Pat Forde needs to be cited for making far too much sense in this piece on Chris Leak's senior year at Florida. Florida fans split into two rival camps on the topic of Leak: one that blames nothing on the quarterback and assumes that, with some stability and support, he'll deliver in big games, and another camp that points to the lack of rings on his hand as evidence of his inability to win when it counts. Add message board punctuation and plenty of emoticons, and you've got an excellent summary of fifty percent of Gator fan discussion over the past three years.
Chris Leak's mercurial career: sliding to a conclusion.
The truth is, for the most part when Florida managed to get in the red zone in the past three years we prayed for simple handoffs. First, running on first down in the end zone usually sets up embarrassingly easy play-action TDs later on when you really, really need them. Secondly, it also works remarkably well even when you've got Florida's slappy offensive line making the holes for you and doesn't risk the game-changing endzone pick that all too often winds up going 98 yards the other way. Bill Belichick, Meyer's BFF and brain-pickee, runs in short yardage situations most of the time not because it instills toughness grit blah blah blah, but because statistically it's the easy, sensible bet.
Yet a third reason lurks back there...Leak and his ability to win games single-handedly. Forde's piece seems to pick up on something creeping around the periphery of our thoughts since the South Carolina game last year: his lack of initiative on the field. Most quarterbacks have to be taught to find the checkdown or the hot route after spending years heaving passes downfield; Leak's tutelage has involved turning him from Checkdown Charlie to a passer willing to take some, any, please god something chances against defenses. He won't throw many picks, he'll slide when he runs, and he'll throw the ball away if he runs out of options. He's safe as milk and about as interesting to watch excepting the two or three times a game he lays a ball onto a receiver's fingertips with smart-bomb precision and keeps his blue-chip mythos afloat.
Chris Leak, though, has never singlehandedly taken over and won a game Florida fans wouldn't care to forget anyway. His coming-out party at Kentucky owed everything to Jared Lorenzen suffering a stroke and tossing a wild pass directly to a UF defender for a touchdown. Big victories at LSU in 2003 and FSU in 2004 relied less on Leak's arm and more on defense and special teams. His only real memorable last-minute victory came in '05 at home against Vandy, and even then...do you really want that as your big signature win? That seems less about beating someone with superior guile and grit and more about avoiding complete disaster at home.
None of this says anything about Leak's character or personality. He's been the anti-Doug Johnson for Florida, a humble, polite, easygoing guy off the field who's never been near a whiff of trouble and also happens to be the prettiest man on the field according to a sample of randomly selected Florida fans.* As Forde points out, though, he also does not have a ring of any sort despite gaudy numbers, residual recruiting hype from four years ago, and the ever-shining sirens of unfulfilled potential hounding him.
The closer it gets to the season, the more we realize: there isn't any sort of reason why Chris Leak can't be replaced by Tim Tebow if Meyer feels like it's a better fit. Supporters of Leak would point to his track record. Unfortunately, going into his senior year, so can detractors. It wouldn't be uncrazy to think it could happen.
Two months ago we thought this was preposterous, but if Major Applewhite could eat bench after his career in his senior year, there's no reason why the same couldn't--and won't--happen to Leak. We suspect Meyer would turn Grandma into knockwurst if it meant winning a national championship. Why he would let Leak stand in the way if he thought he was an obstacle is beyond us.
*Sample size= The Conscience of a Nation.