Florida coach Jim McElwain met with the media on Tuesday to discuss preparations for the start of spring practice.
“It’s a big time. Getting ready as we head into spring practice. A lot of things to be accomplished. First and foremost, I want to say I’ve been really happy with the enthusiasm in which our guys have kind of attacked what we’re asking them to do. We’ve got some hungry Gators out there, some guys that have really bought in to a lot of things we’re trying to accomplish, and yet we’ve got a long ways to go.
“Obviously our numbers from a roster standpoint are nowhere near where we need to be. We’re thin at linebacker, very, very thin at offensive line, to the point that – we all knew this was coming, so it’s not a shock – but we’re going to have to adjust how we practice, the amount of reps we get and the different ways in which we do things from a practice structure.
“Normally we like to go two-, three- and four-spot drills, where guys are constantly working, no one is standing. There’s going to be some skelly-type work that needs to go on that normally would be in a team situation. But we’ll handle that. That’s the cards we were dealt. That will be all right. The key is to make sure we get as much work as we can with as many people as we can to kind of establish who we are and what we’re all about and the direction we’re going to head with this football team as we move in from spring ball and into the summer sessions.
“Excited about the direction that we’re headed; a lot of work ahead and yet, you know, it’s kind of fun work. We get a chance to get out. I’ll just say personally, I can’t wait to get outside and enjoy seeing these guys compete and find out kind of positionally where some guys are going to be. We haven’t made any position changes or anything like that. Moving forward, probably the biggest one in there is trying to figure out exactly where Brandon Powell is going to kind of fit from a wide receiver/running back standpoint. He kind of played both a little bit. We’re going to primarily put him at wideout and give him an opportunity there. That obviously makes us thin at running back, but at the same time, you kind of do a guy a disservice when you try to do a little bit of both. And so we’re going to try and take a look at that first and then we’ll go from there.
“Injury wise, [Antonio] Morrison will be out. Things are going well. He’s really attacking his rehab, and he’s a big lift to us. I’ve got to tell you what, here’s a guy, he doesn’t miss meetings, he’s out there at [conditioning] doing everything he can do. That’s really good to see.
“Trip Thurman, an offensive lineman, he’s not going to do anything in practice. He’s still with the team. That shoulder is such that if we can get an eight-month cycle off of it, then maybe we’re able to piece some things together with him next fall. The way I look at guys not being able to go in spring is now it gives the other guy an opportunity to get valuable reps. So, that’s what we really try to accomplish with them. I’m sure I’m missing some guys. We’ll hit that when we get out there next Monday, for sure. I didn’t necessarily have a real long meeting with the trainer today. That’s the least of my worries right now. We’ll tackle that next Monday.
“As you guys know, change of venue for us because of the exciting things that are happening from a facility standpoint. They’re making great progress on the indoor. We’re going to expand that as well, so that we’ve got more space moving forward, moving toward the throw pit with the outdoor fields, which is needed. We’ll tear up that one turf [field] and grass both of those and have the field turf in the indoor. All our practices will be out at the lacrosse and soccer complex. We’ll come in the stadium in order to do some scrimmage work and that kind of thing. Other than that, that will be the home for our practice stuff. That’s going to hinder a little bit what we do in camp this summer, to be honest with you, because right now we’ll just have the Swamp here and then the track field over there, as far as for use for what we need to do. That’s going to be a little bit different. Improvise, adapt and overcome — that’s really what it’s all about. You don’t worry about the hand you’re dealt. You worry about how you’ve got to go attack moving forward, so we’re excited about a lot of those things that are moving forward in the program.”
On evaluating the talent on the roster:
“We’ve obviously done a lot of a tape work, not only on our own guys but also looking at next year’s schedule. As you move toward the end of spring ball, some of the unique things that you need to at least expose them to a little bit as your schedule kind of moves forward, there’s been a lot of that. It’s hard to match schemes. It’s more seeing what people do individually and seeing the things that they were successful at. Without being out there with them and practicing, there really are no preconceived notions going into what we’ve got going on this spring. There’s been a lot of film watched, believe me.”
