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    Jim McElwain watches over the Florida Gators during their second spring practice of 2015. / Gator Country photo by David Bowie

Florida Gators Podcast:
Position battles in spring

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Written by Andrew Spivey, March 22, 2015, 0 Comments,
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In the latest episode of Gator Country’s  podcast, Nick de la Torre and Andrew Spivey break down the first week of the Florida Gators spring football practice as well as how the energy of the of the team is so far this spring.

Daniel Thompson also joined GatorCountry in this podcast to help us break down the biggest position battles this spring and who is standing out so far and which freshman could come in and play this fall.

Stay tuned to GatorCountry.com for more podcast on spring football and on the class of 2016 recruiting class as Andrew and Nick will keep everyone up to date on the Gators.

* * * TRANSCRIPT:

Andrew:         Gator Country, we are back. Your man, Andrew Spivey right here with Nicholas de la Torre, and surprise, surprise, we have a guest tonight, Mr. Daniel, DK, Mr. Fashion Key West Thompson. Dan, how’s it going, buddy?

Dan:               I’m good, guys. It’s good to catch up again.

Nick:               Dan’s like the most interesting man in the world right now. He’s been to Cancun, Key West, not writing thoughts of the week, just living the high life.

Andrew:         And he tells me today he wants to go to Cuba. Cuba now. I mean, this man gets to go everywhere, and he’s on private jets. He’s not even flying with the regular people.

Dan:               Who flies commercial?

Nick:               Dan only flies private.

Dan:               It’s a tough life. Somebody’s got to live it.

Nick:               We thank you.

Dan:               These planes need to get where they need to go.

Nick:               We thank you for carrying that cross for all of us.

Dan:               It’s a tough cross to bear, but I appreciate it. It’s a sacrifice I’ll continue to make if I have to.

Nick:               You have broad shoulders.

Andrew:         Next weekend I can’t let him go anywhere. He’s going to down to IMG, do a little football recruiting, but this one’s not about recruiting tonight. This is all football, two practices down, third and forth are coming, then the first week’s over with. You guys have heard everything, heard Coach McElwain. There’s been a little fireworks this week. Nick, first impressions of the week?

Nick:               My first impression of Monday’s practice was that the coaching staff was fired up. They were ready to go. To me, it kind of seemed like the first day of school in elementary school where the kids are kind of like feeling out their classmates, feeling out their teachers, maybe a little tentative. You don’t want to be the first person to say something stupid in class, or to answer a question wrong. It seems like the team and the players were worried about being the first person to get chewed out by a coach. It’s going to happen. You’re playing football. You’re going to get chewed out. You’re going to make a mistake, but it seemed like they were all kind of tentative, running a little bit slower, making sure every step had a purpose. Then the second practice right into it. Guys were flying around. They’re excited. They’re excited to be out there. It seems like they’re buying what the coaching staff is selling.

Andrew:         Dan, you’re kind of like me, we’re a little bit on the outside looking in, but from what you’ve heard, what was your impression of the first two really press conferences from McElwain.

Dan:               I like his energy. At the end of the day a coach is only going to tell you as much as he wants to tell you, and he’s going to dive into parables and everything else, and ultimately not ever tell you what you want to hear as a reporter. So it’s tough to be able to gather information. Nick Sabin does it really well. Will Muschamp did it well. Billy Diamond does it really well. They dive into a lot, so you don’t really hear too much. The first couple practices, maybe even spring, I don’t know how much we’re going to learn. McElwain talked about in first practice really installing the offense. They did a lot of things under center. The practice after that he talked about installing a shotgun and pistol.

You know how they had some snafus. It was a little bit difficult to kind of grasp these things, but that’s going to happen. The team hasn’t played since early January, new offense, new scheme, and I’m sure a lot of these players are really trying to prove something. They don’t want to be the guy that makes a mistake. You would think that a lot of these players have carte blanche. This is a new opportunity for them to maybe earn a starting spot that they haven’t had. Players are going to probably play tentative. They might not want to make those mistakes.

Nick:               I think some of that left after the first practice. Obviously we’re only there for 15 minutes. They practice for two hours. I’m seeing the first 15 minutes in that very first day, on Monday, that they’re with the new staff. It was different for me, at least from my perspective on Wednesday. I’m piecing together 15 minutes at a time, so by the end of spring practice I’ll have a full practice.

Andrew:         There you go. I want to say real quick, Dan, you hit on this, the quarterbacks. For me, it’s like jingle bells going off in my head at Christmastime hearing the pistol. I think that’s been a lost art at Florida a little bit is the pistol. For a guy like Kelvin Taylor to be in a pistol offense is going to be really good for him, because he kind of gets the best of both worlds. He gets the pro style offensive look, but he also gets that little head start of being in the shotgun a little bit. I like that a little bit form that. I think it’s pretty cool that McElwain is already throwing this on these guys, so that as the summer goes on they can work with that a little bit. Nick, point I wanted to ask you next was Mike Kent. What have you seen from Mike Kent? Jeff Dillman, I don’t want to call him a bozo, but he kind of looked dumb a little bit at times. I guess, what is Mike Kent’s presence out there?

Nick:               I disagree. I loved Jeff Dillman. I could walk out to a practice tired, and Dillman would wake me up. Kent’s the same kind of guy. We’re out there during stretching period, and he’s running around up and down the line yelling at these guys, making sure they’re ready, making sure they’re focused, similar kind of high energy. Maybe not as boisterous as Jeff Dillman was.

Andrew:         Dan, I think we can kind of talk about that a little bit. We’ve kind of all seen. Nick, you’ve had your photos, stuff like that, the weight gain in some of these guys. Dan, you’ve had the presence of being around that. What is your take of Dillman compared to Kent, in that Kent’s more about fundamentals and Dillman was more of the Olympic style?

Dan:               I guess we’ll see more going into the summer and everything else about real body transformation, but I think the one big thing that I’ve heard, and that everybody keeps talking about, is the focus on fast twitch muscles compared to just bulking up. I think that when you play in the SEC it has to be a delicate balance of both, because you’re going to have your big players on offense and defense, but you still need to be able to compete on a speed level.

