No. 18 Florida Gators football is in the process of preparing for its first Southeastern Conference Championship Game appearance since 2009 when it meets the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide at 4 p.m. on Saturday in Atlanta, Georgia.
Head coach Jim McElwain met with the media early in the week to provide some updates on his team as it prepares for its toughest test of the season.
Guess who’s back, back again: Despite being suspended from last week’s game for “making a choice” (better known as the ol’ “violation of team rules”), junior wide receiver Demarcus Robinson is back with the Gators after the seniors voted and decided to allow him to return to practice.
“The seniors got together, are giving him an opportunity. It was a choice for him not to be with his family and us in the last ballgame. Sometimes the greatest lessons in life are when things are taken away from you and no longer enabled,” McElwain said. “As I’ve said before, he’s come a long ways, but he’s got a long ways to go to understand it’s not OK to make choices that hurt your team. He practiced today. … It was a family decision.”
Following Saturday’s game, McElwain asked if anyone was surprised that Robinson had another transgression. He was not in particularly because he saw it as a personal choice, and Robinson has made a lot of careless ones in the past. “What’s disappointing is somebody would do that to their teammates,” he said. “And yet, I’m not mad at him at all.”
No status change: Contrary to Internet rumors that sophomore quarterback Will Grier was withdrawing from classes and on his way to transferring from Florida, McElwain clarified Wednesday that Grier is on campus and “doing a pretty darn good job” in his classes, based on his last grade report.
Staying put at quarterback: Another game, another opportunity to make a move from sophomore QB Treon Harris that McElwain has decided not to take. McElwain scoffed at the question following Saturday’s loss to Florida State, saying matter-of-factly that “he’s our quarterback” even though the Gators struggled to hit some “pretty good, open receivers.”
On Monday, McElwain said he and the coaching staff were not helping Harris as they were not calling plays for him that were friendly to his skillset and trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, in some respects. “Maybe look a bit at me and what I’m asking him to do as well,” the coach said. “Probably haven’t done as good a job … helping some of those things moving forward. He’s learning. He’s there. He’s engaged. He’s our quarterback, and I’m glad he’s our quarterback.”
The goal for Saturday against a team that has been hurt by the quarterback run would be for the Gators to introduce more such plays – draws and options – for Harris to better use his athleticism. The problem? Florida is exceptionally thin at the quarterback position. Perhaps the Gators chose not to take that risk against the last handful of opponents for that very reason, but with the SEC Championship Game being the last meaningful contest of the season, it’s now or never.
So with all that said, how did Harris look through the first three days of practice? “He’s been OK. Hasn’t been great. But you know what? We’ve still got some time,” McElwain said.
Injury updates: McElwain did not provide a detailed list of Florida’s ailments – at least nothing like he did one week ago – but suffice to say a lot of Gators are banged up but still likely to play in Saturday’s game.
Perhaps of most consequence was a re-aggravating of a foot injury that has been bothering sophomore left tackle David Sharpe, who is now questionable for the game. Redshirt sophomore cornerback Quincy Wilson is also dealing with an undisclosed leg issue and “did not look good at all” in practice on Wednesday. Redshirt junior rush defensive end Alex McCalister remains out of action, however.
“We’ve got some guys injured, but you know what, they’re finding a way to go out there and play – obviously in discussion with the team doctors,” McElwain said.
Notes and bits:
» McElwain was not pleased with Florida’s effort in practice on Wednesday, saying it was “[not] great by any stretch of the imagination” but there is still plenty of time before the title game. The Gators had to re-do a few practice periods in order to get them right, he noted.
» On junior running back Kelvin Taylor, who’s played exceptionally well over the last few weeks: “Kelvin left everything he had – as did a lot of guys – on the field. … This guy plays his tail off. This guy plays with energy, practices with energy, plays hard. He loves the game, loves his teammates. It’s great to see. He’s got another couple games left, and he’s going to do everything he can to keep that up.”
» On senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard playing through his knee injury: “Bullard, this guy is doing … I just … it’s awesome what he’s doing, and he’s making himself money – believe me – as teams see what he’s doing. Because when you play at the next level, you got to prove you can play with some nicks and some bruises because no one plays in that league healthy. He’s proving some things and continuing to do that.”
» McElwain is happy that Florida is able to travel with 85 players on the SEC title game trip because he believes it is good for the youngsters not playing to get juiced about where the team can go in the future.
» On the kicking situation: “We’ll get a kicker. That’s our responsibility, and we’ll get one. And we’ll get a good one.”
» On former defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who was named Maryland head coach on Wednesday: “D.J., what a quality guy, first of all, and what a quality person. what he was able to do in that role at that time, which was hard on everybody, he held it together. he’d come in and visit between practices, that kind of stuff. you could tell that guy’s a real guy and a great coach, obviously. but more than that, I think a real good person and a guy that really cares about his players.”