On a timeline for naming a starting quarterback:
“I think going into the summer you have an opportunity, maybe, to develop some things from there but we’re not putting a time line on the starting quarterback. We’ve done it a lot of different ways a lot of places we’ve been and been successful doing it. When it’s time we’ll name that. I’m looking forward to seeing what those guys can do and seeing the competition as we move forward. They’ll get an opportunity will all groups. That’s just the way we practice. The thing I know from playing the position and having coached it a long time, sometimes guys become crutch heavy if they’re just practicing with the same group of guys. You never know who’s gonna be in the game. You’ve got to develop a trust with everybody; all of the receivers, all of the running backs, all of the tight ends. So those guys take a lot of reps with a lot of different groups moving forward, should be a lot of fun.”
Status of tight end Jake McGee:
“Jake will be in a lot of drills. He will not be in any live action based on that foot. You want me to give you the anatomical problem on the injury? He’s got a bad foot. That’s about what I know about it. That will give a lot of those tight ends, which we’ve got a good group of tight ends — I’m talking from a numbers standpoint. They’re going to allow us to kind of move the direction we want to offensively with those guys handling a lot of load. He’s been running with our team but we certainly don’t want to jeopardize that. It’s too short out from what occurred there, but he’ll be involved in a lot of the skelly drills, a lot of the half-line pop work, that type of stuff. He just won’t be in any scrimmage or any live drills.”
Plan for offensive line numbers problem:
“Cry. It’s been a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure out how we’re gonna practice from a standpoint of trying to make sure we don’t lose some other groups because of the one group and yet putting so much work on them sometimes you get caught up in that. Adjusting how actually having rep counts, pitch counts on certain guys as we have them moving forward, it will be an evolution because it’s something that, moving forward, we need to get our roster back up. It’s the same way at linebacker. Just from a depth standpoint, we’ve got good players. I’m not saying anything about players; I’m just talking about structurally about how you practice to get the most out of it. It will be a little different. Based on those numbers, even if you get one dinged or a couple dinged here and there, then that’s really gonna change how we do things. And yet, out of all the positions, those O-linemen are gonna get some valuable reps, now. There’s no replacing true reps and so when you see kind of how we practice guys aren’t standing around. Philosophically, I always get a kick out of ‘Take a mental rep.’ So if I’m shooting free throws, what? I got to go stand at the line and stare at the basket? No, I’m gonna shoot, right? So I can’t stand that part of it. So something that we’ve kind of done is everybody’s moving, everybody’s working, everybody’s getting on film because now you can teach it off of film. The value of repetitions and yet making sure they’re quality reps and you’re not getting nothing out of it because they can’t go, that’s really where we’re gonna kind of be as far as the structure of it.”
Update on Jarrad Davis and Bryan Cox:
“They’re injured. Well that’s something trainers and day to day you’ll get the injury report, you know guys I really – they’re hurt, so there’s a pretty good chance they won’t practice much but we got to get ’em healthy.”
Traditional spring game format:
“I don’t see how you can when you don’t have two units. Here’s what I’m kind of toying in with. I think this would be pretty awesome myself, we’re gonna retrofit the O’Dome and have an Arena League game. Don’t you think that’d be cool? We’d play off the nets, music, it should be fun. Energy. I think that’s a great idea. That might be the direction we’re headed in. We’ll probably look at having a more traditional offensive and defensive scoring system and obviously within that some pure red area competition, overtime competition, coming out competition; you know that kind of thing between the units. But I really don’t have that answer now until we see where we are 15 practices now.”
Offensive line with Thurman out:
“They all got to play, so we’re excited to see how they’re all gonna develop. I’m one of these guys, it’s about the team, it’s about the Gators. The individual, who that is, I don’t know yet. That’s why we practice. As time moves forward, I’ll be able to tell you a little more that ‘so and so is really making some improvements,’ or ‘We need to get a little more out of this guy’ or whatever.”
Offensive lineman standing out on film:
“There haven’t been a lot of them even on film. We’ve had to dig up some practice film just to kind of see how they go. It’s a little bit more of a NFL philosophy, in other words, you’ve got eight active guys for example, some of those guys have to fit, they’ve got to be able to play a tackle, whether it’s a left tackle, they’ve got to also be able to fill in at right guard, or whatever that is. But I think developing that unit as we move forward is really kind of the key to what we need to get out of spring.”
