Florida Gators 2015 spring practice: Buy-in, communication a focus on day one and beyond

By Adam Silverstein
March 16, 2015

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.

Opening statement

“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.”

15 Comments

  1. ntcrze says:

    I wonder who will not make it to the Fall that’s currently on the team? So far there have been no casualties from the regime change except two players that needed to hit the road, Driskel and Willis. There normally is some attrition that happens with a coaching change. Some don’t buy into the new coaching staff and leave of their own volition or some are run off because the new staff doesn’t want them and have made it clear that they have no future at the school. I don’t have any clue if that will be the case now, or who is a candidate to leave. One player that I do think may leave, and this will come as a shock and I’ll be viciously attacked for saying it, is Kelvin Taylor. I don’t think his career at UF has gone quite the way he expected. There were rumors of his being unhappy his freshman year because he didn’t carry the ball more and he didn’t do much last year, with the exception of the Georgia game. He was, basically, a no-show for the bowl game and we have no idea what the problem was. Taylor is not a good receiver out of the backfield, and I have a hunch that mcElwain will throw to backs a lort more than the last regime. This Spring is important for Taylor. If he isn’t firmly established as UF’s top back by the end of Spring, there will be more competition coming in the Summer. He hasn’t lived up to the hype, and he’s been a shadow of his father. If he doesn’t step up now, he may need to move on to somewhere where he can rejuvenate his career. I know a lot of you don’t like what I’m saying, but I think Taylor is at a crossroads. Which direction he goes is up in the air.

    • Michael Jones says:

      What a bizarre and unnecessarily negative comment to start Spring practice off with.

      • 305Gator says:

        You need to understand that this clown ntcrze or nutcase as I like to call him is a semihole troll with nothing but negativity towards the Gators. Once you know that factoid then his posts can be taken in perspective for what they are. A bunch of crap.

    • Taylor is fine. He’s the starting RB this year and happy w/ the new position coach. What are you talking about?

    • 305Gator says:

      Hey troll, no one has “viciously attacked” you for your moronic post. I am the closest one to doing that, but then again I am just pointing out the facts and calling you out for what you are. Enjoy you time here at the Gator’s blog but be careful if you keep posting crap sooner or later people will wise up to you.

  2. Mike The Red says:

    A Running Back like Taylor needs someone to open up some holes. There was not much of that last two year. Matt Jones was just a freight train who blowed over people.

  3. 305Gator says:

    I like what BigMac is doing and what he is saying so far and it seems the team is buying into it too.
    Leave it to our semihole troll to start speculating on potential trouble.
    FYI “nutcase”, it has been widely reported that Taylor had a nagging injury and that is why he did not play for the bowl game. As for his freshman year, he should have been pissed he “didn’t carry the ball more”. When he did carry it, the few times he has given a chance to do so, he was the best RB we had. he made good plays and was very productive that year only to be pulled after a great play and mysteriously benched. That was the season Jones had the mysterious flu/infection problem where he had an off year but Muschump in his offensive wisdom keep going with Mack Brown and barely gave Taylor a chance. Again when Taylor did get a chance he performed very well.
    From what I have heard BigMac say it seems he won’t play favorites and will let the play on the field determine who plays and who doesn’t. I don’t think Taylor has anything to worry about besides “investing in himself” and being the best he can be.

  4. Michael Jones says:

    The depth of McElwain’s intelligence, football IQ, personality, character and people skills are and have been evident from the start. You HAVE to have those things to be a great head coach. I believe that we are going to enjoy going through the ups and (unfortunately, the short term inevitable) downs that lie ahead with this guy.

    My early take is that Foley did a good job with this pick.

    Go Gators!!!

  5. Sgt. Friday says:

    I think that Taylor has been disappointing. He has not come close to living up to the hype. We saw last year how many freshman running backs were instantly successful, we’re still waiting on Taylor going into his Junior year. Being happy with the position coach doesn’t translate to being a better player, and if you don’t think the position coach will play the best player, I think you’re mistaken, It’s not like UF has had some superstar running back in front of Taylor, Matt Jones will be a late round draft choice, if he’s drafted. I don’t know if Taylor is a candidate to leave, but players transferring after a coaching change is the norm, not rare. What would surprise me is if UF is the exception. I hope Taylor steps up his game, if he resembled his father I wouldn’t be having this conversation. I seem to recall the the same outrage last year when someone said that Driskel was a bum and the new “system” and coordinator wouldn’t change the fact that he was a bum. It turned out that the very small minority was right about Driskel and the rest were wrong. Keep that in mind before dismissing someone or an idea, you might have to eat crow later. I’m sure some of you still have the taste in your mouth after pumping up Jeff Driskel. I guess you wash down the crow with a shot of “troll” to make it go down easier.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Now that my fellow commenters have mentioned it, there are a lot of similarities between what and how you write and the comments posted by Nut-Crazy. You even both use the same expression of “pumping up Driskel.” What a coincidence, lol.

      By the way, I’m still pumping up Driskel. If he was still here, he’d be McElwain’s choice as starting QB. I believe we win at Tallahassee last year with Driskel at QB. Okay all you Driskel haters, have at it . . . . . lol. Can’t help but pull for the kid and hope that he has a great senior season at La Tech.

      • ntcrze says:

        Now we have someone who lives in the land of “If.” “If” Kelvin Taylor was as good as his father, no one would be questioning “if” he will stay with Florida. I just think his career is becoming similar to Driskel’s, a lot of hype, but nothing of substance. It’s eerily similar, as well, with the amount of excuses that seem to come out of the woodwork for this guy. Now his awful showing in the bowl game is blamed on an “injury.” If he was “injured,” why did he play at all? But I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more “ifs” about Taylor. I think he’s just an average back, at best, and will see his role diminish, not grow, especially if one or both of the incoming freshmen are ready to play. Sometime the folks who pray at the altar of “if” need to realize that sometimes a player isn’t that good, and it’s not because of “if.”

        • 305Gator says:

          Nut-Crazy, nutcase, Michael J, ntcrze it’s all the same. One lonely and pathetic loser. “If” you had a life maybe you wouldn’t spend sop much time here. “If” you had something intelligent to say, maybe we would take you seriously. Too may “ifs” and you’re still a troll.

  6. Gatoralum88 says:

    It seems as clear as day to me & is easy to see. ntzrce AKA Sgt. Friday AKA Michael J. You’re obviously STILL stewing & just can’t “let it go” & move on in life after being banned from this site by Adam last fall. Your names may change but your “Gator hater” writing style remains the same. You seriously need professional help for your Gator hate/jealousy psychosis. The amount of time you spend trolling this site, a Gator FAN site, trying to agitate with constant negative posts is crazy! Seriously, you should seek help. I feel sorry for you. It’s no way to live…& pretty sad.

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