Jim McElwain talks injuries, depth problems, other issues ahead of Florida Gators spring practice

By Adam Silverstein
March 10, 2015

New Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain met with the media on Tuesday for just the third time. The 30-minute back-and-forth saw McElwain touched on a number of topics regarding spring practice and the upcoming 2015 Orange & Blue Debut spring football game. McElwain was once again extremely close-to-the-vest on most topics, often times failing to answer even direct questions.

INJURY “UPDATES”

With a handful of important Gators – at least as far as 2015 is concerned – injured with spring practice on the horizon, McElwain was asked to provide some updates on their statuses at the start of practice. He relented, sort of, despite not providing any specifics regarding the injuries or timetables for return.

Senior linebacker Antonio Morrison announced he would return to Florida days after being injured in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl. Morrison’s injury, a torn ACL, has yet to be mentioned by the school at the request of his family. “Morrison will be out. Things are going well with him. He’s really attacking his rehab and been with us,” McElwain said. “I’ve got to tell you what now, here’s a team guy. He doesn’t miss a team meeting. He’s out there at every practice doing what he can do. That’s really good to see.”


McElwain also held off providing specifics on redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee, who broke his tibia and fibula in UF’s 2014 opener against Eastern Michigan and missed the remainder of the season. “Jake will be in a lot of drills, but he will not be in any live action,” he said. “That will give a lot of those tight ends – which, we’ve got a good group of tight ends, I’m talking about from a numbers standpoint . They’re going to allow us to move in the direction we want offensively with those guys handling a lot of the load. He’s been running with our team, but we certainly don’t want to jeopardize that, and it’s too short out from [his injury].”

Regarding redshirt senior offensive lineman Trip Thurman, a 10-game starter at left guard who injured his shoulder last season, McElwain was a bit more open. “He’s not going to do anything in practice. He’s still with the team. That shoulder is [in such shape] that, if we can get an eight-month cycle off of it, then maybe we’re able to piece some things together with him next fall,” he explained.

That did not last for long, though, as McElwain completely clammed up about juniors LB Jarrad Davis (torn meniscus) and defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. (hip surgery). “They’re injured. … They’re hurt. So it’s a pretty good chance they won’t practice much, but we got to get them healthy,” he said.

ROSTER MANAGEMENT ISSUES

With Thurman now officially unavailable, the Gators will have just seven scholarship offensive linemen and six scholarship linebackers healthy for spring practice. Obviously, that’s a major concern, and it’s one that is keeping McElwain up at night.

“We got a long, long ways to go. Obviously our numbers from a roster-management standpoint are nowhere near where we need to be. Especially thin at linebacker, very, very thin at offensive line to the point that we all knew this was coming, so it’s not a shock, but we’re going to have to adjust how we practice, the amount of reps that we get and the ways in which we do things,” he explained.

“But we’ll handle that. That’s the cards we were dealt. That will be alright. The key will be making sure we get as much work as we can with as many people as we can to kind of establish who we are, what we’re all about and the direction we’re going to head with this football team as we move in from spring ball into the summer session.”

Asked how exactly Florida will handle those roster issues, McElwain started with a joke before turning serious.

“Cry,” he said with a smile. “It’s been a lot of sleepless nights figuring out how we’re going to practice from a standpoint of trying to make sure we don’t lose some other groups because of the one group. And yet, putting so much work on them, sometimes you get caught up in that. Adjusting how, actually having rep counts, pitch counts on certain guys as we kind of move forward.

“It will be an evolution because it’s something that, moving forward, we need to get our roster balanced. It’s the same way at linebacker now, too. Just from a depth standpoint. Got good players – and I’m not saying anything about players – I’m just talking about structurally how you practice to get the most out of it. It will be a little different based on those numbers.”

OnlyGators.com went more in-depth on UF’s roster depth issues during our Readers’ Choice series this past week.

CONSTRUCTION TURNS GATORS INTO VAGRANTS

Florida will not just be adding an indoor practice facility but expanding its outdoor fields, McElwain noted, with the short field set to move into the area that currently houses the throwing pit for track & field.

All of the Gators (closed) spring practices will be held on the lacrosse and soccer fields; other than that, Florida will practice inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for scrimmages and on other special occasions.