So I never saw, when Mickey Mariotti and Urban Meyer were running the program, running the strength and conditioning program, it was always about speed, speed, speed. When Will Muschamp was running with Jeff Dillman there was a lot about power, power, power and controlling the line of scrimmage. One could argue that Florida never controlled their line of scrimmage, so that probably fell flat on its face.

It has to be a combination of both. You never know what a strength and conditioning coach is going to do right away, because it has to take buy in from players, but if you focus on a little bit of both I think that that’s probably the most delicate balance in the SEC, or in football, and that’s what Alabama does really well. That’s what LSU does well. They control the line of scrimmage, but at the same time those players can move. They can get to that second level where they can break past the offensive line. So that’s going to be important.

Nick:               That’s what everyone talks about the SEC with. It’s not they’ve got fast players at the skill positions, it’s that 340 pound defensive tackle is moving like a 260 pound buck linebacker. It’s those big players that have the speed, the players that you don’t expect to be fast. The SEC has kind of been able to have those freak athletes that you look at them, and you wonder if they’re an alien, because somebody at that size should not be moving like that.

Andrew:         That goes to a guy like David Sharpe. I think David Sharpe gained the weight, and that’ll be the question mark for a guy like Sharpe this spring, and into the fall, is with the added weight is he still mobile enough, athletic enough, to play a tackle position?

Nick:               Sharpe did tell us that Mike Summers has asked him to lose a couple of the pounds that he’s put on. He looks different. I went and saw him playing high school, and he looked like a kid who also played basketball, long and lean. Then he showed up to Florida, and he’d gained 30 pounds. We were all I think wondering when Florida released the roster, how’s that going to work out? He just put on a lot of weight, and he was fine. So he put on some more weight, so now we’re going to need to see how he handles that, how much they want him to drop down. It’ll be something definitely to keep an eye on.

Dan:               David Sharpe is playing what? 80 pounds heavier than he was in high school when he was still playing basketball?

Nick:               Yeah. He’s probably at 260, 270 in high school. He kind of shied away from the question as to how much weight have you put on. It’s noticeable, and he looks even much bigger this year. I don’t know if it’s all good weight, but he looks much bigger this year than he did playing.

Andrew:         I want to go to the next point here a little bit. You had going into the spring you’ve got seven offensive linemen right now. What do you kind of expect with the guard, tackle? Do you like the translation of all the guards snapping the ball at center as well?

Nick:               I do. I think you need that, because Trip Thurman’s your center, and Trip Thurman’s a guy who’s going into his fifth year, and he’s been hurt every single year. So the chances that Trip gets hurt with a shoulder, or a knee, get nicked up. Playing offensive line, every single snap there’s a chance that you get rolled up on, so that’s not even saying you’re injury prone. You could have a defensive end push another lineman into you. Now your ankle’s rolled on. I think it’s important, because after him you’ve got Cam Dillard, who almost killed me when we were down on the sideline at Vanderbilt last year snapping balls all over the place. I think you need to have as many options. Right now after Cam Dillard is a guy named Nick Davis, who’s a walkon.

Andrew:         Who?

Nick:               Exactly. So it gets really thin after that, and when you’re putting a guy at center who’s had a history of injuries I think you need to get as many kids, as many players, comfortable with snapping the ball as you can.

Andrew:         See, I think that he maybe had learned that a little bit from the Sabin tree a little bit, because those guys do a lot of that kind of mixing back and forth. You never see a center at Alabama that has not player guard the year before at Alabama. I think that it also kind of makes it a little bit where they guy has to understand this is my responsibilities at center. This is my responsibilities at guard. So now he understands what’s trying to happen, and I think it makes him a better football player overall.

Dan, I know you were there a little bit with the Pounceys. What did you think about that, and what’s your take on it?

Dan:               I think that that’s the best strategy that you can have. You ultimately want to groom a guard to become a center, in my opinion, and ultimately maybe move that person in there as a red shirt junior or a red shirt senior. You’re center needs to be someone that completely understands everything that’s going on in the play, because they’re the ones that are going to be calling out blocks. They’re going to be calling out reads. They’re going to be the ones that are leading the offensive line, and obviously if the offensive line falls apart on a play your entire play falls apart. Growing into that so that you have your younger players, or you have the rest of your offensive line, that can look up to that person. You have to have somebody that knows what’s going on.

It’s difficult. You ultimately, like you said, want somebody that has had other assignments and understands how a play follows through. It’s tough when you’re a left tackle, and all you focus on is being a left tackle or a left guard. If you were a right guard or a left guard, and now you move into center, now you understand at least two positions. You understand two different things, and all five players in the offensive line might be doing the same thing, but they all have different responsibilities.

The more experience you can have, and the more that somebody has experience, maybe in another role, moving that in, groom somebody over a couple years, but keep them at that guard role. I think that’s going to be successful. That’s what’s been most successful in what I’ve seen in college football recently. I don’t see a lot of these players that are recruited as centers out of high school being super successful throughout their entire career.

Andrew:         A lot of that is because usually in high school the center is a small kid. I mean, I know when I coached ball we had a center one year that was like 6’1”, 225, 230.

Nick:               Because the rules are different. You can’t line up over top of him.

Andrew:         Absolutely. I think that that is more about playing the bigger guy. I guess my point was I thought it was very smart, and it was something that maybe a guy like Andrew might could have done last year and been ready for a situation, or maybe Trip Thurman could have done that some last year and been ready. I talked to a couple people that told me they thought Antonio Riles could be the center of the future for Florida, and I felt that was interesting, because he had played that nose tackle position in high school, and they were like exactly. He understands what that defensive tackle’s going to do. Moving on a little bit.

Nick:               Before we move on, I think the line that we’re seeing right now, and obviously it’s hard to call it your starting five, because there’s only seven of them. The five that are consistently getting those first reps, from left to right. You’re getting David Sharpe at left tackle, Antonio Riles at left guard, Cam Dillard at center, Andrew Mike at right guard, and Rod Johnson at right tackle. Other than Cam Dillard, I think that is your starting five along the offensive line when toe meets leather, opening day. I think that’s going to be your starting five, with Trip Thurman there at center.

Andrew:         I think Martez Ivey plays. That’s just me.

Dan:               I think he has to play. Listen to that line. I mean, I don’t know how any quarterback or any running back could be super excited going into spring or fall practice with that.

