Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain was unable to sleep Thursday night. He was worried that Friday’s scrimmage, his first with the team this fall, would be an unmitigated disaster. Luckily, his apprehension only amounted to nerves and not actuality.
“I’ll be quite honest with you: I didn’t sleep last night thinking this could be a disaster, and it actually turned out pretty darn good,” he quipped. “I guess that’s comforting, I don’t know.”
Specifically, McElwain was concerned about how Florida’s freshmen – the Gators will be counting on plenty this season, especially on offense – would hold up in the scrimmage. He was ultimately proud of the way they competed and thought Friday’s effort was positive overall.
“Very pleased as to where we are at this point. We just have to keep loading the wagon in everything that we do,” McElwain said. “As we get closer to game time, obviously then we slow that part down and start pulling out the pieces we’re going to use in the first game.”
McElwain said the Gators showed up offensively on both the first- and second-team units. Redshirt freshman Will Grier and sophomore Treon Harris split reps on both units. McElwain appeared to imply that Grier was more effective with the first team but said more certainly that Harris did a better job with the second group.
“Both had their opportunities with the ones and the twos. Treon probably moved the people with the twos a little better than Will did,” he said. “I thought Will really got off to a fast start. You can’t have drops. We’ve talked about that. Of course, the very first play of the scrimmage, he hits the guy right in the hands and [the pass catcher] drops it. It’s a never-ending issue.”
McElwain believes Florida’s offense must “get over the hump from the psychological standpoint.”
Consistent offensive failure in recent years – along with plenty of external criticism – has made the Gators think they are not capable of success, or at least do not deserve it. McElwain is out to change that mentality – immediately.
“At times, when you start getting beaten over the head so much, you start thinking you’re not worthy … you start thinking it’s true,” he began. “It doesn’t have to be that way. We go against a very good defense every day and we’re moving the ball on them in spurts. To consistently be great, you’ve got to be able to step off and say, ‘I’m going to work my tail off on every single snap. I’m not going to allow someone to beat me to the point.'”
McElwain wants the Gators to know that “it’s OK to care, it’s OK to compete, it’s OK to get out there and just let it all happen.” Florida too often allows negative plays to affect what it does next; the Gators need to develop shorter memories, especially the quarterbacks.
“Each guy kind of had a ‘what the’ kind of moment. Some of those things that are critical, you don’t just throw the ball. That’s not how you play the game,” he said. “To our defense’s credit, they took advantage of one and returned it for the touchdown. Those are things playing the position that you just can’t have happen.”
Grier, Harris and redshirt senior transfer Josh Grady, who saw action in overtime and “drove the team down [the field] a couple times” but was unable to finish, are not yet being hit in practice. The defense is going all-out against the rest of the offense, of course, and McElwain said the unit “took control” in situational drills on Friday.
It in particular spooked sophomore wide receiver Chris Thompson, who used his speed to make some big plays but “gets big eyes” and gun shy when a defender is in pursuit, making him a bit drop-prone. Similarly, McElwain praised junior WR Ahmad Fulwood for “show[ing] up” but noted that the 6-foot-4 wideout also failed to bring down a couple of passes up in the air.
While the offense is still a work in progress and McElwain is obviously concerned about the consistency of Florida’s receivers, he did find one exceptionally bright spot on the day.
“I felt Kelvin Taylor played really good today. For the first time since we’ve been here, he didn’t try to run everything to the sideline. He actually stuck his foot in the ground,” McElwain said. “We’re working on this little concept of the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. He got that today, and that was good to see because he’s struggled with that. Caught the ball out of the backfield well, too.”
Bits and notes
» Junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves worked as punt returner, while sophomore WR Brandon Powell spent the scrimmage at kick returner. McElwain said he will not be shy about using some of his most talented players on special teams this season.
» Freshman Tyler Jordan is spending most of his time at center but proving he can be a rotational player at other positions. Similarly, redshirt senior transfer Mason Halter is a “wildcard” on the offensive line due to his versatility, though the Gators have not yet tried him at center. “He’s a guy that can fit anywhere,” McElwain said.
» On special teams, redshirt junior Austin Hardin missed a field goal, but he later made one to tie the “game” and displayed a strong leg that McElwain liked. He played particularly well in the “overtime” period. Redshirt sophomore punter Johnny Townsend “is doing a really good job punting” and holding, McElwain noted. There were some long-snapping issues on Wednesday night at practice but everything was rectified on Friday.
» Once Florida’s indoor practice facility is open, McElwain plans to use it once on two-a-days and every third practice. He said it gets the Gators out of the sun and takes a “beating off the body,” which will make the players fresher as the season goes on. During game weeks, it will be used Monday based on weather, Wednesdays no matter what and Thursdays for walk-throughs. Florida will try to practice outside every Tuesday.
» The following players were held out of scrimmage on Friday: redshirt freshman OL Travaris Dorsey (leg), sophomore WR C.J. Worton (leg), redshirt senior RB Mark Herndon, redshirt senior LB Anthony Harrell, sophomore DB Duke Dawson.
Updating the practice injuries of Dorsey and Worton, McElwain did not get into detail. He did, however, not that there will be “no cutting” for either playing, insinuating that surgery will not be required.
» Redshirt junior WR Raphael Andrades pulled something in the back of his leg during the scrimmage, and redshirt sophomore LB Matt Rolin got hurt, too. “It’s something every week [with Rolin],” McElwain quipped.