Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain took the podium Wednesday faced with a number of issues, primarily suspensions to two potential starters and injuries that have affected his depth at a couple important positions.
McElwain discussed Florida’s quarterback situation, provided some injuries and gave a curious clue – or distraction – into what the Gators’ offense may look like on Saturday at home against the Tennessee Volunteers.
One way or another: McElwain wanted Florida’s quarterback battle to come down to performance. And while that may have resulted in redshirt freshman Will Grier earning full-time duty at Kentucky last week, it is not completely why Grier will have an uncontested opportunity at winning the job outright on Saturday against Tennessee.
It was announced Wednesday that sophomore Treon Harris will be suspended for the contest, reportedly due to failing a drug test. It marks the third incident Harris has been involved in since joining the Gators, following a quick withdrawal of a sexual misconduct accusation by a female student and an on-campus stop for speeding that resulted in the officer finding marijuana in a vehicle Harris was driving.
Shortly after taking over Florida’s job in Dec. 2014, McElwain addressed Harris’s issues and how he hoped to help the player mature. “Part of that is growing up,” he said on the radio. “I really look forward to getting into his life and being a big part of his life. … We’re all in a fishbowl, and no matter what, we got to understand that everything we do has consequences. … We got to understand that there’s certain things that – especially at the quarterback position – we need to do to affect people in a positive way.”
McElwain also said throughout the offseason that his preferred quarterback would not only be a capable player but also a positive influence on his teammates, an example for the Gators to follow and someone who can not only motivate but lead by his actions and not just his words. To this point, based on Grier’s playing time and Harris’s actions, it is clear the direction Florida is heading at the quarterback position.
“He’s going to have an opportunity to run the ship,” McElwain said Wednesday.
As for how Grier will do with his latest chance – after receiving a full game to prove himself last week – that remains to be seen. McElwain wants Grier to stay away from “self-inflicted” hits caused by using his legs as a check-down option and focus on “just moving [in the pocket], staying down field and – bang” – firing a ball into a receiver. He also does not blame Grier for all of UF’s offensive issues last week.
“I don’t ever put it on the quarterback. Sometimes, that rush kind of gets back into you. I think we got to get a little more firm in the pocket, which helps from that separation standpoint, which doesn’t force you maybe to flush as early to go through everything,” McElwain said. “Like I’ve said a lot of times, the quarterback gets all the praise, gets all the, ‘This guy’s killing us.’ The other 10 guys might be killing you and that poor son of a gun is getting all the heat. But that’s why we sign up to be quarterbacks.”
Is ‘GatorTail’ real or a distraction? While discussing Florida’s lacking quarterback depth, especially with Harris suspended, McElwain noted the assumed – redshirt senior transfer Josh Grady will serve as the second-string signal caller on Saturday. Then, he snuck in something else.
“We only had a couple scholarship guys anyway, so that’s the reason we worked some special packages with some guys back there with the quarterback that maybe aren’t traditional quarterbacks,” he began. “Maybe we’ll see a little bit of the GatorTail this week.”
GatorTail? With little else to go on, McElwain’s comment leaves one to wonder what may – or may not – be in store Saturday. He noted that Grady has seen time under center in practice “in some of the packages we have,” which sounds like the Gators may have some form of Wildcat/single-wing/direct snap offense utilizing Grady as an athletic quarterback who totes the ball, perhaps with an unbalanced offensive line.
Florida utilized junior running back Kelvin Taylor as a direct snap rusher in the past, but Grady also adds the much-needed throwing element considering his experience as a quarterback at Vanderbilt.
Of course, with Harris out and McElwain looking for answers, his throwaway line may very well just be a distraction for the Vols, something else the coaching staff has to plan for ahead of Saturday’s game. Either way, it’s worth keeping an eye out for Grady and some potentially unique formations in the contest.
