Will the Florida Gators starting quarterback be decided before the team’s season opener against New Mexico State on Sept. 5? Only head coach Jim McElwain knows for sure, but he certainly made it seem Friday like he would feel perfectly comfortable if the gig was still up for grabs in two weeks.
“We’ll be OK if we go into [the first game] and let them kind of play and kind of go from there and see who plays under the lights the best, you know, might be a two[-quarterback situation],” he said.
That’s certainly not what Gators fans, who have been waiting five seasons to find someone they can truly believe in behind center, want to hear. Then again, what’s another week if the result is figuring out which is the right guy, especially if McElwain is legitimate in saying he sees little daylight between the two?
“Both quarterbacks moved the ones real well. I thought Treon [Harris] probably moved the twos, when he was with them, probably a little more efficiently. Will [Grier] probably had a better situational part of the scrum with both units,” McElwain began. “So those two guys are progressing, and you know, no clear separation yet. And that’s OK, that’s alright. They’re competing, they’re working and getting an opportunity to work with some different units.”
So how would rotating two quarterbacks in the opener work? McElwain did not provide that answer either, saying that throughout his career he’s pulled off such scenarios every series, couple of series, quarter, etc.
While everything is still pointing to Grier, the redshirt freshmen, ultimately editing the sophomore Harris, it is looking more likely that a starter won’t be known until game week, perhaps late Saturday night.
Four new (seemingly not serious) injuries
McElwain opened his Friday media gathering following the team’s second scrimmage with injury updates (well, kind of), two of which are certainly concerning for Florida as it looks to be at full strength entering its opener.
Junior safety Keanu Neal, a hard-hitter and returning stalwart at the position, “had a leg deal,” McElwain said, noting later that he does not believe it is a serious injury. “It’s not – they didn’t cart him off or anything. I’m just one of those guys, if you can’t go 100 percent … you know what I’m saying? I’ll tell you if the guy’s hurt. He didn’t finish the scrimmage. It was something in his leg. We’ll see. Our trainers and medical staff do a great job. They’ll get him ready. I’ll let you know as we go. I think Monday or Tuesday or whatever, I’ll have a better idea.”
Perhaps Neal can clarify the situation himself? “I’m good,” he wrote Friday night on Twitter.
Moving on then, McElwain also mentioned that redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee was held out of action with a tender foot, freshman defensive back Kylan Johnson (leg) “went down” and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Kavaris Harkless, who is expected to be in the rotation up front, “went down with an ankle.” McElwain singled out Johnson as a player who was coming along and “having a great camp.”
As to the outstanding injuries, McElwain did not mention sophomore wide receiver C.J. Worton (leg), but redshirt sophomore Alvin Bailey mentioned that his position-mate was back on the field.
Redshirt freshman OL Travaris Dorsey will return to practice at the “beginning of next week,” and Florida is also expecting redshirt senior WR Valdez Showers (no injury previously announced) and redshirt junior WR Raphael Andrades (injury previously unspecified) back in action as well. In regards to what’s wrong with Showers and Andrades, McElwain provided: “They’re battling some strings there in the back in their leg.”
Of course, the Gators need as many healthy bodies as possible for the opener, considering two projected starters on defense and a 2014 starter on offense are set to miss the game while serving in-house suspensions.
Dealing with (on-field) discipline
McElwain noted Friday that he kicked a defensive lineman out of practice for committing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. “That’s how it works – he’s gone,” McElwain said matter-of-factly. “If that’s the way you’re going to act, go sit on the bench and somebody else can play. I was very upset about that, obviously.”
He later continued: “We don’t put up with it. There’s no excuse – absolutely zero. To me, it’s one of the most selfish acts somebody can do because it’s them and it’s usually because you’re weren’t going as hard as the other guy so now you’re going to be Mr. Tough Guy or whatever. And then because of your actions, you hurt the team. I just don’t see any place for that. I don’t get it. There’s no place on a football team for a selfish player. It’s that simple. We just don’t put up with it.”
McElwain refused to single out the player, of course, but noted that “he knows who he is, believe me.”
Using the opportunity to send a bigger message, McElwain addressed what many have noticed over the last handful of years: The Gators have been an undisciplined team on the field.
“Those are the unforced errors that have been the Achilles heel for a long time around here. I’m just tired of it,” he began, later adding, “That’s just what we believe in and how we’re going to run the program. We’ve got some behavior that we probably need to keep working on. What are we? The most penalized team in the last five years, six years, whatever it is? I don’t know where we sit. It’s ridiculous.”
The good news, at least according to McElwain, is those incidents have “been few and bar between” this offseason. He referred to Friday’s incident as a “teachable moment” that good teams have along the way to becoming “a disciplined outfit.”
Bits and notes
» Though the quarterbacks seem to be improving, they do not appear to be getting much help from the wide receivers. McElwain mentioned again Friday that there were “a couple drops early” in the scrimmage, which “just can’t happen.” He continued: “It has to be determined [who we can rely on]. Consistency and performance is really what it’s all about. Really, at the end of the day, these guys have the talent to do it. … We’ve got some guys there who can play, no doubt.” McElwain expects to use 6-8 wideouts per game, and he also praised the tight ends once again, noting he’s “excited about the development” in that position group.
» McElwain on freshman WR Antonio Callaway: “[He] is doing a great job, I’ll say that. He’s a guy that has come in and picked it up quickly. Still makes some rookie mistakes, like a lot of guys do, but as I’ve told him, he’s not a rookie anymore. He’s been through camp now. That’s just an example of a guy who came in with a mindset that, ‘You know what? I’m going to go out and be good.’”
» Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Caleb Brantley referred to himself as a starter in a Facebook message posted Friday night. It was phrased as if he had received the news that he had earned that role ahead of the first game.
» The roster is finally coming together, it appears. McElwain said the Gators “need to have a really good week” next week so the coaching staff can “start to pare down” a bit who is going to be on each unit. “Really looking forward to now putting all the pieces together a little bit and getting ready to play an opponent.” Whether Florida will release a depth chart more than a day ahead of the game remains to be seen, but expect a lot of “ORs” if they do.
» The Gators’ upcoming practice plan includes work on Saturday, a walk-through Sunday, a day off Monday and practice from Tuesday through the next weekend. Florida may be able to enter the indoor practice facility as early as this Saturday, but should be in there by Tuesday at the latest.
» There were two turnovers by the offense during the scrimmage, but McElwain attributed them to great secondary play. “They broke on the ball. I think we held it a little long, not quite crisp getting out of a route,” he said. “We didn’t put it on the ground with fumbles, which was good.” The Gators also threw three touchdown passes, though McElwain cautioned that a media member “could have thrown” those balls across the goal line. “You could have thrown it to the guy,” he said. “It wasn’t anything spectacular.”
» McElwain confirmed that a petition was signed to get redshirt sophomore walk-on transfer QB Luke Del Rio eligible for 2015. Though Florida has filed the necessary paperwork, it is unlikely that Del Rio gets that exemption after transferring from Alabama to Oregon State and now to UF in the last three years.
» Here’s how the Gators managed their coaches on the field and in the booth for the scrimmage. Barring a change, this is how it will be for games.
Field: Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, co-coordinator Randy Shannon, defensive line coach Chris Rumph, running backs coach Tim Skipper, offensive line coach Mike Summers
Booth: Defensive backs coach Kirk Callahan, tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Greg Nord, wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon II