It would be unfair to expect too much from the Florida Gators on their first day of 2015 fall practice, but head coach Jim McElwain had no problem letting it be known that there are some important areas in which the team needs to improve immediately with so few days to go until the start of the season.
Primarily, McElwain was displeased with how Florida’s quarterbacks and wide receivers looked while running routes on air (without defenders).
“It wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination,” he said of the chemistry between the two units. “Pitching and catching is the one thing we got to consistently get better at. I think it will. I know it will. But at the same time, that’s something that, especially at those positions, I’m probably a little more critical.
“There’s no reason to me you should ever drop a ball on ‘routes on air.’ Likewise, there’s no reason for me you should ever miss the throw on ‘routes on air.’ It’s ‘on air;’ there’s no one else out there.”
McElwain stressed that the Gators need to understand how important attention to detail is in every drill, especially when running them against, well, nobody.
“Sometimes guys do it thinking it’s a warm-up. No. You got to be critically detailed in that particular period,” he noted. “That’s one thing that we continually have to work on with those two groups. It’s not something we take lightly. If you can’t throw a completion against air, you sure as heck aren’t going to when there’s people out there.”
According to reporters on site at the practice, redshirt freshman Will Grier took all of the first-team reps at quarterback while sophomore Treon Harris worked with the second team and redshirt senior transfer Josh Grady threw to the newcomers (mostly freshmen) in the second session of the day. (Harris will likely get first-team reps on Friday). Grier reportedly looked sharp with the first team, as did Grady throwing to youngsters. McElwain singled out Grady as someone who did a good job controlling the tempo and stepping up in his first day.
McElwain also shed some praise on redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee, who is bouncing back from a broken leg that cost him the entire 2014 season but has proven to be a leader both on the field and in the locker room for Florida.
“He’s a guy that has really been accepted by his teammates,” McElwain said. “Having him back is huge at that position especially [because] we like to use tight ends and tight ends really need to be able to function in a lot of different roles with the shifts and motions and things we do with them. He’s a guy that will be able to handle that and has done a great job leading his group. Even the way the guys respond to him has been pretty good.”
“In all honesty, it was just great to be out there. This was a long time coming; it seems like forever since we were last on the field in the spring. To get out there and just see the guys go and the way we did practice with the split practice, the carryover with the older guys I thought was really good. A little bit of a shock for them the pace at which we go. We got to make sure we get that, they got to understand what we need to do to be successful – the pace we play offense, the pace we play defense, getting in and out of situations. Understand that creating the chaos helps come game time because during games there’s a lot of things going on. We do it so they’re always aware of sudden change and things like that.
“The carryover, I thought, was really good. … The freshman crew that was out there on its first day, they obviously were there but the good part is there’s a lot of guys that look the part. It was comforting to see us with some good looking guys up there, good looking guys on the D-line. I think the future is bright for us and that’s exciting.”
Bits and notes
» According to 247Sports’ Thomas Goldkamp ($), UF’s starting offensive line looked as follows: redshirt senior transfer Mason Halter (left tackle), redshirt senior Trip Thurman (left guard), redshirt sophomore Cameron Dillard (center), redshirt sophomore Antonio Riles (right guard), sophomore David Sharpe (right tackle). Freshman Martez Ivey is expected to contend for a starting job at tackle but spent day one with his classmates in the second session.
» McElwain said the development of the Gators’ freshmen will come off the coaches teaching them off practice film. From there, their goal is to “make sure their learning stays up with what we need to do to advance the football [on offense].”
» The crew working on Florida’s indoor practice facility is working in three shifts, McElwain said. “They’re doing everything they can to get the Gators indoors. I’m really proud of what they’re doing over there.” UF may grant the team the ability to practice in the facility before it is completely finished; however, the school announced this week that it may be ready to go as soon as Aug. 22.
» The most positive takeaway from Friday, according to McElwain, was how well the players communicated with each other. Apparently that is something the coaches have been stressing with the team all offseason. “I really heard some good talk on both sides of the ball and even some guys on both sides of the ball telling the other side, ‘Make sure you communicate.’ As long as we’re all on the same page; if we’re all on the same page, you have a chance for the play to be successful,” he said.