Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain, senior defensive end Jonathan Bullard, junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and sophomore wide receiver Brandon Powell represented the team on Monday by participating in the 2015 Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama.
Below are highlights primarily from McElwain’s sessions with the media.
Slowly but surely
The most positive development for Florida on Monday came when McElwain provided an overall status update for multiple players that sat out spring practice with a variety of injuries.
Redshirt senior Trip Thurman (shoulder), who will likely start at center for the Gators, will be good to go by the time fall practice starts. Redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee (leg) and redshirt junior defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. (hip) are also expected to be good to go once practice begins.
The news was not as positive for senior linebacker Antonio Morrison (knee), who suffered a still-undisclosed injury in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl. Morrison will be allowed to participate in non-contact drills when practice begins but is unlikely to be cleared to play for a while, perhaps into the season.
The jury is also still out on redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick, who missed UF’s spring game with personal issues and appears not to have been cleared to return to the team.
McElwain did not mention junior LB Jarrad Davis (torn ACL) or redshirt freshman defensive lineman Thomas Holley (hip).
What an honor it is to be back in the SEC and how humbling it is to be the head ball coach with the University of Florida. It’s something you dream of as you go through this profession, and I can’t tell you how honored and excited I am to have this opportunity. Our guys have done one heck of a job in the transition; they’ve really embraced the new guys coming in. A lot of the things that we tried to implement, they were open arms, and I think did a really good job with it. Of course, we’ll find out come this fall when we get back to camp on the 5th and start practicing on the 6th.
Really excited to see how they’ve affected all the young guys we’ve had coming in this summer and see how far along we are. It will be a lot of fun, and our guys have been working their tails off. I’m proud of what they’ve done in the weight room with the new strength staff. Those guys give nothing but glowing remarks about especially how our older guys are helping out and setting examples. That’s something we like to see.
Feeling a little better up front
Florida’s offensive line has been a major concern throughout the offseason with the Gators ending the spring with just six healthy offensive linemen. Due to incoming transfers and a freshman class that enrolled for the Summer B semester, UF is now in better shape from a personnel standpoint, though it remains to be seen how many of the new players will be able to contribute right away.
McElwain was asked Monday whether he will take an unconventional approach to building the line, possibly throwing in some “bells and whistles” to hide the fact that Florida lacks depth and can be attacked up front.
“I think, when you look at the bells and whistles, we’re a multiple shift, multiple motion, try to create as much confusion, some unbalance, create an edge here and there to give us an opportunity. And we’ll continue to do that,” he explained.
“Kind of how they grow is kind of how we’re going to grow, and yet as we kind of move in, we’ve got to probably kind of reflect back to maybe a little bit of our NFL roots, get that core seven or eight guys that can maybe swap some spots as we develop those younger guys coming in. And I know this: we’ll have some people to choose from. I’m excited about that group. I think we’re 15, 16 deep right now.
“From what the words are, they’ve been working their tail off and are excited for the opportunity. … These guys are going to have an opportunity to go take reps. How you learn to play is sometimes by making mistakes, but you’ve got to get that opportunity to take those reps, and they’re going to have a lot of chances.”
When McElwain was hired, one of the first questions that popped up was a simple one: “Who will be the offensive-minded coach’s offensive coordinator?” One of the first names that surfaced as a candidate was Doug Nussmeier, who worked with McElwain at Fresno State, replaced him at Alabama and was on his way out after struggling to put together effective offenses as the coordinator at Michigan.
McElwain had yet to be asked about Nussmeier’s recent struggles since naming him the Gators’ coordinator, but he was on Monday and expressed his complete confidence in his long-time friend’s abilities to lead an offensive unit.
“Doug’s experience in this conference, I think is something that is really good. I can’t speak for what happened. I wasn’t up there [at Michigan], but I just know what kind of ball coach he is,” McElwain said.
“Every now and then, sometimes you go through one of those, and it isn’t — obviously, it comes back to the coach. I get it. That’s the way it goes. Yet, I know how excited he is to have this opportunity to get back with these guys and implement a system and move forward with it.”
Praise from a former pupil
Greg McElroy, now an analyst with SEC Network, was a quarterback under McElwain in a former life at Alabama. He has lauded Florida’s hire of McElwain since day one and took the opportunity on Monday to praise his former coach even more while on live television.
