Though not as many updates were provided as promised, Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain met with the media following Wednesday’s mid-week practice to address the latest on the team as it prepares for the East Carolina Pirates on Saturday at 7 p.m.
McElwain discussed – at length – his thought process behind providing consequences for his players, when he may choose a quarterback (to start Saturday), and how the injured Gators are progressing entering the end of the week.
Will Muschamp was a disciplinarian. Urban Meyer claimed to be but wasn’t. McElwain doesn’t like the word ‘discipline;’ instead, he prefers to look everything from a personal responsibility standpoint.
“It’s not necessarily ‘discipline’ as much as it is their choice based on their actions,” McElwain said Thursday, referring to recent suspensions and depth chart demotions. “There’s a standard that we expect and expect us to hold ourselves to. Sometimes when we don’t, there will be consequences.”
Three Gators missed the team’s season opener, though two will be back against the Pirates. Redshirt juniors defensive end Alex McCalister and defensive back Marcus Maye will return, possibly in starting roles, and McElwain believes his brand of justice made an impact on two important players for Florida in 2015.
“They found, probably, as they were able to watch [us play a lot of players in the game], you know, life moved on. Sometimes that’s the greatest lesson that any of us can learn. Maybe that’ll put a little fire in their tank,” he said.
While those will be back Saturday, senior wide receiver Latroy Pittman Jr. has “a little time to go” on his suspension. McElwain said Pittman needs to earn his way back into the fold and do what’s right every single day.
Regarding junior WR Demarcus Robinson, who was demoted from first to third string on the Gators’ second depth chart of 2015, McElwain said Monday not to read anything into that. Robinson, whose demotion was reportedly due to an absence at a team meal, will still play Saturday and is expected to “make the most” of his time on the field. McElwain used the consequences Robinson is facing as an example of how he plans to handle his players.
“I don’t think [the depth chart demotion was] a message to him. It’s his choice; it’s no one else’s,” he said. “Based on those choices and based on your actions, we can either enable those actions or we can do something about the action.”
The positive news? So far, so good, according to McElwain.
“They seem to be on time. … I think they’ve done good,” he said. “I go back to how proud I was of the way they played the game. The way I believe the game should be played – celebrating with your teammates, not calling attention to yourself, giving up yourself for them to win and others to win. I think that penalty count was maybe pointing in the right direction. I’m not saying it’s going to be great every week, things happen, but I truly believe it’s a step in the right direction.”
Getting heated about quarterback play: While on the subject of enabling, McElwain made it quite clear how he felt about the performance of his team Tuesday and signal callers this week in general.
He opened his media availability explaining his disappointment in Tuesday’s practice due to the necessity for a number of “do-overs,” which he said you normally do not get in life. McElwain wants Florida’s players to take advantage of every play they get on the field, whether in practice or a game, and use those as opportunities to get better.
Though the team as a whole was better Wednesday, McElwain seemed to be losing some patience with his quarterbacks, despite their seemingly-positive performance last Saturday against New Mexico State.
“They were OK in the last game. They weren’t great. They weren’t Earth-shattering by any stretch of the imagination,” he began. “They’ve got to get a ton better.”
To this point, that has not occurred in practice, and McElwain made that very clear.
“You want me to call it out? We had two late throws in the red area today – it can’t happen. We had one late over the middle – that’s going to get intercepted. That’s unacceptable,” he said. “[Raises voice, gets demonstrative] Those are the things that kill you is the unacceptable behavior when you know better. That’s what I’m getting at. It’s not OK. No. It’s not OK. You don’t get do-overs. So the understanding of what you have to do every day to get better. And for some reason, some guys get it and some guys don’t.”
He continued: “I want them to go out and do great; I want them to be successful. They deserve that. So what gets frustrating is when you see them maybe sometimes allow themselves to be average and say, ‘Ah, OK, it’s my bad.’ … Yeah, I’m pretty passionate about that because I want to see what’s best for these guys, and I see a lot in them. And yet, sometimes when they maybe leave it in the tank and not drain the tank a little bit, it gets a little frustrating.”
McElwain plans to use the same quarterbacking procedure against ECU (different starter at each half, switching within each half after 12-15 throws) but has not decided who will take the first snap of the game.
Injury updates: Junior safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) appears poised to return to the field Saturday after missing two weeks of practice and the first game with an injury. Neal got in some light work with the team Tuesday, a source told OnlyGators.com, but took a significant number of reps on Wednesday and felt fine afterward. McElwain listed Neal as “questionable” (up from “doubtful” last week) ahead of the East Carolina game.
Unfortunately for freshman offensive tackle Martez Ivey, a return to the field looks like it will be delayed a little longer. McElwain believes Ivey is a week away, though he may take a few reps during Perfect Thursday and has done a great job recovering from minor surgery.
Regarding redshirt sophomore Matt Rolin, who has missed the last two seasons with a pair of ACL surgeries? McElwain rolled his eyes and shrugged, as he has for the last few weeks. “Yeah, I don’t know what it is. He’s got something every day. [Shrugs] So yeah, OK.”