Head coach Jim McElwain took the field with the Florida Gators for the first time on Monday as the program opened its 2015 spring practice session. Following the day’s festivities, McElwain met with the media in a short session to discuss some of the early goings on with the team.
“Fun first day. Gotta say this: finally – it seems like it was taking forever to get out on the field and do what the heck we’re here to do, and that’s coach some ball. I like the way the guys have come together, the competition between the units, understanding that each and every play is an opportunity to get better. They probably took a lot more reps than they had been used to in the past and yet we need to increase our pace. It was pretty good for the first day. I felt good about that.
“Defensively, they’re obviously ahead; there’s a lot of carryover from what they’re doing. You can see how fast they were playing. You saw some things offensively from some guys, especially with not that many offensive linemen, guys in there battling. We have to do a lot better job in the run game, but overall you can see some communication going on and that’s really a start. Fun day, great to be out there, now we get to go watch video. That’s even better!”
Communication apparent on day one but just a start
Only so much can be gleamed about the first day of practice, especially one under a brand new coaching staff. That being said, McElwain’s primary takeaway was relatively simple: he was proud of the way the Gators communicated, from the top on down.
“You can see how guys communicate; that’s first and foremost,” said McElwain when asked what a coach could learn from day one. “I was excited to hear the guys actually communicating with each other because if you’re all on the same page, even if it’s not the exact thing that you want it, at least all 11 are working the same way. So from a communication standpoint, that was really good to see.”
The communication stemmed from the quarterbacks, of course. While redshirt freshman Will Grier took the afternoon’s first snap – “Somebody had to, I guess. He must’ve ran in there first. Good for him, nice job,” McElwain said sarcastically – the coach was interested to see how his other signal callers took control of the huddle and their teammates.
“I think all of them communicated pretty good. I saw guys communicating the plays at the line of scrimmage. I think all the quarterbacks, for the most part, that’s something you got to do. You got to be able to be the field general out there a little bit, get everybody lined up,” he said.
As expected, McElwain praised the Florida defense for being ahead of the offense at this juncture, noting that the speed on that end of the field is “really good – no doubt about it.”
His focus now is ensuring the Gators’ offense – which is not only learning a brand new playbook but also working with 6-7 different paces of play, all while being severely shorthanded along the offensive line – does whatever it can to catch up over the next month.
“What we’ve got to do is pick the tempo up offensively, and yet, we will. I see some eager guys out there. Even as thin as we were on the offensive line from a body count, you had guys that believed that you know what we need to get this going together,” he explained. “That was part of that communication. One of the things, if I could say one thing that’s really important is guys communicating with each other on every play so it’s not a secret. I saw some of that [Monday]. We got to get a lot better, believe me, a lot better, but it’s a step in the right direction.
“If we can communicate, that means we know what we’re doing and then we got a chance.”
Leadership, identification and buy-in
While McElwain is having the team concentrate on communication in the early going this spring, he made it a point Monday to note that he does not believe leaders can be developed simply by their ability to verbalize. He hopes to see Florida’s players step up into their roles, whatever they might be, and lead by example both on and off the field.
“Leadership isn’t a vocal thing at all. It’s one of those things where guys, because you know what you’re doing, they trust you. A lot of that needs to continue to work at every position to develop trust. Once they develop trust in you, then you have a chance to be a leader,” he said.
Proud of how hard the Gators worked on Monday, McElwain explained that every player on the roster has an equal opportunity this spring. His goal is to identify the strength of the players, break down what they need to work on to improve and put them in the position to be successful.
“It’s a long process on the ID, and I think we probably maybe even have some that are coming in [as freshmen that can contribute]. I think it will be an evolution as we go through summer, through fall as we get the true ID on who that is [that can be playmakers],” he said.
To hammer his point across, McElwain pulled out a four decade-old pop culture reference, noting that identifying playmakers for Florida was akin to the strange phenomena explored by a show that aired nationally in syndication from 1977-82.
“It’s kind of like ‘In Search of…’ [starring] Leonard Nimoy. You know that old show Leonard Nimoy used to have? ‘In search of…’ That’s what we’re doing right now.”
One thing McElwain has no desire to search for is buy-in from his players. Asked whether the team is on the same page philosophically, he broke down exactly what the Gators need to do in order to see the field and ultimately be successful.
“Go invest in yourself, man. OK? You know what I mean? I don’t have any real magic potions here. The key is invest in yourself, give up yourself for the benefit of others and, you know what, be accountable for everything you do,” he said firmly.
“Your actions speak louder than words, man. We’ll see it on film; we’ll coach it on film. The guys who learn to do what’s right, pretty good chance they’ll play.”
Jersey number changes
At least seven Gators changed uniform numbers ahead of the spring. Florida is expected to update its roster later in the week, but the following number changes were listed by the program on Monday:
4 – sophomore wide receiver Brandon Powell (from No. 15)
6 – sophomore cornerback Quincy Wilson (from No. 12)
8 – redshirt sophomore defensive back Nick Washington (from No. 22)
8 – redshirt junior quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg (from No. 17)
15 – redshirt freshman defensive back Deiondre Porter (from No. 21)
15 – redshirt junior walk-on quarterback Jacob Guy (from No. 8)
18 – sophomore wide receiver C.J. Worton (from No. 14)
25 – redshirt sophomore linebacker Matt Rolin (from No. 9)
31 – sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor (from No. 5)
51 – redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Antonio Riles (from No. 71)
55 – redshirt freshman defensive lineman Thomas Holley (from No. 56)
97 – redshirt freshman defensive lineman Justus Reed (from No. 96)
A pair of freshmen early enrollees, WR Kalif Jackson (No. 87) and tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe (No. 88), were also given their jerseys after being undefined on UF’s initial spring roster.
Odds and ends
» McElwain On Florida’s quarterbacks taking snaps from under center and whether that will necessitate an adjustment period: “Lots [of time]. What a novel concept, isn’t it? Taking a snap from center. Unbelievable. Something new there, you know? Maybe sometime you get in four-minute and [need to] bleed the clock a little bit. It helps to be under center maybe a quarterback sneak here and there, right? OK? We’ll lead with the quarterback sneak. That’s a good play.”
» Redshirt sophomore guard Antonio Riles on day one: “It’s good to get back in tune to what we came here to do. It was fun today, real fast-paced. I like the direction everybody’s going. I like the way things are going. I think we’re taking the right step in the right direction.”
» Junior defensive lineman Joey Ivie on day one: “If we keep this attitude and keep heading in the direction we’re heading in, I think things will be good for the year 2015.”
» Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Thomas Holley (hip surgery) on his health: “There’s a little discomfort. I haven’t been out of surgery for that long. I’m just doing what I can to take care of my hip. There’s days that it hurts more than others. Going into surgery, they found out there were more complications than originally they thought. I just do what I have to do. The coaches are working with me, and the medical staff is working with me to just ease myself back into it.”