The offensive issues facing the Florida Gators have been apparent for years, and the hire of head coach Jim McElwain, while also an effort to breathe new life into the program, was due in large part to his acumen on that side of the ball.
It should be no surprise then that the primary topic McElwain addressed all offseason has continued into game week: Will Florida be more efficient and effective on offense in 2015?
McElwain was posed this question on Monday, albeit in a slightly different manner. That question, paraphrased: Gators fans are starving to watch an exciting offense like they got used to under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer – will it be ready in Week 1?
“As hungry as they are, I guarantee you I’m twice as hungry to see and get after it,” McElwain said with a sly grin.
Florida does not have a starting quarterback named for Saturday’s season opener against the New Mexico State Aggies; redshirt freshman Will Grier and sophomore Treon Harris appear set to split the snaps, in one manner or another. It is the second time in the last three seasons that a starter was not named and the sixth straight year since the departure of Tim Tebow that Gators fans will not rest easy with the man – or in this case, men – behind center.
“We actually had a long meeting last night again and then this morning, just kind of looking at what’s going to be best. I don’t know when we’ll determine [the process],” McElwain said. “We’ll come up with the best plan that we think is going to help us be successful [Saturday].”
McElwain’s goal is to find out what each signal caller does well and utilize them in that way, though he said he will not know for sure until they get in game situations. “As much as you try to simulate it, there’s no experience for doing it. I think it’s going to tell us a lot when we get done and watch the video of this game,” he said.
But the problems do not start or stop with the quarterbacks.
“We still have to do and find out what [the offense is] capable of, really discovering some explosive playmakers and guys that can stretch the field and make sure we’re kind of picking our time to take those shots,” he said.
Florida is not yet as consistent as McElwain had hoped in a number of areas, the least of which is the vertical passing game and hitting big plays down the field.
“One of the things we’ve stressed is trying to put the ball down the field vertically and not worry as much horizontally in doing that. But to do that, consistency in performance is something we’ve got to find out,” he said.
While the Gators spent fall practice “loading a lot of stuff in the wagon” on both sides of the ball, McElwain plans to spend game week getting the team into the swing of things for the next four months. He said Florida’s coaching staff did everything it could “to get [the players] indoctrinated in how we go into game week,” trying to make their schedule routine in the process, but cautioned that it is “going to take a bit of time” for everyone to get comfortable.
Just don’t blame him if you spot a packet of Tums in his pocket on national television Saturday night.
“Shoot, yeah, I get nervous [even] going to practice. The day you don’t get butterflies is probably the day to get out of this,” he said.
Whether the Gators are explosive, moderately successful or remain in the doldrums on offense remains to be seen, but there’s one promise that McElwain can make about Florida’s mental approach to putting points on the scoreboard week in and week out.
“We’ll definitely take our shots; there’s no doubt about that.”
Notes and bits
» Though junior safety Keanu Neal and freshman left tackle Martez Ivey will both be held out of practice Monday, McElwain has refused to rule either player out for Saturday’s game. Instead, he plans to update their statuses on Wednesday when he will release an injury report going into the weekend.
» McElwain on junior wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood and how he can improve: “He’s shown glimpses of it. We’ve talked about it before: I’d like to see him play 6-foot-3 instead of 5-foot-8 at times. Go up and get the ball, be aggressive in the air, don’t take no for an answer. There’s a lot of things we got to establish in that group in terms of an aggressive nature at which you play the position.”
» McElwain on redshirt freshman defensive tackle Caleb Brantley stepping up this offseason: “His growth has been really, really good. His potential is off the charts. And yet, consistently working on the day to day detail of everything you do is something that’s going to do nothing but help him as he moves forward. He’s done an outstanding job in camp, as a lot of those D-lineman have. Developing guys to be able to rotate in there to stay fresh, that’s going to be huge for us.”