Thursday, January 15, 2009

Two Out of Three Works For Me

Percy Harvin leaves, Brandon Spikes stays.

Nothing too shocking here. Harvin was always assumed to be a three-year player, and while there were some rumblings about him sticking around, this announcement is far from earth-shattering. Spikes' decision is a little surprising, insofar as he was projected to be a first round choice and his family needs the money, but the key word there is "little." One more year of top-end production on a championship team will only help Spikes' draft stock.

I'll talk in a bit about the team Spikes is returning to, but it's important to a sing a paean to Percy.

Any discussion of the most explosive/dangerous/electrifying/dreamy players in Florida history has to start with Harvin. He's freakishly fast, to be sure, but what defines his greatness is his acceleration. Harvin has an extraordinary ability to go from standing still to full speed in the blink of an eye.

If that was all one could say for Harvin, it would be enough. But he has killed himself for the glory of Urban Meyer and the University of Florida. In last week's championship game he played through a fractured ankle. And to do that he had to forego his Christmas break, stay in Gainesville and rehab for more than 10 hours a day. It was just the most dramatic episode illustrating Harvin's willingness to play through pain for the Gators.

As admirable as that is, the fact that he had to play through so many injuries will be used against him in the run-up to the draft. He missed multiple games in all three seasons, and there's fair reason to wonder how the NFL will treat his finicky ankles. His role as a WR/RB hybrid at Florida means there isn't a lot of film of him doing receivery things. He doesn't have the size NFL execs look for in their receivers, and no one's going to make a guy with his injury history a full-time running back.

I suspect, however, that some team in the middle of the first round is going to overlook all that. There aren't a lot of players like Harvin lying around, and NFL teams are always desperate for big-play ability. Percy's got that in abundance.

Harvin made the right decision to go pro. He deserves to get paid. And while his departure presents some challenges for newly minted offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, he's leaving the team in great position for another championship run.

The offense is facing some challenges. Both tackles are graduating, and that's not a position where the Gators have great depth. UF's two best receivers are leaving, and it's not like Florida had a particularly dynamc passing attack this season.

But they'll weather that. Tim Tebow's returning, as are Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Emmanuel Moody, as well as a bevvy of talented receivers who haven't yet broken out. Meyer has also received a verbal commitment from Andre Debose, a receiver whose size, speed and high school film make him look an acceptable Harvin replacement.

And if the offense falls off a bit, the defense will make up for it. All 11 starters are returning from the championship team's stalwart unit, as is the rest of the two-deep. If one of the defensive tackles can step up and become a force (I'm looking at you, Torrey Davis), the 2009 defense has a chance to be the best in Florida history.

A quick programming note: the last several weeks notwithstanding, this has not become a sports blog. I realize my last non-sports post came on Christmas Eve. Rest assured, I fully intend to return to the subjects that reveal me to be out of my depth. But for now, I leave you with the following video of my favorite Percy Harvin play:

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