Andrew:         I don’t think it’s that. I think Martez Ivey comes onto campus, and a lot of people forget, Martez Ivey’s going to be a 20 year old man when, as you say, toe meets leather, in August. So he’s not a immature kid. I think he’s grown a little bit. Nick, you’ve seen Martez. Dan, you’ve seen Martez. Is there five guys on the roster that are better than Martez?

Nick:               You don’t know, because you have to project a lot. Offensive line is the position that there is the most projecting. It’s why you have people ask the question, why is this five star? Why’d he never pan out? Maybe he was just bigger than everybody in high school. There’s more questions moving from high school to college in offensive line than any other position.

Andrew:         That goes with the defensive line being so small. I’m just saying, from a perspective of us watching him in person, for me studying his tape a lot. I cannot sit here and tell you that there are five better offensive linemen on the team than Martez Ivey. Again, as you said, we’ll have to figure it out in the fall.

I think let’s go to this a little bit. We had a controversy a little bit over the quarterback situation. Nick, you and I have discussed this at length. Dan, you and I have discussed this a little bit. That meant nothing. This means nothing, who takes the first rep. Nick, you got to kind of sit down with both of those guys. Give us your take.

Nick:               Yeah. We get out to practice and so much is made of Will Grier took the first snap in the first practice. I get where people want to say, this is Jim McElwain inviting people into his practice. This is the first thing they’re seeing of him, no way he didn’t know who. My thought process is that’s not a real rep. There were five offensive linemen, a quarterback, and a running back. They’re not in a team setting. They’re still warming up. They haven’t gotten into anything. Will Grier took the first snap, took two steps, and gave Kelvin Taylor the ball, and he ran into no defenders. So what is the significance behind that?

I think that’s just people making more of it than they should have. Then thumbing his nose at all the drama that happened on Tuesday. Mac, Treon Harris gets the first snap on Tuesday. I was really hoping it would Jacob Guy, or maybe even Jon Bullard, getting that first snap on Wednesday. People made a bigger deal out of it than it should be.

Andrew:         Dan, be calm, and answer the question. Calmly, please.

Nick:               Take a breath, Daniel.

Dan:               It’s interesting, because what my issue was when I kind of went on my little tirade against Mark Long wasn’t about the first snap. It was about the access to information and what people think they should know and about how important things are. Reporters and fans jobs are to make one small thing a big deal. Right? Especially when you only see 15 minutes of practice, and your first snap after three months of no football is Will Grier taking the first snap. Well, I bet you that there was probably a very even 45/45 split on those players, with the other 10% maybe going to some of the walk on guys. I think that we make a really small deal. Will Grier had no in game snaps last year. Treon Harris obviously had a multitude of snaps, but this entire year everybody has the opportunity to earn that starting role.

So if Will Grier is the first guy that took a snap, good for him. If he was the “starter” for the first practice, then he must have done something to earn it, but he can very easily just lose that, or like Coach Mac said, it really didn’t make a big difference. I don’t see what a huge deal it is that the first practice under a new coach, with an entire new offense and entire new regime, is that big of a deal. It’s people’s responsibility and people’s desire to freak out and crown Will Grier as the next Heisman Trophy winner, and that Treon Harris is going to immediately transfer, or vice versa.

Andrew:         Let me give a little coach speak here for just a second here. I took Mac’s side in the argument, and I can honestly say that what Nick described to me as what was going on, when I was coaching, for instance, it was kind of bullcrap time for us. It was kind of we’re out on the field. Let me gather my thoughts, look over my schedule one more good time, and let the guys get loose a little bit. I can’t say what was going through Mac’s head. Maybe Mac did know that Grier did it, and he just bullcrapped it. I don’t know.

Dan:               Of course he knew who took the first snap.

Andrew:         But it was not a first snap though. That’s what Nick is trying to say to you is that it wasn’t a first snap as in it was a team rep. It was warmups. Again, I see both sides of the thing. Anyway, that’s another subject.

Dan:               I guess what you’re pointing out, and I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, but there’s 15 minutes of practice. He allows the media to come out for that first 15 minutes of practice. Whether it’s a rep or not, it’s symbolic of something. If we are to believe that Coach McElwain just put five offensive linemen out there, they just randomly sought it out, and a quarterback just randomly tried out there, that’s false. There has to be something there. Whether it means anything, or how big of a deal it is, is something completely different. To think that Coach Mac didn’t know who took the first snap, or that it matters. It probably doesn’t at the end of the day, but it’s symbolic of at least something. It’s symbolic of something that happened over the last three months.

Nick:               We’re talking about a guy who has the next 18 months on a schedule, planned out. So there’s no surprises a year and a half from now. I understand why he tells the media, or would say to the media, I didn’t know who took the first snap, because you’re in a position where you can’t show your hand. You can’t afford to have Treon Harris or Will Grier transfer, because then you’re left with Skylar Mornhingweg as your backup quarterback. So I understand where he’s coming from.

Dan:               And we saw how that goes.

Nick:               Yeah. I understand where he’s coming from in not saying it, and it’s not a big deal, because they’re not going to name a starting quarterback this spring. They’re not going to name a starting quarterback this summer. They’re not going to name a starting quarterback until they have to throw somebody out there. So I think it was, is he lying, yeah, sure. He’s lying, or he’s not being totally truthful, but I think it was blown out of proportion.

Dan:               At the end of the day, he doesn’t need to be truthful. He can say what he wants to say, and whether it’s important or not to you as a reporter, or to Mark Long as a reporter, to him he’s got a program to run, and whether it’s symbolic of something, whether it’s a big deal or not, we can debate about it like we are right now. At the end of the day, it’s his program, and he’s going to run the program how he wants. People going and complaining on the radio because they don’t feel like they have access to information, or because it’s a used car salesman, it just shows me how entitled some people are. That’s what was frustrating to me. It wasn’t who was taking the first snap or whether Jim McElwain was lying or not, it’s the fact that we have to know every intricacy of how he’s running the program, and if that move is a big deal or not.

Andrew:         Again, Nick and I said the same thing. It’s a situation where it is the 21st Century. You get what you get. At the end of the day, that’s what separates, what do you do? You got to go for it. Again, this is not football. We’re not talking about football right now.

My last thought for Nick, before we get out of here. Nick.

Nick:               Hit me with it.

