Florida Gators 2015 spring practice: Will Grier leads quarterback battle … by a hair

By Adam Silverstein
April 7, 2015

Head coach Jim McElwain took the field with the Florida Gators for the 12th time on Monday as the 2015 spring practice session kicked off its final stretch. After practice, he met with the media to discuss some goings on with the team over the last four days.

Opening statement

Due to the holiday weekend, McElwain did not hold a media availability on Friday to discuss that day’s practice. He recapped both on Monday.

“I was really happy actually with [Monday’s] practice. Obviously it was our last one without pads and a lot of times the guys focus – as far as what you get out of it – isn’t great. But I thought they really came out and got a lot out of it. We were able to really focus on a lot of our situational stuff, last play of the game, some big things both offensively and defensively as well as in special teams, special situations – long field goal, long return – a lot of the things that you try to do and get accomplished and make sure on your checklist that you handle. … You prepare yourself in many ways as you can off your checklist, so that was good.

“Going back to Friday … I thought the defense really asserted themselves. Offensively, the first drive was good – they went seven plays, overcame a penalty … and went down and scored right away. But other than that, the defense did a much, much better job taking the ball away and handling some three-and-out situations. I think [the defense] definitely took control of the scrimmage.”

Some minor separation at quarterback

Florida’s quarterback battle has been more like a slap fight through the first few weeks of practice with neither redshirt freshman Will Grier nor sophomore Treon Harris making a gain major enough to wrestle the starting job away from the other.

Even now, with Harris back in the fold after missing a handful of practices while mourning the loss of a close family member, Grier is only ahead of him by a nose purely as a matter of circumstance.

“Obviously Will’s ahead simply because he’s been here more,” McElwain said Monday. “Skyler [Mornhinweg] did a really good job in that first scrimmage. But just for the fact that the unfortunate situation that’s gone on in Treon’s life, Will’s been able to take the majority of the reps and has gotten a little bit better.”

Overall, McElwain had been pleased with the way the Gators’ signal callers had been “taking care of the football and taking what the defense gives us” … until Friday. Though he did not provide any specifics, the indication by McElwain is that Grier, Harris and anyone else who tossed the ball were throwing up ducks, allowing the defense to capitalize.

Redefining a position group

Suffice to say, Florida’s wide receivers have lacked any semblance of stability over the majority of the last decade. In addition to being integrated into their fourth offense in the last five years, the Gators’ wideouts are on their seventh position coach in as many campaigns, two of which were actually graduate assistants promoted to the position after coaches resigned.

McElwain expects the last hire to his initial coaching staff, Kerry Dixon II, to remain in the role at Florida for quite some time, despite the fact that Dixon’s never coached the position before and is in the most demanding role of his young career.

“He’s a guy that Randy [Shannon] had kind of brought up as far as, especially recruiting down in that area from a recruiting standpoint,” McElwain said in his first extensive comments about Dixon. “His energy, his recruiting down in that neck of the woods is something that’s really important for us. I’ve been really impressed with the juice that he coaches with.”

But what about his lack of experience coaching wide receivers?

“That’s something he’s going to grow into a little bit,” he noted.

The good news? McElwain is a former wideout coach himself, so the position is in good hands, as is Dixon’s career despite the fact that he will be under a little extra scrutiny.

“They always say, ‘Never coach a position that the head coach has coached.’ So I feel bad for him and [offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier] a lot of times,” McElwain joked. “The safest guy is [defensive line coach Chris Rumph], ‘cause I couldn’t tell you what that’s supposed to be, so he gets off easy.”

As for whether Dixon will work out or force the Gators to hire their eighth wide receivers coach in as many seasons when 2016 rolls around?

“That’s an unbelievable statistic and hopefully we can bring some clarity, stability to that position,” he said. “[Dixon]’s a guy that’s heavily involved int he kids’ lives, and I think they’ve already found out that he’s there for them. And that’s really important.”

Odds and ends

» Running backs coach Tim Skipper on junior Kelvin Taylor: “K.T. looks very good. He has real good feet. That’s the number one thing that stuck out. The kid is a competitor, now. There hasn’t been a practice that he hasn’t shown up. He brings his ‘A’ game every day. He lets the defense know about it – one of the more talkative guys out there. Just brings a lot of energy. I enjoy coaching him. He’s here whether we’re meeting in the morning or practicing later in the evening. It doesn’t matter. That kid is going at it, a real student of the game, working real hard. It’s been a joy to coach him.”

» Skipper on redshirt sophomore Adam Lane, who missed a large portion of spring practice with a hamstring injury: “He’s rehabbed really hard. He was in the scrimmage we had on Friday and then he went [Monday]. For a big fella, that kid has some good feet now, some really good feet. He’s a physical, downhill runner.”

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