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.
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.”
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.”