GAINESVILLE, FLA. (AP) - Maybe it’s youth. Maybe it’s injuries. Maybe’s it’s paranoia or possibly a dose of reality.
Whatever the case, Florida coach Urban Meyer has concerns about his team. The fourth-ranked Gators are a little more than a week away from their season opener, and Meyer sounds like he just watched a replay of last year’s Southeastern Conference championship game.
“I’m hitting the panic button a little bit,” Meyer said this week. “We’ve got to get better faster than what we are right now.”
Meyer’s worries stem from injuries to his offensive and defensive lines, resulting in inconsistency from both units, and several highly touted freshmen failing to meet expectations. He says it’s typical for coaches to be a little cautious this time of year, especially after putting players through grueling, two-a-day practices in 90-degree heat and then hoping they won’t wilt.
He also may have gotten a little spoiled watching Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes and others sail through practices this time last year. Back then, Meyer had an entire two-deep roster returning from a national title team, and his biggest problem was finding ways to avoid complacency.
Now, the Gators are trying to solidify starters, identify playmakers and unify an inexperienced team that has nearly 70 freshmen and sophomores.
Injuries have made it difficult.
Left tackles Matt Patchan and Xavier Nixon have missed significant chunks of fall practice. Patchan broke a bone in his right wrist and spent two weeks in a cast. Nixon sprained an ankle, then tweaked his left knee and had arthroscopic surgery Tuesday.
Without them, right tackle Marcus Gilbert has moved to the left side, center Mike Pouncey has moved to right tackle and backup Sam Robey has taken over at center.
Things are shuffled on the other side of the line, too, with defensive tackles Lawrence Marsh (hamstring) and Brandon Antwine (concussion) having missed time.
Pouncey expects the offensive line to be shuffled for the first two games, against Miami (Ohio) and South Florida, but hopes everything will be back to normal when the Florida opens Southeastern Conference play at Tennessee on Sept. 18.
“If all our guys that are supposed to be playing aren’t going, then we’re in panic mode,” Pouncey said. “We want all our guys to get back healthy and then come back, especially by Week 3.”
Meyer has other concerns, too.
Team chemistry, one of the things coaches hoped to hone during training camp, isn’t quite where Meyer wants it.
“I like our chemistry, where we’re at. But I can’t say I love it right now,” Meyer said. “I was hoping we’d be a little more advanced. … I don’t feel the urgency. I feel it among the coaches, because they know what’s coming. Twenty-five young players that dominated like they did in high school have no idea what’s about to hit them.”
Florida recruiting class was ranked among the best in the country. Defensive end Ronald Powell, defensive tackles Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd, safety Matt Elam, running back Mack Brown and receivers Quinton Dunbar and Chris Dunkley were considered the some of the best players at their position. But they haven’t totally impressed Meyer.
“I was actually a little disappointed in some of them because I thought they’d go take a spot,” Meyer said. “A few of the guys are doing decent. … Some of those big-name guys, I thought we’d have some guys cracking the lineup right now. But they’re not yet.”
Regardless, there’s plenty Meyer likes about his team. He has raved about quarterback John Brantley, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and receiver Carl Moore.
“We relied heavily on the Tebows, (Riley) Cooper, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Spikes and Joe Haden. We don’t have these players this year, obviously. We have a great quarterback, Brantley, but we don’t have that faction of Tebow, Hernandez and Cooper. We have to find other playmakers. That’s what he means about the panic button. We need more playmakers to have another great season.”
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