We broke down and admitted ourselves into a new, lower circle of obsessive fan hell by letting ourselves into the "will take time off work for spring practices on a Friday" chapter last week, heading out early on Friday morning to make it to Gainesville just in time for practice on Friday and a brief weekend stay for the Orange and Blue game on Saturday. In our defense, we'll say that it's the only live football we get until September 2nd, and that it gave us a handy excuse to enjoy the cheap liquor and jean-short wearing, live oak shady goodness of Gainesville.
A billboard just over the state line from Georgia bears mention first: an outline of the state of Florida bordered in gunmetal gray, framed by the words: ATTENTION: FLORIDA RESIDENTS ARE AUTHORIZED TO USE DEADLY FORCE. We'd like to imagine that this was sandwiched between an ad for free Disney tickets and a "JESUS IS LORD AT SHEFFIELD'S COUNTRY KITCHEN" billboard, but we can't swear by it. (The campaign is actually part of the Brady Campaign's efforts working against the bill, and not paid for by the state. It's arresting to the eye nonetheless.)
Be advised as to why the Sunshine State pwnz.
Practice notes get second billing to the state of Florida advertising pride in their new deadly force law. Practices under Meyer bear little resemblance to what you may have seen under Spurrier or [NAME REDACTED]: organized by the second, ruthlessly competitive, and actual fun to watch from your comfy spot on the fine bermuda of the sideline.
We sat just in front of the pass skeleton drill and watched the supposedly green secondary more than hold their own against the first string receiving corps, taking notes just in front of a Blackberrying spectator we suspected was InYourFason from the GatorSports message board. (His practice reports are becoming a public utility--buy shares now.)
Things we noticed:
--Reggie Nelson is the leader of this team, both in terms of skull-cracking gamesmanship in the secondary and alpha-dog shit-talking.
He's like the Miami safety we never had: chiding teammates for missed coverages, screaming at receivers when they get in his zone, and generally behaving like a pit bull strolling the yard looking for something to hump/maul/both.
Reggie Nelson, alpha dog.
--Cornelius Ingram looks like Shaquille O'Neal's digital self in Shaq-Fu. Having the biggest calves we've ever seen on a non-lineman black dude would be enough to put him in the freak category, but playing receiver as well as he has after a mere two months at the position in practice represents a biological anomaly. In addition to catching and running routes at a ridiculously fluid level, Ingram also generated a different response from the tacklers, who despite working under two-hand touch rules in practice wanted no part of getting too close to Ingram.
--Leak, despite all the hard work, is still not six feet tall. One practice drill involved running pass drills with three ladders set up along the line of scrimmage. Leak threw a pass blazing into the rung of one ladder and had obvious difficulties at times during the drill. The 6'2" Tebow had fewer problems, though a lofted pass into double coverage had Reggie Nelson all over the freshman. "NICE JOB, TEEEE-BOW! NICE THROW!" Fun stuff all around.
This was just a precursor to the Orange and Blue game on Saturday. Dragging around brother-in-law Jimmy K., we hit the Salty Dog for the pre-emptive strike: a shot of Absolut Citron at 10:15 in the morning, which shocked even the Gainesville bartenders a bit. It's part of a comprehensive distance drinking regimen, though: start big, attain cruising altitude quickly, and spend the rest of the day winding down comfortably from the great height you attained early. Unfortunately the early drinking--and Stranko's inability to make it to the game with his camera--intervened and canceled our plans for an amateur anthropology experiment in front of the stadium. So anyone looking for the guy in the EDSBS shirt pre-game...we're sorry. We plead drunk in this case, and will happily make it up to you during the inaugural EDSBS tailgate on September 2nd, 2006.
Like any spring game, actual divinable meaning is scanty based on what you saw on the field.
--Phil Trautwein ran Juggernaut duty on the line, which seemed less beefy and faster overall as Meyer goes for a Denver Broncos strategy on run blocking. Attacking blocking seems to be the rule now, rather than the startling exception. Wideouts stymied tacklers on blocks, too. Unlike last year's O and B game, a run game existed, especially with Tebow on the field visibly swelling with anger each time a sure ten yard gain was negated by fingertips touching his non-contact jersey.
--Ingram reconfirmed mutant status by catching almost everything thrown to him and throwing a pass on a trick play.
--Chris Leak didn't impress with a nub-fingered cast of second-string drop machines at his disposal, though he and Nyan Boateng had some nice qb/wr telepathy going, a performance that earned Boateng likely starting time over Kenneth "Yellow Flag" Tookes. Wideout's getting crowded fast, though that particular crowd remains an inexperienced, unproven variety of highly-touted recruits.
--Tebow looked far better in action than Leak did, which will fuel qb controversy speculation in the Jacobite wing of internet posters and hack columnists but really shouldn't: Tebow also had a far better tool set of receivers and backs to work with in the game, and used them well following a shaky start to win the game for the Orange 24-6. Leak spent most of his time watching passes clank to the ground off the hands of his receivers.
--At the "trash" position, DeShawn Wynn finally looks like he's got a firm handle on the starter's gig, though Markus Manson split some seams for ten yarders with blippy speed and all but guaranteed himself significant playing time. That playing time could increase should Wynn embrace his usual offseason training regimen of gravy IVs and bear claw dinners.
Wynn as a young man.
We actually missed the second half of the game since we got "stuck" in the Salty Dog on University Avenue during the lightning delay with a few friends and special guest WATB, a mighty Viking of a man and fellow Gator Blogger who split a few beers with us and discussed the finer points of Hagar versus Lee Roth Van Halen. (He believes "Dreams" is the pinnacle of Van Halen achievement; we believe that the band died and was replaced by robots shortly following the recording of 1984. He could have crushed our skulls for our insolence, but declined to, instead tastefully scoping the room for Cougar ass and steering clear of any potential liasons where displaying ID might be required.)
All of the ten hours of combined driving bore fruit, however, for one revelation: hot blog groupies exist. Just outside of the Salty Dog we were stopped by three lady readers who correctly guessed who we were, and like all of our readers were so hot the sidewalk crackled at their feet. Thanks for the kind words and for saying hello, ladies--The Conscience of a Nation would like you all to know that she did some of her best work in Somalia '93, though her black ops cred got a serious boost in Mindanao '97 as well. The Chinese don't call her jimo cike for nothing, right?