Andrew:         I’ve heard a lot of things about the energy from recruits, that kind of stuff. I just want to get your take real quick on, you hit on it a little bit, how the practice went at the early practice. What was your take of this, the energy in general around practice? I know you told me that they kind of lined up before they all took the field. They took the field as a group, that kind of thing. Just paint me a picture real quickly of what you thought practice was differently from what you’ve seen in the past.

Nick:               I don’t know if it is all that different, and by that I mean you’ve got certain guys that are stepping up. I think something that is different, Vernon Hargreaves has stepped up into even a bigger vocal role. I think as a freshman he might have been a little reserved, a little quiet. As a sophomore he definitely stepped up as a leader of the secondary, and maybe of the defense, and I think heading into his junior year he’s saying, Ronald Powell’s gone. Dante Fowler’s gone. This is my team now. So now Vernon Hargreaves is the guy that’s in the middle. It’s not DJ Humphries anymore. It’s Vernon Hargreaves in the middle, before the team comes into break down, before practice starts. He’s there with Jon Bullard, and Jon Bullard’s never really been a big vocal guy. I think he’s taking that on himself this year as well, so I think new leaders emerging are something that I’m seeing. As far as the intensity goes, I don’t think that’s changing at all.

There’s some of the older guys who maybe would have gotten practices off, or most of the periods off, before Dominic Easley. Dominic Easley’s last spring he would basically warm up, and then watch the rest of practice. He had kind of earned that right. It’s really hot out here. We’re in pads. You’ve had a couple knee surgeries. Why don’t you just take it easy today? Whether that’s not Mac’s style to give some seniority, some senior guys some time off, or they just don’t have the numbers to be able to do that, I’m not seeing very much of that.

Other than that I really think the intensity’s high. The coaching staff reminds me a lot of the past coaching staff as far as energy. Something that is very different is when practice would go on last year, and offense and defense would split up, Muschamp was over with the safeties. He would see some stuff, peripherally across the field, and maybe walk over and say something, but he was working hands on with the safeties. Mac is more of a…

Andrew:         General.

Nick:               A CEO rather than an office manager, in that kind of sense where I’ve seen him step in and work with somebody, but for the most part he’s letting his coaches coach. He’s walking around taking it all in, taking mental notes. So I see that is a different aspect, or a change, from what they’ve had the past four years.

Dan:               Do you think that’s because he has experience as a head coach? Most companies, most large companies, don’t have their CEO doing payroll, kind of the same way. Muschamp was coaching the safeties, and that was his bread and butter, and that’s what he really enjoyed doing. You don’t think that comes from experience of having done it before, and understanding that you’re over the whole football program and not just…

Nick:               I think some of it is this. I think that when you get into a situation for the first time that you’re going to be a little worried. You’re going to be a little scared. You have to have a massive ego to be a head coach at the college football level. You just have to. That’s how you survive. You have to think that what you’re doing, and your decisions, are the best, and that everything that you’re doing is better than Tennessee is doing, because it’s your way of thinking and your way of doing it.

So I think that when you couple that ego, and then you couple in this is my first time being a head coach. I’m running the show now. Maybe Muschamp went into his comfort zone. It’s like at practice I’ve never been an offensive coach, and he even admitted that at some point along his coaching career he wishes somebody would have forced him to coach wide receivers, forced him to coach running backs, so he would have a different perspective. He never had it, so I think he would just leave it to them to do offense, and then get into his comfort zone. He was a safety. He coached defensive backs.

That’s where he would just zone it on, and I think Mac, possibly because of what you said, he’s been head coach before, maybe that he watched Sabin do it. When you see video of Alabama’s practice you see Nick Sabin walking around with a scowl on his face, arms crossed in front of his chest, kind of taking everything in until someone needs to get yelled at. Then he’s right there for it. Mac is more of, I don’t want to put Muschamp down, but I think more of a CEO type rather than a micromanager.

Andrew:    I think a lot of that has to go two ways too. I think that Mac truly believes in the guys, the coaches, he has to coach the position. So he’s backed off enough, but I also believe that Will didn’t trust T Robb enough. So he was there to do that. You notice Sabin does work with the DBs a lot when he’s there. You would think it would be the opposite. You would think Will would have wanted to be kind of the CEO type to micromanage everything, but he took a step back, and I think that that’s Mac’s perspective is he wants to look at the whole thing to kind of coach up the position as a whole. To me it’s wild that a head coach like Will did that. Again, it is what it is. I think that you will see Mac a little bit more involved offensively at the receiver position, because that’s what he’s good at.

Anyway, we’ve kind of ran over time already. Nick, final thoughts before we sign off of this?

Nick:               Final thoughts. Florida taking on Old Miss. They will be traveling this weekend, their first weekend series away in baseball. Expect Florida to get two out of three, probably go 2-1 this weekend with Logan Shore having a big night Friday night after a rough start last week against Tennessee.

Andrew:         I see Peter Alonzo two more weeks that’ll be big. Dan, final thoughts on your first podcast?

Dan:               It’s good to be back. Big shout out to the women’s Gator athletic program. Killing it really in all facets. I’ve never really followed them, even as an undergraduate. I followed them when they were all doing well, but I have to follow all of them right now, because they’re all kicking butt right now. Big shout out to Jeremy Foley for creating an awesome women’s sports program. You have softball, gymnastics, lacrosse, track and field I think just came in second in the country. All that kind of fun stuff, so big ups for them. Big ups for women Gator athletics.

Andrew:         You forgot one, but we won’t bring that up. That’s right. Softball had a rough week. I’m not going to talk crap to Nick, because I jinxed them. They are headed to the Crimson Tide, the team they did defeat twice to win the college World Series last year, so we’ll see what happens this weekend. Need the power hitters back

Dan:               They’ll do it again.

Andrew:         There you go. Need the power hitters back, but anyway, Dan, thanks for coming on with us, even though we’re not sure if we’re bringing you back again. We’ll make that decision at a later decision. You may be a Cuban the next time we bring you back. This is Andrew, signing off. Nick, Dan.

Nick:               Stay classy, Gator Nation.

Andrew:         Peace, Gator Country.