“You know, we’re getting there. We’re still a ways away in a couple spots. And yet, we’ve been really fortunate to attract some, I think, outstanding talent and guys that are gonna be able to help this program move forward in the roles. Obviously, they can’t coach on the field and they won’t, that’s not how it is. And yet, some of the value as far as looking forward to some film breakdown, things like that, is huge. And getting another set of quality eyes on your product that can kind of sit back and see a little bit from afar and bring some really good value to what you’re trying to accomplish. I think we’ve done that in those spots. We’re not filled up yet. We kind of (are) pretty close. And yet even a couple of those graduate assistant roles we need to still get them in school. There’s things that way that need to happen. But we’re getting to the model that we’re after. And it’s got to be a model that works for the University of Florida. We’re at the University of Florida, we’re gonna fit that model to what’s best for us.”
On bringing in experienced coaches to help the staff:
“Well, part of it is the people you get to work with, the new set of ways of doing things and just kind of refreshing yourself as a coach. These are transient positions by nature, which is great because we’re able to give an opportunity to a coach to advance his career and then at the same time on the other end, we’re able to possibly bring in new ideas to stay fresh. So that’s all part of how this works. And, you know, the other thing is if a coach does move on to a head coaching job, it allows opportunities for guys internally and externally. I’ve seen it first-hand. It really is the way of moving forward and our administration has been fantastic with allowing us the opportunity to at least get near in the ballpark with the way things are moving in that direction.”
On players learning new system:
“System wise, no matter what you’re in, no matter what system you’re in, it comes down to blocking and it comes down to tackling. It comes down to taking a certain step. It comes down to where your eyes are. There’s a lot of base fundamentals that have to occur for whatever offense you’re in. It doesn’t matter. They’re running kind of the same plays. For us, it’s a matter of the fundamentals standpoint and seeing really maybe this guy’s strengths or maybe, ‘A’ we’ve got to work on, ‘B’ but let’s not force ‘B’ as an issue. Does that kind of make sense? Maybe one of those things where, as you look at offensive line last season for example, where we flip lines. Have a strong side and a weak side. There’s certain things where you’ve got to find out about the players first before you throw that kind of stuff in. That’s what makes spring ball fun. It’s an opportunity to experiment. An opportunity to kind of see how guys react and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
Opportunity for tight ends with McGee out:
“There won’t be a lack of reps. That’s up to us to strengthen that position. We’ve got a great coach there that’s coached for a long time and part of that reason is that I knew what we needed to do at that spot. We also need to expose them a little bit to what we expect at the spot. It’ll be interesting moving forward, but we have numbers at that spot. That’s one of those spots, from just a pure numbers, is actually pretty good.”
On offseason workouts:
“First and foremost is accountability and the understanding that we’re all Gators. It isn’t a certain position group or a certain side of the ball or anything like that. We’re all in this together. We’re only as good as each other. What he’s been able to do is, we do a lot of work where the position groups are mixed as they’re doing things. You spend enough time once ball starts in the meeting room with these guys, right? But it’s the chance to get to know all the other people. So he’s done a really good job of that. That’s a philosophical thing that we believe in. You see when we do go out to workouts, everybody’s walking in a tight group. It isn’t guys straggling out on their own benefit. Understanding the accountability standpoint to each other is something we’ve got to work at is that bond.”
On support staff being where it needs to be:
“Whether we’re behind or not, that’s not for me to answer. It’s a philosophical, probably, discussion more than it is anything. I don’t think we were behind by any stretch in imagination and yet it’s something that I was kind of a part of, I saw the value of. We did the same thing at the place we just came from and it helped us be successful. So bringing that here is just something philosophically that we believe in and something that our administration is totally behind. I’ve got to tell you this, it’s hard to have success if you’ve got different things pulling in different directions. As long as everybody’s on board with the right message, what needs to be accomplished and then figuring out ways to do it. That’s one thing, I think, that is great about being here: the people we’re working with, giving themselves opportunities.”
On staff additions:
“Well, I mean, you mentioned one [John Garrett]. I think Mark DeBastiani is a guy that I’ve known a long time that’s been a coordinator at I-AA for quite a while and a guy that gives us an opportunity, another set of eyes on defense. Obviously Marquel Blackwell, who brings some instant credibility from the area and yet, you know, has coached at the collegiate level and has coached at the high school level and quite honestly needed a break to get involved and see how the situation is. I think he’s a real strong person in that area as well. Marc Nudelberg, who was a full-time coach at Cincinnati and learned from some really good special teams guys along the way, another set of eyes that can sit in there and help us and help coach Nord and myself on special teams. We still have some spots, all right, that may be designated already, but for one reason or another haven’t quite been filled. The one thing you’ll find out about me is I’ve got a lot of patience in this. Until you see your team and really see what it is, maybe you don’t know exactly what part you kind of need to help the organization. That’s part of the discovery of where we’re at as a total organization. To see what we need to fill there.”
