We’re back with Florida Football Friday Final, where OnlyGators.com takes a last look at the Florida Gators as they prepare for their first Southeastern Conference home contest under head coach Jim McElwain.
The Gators (3-0) will take on the Tennessee Volunteers (2-1) on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and air live on CBS.
This week on OnlyGators.com
Suspensions: QB Treon Harris, CB Jalen Tabor out for Tennessee
Practice update: Harris’ decision; player evaluations; injuries hurting depth
Practice update: Gators face questions at quarterback, offensive line
Depth chart: Kelvin Taylor back to first string
Tim Tebow talks quarterbacks: In town with the SEC Nation crew, which will be stationed in the Plaza of Americas for SEC Network‘s College GameDay-esque show early Saturday morning, former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow was asked what he thinks about redshirt freshman Will Grier, Florida’s starting signal caller on Saturday. Here’s what he had to say.
”I think that he’s done some things well. The one thing that has impressed me about his game is he’s played with a lot of courage, a lot of heart, and he puts forth a lot of effort. That’s really given him the chance to make some of the big plays that he’s made, especially in the Kentucky game. When there’s a screen and no one’s open, he fights through it and runs for a couple. When he’s able to break tackles, [he does]. I think it’s really going to help when the offense is able to be more consistent and balanced, the running game and drop back. I think he’s got a lot of talent, and I think he’s shown some signs he could be very good.”
Tebow was also asked what advice he would give Grier. “I think I was in a little bit of a similar spot my second year at the University of Florida when we opened up with a few games and then Tennessee came in here. That was really a big game. I remember my first two possessions – I believe that they were three-and-outs. I think we score don like five or six or seven in a row or something. It’s never as good as it seems; it’s never as bad as it seems,” he said.
“You can never lose confidence in yourself, because there are going to be times in this conference and in games when you’re not doing well, when it looks very bleak. And that’s where you have to continue to believe. Show the courage, show the heart, be taht leader that your team needs you to be.”
Tebow will be live from the plaza from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday. In addition to SEC Nation previewing Saturday’s slate of games, it will take a closer look at Florida-Tennessee, including multiple segments from around UF campus and an interview with senior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard.
— Landon Watnick (@LandonWatnick) September 25, 2015
Offensive line a work in progress … that must progress: In his 36th year of coaching, offensive line coach Mike Summers has been faced with his greatest challenge – building a unit nearly from the ground up. Most of his players are either freshman or have very little – if any – playing experience, and they are being asked to hold off some of the best defensive lines in the nation.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a situation where we’ve had this few returning players and have to work with a group of younger players and have them in such vital positions that we have right now. I don’t know if I’ve been in that situation before,” Summers admitted on Wednesday.
“But I’ll follow that up and say, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more enthused about coaching a group of guys than I am with this group. Their spirit to be Florida Gators, their competitive edge to want to make us into a good offensive line has been there. They want to learn, they want to be coached, and so for this to be No. 36 for me and a lot of people might think that it’s old hat or routine, it’s been anything but that. The fact that they’re young is a challenge for me, and their enthusiasm spurs my motivation, and it’s been a really good coaching situation.”
As the only coach retained from Will Muschamp’s staff, Summers’s calm presence and familiar face was much-needed. He allowed Florida to retain and grab some top-tier offensive line commitments and could serve as a sounding board for the few veteran Gators that did not graduate or leave early for the professional ranks. That’s where the positives stop, though.
Summers is tasked every day with teaching a group of inexperienced but talented players. He’s tasked with giving them a broad focus on the position but also a “narrow, specific, attention-to-detail effort” each week. There is almost too much information for Summers to disseminate each week, but he must also ensure that he does not overload the young minds he is expected to mold.
“There’s so much that happens in such a small space, in such a fast amount of time. They’re dealing with so much information input. So much of this is about what information you gain before the ball gets snapped, as to having an understanding about what’s going to happen after it gets snapped. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, if all of these indicators don’t make sense to you, then when you snap the ball, guys move and you’re not prepared for it,” he explained.
“All of that preparation stuff is slow to come if you haven’t had experience at it. There’s a pattern of playing offensive line. When a guy moves across your face, it means someone else is coming from outside. If a linebacker moves from inside to outside, it means the guy over you is going to move a certain direction. So just understanding what that is takes an awful lot of time and a lot of preparation. And so that’s why you don’t see very many young linemen across the country that are very successful, because it just takes time to learn those patterns.”