Andrew Spivey

About Andrew Spivey

Andrew always knew he wanted to be involved with sports in some capacity. He began by coaching high school football for six years before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. While coaching, he was a part of two state semifinal teams in the state of Alabama. Given his past coaching experience, he figured covering recruiting would be a perfect fit. He began his career as an intern for Rivals.com, covering University of Florida football recruiting. After interning with Rivals for six months, he joined the Gator Country family as a recruiting analyst. Andrew enjoys spending his free time on the golf course and watching his beloved Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSpiveyGC.

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In the latest episode of Gator Country’s  podcast, Nick de la Torre and Andrew Spivey break down the first week of the Florida Gators spring football practice as well as how the energy of the of the team is so far this spring.

Daniel Thompson also joined GatorCountry in this podcast to help us break down the biggest position battles this spring and who is standing out so far and which freshman could come in and play this fall.

Stay tuned to GatorCountry.com for more podcast on spring football and on the class of 2016 recruiting class as Andrew and Nick will keep everyone up to date on the Gators.

* * * TRANSCRIPT:

Andrew:         Gator Country, we are back. Your man, Andrew Spivey right here with Nicholas de la Torre, and surprise, surprise, we have a guest tonight, Mr. Daniel, DK, Mr. Fashion Key West Thompson. Dan, how’s it going, buddy?

Dan:               I’m good, guys. It’s good to catch up again.

Nick:               Dan’s like the most interesting man in the world right now. He’s been to Cancun, Key West, not writing thoughts of the week, just living the high life.

Andrew:         And he tells me today he wants to go to Cuba. Cuba now. I mean, this man gets to go everywhere, and he’s on private jets. He’s not even flying with the regular people.

Dan:               Who flies commercial?

Nick:               Dan only flies private.

Dan:               It’s a tough life. Somebody’s got to live it.

Nick:               We thank you.

Dan:               These planes need to get where they need to go.

Nick:               We thank you for carrying that cross for all of us.

Dan:               It’s a tough cross to bear, but I appreciate it. It’s a sacrifice I’ll continue to make if I have to.

Nick:               You have broad shoulders.

Andrew:         Next weekend I can’t let him go anywhere. He’s going to down to IMG, do a little football recruiting, but this one’s not about recruiting tonight. This is all football, two practices down, third and forth are coming, then the first week’s over with. You guys have heard everything, heard Coach McElwain. There’s been a little fireworks this week. Nick, first impressions of the week?

Nick:               My first impression of Monday’s practice was that the coaching staff was fired up. They were ready to go. To me, it kind of seemed like the first day of school in elementary school where the kids are kind of like feeling out their classmates, feeling out their teachers, maybe a little tentative. You don’t want to be the first person to say something stupid in class, or to answer a question wrong. It seems like the team and the players were worried about being the first person to get chewed out by a coach. It’s going to happen. You’re playing football. You’re going to get chewed out. You’re going to make a mistake, but it seemed like they were all kind of tentative, running a little bit slower, making sure every step had a purpose. Then the second practice right into it. Guys were flying around. They’re excited. They’re excited to be out there. It seems like they’re buying what the coaching staff is selling.

Andrew:         Dan, you’re kind of like me, we’re a little bit on the outside looking in, but from what you’ve heard, what was your impression of the first two really press conferences from McElwain.

Dan:               I like his energy. At the end of the day a coach is only going to tell you as much as he wants to tell you, and he’s going to dive into parables and everything else, and ultimately not ever tell you what you want to hear as a reporter. So it’s tough to be able to gather information. Nick Sabin does it really well. Will Muschamp did it well. Billy Diamond does it really well. They dive into a lot, so you don’t really hear too much. The first couple practices, maybe even spring, I don’t know how much we’re going to learn. McElwain talked about in first practice really installing the offense. They did a lot of things under center. The practice after that he talked about installing a shotgun and pistol.

You know how they had some snafus. It was a little bit difficult to kind of grasp these things, but that’s going to happen. The team hasn’t played since early January, new offense, new scheme, and I’m sure a lot of these players are really trying to prove something. They don’t want to be the guy that makes a mistake. You would think that a lot of these players have carte blanche. This is a new opportunity for them to maybe earn a starting spot that they haven’t had. Players are going to probably play tentative. They might not want to make those mistakes.

Nick:               I think some of that left after the first practice. Obviously we’re only there for 15 minutes. They practice for two hours. I’m seeing the first 15 minutes in that very first day, on Monday, that they’re with the new staff. It was different for me, at least from my perspective on Wednesday. I’m piecing together 15 minutes at a time, so by the end of spring practice I’ll have a full practice.

Andrew:         There you go. I want to say real quick, Dan, you hit on this, the quarterbacks. For me, it’s like jingle bells going off in my head at Christmastime hearing the pistol. I think that’s been a lost art at Florida a little bit is the pistol. For a guy like Kelvin Taylor to be in a pistol offense is going to be really good for him, because he kind of gets the best of both worlds. He gets the pro style offensive look, but he also gets that little head start of being in the shotgun a little bit. I like that a little bit form that. I think it’s pretty cool that McElwain is already throwing this on these guys, so that as the summer goes on they can work with that a little bit. Nick, point I wanted to ask you next was Mike Kent. What have you seen from Mike Kent? Jeff Dillman, I don’t want to call him a bozo, but he kind of looked dumb a little bit at times. I guess, what is Mike Kent’s presence out there?

Nick:               I disagree. I loved Jeff Dillman. I could walk out to a practice tired, and Dillman would wake me up. Kent’s the same kind of guy. We’re out there during stretching period, and he’s running around up and down the line yelling at these guys, making sure they’re ready, making sure they’re focused, similar kind of high energy. Maybe not as boisterous as Jeff Dillman was.

Andrew:         Dan, I think we can kind of talk about that a little bit. We’ve kind of all seen. Nick, you’ve had your photos, stuff like that, the weight gain in some of these guys. Dan, you’ve had the presence of being around that. What is your take of Dillman compared to Kent, in that Kent’s more about fundamentals and Dillman was more of the Olympic style?

Dan:               I guess we’ll see more going into the summer and everything else about real body transformation, but I think the one big thing that I’ve heard, and that everybody keeps talking about, is the focus on fast twitch muscles compared to just bulking up. I think that when you play in the SEC it has to be a delicate balance of both, because you’re going to have your big players on offense and defense, but you still need to be able to compete on a speed level.