McElroy not only explained why he believes the Gators will succeed under McElwain, he broke down how he believes Florida’s offense will play this season, which will certainly affect NCAA football betting lines. Here are his comments, in full:
He will adapt his offensive philosophy based on the personnel they have. I would imagine they’re going to use and implement a lot of shotgun this year, because the offensive line has significant question marks. … Jim McElwain will develop an offense that best fits the players. For that reason, I would expect this offense to maybe be good this year, not great, but to take a huge developmental step forward and every year he’s in Gainesville. …
Expect a lot of misdirection, offensively. Because this offensive line is going to be young, they’re going to do a lot of play-action passing, movement with the quarterback. That doesn’t mean you have to be a dual-threat guy. Expect some roll-out, expect some naked, so [the offense will] change the shot points of the defensive linemen. Guys who rush the passer, you’re rushing to a certain spot. If you move the quarterback, it alleviates pressure up front. I would expect a lot of misdirection and trying to confuse defensive coordinators and defensive personnel. …
McElwain will have his finger in every pocket. What McElwain has a history of is being a special teams coordinator. In our time down there during the spring, he spent an awful lot of time with the special teams players. He wants this [offense] to be Nussmeier’s show. He’s going to delegate. He’ll pull the reins in when necessary, but he’s going to delegate and have a lot in the game plan, but as far as game day, it’s Nussmeier’s show.
Notes and quotes
» Bullard on returning for his senior season: “I just had higher expectations for myself; I was ready to come back to where I’m from. I knew I had something to prove. I hope I can show that and get drafted to where I want to be. My family isn’t in a very bad situation where I had to go get money right away, so they were really just on my side and I feel what’s best for me is to come back here.”
» Powell on the competition between redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier and sophomore QB Treon Harris: “They both work well with the wide receiver group and they are on us. If we drop a ball or run a bad route they both get on to us. They both are taking the leadership and know that this job is up in the air. They’re competing against each other but they aren’t talking bad about each other. They both are pushing everybody and pushing the receivers to do their job and getting the extra work in. They’re both doing a good job.”
» Powell on transitioning from running back to wide receiver: “The most difficult transition has been learning the route depth. I might drift a bit in certain routes or not run at a certain depth. That’s really the biggest transition for me because I’ve never played receiver before.”
» McElwain on cost of attendance being instituted for players and whether he’s concerned about differentials between schools affecting recruiting: “As long as everybody’s running by the same rules … Obviously, we’d like to have a balanced sheet across the board, but at the same time, there’s a reason those are in place. I think it’s great for the student-athlete. I think it really gives them an opportunity. I’m happy to see it happen, and I’m glad to see that we’ve come to it that way. We’ll see. If you lose a guy over $1,000 here or there for his cost of attendance, maybe that’s part of it. There’s nothing you can do. Those are the rules. Growing up, you got a set of rules, and you just played by them. I never really put that much thought to that part of it other than I’m excited that they’re getting something.”
» McElwain on his relationship with South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier: “I always enjoyed watching his teams play, obviously. It’s one of those things back when he was coaching [at Florida], the things he was doing, advancing the football through the air, and it was a lot of fun to watch. Had an opportunity to meet him, speak with him a couple separate times, and just what a great guy and really a knowledgeable guy as far as it comes to the offensive side of the ball. But more than that, here’s a guy that – I drive by work every day and pass his statue. That’s pretty cool. There’s a Heisman Trophy winner right there. I look forward to someday being really able to sit down and pick his brain because he’s one of the true guys offensively that knows how to get it done.”
» McElwain on the strength of Florida’s schedule now and the future, possibly playing more big games to open seasons: “I really like those opening games, like we’re going to get an opportunity in a while to play Michigan down in Texas, and I’m looking forward to that. I think that’s good for college football. I really do. Playing Florida State, that’s one of those rivalry things, and I don’t think you ever get away from that. I’m a big believer in – that’s what I love about college football – I love the rivalries. I love those Saturdays. Those are certain things that I think just shouldn’t go away. So for us, maybe playing some of those opening games like that, I just think it helps your team prepare in the off-season knowing that right off the bat, here we go. And I think it’s a good thing.”
» McElwain on remaining in contact with Alabama head coach Nick Saban: “He’s been a guy that’s always been there. … Taking this job, he’s been a guy that has answered a lot of questions, maybe gave me some things to look for and look out for as we kind of roll through. In fact, something like this, right? But having that relationship is something I’ll cherish forever, and to have a guy that you can pick up the phone and get an answer that has that much experience and credibility, man, that’s something special.”
» McElwain on whether the Gators run criminal background checks on recruits: “It’s not just the criminal piece, it’s the whole piece; it’s how they interact with people at school, how they interact with the teachers, what they do in a lot of different ways when no one’s looking, so to say. We look into that quite extensively in a lot of different ways. That’s become a huge piece of that because not only is it about a good player, but it’s about a guy that’s going to be able to come in and enhance your program and not bring it down. That’s something that we try to do. You don’t catch everything. I mean, it happens. But at the same time, it’s certainly one of the big things we put this tag on each one of the players we’re recruiting, and part of that is the investigation of that if needed.”