Summers admitted that the Gators are “not where we want to be right now,” though he has “seen improvement each week” and expects to see that continue as Florida progresses through the season. He believes the roster he has is “extremely talented;” Summers is “impressed” with the progress they’ve made and believes the development will trend upward, though it will be difficult.
As such, Summers had thoughts “that can’t be aired in public” when he saw put three freshmen on the line at the same time against Kentucky, though he was also “excited about that” because those players gave the “coaching staff enough confidence that we can put them out there in that situation.”
More than anything else, Summers is excited for where Florida will be in 2016 and beyond.
“I have been doing this long enough to know we have a long way to go, and that’s certainly going to be evident as we get into tougher competition. These defensive lines that we play in this league are so good they’re going to expose our inexperience; they’re going to expose our lack of depth; they’re going to expose certain areas of what we do,” he explained. “We know that’s going to happen. We’re just trying to prepare ourselves for it as we go forward and do the best we can.”
Summers added: “We’re not close to where we need to be. So there’s a lot of work left to be done. … Hopefully, by the time we get to the end of the season, we develop into a good line. … What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to build a foundation for the future. Whatever that means right now, these guys are going to be our future, so as much as we can play them and as much as they can contribute right now, that’s only going to mean we’ll be that much better down the road.”
Evaluating the big nasties: Offensive line coach Mike Summers spent time breaking down a number of Gators, including a couple of freshman that have already made an impact.
» On freshman tackle Martez Ivey: “He did really good. I was really encouraged with him. He’s got such a spirit for playing football. He’s a guy that loves to be in the game, loves to be at practice, loves to prepare himself to be ready to play. And so from that standpoint, I’m just so excited about him. … His advantage is in his heart. It’s in his brain. He’s a football player, and so he brings that every day. It’s exciting to be around those guys, especially to be around him. …
“Really, I’ve seen tremendous improvement. It was such a shame that he got hurt when he did because he was on such a fast pace to capture a lot of the things that we had been teaching him going into that first game. I was so impressed with where he was. And then to have the three-week setback was difficult for him and for all of us. But he really responded well – he worked hard in his rehab, came right back in, got into practice last week and really got a lot more snaps Saturday than I thought he would be able to take and be effective at it. I was really pleased with what he did.”
» on freshman guard Fred Johnson: “He’s such an amazing surprise. His background in high school was not very extensive; I think he was a one-year starter in high school. His knowledge about football is way behind guys that have played and have more experience. But every day he comes over here, he’s got a smile on his face. It’s a new day for him. He’s excited to be there, and I’m excited to coach him. We work through the goods and the bads and somewhere in between we’re seeing a guy really develop into being a good offensive lineman.”
» On freshman center Tyler Jordan: “I’ve been so impressed with his focus and his willingness to play a couple of different positions. He plays center for us and has done a really good job there. [Was] not a center before he got here and has worked hard to try and make himself into a really good center and then we’ve been able to get him snaps at guard, as well. He’s become a really valuable player to us because of that. I see nothing but great things in the future. He’s got such a willingness to learn and has talent to play in there.”
» On redshirt senior transfer lineman Mason Halter: “I’m really glad he’s a Florida Gator. He is a very smart football player. I feel like I can play him at all four positions – at tackles and guards on both sides. He’s a real comforting player to have there with that group because he does have some experience, he’s got some age, he understands how to prepare, and [he’s been a good leader].”
Notes and bits
» Junior wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood on freshman Antonio Callaway impressing on the field: “The young’n is doing a great job right now. Learning the playbook, he got it down really quick, which was impressive. From there on, once you learned the playbook, you can just play and that’s what he’s showing us. … He reminds me of Antonio Brown. He won’t jump out of the gym. He won’t blow by you with speed. The guy just knows how to play football; he’ll do some things that you’ve never seen before. He’s a great player, and he’s going to have a really good career.\”
» Redshirt sophomore RUSH Jordan Sherit on the rivalry: “You don’t understand it until you get here and get on campus. The people, the staff that have been around here for a while, their hatred and how emphatic they are about the rivalry creates a hatred in itself. ‘Just beat Tennessee,’ you hear some people just tell you. You’ll meet someone and they’ll just say, ‘Just beat Tennessee for me … just beat Georgia for me.’ It’s fun, but at the same time, we prepare the same way.”
» Redshirt sophomore OG Antonio Riles on the Gators stepping up in their run blocking: “It’s real important. We have to improve every time. It’s going to be pivotal.”