Florida Gators football began its second week of spring practice on Monday, but before the team got to work, head coach Jim McElwain met with the media to share some thoughts on how things have been going in Gainesville, Florida.
Mr. Obvious: Yes, redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio is leading the Gators’ quarterback competition. And it’s not hard to understand why: He’s been in the system for an entire year while the rest of his competition is either freshmen early enrollees (four-star Feleipe Franks, three-star Kyle Trask) or a graduate transfer (Austin Appleby) who did nothing at his previous stop to walk into a place like Florida and be handed a starting job.
Overall, McElwain said the signal callers have done a “pretty good” job, particularly in the classroom. He sees that the quarterbacks are throwing the ball to the right players for the most part and recognizing their mistakes when they make them. He is particularly impressed with Del Rio but not just because of his play which, again, should be better due to his relative experience in the system. McElwain has been glad to see Del Rio helping out the other three quarterbacks as they get acquainted with the room and offense.
Injury updates: Redshirt freshman wide receiver Kalif Jackson has likely been lost for the duration of spring practice (if not longer) with a patella injury. McElwain, of course, did not get into specifics about Jackson’s knee injury.
The rest of the team is relatively healthy, though senior defensive lineman Joey Ivie (groin) and junior defensive back Quincy Wilson (hernia) have been fighting through some practices and both junior DB Duke Dawson (foot) and sophomore tight end Camrin Knight (leg) are expected to miss at least one practice.
Rebuilding the line: Here’s what McElwain had to say about UF’s offensive line, which was thin and young in 2015 but appears to be taking steps forward already this spring. Ultimately, week two will be a big one for evaluating how the unit has developed to this point.
“Naturally you think those guys having a year under their belts – and in this system – is going to help them. I’ve seen some really good things early out of David Sharpe. I think he’s really stepped up his production and really his want to play in how he practices,” he said. “That’s been great for the whole O-line as we’re moving. Antonio Riles looks like he’s really stepped up from a standpoint of playing a lot faster. I think that probably has to do with them feeling comfortable within the system.”
Finding some linebackers: Senior Jarrad Davis is one of the best players at his position nationally, but the Gators need more than him to hold down the middle of the defense this season. Hope is that senior Alex Anzalone, a former five-star prospect, will be healthy and reach his full potential following a shoulder injury, but still, that’s just two players.
Enter senior Daniel McMillian and redshirt junior Matt Rolin, each of whom started out slow and/or injured in 2015 but came around for Florida toward the end of the season. McElwain and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins both noted Monday that Rolin improved his consistency and McMillian was exciting to watch as the year went on.
Some high praise: Collins paused while entertaining the media to share some deep feelings for sophomore defensive end CeCe Jefferson, who he said has become the epitome of a reliable, team-first player for the Gators this offseason.
“The best thing about CeCe Jefferson is he’s one of the most coachable kids that I’ve ever been around. He’s very unselfish. He’s a team-first guy. ‘Whatever you want me to do, coach, I’m going to do,’” Collins related. “I think that’s a testament to his upbringing and who he is as a kid. He’s done a lot of things for us, unselfishly gone inside, third downs he might be on the edge but we just move him around for versatility.”
It appears as if Jefferson will fill the Jonathan Bullard role from 2015, playing both outside at end and inside at tackle; however, it is unlikely Jefferson sees as much action as Bullard did inside as he remains more of an edge rusher. Still, Collins harkens back to how Bullard unselfishly helped the team last season as a paradigm for current Florida players to follow.
“One of the best things for this program is what Jon Bullard did, what Antonio Morrison did, coming back for their senior years. Having such a productive season, the way they did it … [players now] just have to match that and take it forward to another level,” Collins said.
Brooklyn goes hard: Faced with the potential end of his football playing career due to a chronic hip injury no doubt exasperated due to his massive 6-foot-3, 300-plus pound frame, redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Thomas Holley is making one last effort to remain on the field. Currently listed at 260 pounds on the Gators’ roster, Holley has dropped nearly 40 pounds and moved across the line to defensive end.
“It’s something he’s kind of been motivated to do, and as you can see, he’s really reshaped his body, doesn’t even look like the same guy. I’m glad he’s out there trying,” said McElwain. Added Collins: “He is a team-first guy. He loves his teammates, is always there for them. … I can’t say enough about the kid as far as who he is and the energy level he brings.”
Based on talent alone, Holley should have no problem making the transition. The question is whether his surgically repaired hip will be able to hold up to football practices, games and tackles over the course of a couple months or years.
Notes and bits:
» McElwain said Florida will wear pads for the first time Wednesday.
» McElwain on how the early enrollees have impacted the program: “Let’s put it this way: They’ve forced some pretty good competition in that room, and I’m sure excited they’re all here.”
» Collins on how the veteran defensive players have led the way: “There’s a high expectation in that room, high expectation with that group. The guys that are supposed to step up … are doing that. They’re talking. The positive energy, the enthusiasm. The guys flying around. The four mid-year guys, the older guys have really taken it upon themselves to get them ready, making sure they know the defense and know the expectation in our room. Those guys have really stepped up for us.”