“That’s going to hinder a little bit what we do in camp this summer because right now we’ll just have The Swamp here and the fields over there as far as for use for what we need to do,” he said. “That’s going to be a little bit different, and yet, improvise, adapt and overcome. That’s really what it’s all about. You don’t worry about the hand you’re dealt, you worry about how you got to attack it moving forward.”

QUARTERBACK BATTLE

The tussle between sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier to enter 2015 as Florida’s starting quarterback has already commenced – off the field. But it will get going on the gridiron shortly, and McElwain is interested to see where it goes.

For now, he is not concerned with naming a starter. He wants to develop both Harris and Grier and see where things go from there.

“We’re not putting a timeline on a starting quarterback. … When it’s time, we’ll name that. I’m looking forward to seeing what those guys can do and seeing the competition. They’ll get an opportunity with all groups; that’s just the way we practice,” he explained. “Sometimes guys become kind of crutch-heavy if they’re just practicing with the same group of guys. You never know who’s going to be in the game, so you got to develop trust with everybody.”

As for what will factor into McElwain ultimately making his decision?

“A guy that learns how to throw it to our jersey, our color jersey, is probably the most important thing, understands the importance of taking care of the football and affecting the people around him in a positive way. That’s really what we’re looking for.”

OnlyGators.com went more in-depth on UF’s upcoming quarterback battle during our Readers’ Choice series this past week.

SPRING GAME ADJUSTMENTS

Due to a variety of issues mostly having to do with injuries and depth, Florida has not held a traditional spring game in two seasons. It is starting to look like it will be three-straight years that the Gators put forth a glorified practice in mid-April.

“I don’t see how you can [hold a normal spring game] when you don’t have two units,” McElwain admitted.

“We’ll probably look at having a traditional offensive and defensive scoring system and then obviously, within that, some pure red-area competition, overtime competition, coming out competition between the units.

“But I really don’t have that answer now until we see where we are 15 practices from now.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» McElwain said the Gators have not made any specific position changes just yet, though he will be working sophomore Brandon Powell at wide receiver to start spring practice as he had success both at wideout and running back as a freshman in 2014. “That obviously makes us thin at running back, but at the same time, you kind of do the guy a disservice when you try to do a little bit of both,” he said.

» Director of strength and conditioning Mike Kent has been mixing and matching position groups in the weight room in order to further the “team” concept. McElwain is pleased with how that is working to this point.

» McElwain on being pleased with the team’s change in attitude: “Walking in here finally, there was a little energy. It was a little bit better. I didn’t feel like I was in Winn-Dixie walking down the frozen fish aisle seeing a bunch of non-reactive bodies in here. I like being around these guys. They got some energy when we were able to come in here and visit. They’re actually a lot of fun, but yet, the work is really just now kind of getting going. How they adapt to the change in the practice philosophy, for example, will be interesting. That’s a constant thing. It isn’t just your team, now. It’s everybody that’s involved in the football program. If some guy is always working in my office and the son of a gun looks like Eeyore, ‘Turn around, come back in like Tigger, so at least I got a chance here.'”

» McElwain on being ready to get out on the field: “I have nightmares about the inability to get out of a huddle because some of these guys have never huddled. Taking a snap from center is a novel concept, OK. Routes on air, I just hope we complete one. So that’s what I’m excited about – our first day of practice.”

14 Comments

  1. ntcrze says:

    There is not much good to take away from McElwain’s press conference. I guess the best thing is that Powell will become a wide receiver, something that was expected, and can only help to upgrade the position. There were many more troubling items, though. From McElwain’s comments, it sounds like Trip Thurman’s career at UF may be over. You have to read between the lines when he says that they are “hoping” his shoulder will be fine in the Fall. It’s huge that he won’t play in the Spring, since the expectation was that he would move to center, and that’s a position that you need a lot of reps. I think, unlike those that believe it’s left tackle, center is the most important position on the line, and if you have a good center you have a chance to be a good offensive line. If you watched FSU play last year, they struggled badly with their line until they moved their left tackle to center. Morrison may also not be ready to play in the Fall. Having McGee not able to participate in live action is also a big setback, since he is being counted on to improve production at the position. That might be a blessing in disguise, though, it will give a chance for someone else to emerge, which may be needed since there’s no guarantee that McGee will ever do anything at UF. Foot injuries can linger and he might never be the player he was at Virginia. All in all, it’s not a great prognosis for UF this Spring, and that may be carried into the Fall.
    I was encouraged by one thing, the change to being a team that huddles up and takes a snap from center can only help UF. It will be beneficial in recruiting a quarterback because he’ll develop in a pro-style system, which will enhance his chances to play in the NFL. One of the reasons that Jameis Winston is considered a lock to be drafted before Marcus Mariota is that he played in a Pro-Set, UF doing the same will help. Another thing that’s encouraging is that McElwain doesn’t seem to be a coach that will dole out a lot of B.S. Unlike Muschamp, who constantly fed us garbage about how greta Jeff Driskel was, etc. McElain knows he has his work cut out for him, and is not going to fan the flames of unrealistic expectations by sugarcoating the talent at UF. I think he knows that UF is a mess right now, and it’s to take more than words or a few months to turn it around. This is a rebuilding job that is going to take years, I jusdt hope UF fans will be patient.