So I never saw, when Mickey Mariotti and Urban Meyer were running the program, running the strength and conditioning program, it was always about speed, speed, speed. When Will Muschamp was running with Jeff Dillman there was a lot about power, power, power and controlling the line of scrimmage. One could argue that Florida never controlled their line of scrimmage, so that probably fell flat on its face.

It has to be a combination of both. You never know what a strength and conditioning coach is going to do right away, because it has to take buy in from players, but if you focus on a little bit of both I think that that’s probably the most delicate balance in the SEC, or in football, and that’s what Alabama does really well. That’s what LSU does well. They control the line of scrimmage, but at the same time those players can move. They can get to that second level where they can break past the offensive line. So that’s going to be important.

Nick:               That’s what everyone talks about the SEC with. It’s not they’ve got fast players at the skill positions, it’s that 340 pound defensive tackle is moving like a 260 pound buck linebacker. It’s those big players that have the speed, the players that you don’t expect to be fast. The SEC has kind of been able to have those freak athletes that you look at them, and you wonder if they’re an alien, because somebody at that size should not be moving like that.

Andrew:         That goes to a guy like David Sharpe. I think David Sharpe gained the weight, and that’ll be the question mark for a guy like Sharpe this spring, and into the fall, is with the added weight is he still mobile enough, athletic enough, to play a tackle position?

Nick:               Sharpe did tell us that Mike Summers has asked him to lose a couple of the pounds that he’s put on. He looks different. I went and saw him playing high school, and he looked like a kid who also played basketball, long and lean. Then he showed up to Florida, and he’d gained 30 pounds. We were all I think wondering when Florida released the roster, how’s that going to work out? He just put on a lot of weight, and he was fine. So he put on some more weight, so now we’re going to need to see how he handles that, how much they want him to drop down. It’ll be something definitely to keep an eye on.

Dan:               David Sharpe is playing what? 80 pounds heavier than he was in high school when he was still playing basketball?

Nick:               Yeah. He’s probably at 260, 270 in high school. He kind of shied away from the question as to how much weight have you put on. It’s noticeable, and he looks even much bigger this year. I don’t know if it’s all good weight, but he looks much bigger this year than he did playing.

Andrew:         I want to go to the next point here a little bit. You had going into the spring you’ve got seven offensive linemen right now. What do you kind of expect with the guard, tackle? Do you like the translation of all the guards snapping the ball at center as well?

Nick:               I do. I think you need that, because Trip Thurman’s your center, and Trip Thurman’s a guy who’s going into his fifth year, and he’s been hurt every single year. So the chances that Trip gets hurt with a shoulder, or a knee, get nicked up. Playing offensive line, every single snap there’s a chance that you get rolled up on, so that’s not even saying you’re injury prone. You could have a defensive end push another lineman into you. Now your ankle’s rolled on. I think it’s important, because after him you’ve got Cam Dillard, who almost killed me when we were down on the sideline at Vanderbilt last year snapping balls all over the place. I think you need to have as many options. Right now after Cam Dillard is a guy named Nick Davis, who’s a walkon.

Andrew:         Who?

Nick:               Exactly. So it gets really thin after that, and when you’re putting a guy at center who’s had a history of injuries I think you need to get as many kids, as many players, comfortable with snapping the ball as you can.

Andrew:         See, I think that he maybe had learned that a little bit from the Sabin tree a little bit, because those guys do a lot of that kind of mixing back and forth. You never see a center at Alabama that has not player guard the year before at Alabama. I think that it also kind of makes it a little bit where they guy has to understand this is my responsibilities at center. This is my responsibilities at guard. So now he understands what’s trying to happen, and I think it makes him a better football player overall.

Dan, I know you were there a little bit with the Pounceys. What did you think about that, and what’s your take on it?

Dan:               I think that that’s the best strategy that you can have. You ultimately want to groom a guard to become a center, in my opinion, and ultimately maybe move that person in there as a red shirt junior or a red shirt senior. You’re center needs to be someone that completely understands everything that’s going on in the play, because they’re the ones that are going to be calling out blocks. They’re going to be calling out reads. They’re going to be the ones that are leading the offensive line, and obviously if the offensive line falls apart on a play your entire play falls apart. Growing into that so that you have your younger players, or you have the rest of your offensive line, that can look up to that person. You have to have somebody that knows what’s going on.

It’s difficult. You ultimately, like you said, want somebody that has had other assignments and understands how a play follows through. It’s tough when you’re a left tackle, and all you focus on is being a left tackle or a left guard. If you were a right guard or a left guard, and now you move into center, now you understand at least two positions. You understand two different things, and all five players in the offensive line might be doing the same thing, but they all have different responsibilities.

The more experience you can have, and the more that somebody has experience, maybe in another role, moving that in, groom somebody over a couple years, but keep them at that guard role. I think that’s going to be successful. That’s what’s been most successful in what I’ve seen in college football recently. I don’t see a lot of these players that are recruited as centers out of high school being super successful throughout their entire career.

Andrew:         A lot of that is because usually in high school the center is a small kid. I mean, I know when I coached ball we had a center one year that was like 6’1”, 225, 230.

Nick:               Because the rules are different. You can’t line up over top of him.

Andrew:         Absolutely. I think that that is more about playing the bigger guy. I guess my point was I thought it was very smart, and it was something that maybe a guy like Andrew might could have done last year and been ready for a situation, or maybe Trip Thurman could have done that some last year and been ready. I talked to a couple people that told me they thought Antonio Riles could be the center of the future for Florida, and I felt that was interesting, because he had played that nose tackle position in high school, and they were like exactly. He understands what that defensive tackle’s going to do. Moving on a little bit.

Nick:               Before we move on, I think the line that we’re seeing right now, and obviously it’s hard to call it your starting five, because there’s only seven of them. The five that are consistently getting those first reps, from left to right. You’re getting David Sharpe at left tackle, Antonio Riles at left guard, Cam Dillard at center, Andrew Mike at right guard, and Rod Johnson at right tackle. Other than Cam Dillard, I think that is your starting five along the offensive line when toe meets leather, opening day. I think that’s going to be your starting five, with Trip Thurman there at center.

Andrew:         I think Martez Ivey plays. That’s just me.

