August 9, 2009

Joe Haden to get snaps from Wildcat in 2009

The Florida Gators football team seems to be adding another wrinkle to their explosive offense heading into the 2009 football season.

Early on in fall practice, it looks like star cornerback Joe Haden will play some offense this year, and could run a Wildcat package for the defending National Champions.

Haden played quarterback in high school and threw for a state record 7,000+ yards during his high school career. He switched over to defense upon arriving at Florida, where he quickly became a standout at cornerback.

When asked to comment on the possibility of Haden playing offense in 2009, Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer admitted the idea was certainly being tossed around.

"We were screwing around at the beginning of the summer and he threw me a football, and that thing was coming at me in a tight spiral and hot." Meyer said. "I said 'Do that again.' He did it again, and then ever since then he's been talking to me and since we’re allowed, he’s been throwing with quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler."

During the first two practices of the fall, which were open to the public, Haden was seen taking some snaps and running the option, as well as throwing to the defensive backs in one set of endzone drills.

His explosiveness and versatility could help to make up for the loss of Percy Harvin's elusive presence in the backfield. Haden also offers a running threat that Heisman winning quarterback Tim Tebow does not.

Personally, I love the idea. Most teams wouldn't consider putting their star cornerback on offense due to the risk of him taking some shots and potentially going down with an injury.

However, given the Gators' depth in the secondary, color me far less concerned than someone from a team who only has two proven corners.

Not only that, but frequently something you have to worry about when a guy plays both ways is his energy slipping on the defensive side of the ball and him getting fatigues quicker. Again, the depth in the secondary helps to balance this out, as all reports indicate that cornerback Jeremy Brown is ready to step seamlessly into a starting role already.

Imagine an offensive lineup with Haden under center, Tebow split out to one side, with Aaron Hernandez on the other side. Then you have Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey in the backfield, and Deonte Thompson out wide. That's a slew of guys who can burn you with the ball in their hands.

Who exactly are you covering if you're the defensive coordinator. The fact is, modern college football is all about creating mismatches and getting the most dangerous options on the field, particularly in the spread offense.

Having Haden taking some snaps would do just that. I fully expect LSU to do it this year with highly touted freshman star Russell Shepard. What's to keep the Gators from doing the same exact thing this year?

After all, the last guy with Haden's athleticism to play both way wound up being one of the top picks in the NFL and one of the most single influential players to his team in all of SEC football during the 2008 season. If you're still not sure who I'm talking about, I'm referring to Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore.

If it could work for the Commodores, imagine how much better it could work for the Gators, who can surround Haden with a whole lot more talent.

That said, don't expect to see the Gators try this out early in the season. Urban Meyer likely won't put Haden under center for the first time until an big, important game where the Gators need a boost. In all likelihood, we probably won't see Haden take the field with the offense until early October against LSU.

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