Head coach Jim McElwain took the field with the Florida Gators for the second time on Wednesday as the 2015 spring practice session rolled along. Afterwards, McElwain met with the media in a short session to discuss some of the early goings on with the team.
“Second practice – obviously some new things going in, thought it was a little sloppy actually today. We got a lot of details that we need to take care of, and yet, that’s expected when you get new install like this. Friday as we get going we may have to actually take possibly a little bit of a step back, and yet, the key right now is to kind of keep loading the wagon and keep loading the wagon and come back, reteach it again.
“They’ll be able to go through it this summer and we’ll get ready for the fall. Overall, still like the tempo still like the way the guys are competing against each other and helping each other get better. That’s kind of one of the things we’re striving for.”
Snap to it
With Florida’s offense going back to having multiple packages with the quarterback under center – and with the Gators rolling out two second-year quarterbacks as well as a thin, inexperienced offensive line – the team is far from comfortable with the ball exchange.
To that end, McElwain and the offensive staff have spent extra time on the discipline this week, running plays exclusively under center during Monday’s practice and splitting up the play calling one-third each to under center, shotgun and pistol formations on Wednesday.
“We’ll work it everyday, and it’ll be part of our offense,” McElwain said.
Offensive line coach Mike Summers is teaching the exchange in reverse with McElwain noting that a center needs to know where the ball needs to end up before he can worry about getting it there. In that same vein, the quarterbacks are working on taking the ball in motion, while the centers also concentrate on anticipating the snap count.
Redshirt sophomore Cameron Dillard entered spring practice as the starting center with walk-on classmate Nick Davis, a Salt Lake City product who attended Bucholtz High School in Gainesville, working behind him. Also taking snaps? All of Florida’s guards.
“We’re going to need to be able to develop some depth there as well,” said McElwain.
Plugging a major hole
Tight end play for the Gators has been relatively non-existent since the departure of Jordan Reed. As OnlyGators.com investigated ahead of spring practice, 2013 was the least-producitive season in school history for the position dating back to the first year it appeared on Florida’s roster in 1966. The 2014 campaign was only marginally better with redshirt senior Jake McGee, who was expected to be a big and capable target for the offense, suffering a season-ending injury in UF’s opener.
But McGee is now healthy, and though he is not competing in the full slate of practice drills, he’s getting plenty of work in and impressing those that have seen him on the field.
“Jake’s been running around pretty good,” McElwain said. “He’s taking all the [skeleton drills], all the work when we work outside linebacker combo period with the tight ends – he works that. We’re just keeping him out of any drill where there’s a bunch of people where he can get piled up.”
The Gators do have a number of tight ends outside of McGee, though, each of which presents some legitimate upside. All are either 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4, weighing in from 225-249 pounds.
“Here’s the good thing. We got a lot of options there. We got some guys that are battling. I really like their want. They’re still probably not as big as you want yet, [but] they’re young, they’ll get bigger over the summer and in the offseason,” said McElwain.
Joining McGee are sophomore DeAndre Goolsby, redshirt freshmen C’yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens, and true freshman early enrollee Daniel Imatorbhebhe.
“I think we’ve got a couple guys that are gonna be able to play on the line with their hand in the dirt and able to motion and shift,” McElwain continued without singling out any player(s). “The one thing – they run well. We’re going to be able to stretch the field a little bit at that position. I kind of like those match-ups.”
Outlook for Friday
To this point, Florida has been practicing and working out in jerseys and shorts. That will change in the Gators’ third practice on Friday, when they will don pads and “start to do something that resembles football out there,” as McElwain so poetically put it.
Florida will treat these thud-tempo practices like most other teams in the nation with the defense squaring up to the offensive player, wrapping up the ball-carrier to indicate a tackle and then letting them run free to finish out the play. No players will be taken to the ground (by design) and there will also be no cutting at the line of scrimmage.
“What we’re trying to do is get our steps. We’re trying to get guys to control their gaps, defensively know where their fits are, and then obviously offensively – with this young offensive line, man – bullets start flying from everywhere a little bit. So picking up pressure is where we’re really going to look at it with the pads on,” he noted.
McElwain is most interested to see how the Gators compete when they get in pads. He said he is stressing the players giving 100 percent effort not only to help themselves but also their teammates who they are competing against, as that is the only way to truly get better. It will also help determine which players are the real deal and which others may still need some time to mature and develop.
“I know the guys get excited when we get to put pads on. … At the same time, we’ll be able to see how guys react,” he said. “There are guys that are sometimes like no-pad All-Americans, and then when you get the pads on them, they slow down a little bit or something. So we’ll find out about that on Friday.”
Odds and ends
» Sophomore Brandon Powell, who has been moved from running back to wide receiver, has impressed McElwain with his sure hands and overall athletic ability. McElwain sees Powell as a “Get it to guy,” someone who needs as many touches as possible in a given game. He explained Wednesday why Powell was moved to wideout and how the Gators plan to work him into the offense in 2015.
“Talking with him, he kind of moved in and out of positions. What we’re trying to do is find him a home in our offense. He’s a guy that’s obviously got to touch the ball, but he’s probably more comfortable at running back, so we felt putting him at full-time receiver [was a good way to develop him],” McElwain said. “We’ll use him in jet sweeps; we’ll bring him back in the backfield and he can still run the ball as a running back. That’s the versatility that you kind of look for at that position. He really looks comfortable out there. That’s something that’s good to see.”
» Powell is one of four playmakers who have seen action returning punts over the first two practices. Joining him are junior wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and a pair of cornerbacks in junior Vernon Hargreaves III and redshirt freshman J.C. Jackson.
» Florida will begin working on kickoff returns in practice on Friday, a play McElwain said Friday is not a special teams play but rather the responsibility of the offense, which will be responsible for coaching it. “They’re the ones who teach it because it’s the first play of that series,” he said. “That’s kind of how we approach it. We’ll put that in on Friday.”
» McElwain is pleased with what he’s seen from the Gators’ defensive backfield to this point, noting that he’s “really impressed with the amount of talent that [Florida has] collected at the position.” He also said he’s proud of the way they push each other and “take every down and every play and try to get better.”
“That’s definitely something that’s great to see, just that competition amongst all of them and really how they communicate and help each other get better. It’s fun to watch those guys play,” he continued. “And they can cover. And they’re not afraid. They’re really a good veteran group. We’re going to have to rely on them a lot to make a lot of plays, and yet, they can’t take that upon themselves. They just got to win each and every down and have short memories because that’s a position that, at some point, you’re going to get beat. That’s just the nature of the position. Great ones have real short memories.”