    • 305Gator says:

      “There is not much good to take away from McElwain’s press conference”

      “There were many more troubling items, though. From McElwain’s comments, it sounds like Trip Thurman’s career at UF may be over’

      “there’s no guarantee that McGee will ever do anything at UF. Foot injuries can linger and he might never be the player he was at Virginia.”

      “McElain knows he has his work cut out for him, and is not going to fan the flames of unrealistic expectations by sugarcoating the talent at UF. I think he knows that UF is a mess right now, and it’s to take more than words or a few months to turn it around. This is a rebuilding job that is going to take years”

      If you were a Gator fan then you would qualify as a Debbie Downer.
      But you are a semihole troll and as such it is no wonder you always have bad things to say about the Gators.
      Coach did not imply UF is a “mess” nor did he imply Thurman’s “career is over, the only thing he said that is negative is that the team is thin at OL and LB. We all knew that already.
      Funny how all of a sudden a semihole clown has so much interest in the Gators.
      BTW, watching FSUcks play last season one has to conclude that without Shameous they will have a big drop off this year.

      • Ken (CA) says:

        Really? We stoop to the troll level now? Are those 3rd grade type name changes really seeming funny to you? They make legitimate points just seem childish. We are far better than they will ever be, and we should compose ourselves that way. You can certainly post whatever you want, but as soon as I see people making wordplay on team and school names their level of credibility and maturity drops to somewhere near 0 with me.

        • 305Gator says:

          Whatever you say Ken. Just realize I was responding to the same idiot who took you to task on the the recent article about the QB competition. This is what he said to you in case you didn’t get to it:
          ” Your comments about Driskel being a Heisman candidate were a joke, and you’re not smart enough to accept your losses now, you want to double down on a colossal bust like Driskel. It’s time to say uncle and leave the evaluating of quarterbacks to those who actually know what they are talking about.”
          I came to your defense in that thread, go back and look at it.
          This ntcrze clown is an FSU troll and I will continue to call him out.

          • Ken (CA) says:

            I am well aware of what he said and that he is a troll. It is just so easy to call him out and disprove him and be mature and civilized rather than childish wordplay on their school or mascot names. I find it embarrassing when I see “Gator fans” on other national boards that stoop to name calling and other immature ways when it is so easy to call them out simply by using the facts. Like I say, you have the right to post what you want. I just like to think that Gator fans are above that kind of thing, as we have the best overall athletics program and one of the best Universities in the country.

            We don’t need the insecurity of a Seminole fan that had a small flash of success over a very small window of time in one or two sports. It is barely in the top 100 universities (surprised actually it is even that high), was a girls school until the late 50’s, has limited alumni and fan base so it can’t even support its own athletic programs and begs the state for tax dollars for improvements and support.

            They had to petition the state a few years ago to be considered “co-flagship” university in the state because they that UF was always considered the premiere Florida University and getting the legislature (conveniently located right near their campus) to try and give them a step up from being the “ugly stepchild” university most have always considered them to be.

            They are a Florida wannabe, always have been, always will be. They compare themselves to UF as the standard, and the rare times they equal or pass UF, even temporarily they will crow about it for years, because that is all they have.

            This particular poster likely has never even attended FSU, and wouldn’t surprise me if he has never even attended a game in a single sport at FSU, and at most, maybe a football game or two.

