We went to a spring game and have the red, red neck and knees to prove it.
--Beautiful, sun blasted Gainesville this weekend, a place redolent with the smell of rotting vegetation, cheap beer, and burritos, and the smell of people actually tailgating for the spring's Orange and Blue game: that was our weekend, combined with ten hours in the car and a hefty dose of Guitar Hero 2 on Saturday night. ("Beast and the Harlot" is hrrrrrrd, d00d.)
Ahhh...sun-blasted Gainesville. That's not us in the foreground, incidentally.
As with any spring game, any bit of good news might potentially be bad news, since any amazing block, nifty catch, or clean sack might as a result of poor play on the other side, a side that happens to be the other half of your favorite team. This explains the odd reactions to any good play made at the Orange and Blue game, where an initial WOOOOO usually had a trailing grumble grumble grumble or OHHHHHHhhh accompanying it.
So 40,000 plus at Florida Field turned out to test out their inner Janus on Saturday,
cheering but also parsing each play for meaning and import at the same time. Spring games always make us feel like the illegitimate child of the Oracle of Delphi and Ron Jaworski: half the time we're working Xs and Os in real time from the stands, and the rest of time we're left looking at chicken innards trying to figure out just who'll manage to actually play well in real games.
The only clear trends you can take away from the game have to be the most obvious, glaring ones. Like these:
Tim Tebow hates non-contact jerseys. But defenders didn't seem to mind; on plays where Tebow scrambled or took off on a designed run, he pulled up on two hand touches with an irritated turn, clearly miffed that he couldn't plow into people. The defender who can bring him down solo will be rare, which you could have guessed. What you may not know is that this year's Tebow, Cam Newton, showed the same willingness to run headlong into the fray, even if he spent most of the first half dropping shotgun snaps and throwing high and wide over the middle. Quarterback runs, a large part of the offense last year, will only grow in importance as Meyer now has two baby rhinos giddy about dragging the game of football back to the 1950s.
Sore shoulders=touch. Tebow had a sore shoulder for most of spring and it allegedly only improved him. He threw the ball with touch, accuracy, and poise both from the pocket and on the run, going for 217 yards and 3 tds in what was essentially a half's worth of work.
A sore shoulder made him better. Meyer now plans to hobble him to make him a better runner.
Most of these weren't the cringe-inducing yields ripped wholesale from a weak secondary, either. Tebow completed tight passes through good coverage all day, including a few on the fake bubble screen which seems wickedly difficult to defend. (The play will certainly be run with Harvin in the slot, forcing defenses to defend him, allowing for a huge gap upfield for an easy reception. Imagining this play run between Louis Murphy deep and Harvin short with Tebow free to run...that's our porn, people.)
Chevon Walker must learn to pass block. Because according to Meyer, that's what's keeping him from outright ownership of the tailback position. He ran for seventyish in the game, most in the first half, breaking tackles and attracting swarms of tacklers before going down. He's the hardest runner at Florida since Ciatrick Fason, and with a deep and savvy offensive line blocking for the zone read plays, Tebow/Walker will make things very, very nasty on linebackers.
Brandon Spikes can transfer energy very fluidly. Particularly kinetic energy, as in the kind you impart to another object when you hit it. Spikes won the award for most NAHs on the day, cracking pads with a ferocity you don't naturally expect given his rather lean frame. We watched no one but him for a five minute span at one point. He's strong and makes pads sing, yes, but his footwork is dazzling; if he weren't a football player he'd be a wicked tennis pro, because he zipped back and forth in coverage like Q-bert, never getting caught on his heels and breaking up passes with arms that can cover multiple passing lanes with ease. He's this year's Reggie Nelson, the brain of the coverage defense who feels the flow of the play prior to anyone else realizing it.
As blitz-happy as Strong can be, he'd be wise to play Tampa 2 more this year with Brandon roaming the midfield. Spikes is forcing us into our second player comparison of the day, since his footwork and telescoping arms resemble no one so much as Derrick Brooks, the fleet weak side linebacker that made Tampa Bay's cover 2 the model for the NFL. Spikes is either that or Dr. Octopus with better abs. We're really not sure.
Brandon Spikes: nimble in coverage and on the runway.
Louis Murphy and Tebow can speak with their minds. Receivers got the historical hyperbole gland working overtime: Caldwell, Ingram, Murphy, Harvin, and Fayson seem to be as good as one could pull out of the Florida history barrel at once. (Hey, go back to 96 if you want--Nafis Karim was fifth, and all five of these five pwn him.)
Murphy, though, has some spooky telepathy with Tebow. Murphy went for 129 yards on 8 receptions with a TD, and could easily slide into the Dallas Baker default receiver slot this year. Like Baker, he's impossible in one on one situations, with long arms, a healthy ability to levitate, and a knack for putting himself in perfectly equidistant position between two defenders in the zone.
Caldwell blazed, Harvin didn't even play, and Fayson made an absurd one-handed catch. Receiver's just fine.
Defensive line is still a mystery.DE Jermaine Cunningham ran clean curves around the offensive line, and Derrick Harvey didn't play, so we'll assume end is set. Tackle, however, is a toss-up. Brandon Antwine played well in bursts, but no one made the guards and center roller skate backwards until well into the fourth quarter. It's a potential weak spot, albeit one with immense potential.
So is the defensive backfield. Kyle Jackson still has flammable potential, and did little to assuage that fear on Saturday. The young corners performed well, but still gave up substantial yardage. Whether this is due to WR awesomeness or their own lack of skill is a riddle of spring that won't be answered until someone goes up top and deep off play-action in the fall. We'll be casting spells and tossing chicken blood around when they do--consider yourself warned.
Haiku summary of Florida at this moment:
Offense, scoring points
Like rain on slopes of Taishan.