Dan:               I think he has to play. Listen to that line. I mean, I don’t know how any quarterback or any running back could be super excited going into spring or fall practice with that.

Andrew:         I don’t think it’s that. I think Martez Ivey comes onto campus, and a lot of people forget, Martez Ivey’s going to be a 20 year old man when, as you say, toe meets leather, in August. So he’s not a immature kid. I think he’s grown a little bit. Nick, you’ve seen Martez. Dan, you’ve seen Martez. Is there five guys on the roster that are better than Martez?

Nick:               You don’t know, because you have to project a lot. Offensive line is the position that there is the most projecting. It’s why you have people ask the question, why is this five star? Why’d he never pan out? Maybe he was just bigger than everybody in high school. There’s more questions moving from high school to college in offensive line than any other position.

Andrew:         That goes with the defensive line being so small. I’m just saying, from a perspective of us watching him in person, for me studying his tape a lot. I cannot sit here and tell you that there are five better offensive linemen on the team than Martez Ivey. Again, as you said, we’ll have to figure it out in the fall.

I think let’s go to this a little bit. We had a controversy a little bit over the quarterback situation. Nick, you and I have discussed this at length. Dan, you and I have discussed this a little bit. That meant nothing. This means nothing, who takes the first rep. Nick, you got to kind of sit down with both of those guys. Give us your take.

Nick:               Yeah. We get out to practice and so much is made of Will Grier took the first snap in the first practice. I get where people want to say, this is Jim McElwain inviting people into his practice. This is the first thing they’re seeing of him, no way he didn’t know who. My thought process is that’s not a real rep. There were five offensive linemen, a quarterback, and a running back. They’re not in a team setting. They’re still warming up. They haven’t gotten into anything. Will Grier took the first snap, took two steps, and gave Kelvin Taylor the ball, and he ran into no defenders. So what is the significance behind that?

I think that’s just people making more of it than they should have. Then thumbing his nose at all the drama that happened on Tuesday. Mac, Treon Harris gets the first snap on Tuesday. I was really hoping it would Jacob Guy, or maybe even Jon Bullard, getting that first snap on Wednesday. People made a bigger deal out of it than it should be.

Andrew:         Dan, be calm, and answer the question. Calmly, please.

Nick:               Take a breath, Daniel.

Dan:               It’s interesting, because what my issue was when I kind of went on my little tirade against Mark Long wasn’t about the first snap. It was about the access to information and what people think they should know and about how important things are. Reporters and fans jobs are to make one small thing a big deal. Right? Especially when you only see 15 minutes of practice, and your first snap after three months of no football is Will Grier taking the first snap. Well, I bet you that there was probably a very even 45/45 split on those players, with the other 10% maybe going to some of the walk on guys. I think that we make a really small deal. Will Grier had no in game snaps last year. Treon Harris obviously had a multitude of snaps, but this entire year everybody has the opportunity to earn that starting role.

So if Will Grier is the first guy that took a snap, good for him. If he was the “starter” for the first practice, then he must have done something to earn it, but he can very easily just lose that, or like Coach Mac said, it really didn’t make a big difference. I don’t see what a huge deal it is that the first practice under a new coach, with an entire new offense and entire new regime, is that big of a deal. It’s people’s responsibility and people’s desire to freak out and crown Will Grier as the next Heisman Trophy winner, and that Treon Harris is going to immediately transfer, or vice versa.

Andrew:         Let me give a little coach speak here for just a second here. I took Mac’s side in the argument, and I can honestly say that what Nick described to me as what was going on, when I was coaching, for instance, it was kind of bullcrap time for us. It was kind of we’re out on the field. Let me gather my thoughts, look over my schedule one more good time, and let the guys get loose a little bit. I can’t say what was going through Mac’s head. Maybe Mac did know that Grier did it, and he just bullcrapped it. I don’t know.

Dan:               Of course he knew who took the first snap.

Andrew:         But it was not a first snap though. That’s what Nick is trying to say to you is that it wasn’t a first snap as in it was a team rep. It was warmups. Again, I see both sides of the thing. Anyway, that’s another subject.

Dan:               I guess what you’re pointing out, and I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, but there’s 15 minutes of practice. He allows the media to come out for that first 15 minutes of practice. Whether it’s a rep or not, it’s symbolic of something. If we are to believe that Coach McElwain just put five offensive linemen out there, they just randomly sought it out, and a quarterback just randomly tried out there, that’s false. There has to be something there. Whether it means anything, or how big of a deal it is, is something completely different. To think that Coach Mac didn’t know who took the first snap, or that it matters. It probably doesn’t at the end of the day, but it’s symbolic of at least something. It’s symbolic of something that happened over the last three months.

Nick:               We’re talking about a guy who has the next 18 months on a schedule, planned out. So there’s no surprises a year and a half from now. I understand why he tells the media, or would say to the media, I didn’t know who took the first snap, because you’re in a position where you can’t show your hand. You can’t afford to have Treon Harris or Will Grier transfer, because then you’re left with Skylar Mornhingweg as your backup quarterback. So I understand where he’s coming from.

Dan:               And we saw how that goes.

Nick:               Yeah. I understand where he’s coming from in not saying it, and it’s not a big deal, because they’re not going to name a starting quarterback this spring. They’re not going to name a starting quarterback this summer. They’re not going to name a starting quarterback until they have to throw somebody out there. So I think it was, is he lying, yeah, sure. He’s lying, or he’s not being totally truthful, but I think it was blown out of proportion.

Dan:               At the end of the day, he doesn’t need to be truthful. He can say what he wants to say, and whether it’s important or not to you as a reporter, or to Mark Long as a reporter, to him he’s got a program to run, and whether it’s symbolic of something, whether it’s a big deal or not, we can debate about it like we are right now. At the end of the day, it’s his program, and he’s going to run the program how he wants. People going and complaining on the radio because they don’t feel like they have access to information, or because it’s a used car salesman, it just shows me how entitled some people are. That’s what was frustrating to me. It wasn’t who was taking the first snap or whether Jim McElwain was lying or not, it’s the fact that we have to know every intricacy of how he’s running the program, and if that move is a big deal or not.

Andrew:         Again, Nick and I said the same thing. It’s a situation where it is the 21st Century. You get what you get. At the end of the day, that’s what separates, what do you do? You got to go for it. Again, this is not football. We’re not talking about football right now.