Qualities looking for in a quarterback:
“I think a guy who learns how to throw it to our colored jersey is probably the most important thing. Understands the importance of taking care of the football and affecting the people around him in a positive way is really what we’re looking for.”
On replacing Dante Fowler and his production:
“Well, I’m a believer in this. You don’t replace a Dante Fowler. The guy is going to be a top 10, whatever, a top-five pick in the National Football League. That’s a pretty good league, by the way. So you don’t replace that guy. What you do is the positions around that guy have to elevate their play to make up for that production. Does that make sense? So that’s kind of how I see that when you lose dynamic playmakers on either side of the ball. And so I never want to ask somebody to be somebody they’re not. There’s only one Dante, so you can’t go out there and say, ‘Go be Dante.’ Well shoot, that’s never going to happen. The key is what are the guys around that spot doing to help you be successful and that’s what we really have to do. We have to make up for those plays somewhere, right. That means some guys around him need to elevate.”
On interaction with players this spring:
“I actually got to say this first of all. Walking in here there was a little energy, it was a little bit better. I didn’t feel like I was at Winn-Dixie, walking down the frozen fish aisle seeing a bunch of non-reactive bodies in here, right. But I like being around these guys. They have some energy when we come in and we’re able to visit. They’re actually a lot of fun. And yet the work is really just getting going. How they adapt to the change in the practice philosophy, for example, will be interesting. That’s a constant thing. And it isn’t just your team, now, I mean it’s everybody that’s involved in the football program. Some guy’s always walking in my office and the son of gun always looks like Eeyore. Come back in like Tigger, so at least I got a chance.”
On figuring out offensive scheme:
“Per NCAA rules, you don’t get the opportunity to be around these guys like you want to, and yet no one does. So coming in new, that’s really where we got to take advantage of that time here where we can be around them a little bit more. I mean, I can’t even see them pitch and catch. At least I can go to baseball and sit in the bullpen and throw a couple myself. So I have no idea. You want me to tell you what I’m really nervous about? I have nightmares about the inability to get out of a huddle, OK, because some of these guys have never huddled. OK. Taking a snap from center, that’s a novel concept, OK. And routes on air. I just hope we complete one. That’s what I’m excited about that first day of practice.”
On challenges of implementing your 18-month schedule:
“I don’t look at it like that. I look at it as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to kind of build on some really good things that are here, and tweak some things that maybe need to be tweaked. And I think part of that is not jump to conclusions and really getting an opportunity to kind of see how the workings are, and then help and enhance that. There’s already been some great things I wished I would have thought of before that are already in place with people in our administration, and people within the organization. So that’s been good. When you get to the end of that 18, that’s when you get a chance and now we’ve already been able to go through month one, re-tweak it for when that month one comes up again, does that make sense? And then we try to do that, and after every event we have a follow-up meeting to say ‘How do we make it better?’ Maybe at times you say, ‘Man, oh it’s pretty good. But at least you’ve got to make sure you’re always digging and making sure that you’re current. And I think that’s the key, making sure you’re current and you don’t fall behind in anything that you do. So that’s what maybe kind of helps with that keeping on track.”
On status of recruiting right now:
“We’re ahead of the curve right now, but we’re also a little behind because a whole bunch of people have already been recruiting a long time for 2017. So it’s going to take still another full cycle to try to catch up. But believe me, we’ll be a lot farther ahead than that 2-3 week period that we had trying to get it together. And I’ve got to tell you, I was just so proud of how hard everybody in the organization worked those weeks in recruiting to give us the best opportunity to show what it means to be a Gator and the things and the benefits of being a Gator down the road, later in life, and how important that is. So I am looking forward to at least trying to be a little ahead and not wait until the last recruiting weekend to have 16 visits or whatever it was. And hopefully get one or two.”
Benefit of Jake McGee getting another year:
“Well, he never really had a chance last year to even play, so I know this, the guy looks like they’re supposed to and that’s a step in the right direction. And then, he’ll be able to do, like I said, he’s not going to be able to be in any live drills, but we’ll be able to see how he functions, and some of the combo blocking things and that kind of stuff. So I think we should get a pretty good idea how he’s going to fit to help the program next fall.”