In the latest episode of Gator Country’s podcast, Nick de la Torre and Andrew Spivey talk about the Florida Gators spring football schedule and the injuries that head coach Jim McElwain talked about during Tuesday’s press conferences.
Also in this podcast Nick and myself preview what could be some of the biggest spring football battles including the quarterback battle as well as how we think the offensive line could look with the injuries and depth problems right now.
Stay tuned to GatorCountry.com for many more podcast on spring football as we go through the next three weeks of spring practices that will conclude on April 11th with the Orange and Blue game.
* * * TRANSCRIPT:
Andrew: Gator Country, I’m back. This is Andrew with my boy Nick. Nick, last week you were pissed off. Are you better this week?
Nick: I am… do you smell that? It’s the smell of spring football, five days away as we record this, probably less by the time you’re listening to it, but football is almost back.
Andrew: It is. I went and played a little golf Tuesday morning, and I was sweating. It was hot. It’s finally, the winter’s gone. It’s hot air coming. Before long you and I will headed to Birmingham for SEC media days and all that good stuff. So it’s coming. It’s coming quickly.
Nick: Be careful. I just saw a story from Sarasota at Myakka Pines Golf Club where, they’re calling it an alligator named Big George, but it looks like a dinosaur. It looks like an alligator that ate another alligator on a golf course.
Andrew: I think we need to call the swamp people down in Louisiana, and let him shoot him.
Nick: Those are your people.
Andrew: Those are my people. We do it a little crazy. Well, Nick, like we talked about, spring ball a little bit. Coach McElwain spoke yesterday, and he doesn’t give a lot of answers, but I like his demeanor with everyone. He seems to not be, he doesn’t think he’s above everybody, and I really like that about him. I guess, what was kind of your impression of that? I kind of looked at it from an outside perspective.
Nick: It seems to be a prerequisite now to be a college head coach. Where I could ask a college head coach, hey coach, what color is the sky? And he’ll talk for three and half minutes without saying blue. So it seems to be a prerequisite where they can talk for days and days and days without giving you a meaningful answer, but I do agree that Jim McElwain is coming off personable, and he’s joking with some of the guys in the UAA saying that they need to make sure that we have food and stuff like this, and playing up to the media. Will Muschamp had a very joking personality, and it kind of wears off when you don’t win games. So I think right now Mac’s 0-0, he’s technically undefeated, that fans kind of like that, but you start to lose football games, and those jokes are a little less funny.
Andrew: Let me budge in just a tad, because I liked Will Muschamp. I kind of went with Will Muschamp till he got fired, and I to this day still believe he’s a good guy, but he always gave me that smartass kind of sense of humor.
Nick: It was kind of cocky.
Andrew: Yeah. Kind of cocky like. I always felt like Will thought he was better than me, and that’s not something that I feel like with Coach McElwain and with some of the other guys. I always felt like when I was in the presence of Coach Muschamp that he always felt like he was better than I am, and of course he makes more money than me, but it just kind of seemed like he always was a little more arrogant to me than a lot of other coaches.
Nick: Well, he’s making even more money now, because Florida’s paying him and Auburn’s paying him.
Andrew: Yeah, but he still sucks. He still didn’t win games. Now he’s a defensive coordinator. That’s past. Let’s talk about Coach McElwain a little bit. I think we all went in knowing that he wasn’t going to name a quarterback. He wasn’t going to name this, but I felt the thing that kind of surprised me the most was Trip Thurman. You and I have kind of had conversations a little bit about he was going to be the starting center, well is he even on the football team? I mean, is he even going to play? It kind of left the door open that he may be out.
Nick: No. It didn’t make it seem like Trip Thurman is going to be out. What Mac really said is that Trip dealt with an injury, a shoulder injury, all last year, still kind of dealing with it, and that happens. When you’ve got an injury, and you play through it, the injuries not going to get better. You’re being tough, and you’re doing what you need to do for the team, but it’s not going to get better. So what Mac really said is that they want to get him with a full eight months off. Say, give your shoulder eight months off, and hopefully at the end of that eight months without taking a pounding for 15 practices in the spring, see how your shoulder responds to that much time off. So I think that’s what it is.
Andrew: Okay. Again, I kind of just maybe took it as a wrong way, but it just kind of really seemed weird, because it was something that, maybe I just don’t remember with all the crap going on. Something that I was thinking about when talking to a couple people was Antonio Riles. A lot of people had forgotten about Antonio Riles, because he played defense for first two years, year and a half, of college, and now he’s playing guard, and a lot of people told me that guard is really where he should have been playing all along, and they felt like that he could be a starter on the team this year at guard. Have you heard that as well? What’s kind of your take on that?
