Thursday, August 7, 2008

I Feel Like I Need a "This Sucks" Tag

Florida Tight End Cornelius Ingram Tears ACL

Seems pretty much official at this point. Urban Meyer hasn't confirmed it yet, but that seems like a technicality right now. Ingram's going to miss the 2008 season.

Losing Ingram is a big blow to the Florida offense, certainly. It tears a hole in UF's depth chart at the receiver/tight end position. When it looked like Ingram was jumping to the NFL after the 2007 season, I was worried about Florida's receiving corps. CI's decision to return to Gainesville assuaged that fear, but it's back now. The Gators are down to two proven receivers, Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, and Harvin's coming back (by all accounts swimmingly) from a significant heel injury.

But Meyer and the rest of the coaching staff will probably be able to paper over Ingram's loss. Back-up tight end Aaron Hernandez is a sophomore who's ready to explode, and while having him forced up the depth chart at this point isn't an ideal situation, few teams could lose a guy like Ingram and replace him with a guy like Hernandez. And Florida's offense was not reliant on CI's 30-35 catches.

The football aspect of this isn't really what's on my mind right now, however. I'll get into greater depth in a few weeks when I write up a complete team preview.

No, I'm more concerned with Ingram himself. CI's gone through a lot in Gainesville. He arrived at UF in 2004 as a well-regarded athlete/dual threat quarterback and small forward. He lost that later designation fairly quickly and seriously considered transferring before moving to tight end prior to the Outback Bowl in 2006.

He spent 2006 and 2007 as a kind of tight end/wide receiver hybrid, played hard, caught some first down passes and was the leading receiver in both the 2006 SEC Championship Game and National Championship Game. There was some disappointment that he wasn't a more dominant offensive force, considering his impressive size and speed. But that always seemed a little petty.

Ingram had the chance to enter the NFL draft this April. Reports indicated he was leaning that way. But he decided to come back for a final year in Gainesville to try and improve his stock.

I don't want to overstate things here. His situation wasn't similar to the one faced by Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford after Florida won its first basketball championship in 2006. CI didn't turn his back on a first round draft choice, a six digit signing bonus and a long-term contract. He was a little soft and inexperienced to be a tight end, a little slow to be a wide receiver. He came back to spend a year as a true tight end and bump up his draft slot by a couple rounds.

Still, he was going to be drafted, and if he had worked his way onto the drafting team he would have had a nice payday. It's no small thing to say no to a lifelong dream and a six figure annual salary. But Ingram did that, and he was going to be a bigger part of this year's offense. The injury seems beyond cruel, and not just because he'll miss the season. It's hard to figure he'll be in high demand at the 2009 draft, considering he was projected as a late round pick this year and will be coming off an ACL tear.

There have been some grumblings that Ingram might petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, but there's nothing official yet. I hope he does and I hope he's successful, but you can never rely on the NCAA to make a decision that'll help a student.

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