength rather than a weakness.

On Fire: When discussing the potential transfer of James Wilson, one of the names Urban Meyer brought up as an example of a player who started off slow and wanted to transfer was that of offensive tackle Jason Watkins.

Now he is not only one of the leaders of the offense, he might just be one of the best offensive linemen in the SEC if he continues to progress the way he has.

Watkins has not only completely transformed his body from when he first arrived, he is much more technically sound as well.

On Fire: It was sort of a mixed bag over the first two practices for Cameron Newton. He did enough good things - especially with his feet - to be worthy of holding on to the backup job behind Tim Tebow - but make no mistake he wasn't exactly setting the world on fire.

That continued over the first half of Saturday's practice, where he was solid, but unspectacular. That all changed though during the last of the practice session when the team went to 11-on-11 drills. Newton, who had been running with mostly the second team offense, saw extensive action with the first team line and receivers and responded in a very positive fashion as he looked very comfortable running the offense and made plays with both his feet as well as his arm.

Misfire: Other than track, where not only does Urban Meyer permit his football players to participate, but he encourages it as well because of the carry over effect it has for his squad, there isn't a strong recent history of football players excelling at two sports while at the University of Florida.

From Cornelius Ingram to Gavin Dickey - it just hasn't worked out. And now coming up to bat is wide receiver Riley Cooper - who if the schedule holds true, could end up missing more football practices then he participates in this spring.

Cooper, who has played well when healthy - is a good athlete, but unless your name happens to be Bo Jackson, there's virtually no chance whatsoever of a player being a difference maker in two different sports in this day and age. The games are played at too high a level to think that, regardless of who you are, you will be able to compete against players who are focusing all their energy on just one sport.

He missed two valuable practice sessions to accompany the baseball squad to Oxford, where he had one pinch hit appearance in three games. This week alone, Moore, Deonte Thompson and Justin Williams have out performed Cooper on the practice field. Can he afford to continue missing practices and hope to stay ahead of them in the rotation?

Misfire: It is somewhat befitting that UF defensive line coach Dan McCarney was asking players about their 'star ranking' during Saturday's warm-up. While they were right on the mark by ranking Moore as highly as they did, it's only been a week, but it looks as if those at Rivals.com who were responsible for the junior college rankings missed the boat when it comes to Troy Epps. Not only is he starting, he has consistently been the best of the bunch this spring along the line. A line which includes a couple of players who Rivals.com deemed five-star worthy. Epps might have only been three-stars coming in, however he has outperformed all of those around him who had more stars next to their names.

Misfire: Speaking of McCarney, he displayed his displeasure in the way defensive end Jermaine Cunningham performed this past week when he called Cunningham out in a very public way while standing not 10 feet away from the media contingent.

McCarney told him that he had been quiet all week and he was expecting more.

Because of his play last year, so was everyone else. Cunningham did little - very little - the first week. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for the Gator Nation, none of the other defensive ends did enough to come close to supplanting him on the starting line.

Misfire: After a couple of miscues between the quarterback and center during 11-i\on-11 drills, the first thought was that perhaps Tebow simply wasn't comfortable being under center and that was the reason for the fumbles.

However, even after Newton took over, they continued.

Last year Drew Miller, who like Maurkice Pouncey and Corey Hobbs, had to get used to snapping the ball. After a slow start, he eventually got the hang of it.

It goes without saying that Pouncey and Hobbs should also get better as time goes on.

However, the two centers for UF had enough poor snaps (it isn't the quarterback's fault when the ball is skipped back to him time and again while in the shotgun position) this week to earn their spot on our misfire list.

Misfire: He's still not in the greatest shape and whether or not he gives 110% each time out is better answered by the coaching staff and Torrey Davis - but he didn't come out and have the best first day of spring.

Then, as Meyer indicated beforehand that he would, he sat out the second practice.

On Saturday, he played much more, and better, but he's still not where you would think someone with his ability would be.

On Wednesday he was trying to come out late in the practice, and McCarney sent him right back in. That's what he has to learn to do. It is much easier said than done, but he has to block out the part of the brain that tells you you're winded and fight through it. When he learns to do that, with his talent level, he'll likely be a fixture in the 'on fire' list.

On Fire: Going strictly off of completion percentage and putting the ball where it needed to be put, when it needed to be there, John Brantley probably had the strongest week of practice of the three quarterbacks. Yes all three of them, including a certain Heisman Trophy winning quarterback.

The problem is, he has only taken part in throwing 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 drills - portions of the practice where the offense has a distinct advantage over the defense and where the quarterback is going to go with the ball is all but predetermined before the snap.

We haven't seen him yet during 11-on-11 drills and because of his shoulder injury, he wasn't anything more than a spectator during 11-on-11 drills when the pads were on, the lines were in front of the quarterbacks, linebackers and corners were blitzing and quarterbacks had to look for 2nd and 3rd options.

Will he be as good under that type of pressure, we don't yet. But as far as his performance in the drills he has taken part of, he has definitely performed over the first week of practice.


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