My last thought for Nick, before we get out of here. Nick.

Nick:               Hit me with it.

Andrew:         I’ve heard a lot of things about the energy from recruits, that kind of stuff. I just want to get your take real quick on, you hit on it a little bit, how the practice went at the early practice. What was your take of this, the energy in general around practice? I know you told me that they kind of lined up before they all took the field. They took the field as a group, that kind of thing. Just paint me a picture real quickly of what you thought practice was differently from what you’ve seen in the past.

Nick:               I don’t know if it is all that different, and by that I mean you’ve got certain guys that are stepping up. I think something that is different, Vernon Hargreaves has stepped up into even a bigger vocal role. I think as a freshman he might have been a little reserved, a little quiet. As a sophomore he definitely stepped up as a leader of the secondary, and maybe of the defense, and I think heading into his junior year he’s saying, Ronald Powell’s gone. Dante Fowler’s gone. This is my team now. So now Vernon Hargreaves is the guy that’s in the middle. It’s not DJ Humphries anymore. It’s Vernon Hargreaves in the middle, before the team comes into break down, before practice starts. He’s there with Jon Bullard, and Jon Bullard’s never really been a big vocal guy. I think he’s taking that on himself this year as well, so I think new leaders emerging are something that I’m seeing. As far as the intensity goes, I don’t think that’s changing at all.

There’s some of the older guys who maybe would have gotten practices off, or most of the periods off, before Dominic Easley. Dominic Easley’s last spring he would basically warm up, and then watch the rest of practice. He had kind of earned that right. It’s really hot out here. We’re in pads. You’ve had a couple knee surgeries. Why don’t you just take it easy today? Whether that’s not Mac’s style to give some seniority, some senior guys some time off, or they just don’t have the numbers to be able to do that, I’m not seeing very much of that.

Other than that I really think the intensity’s high. The coaching staff reminds me a lot of the past coaching staff as far as energy. Something that is very different is when practice would go on last year, and offense and defense would split up, Muschamp was over with the safeties. He would see some stuff, peripherally across the field, and maybe walk over and say something, but he was working hands on with the safeties. Mac is more of a…

Andrew:         General.

Nick:               A CEO rather than an office manager, in that kind of sense where I’ve seen him step in and work with somebody, but for the most part he’s letting his coaches coach. He’s walking around taking it all in, taking mental notes. So I see that is a different aspect, or a change, from what they’ve had the past four years.

Dan:               Do you think that’s because he has experience as a head coach? Most companies, most large companies, don’t have their CEO doing payroll, kind of the same way. Muschamp was coaching the safeties, and that was his bread and butter, and that’s what he really enjoyed doing. You don’t think that comes from experience of having done it before, and understanding that you’re over the whole football program and not just…

Nick:               I think some of it is this. I think that when you get into a situation for the first time that you’re going to be a little worried. You’re going to be a little scared. You have to have a massive ego to be a head coach at the college football level. You just have to. That’s how you survive. You have to think that what you’re doing, and your decisions, are the best, and that everything that you’re doing is better than Tennessee is doing, because it’s your way of thinking and your way of doing it.

So I think that when you couple that ego, and then you couple in this is my first time being a head coach. I’m running the show now. Maybe Muschamp went into his comfort zone. It’s like at practice I’ve never been an offensive coach, and he even admitted that at some point along his coaching career he wishes somebody would have forced him to coach wide receivers, forced him to coach running backs, so he would have a different perspective. He never had it, so I think he would just leave it to them to do offense, and then get into his comfort zone. He was a safety. He coached defensive backs.

That’s where he would just zone it on, and I think Mac, possibly because of what you said, he’s been head coach before, maybe that he watched Sabin do it. When you see video of Alabama’s practice you see Nick Sabin walking around with a scowl on his face, arms crossed in front of his chest, kind of taking everything in until someone needs to get yelled at. Then he’s right there for it. Mac is more of, I don’t want to put Muschamp down, but I think more of a CEO type rather than a micromanager.

Andrew:    I think a lot of that has to go two ways too. I think that Mac truly believes in the guys, the coaches, he has to coach the position. So he’s backed off enough, but I also believe that Will didn’t trust T Robb enough. So he was there to do that. You notice Sabin does work with the DBs a lot when he’s there. You would think it would be the opposite. You would think Will would have wanted to be kind of the CEO type to micromanage everything, but he took a step back, and I think that that’s Mac’s perspective is he wants to look at the whole thing to kind of coach up the position as a whole. To me it’s wild that a head coach like Will did that. Again, it is what it is. I think that you will see Mac a little bit more involved offensively at the receiver position, because that’s what he’s good at.

Anyway, we’ve kind of ran over time already. Nick, final thoughts before we sign off of this?

Nick:               Final thoughts. Florida taking on Old Miss. They will be traveling this weekend, their first weekend series away in baseball. Expect Florida to get two out of three, probably go 2-1 this weekend with Logan Shore having a big night Friday night after a rough start last week against Tennessee.

Andrew:         I see Peter Alonzo two more weeks that’ll be big. Dan, final thoughts on your first podcast?

Dan:               It’s good to be back. Big shout out to the women’s Gator athletic program. Killing it really in all facets. I’ve never really followed them, even as an undergraduate. I followed them when they were all doing well, but I have to follow all of them right now, because they’re all kicking butt right now. Big shout out to Jeremy Foley for creating an awesome women’s sports program. You have softball, gymnastics, lacrosse, track and field I think just came in second in the country. All that kind of fun stuff, so big ups for them. Big ups for women Gator athletics.

Andrew:         You forgot one, but we won’t bring that up. That’s right. Softball had a rough week. I’m not going to talk crap to Nick, because I jinxed them. They are headed to the Crimson Tide, the team they did defeat twice to win the college World Series last year, so we’ll see what happens this weekend. Need the power hitters back

Dan:               They’ll do it again.

Andrew:         There you go. Need the power hitters back, but anyway, Dan, thanks for coming on with us, even though we’re not sure if we’re bringing you back again. We’ll make that decision at a later decision. You may be a Cuban the next time we bring you back. This is Andrew, signing off. Nick, Dan.

Nick:               Stay classy, Gator Nation.

Andrew:         Peace, Gator Country.

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