Injury updates: Good news? Good news. Junior linebacker Alex Anzalone will return much sooner than expected from his shoulder injury. Of course, McElwain did not provide any information on that injury or any specifics on a timetable for Anzalone. “Don’t ask when he’s going to return. He’ll return when he’s healthy, how’s that?”
McElwain also announced that redshirt junior defensive end Alex McCalister (shoulder) has gone “from probably questionable to probable” based on his practice Wednesday. McCalister hurt his shoulder in the Kentucky game but appears to be good to go for Tennessee, which is more positive news considering how depleted UF is in the front seven.
Speaking of which, redshirt junior linebacker Jeremi Powell (leg) is doubtful for the game, as is freshman defensive back Kylan Johnson, who was working some at linebacker but will now miss time with an ankle injury after just recovering from a hamstring pull.
Lastly, the Gators will once again be without redshirt freshman tight end C’yontai Lewis, who has a club on his injured hand and will not be able to practice extensively until that is replaced with a soft cast.
Notes and bits
» After missing last week’s game, freshman running back Jordan Scarlett is “ready to go” and will be back in action. McElwain was not pleased with Scarlett’s habits and performance in practice.
» McElwain is not overly concerned with the absence of sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor (suspension). He noted that Florida has already been without junior CB Vernon Hargreaves III (leg) for a week and junior safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) for two. The Gators should do fine with Hargreaves and sophomore CB Quincy Wilson manning the outside.
» On how he feels about the suspensions: “Stuff happens. Improvise, adapt and overcome. … It wasn’t anything [the team] did. … I feel bad for the team is who I feel bad for.”
» On senior defensive back Brian Poole: “He’s versatile. I love it. I think he does a great job at nickel. He’s smart, he’s intelligent, he’s sees a lot of things. He’s physical, but he does a good job on the outside, too. … That’s [versatility is] valuable.”
» Freshman wide receiver Antonio Callaway will continue to work at punt returner, especially while Hargreaves plays additional snaps on defense due to lack of depth.
» Redshirt sophomore transfer QB Luke Del Rio, a walk-on, was denied an NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility and will redshirt the 2015 season.
» On redshirt senior LB Anthony Harrell, who transferred in from Georgia Tech: “Anthony’s been playing for us a ton on special teams, doing a great job for us. … We tried to get Matt a couple of things, we’ll see if he can handle a couple things on special teams. At this time, you’re looking for guys that want to play but are willing to really go and show you in special teams.”
» McElwain praised junior WR Chris Thompson for being a standout performer on special teams. He also noted that Thompson has been acting as Vols star Pig Howard during practice this week.
» On how often the Gators practice ball security: “Like every second of the day. It’s like I didn’t go to [the line to] miss a free throw. They probably don’t go to drop a ball. So obviously there’s drills and there’s reinforcement. … Every Monday, we do wet ball Monday. It’s wet ball Monday, man. So in case it rains, we dump balls in big vats of water and throw and catch and run and go through the blaster. So all you can do is work the fundamentals of it and keep reinforcing the positives.”
» On whether he lets special teamers eat first like Urban Meyer did: “I didn’t know he did it. I’ve been doing it since I was a special teams coach back at Louisville. So I don’t know where he was then. You’re a starter on special teams before you’re ever a starter on offense and defense. That kind of sets the stage for it. … You’ve just got to understand the importance of it. … The only people that get the attaboys are the ones who perform on special teams. … That’s where you win games. I’m not saying we’re going to win every game there because some things happen. But is it stressed? I think I had that miserable task of being that coordinator for about seven years in my career, so every time there’s one of those situations you learn more about it. But I enjoy it because it’s a chance to get the whole football team together.”
» On the plight of special teams coordinators: “Everybody, when you asked who wants to be the special teams coordinator, it’s becomes crickets. Nobody really wants to be one. It’s like, ‘Really?’ They’re eager to point out some help, but they don’t want that moniker. … I get it. That was me, I took the abuse. I’m alright.