            So, it very easy to go on and debunk anything they say without being derogatory or childish, all we have to do is state facts, and if they continue to whine, we can choose not to respond when they get petulant. Ultimately, they will get tired of it, or get obnoxious enough that Adam will have had enough or they will have an intelligent discussion. Whatever happens, we take the high road, we always hold the winning cards.

            • 305Gator says:

              All that you say is true but this moron has been camping on this site lately, posting long diatribes on every story and even pretending to be one of us. So forgive me if I call him a semihole or refer to his school as FSUcks, too bad you get offended by such wordplay.

      • ntcrze says:

        You seem to not understand the English language, do you? When McElwain says they are going to let Thurman’s shoulder rest for eight months, and then “maybe we’ll piece together some things for him in the Fall” it means that Thurman’s future at UF is questionable at best. It’s not something that should shock anyone, a former lineman, Octavius Jackson I believe, had his career cut short at UF for the same kind of problem. Reading comprehension is something you need to learn, that’s very apparent. But instead of that you whine about the messenger and do your never ending prediction of the demise of FSU, like that’s relevant to anything and is just another pipe dream similar to Jeff Driskel being a great quarterback. Here’s another item that McElwain did not say, but I will clue you on. There’s a good chance that Antonio Morrison won’t be ready to play this season, as well. McElwain saying he’s doing great in his rehab doesn’t mean that he will be fully recovered in time to play. He was injured in January, and his injury, although no one will release the information, looked very serious. If Jake McGee still can’t play this Spring, what are the chances that Morrison, who may have a much more serious injury, will be ready in September? I know how quickly Adrian Peterson recovered, but he is an extreme outlier. So instead of attacking the messenger or constantly whining about FSU, maybe you need to brush up on reading comprehension and reality. McElwain seems to have a firm grasp on reality, unlike the previous coach, why don’t you do the same?

  2. Mike The Red says:

    It looks like some freshman OL are going to get good experience. Just accept that this is a lost year and build talent for the long haul.

    • Timmy T says:

      Not a lost season, but a learning one for sure. That said, I feel excited about Florida football again. How long that excitement lasts is anyone’s guess at this point, but I am eager to see the new product. Go Gators!

      • 305Gator says:

        Feel the same way you do. At the very least we should have a competent offense that will put up some points.

  3. Gatorgrad79 says:

    Man, sure hoping we can improve over last years record, but looking at the schedule it looks like the first 4 games are winnable (but Tenn and KY are both going to be much improved) and then after that only Vandy and Florida Atlantic look like pretty sure things, so that is only 6 wins if we beat both Tenn. and KY! No doubt the 4th year of the Muschamp regime set us back 3 or 4 additional years. Oh well, I will go and cheer for the Orange and Blue in all kinds of weather…(of course crazy things happen we weren’t supposed to beat Georgia last year either)

    • ntcrze says:

      I think there is a reason to be more optimistic than you think. Number one, we no longer have the albatross of Jeff Driskel hanging around our necks. That alone should engender hope. As for Kentucky and Tennessee, Kentucky is still Kentucky and I don’t understand the stampede to acclaim UT. UT has yet to actually beat anybody, and them losing to a mediocre UF team last year is just an example of how pathetic they still are. I’m not jumping on the UT bandwagon until they actually do something great on the field. A Florida fan should, particularly, know a string of top-rated recruiting classes doesn’t guarantee a good team on the field. It’s also true that many of UF’s foes have to break in a new quarterback or their returning quarterback is lousy. FSU, Georgia, South Carolina, etc. will have new quarterbacks, and we won’t know if any of them are any good. Georgia may have a better quarterback than Mason, but FSU will have a drastic drop off from Winston. LSU’s quarterbacks suck. This is a year, for the first time since Tebow left, UF might actually have a better signal caller than the opposition. We don’t have any idea if that will be true, but with the other teams having question marks at quarterback, it’s certainly possible. I would not throw in the towel yet. If you have a good quarterback, you have a chance. Since Driskel is history, UF has a chance to have a good quarterback, that’s an improvement with out playing a down.

  4. 305Gator says:

    “we no longer have the albatross of Jeff Driskel hanging around our necks.”

    WE?

    Really?

    So now you are a Gator fan?

    You kicked off this comment section with your usual negative FSUcks bias and now you pretend to be one of us.
    Funny to see how you change your stripes from one day to the next.
    Remember I am here to keep you honest troll.

Top