Nick: Yeah. I’ve heard that. Normally your first thought is defensive lineman moved to offensive line, that’s bad. Not athletic enough to play defensive line, so they’re just trying to find something else. Normally if you get a defensive lineman going to the offensive line, that’s kind of a precursor to this guy might be getting ready to transfer, but it seems like Riles has really taken to that. He’s definitely put on size, just from seeing him around. Florida needs, the big thing is is that you’ve got a couple tackles in David Sharpe, Rod Johnson, Martez Ivey coming in, but you really don’t know who’s going to play guard. With Trip Thurman not going to be here in the spring, there’s even more opportunity at guard and center. So people love Riles work ethic and what’s he’s been doing, and now in a couple days is going to be his time to possibly earn that starting job.
Andrew: Yeah. I guess when you start to kind of look at things it’s going to be a great learning for those five guys that are going to play. Probably going to be Cam Dillard at center, and probably going to be Andrew Mike at right guard. If those guys stay healthy all through spring, that’s a lot of quality reps they’re going to get this spring. I guess it is concerning though about Trip Thurman not playing, because does he come back rusty now? Where does he come back? I guess that would be my biggest question, but I guess injuries though in total, Morrison, Jared Davis, a lot of other guys. What was the biggest surprise for you as far as injuries?
Nick: Will Muschamp said in his press conference after he was fired, don’t let the next guy tell you that there isn’t talent on that roster, and yeah, I mean Vernon Hargreaves, you have an All American returning. You’ve got all SEC type players returning, but there aren’t enough players. There might be good players on the roster, but there aren’t enough players. Eight offensive linemen, are you kidding me? At what stage, at what level of football is having eight offensive linemen acceptable? I don’t think it’s acceptable if you run a peewee team.
Andrew: Right. I think it goes back…
Nick: Maybe Will thought they were playing flag football in 2015, and they wouldn’t need any offensive linemen.
Andrew: Well, he should hope they didn’t, because he sure as hell couldn’t throw the ball, but I think that that goes back to it. I mean, you look at Urban Meyer, his last year he signs three. Then Will comes in and signs two. Okay, you can blame it on Verducci all you want, but Will, I mean…
Nick: And some people blame it on kids transferring. You had Tyler Moore leave early, TJ Humphries leaves early. That’s starting to look more and more better for him, like a better decision for him as the draft process goes along. There’s transfers and a couple unfortunate injuries, so people point to that, but I think you get down to the nucleus of it, you get down to the genesis of it, and it’s those three classes in a row. You said Urban Meyer’s last class, and Muschamp’s first two classes where that’s what has led Florida to this situation now.
Andrew: Yeah. It’s kind of bad. I don’t know. I just, part of me just thinks like did Will even care about offense? Did he really know that he was signing two offensive linemen? Because it just seemed really bad, and he never really fixed that problem of building it, and it sucked, because this is not a problem that’s going to be able to be fixed in a year or two. It’s really going to probably take about a four year period for it to all equal out, because now you’ve got a six offensive man class this year, and you’re going to take six next year. Okay, well when those two years get to be seniors then you’re caught bare again. So it’s just all a process in my opinion, but I think that leads me into my next point. Coach kind of joked that he wants to play some arena football in the O’dome for spring game. You’ve told me some of your wild ideas, and I kind of liked your idea a little bit, but tell the listeners what your idea is.
Nick: My idea is what should happen. We’ve talked about how seven on seven is kind of shaping recruiting, and is becoming to college football what AAU basketball was, or is, to college basketball. Seven on seven tournaments, we’ve been out to plenty, they’re fun. It’s all offense. It’s fast paced. It’s throwing the ball all over the field, and it’s a fun thing to see. So you get into two years ago the spring game was a disaster. It was terrible to watch if you were in the stadium. It was terrible to watch, I think even worse to watch from what people said, on TV, because they don’t really know how to run a broadcast of a practice like that, and they tried to put microphones on some players and on the coaches and do interviews in the middle of practice, but that’s what it comes down to is Florida ran a practice for their spring game, and it pissed fans off.
Jim McElwain wasn’t here for that, but a lot of the staff was, and by staff I don’t mean coaching staff. I mean people in the athletic office, the athletic association. So they’re telling him, we were in this same number thing a couple years ago, and this product that we put out was terrible. So my idea is you have eight offensive linemen, split them up into teams of two. So you have two captains that are offensive linemen, because you don’t have offensive linemen in seven on seven tournament. Have them pick four seven on seven teams, and then play a tournament. I think that would be fun.
You’ve got a ton of skill position guys, and a guy like JC Jackson can play wide receiver and can play defense. Vernon Hargreaves is playing defense, but you’ve got so many guys that can play at skill positions on both sides of the ball. You’re low at linebacker. How are you going to play linebacker? Well if it’s a seven on seven tournament you really only need one on the field. Florida can scrounge up four linebackers for a seven on seven tournament. I think the spring game is, it’s the culmination of spring practice. It’s supposed to be a reward for the players. You just busted your ass for the past month in the hot heat, because, yes, I don’t know where you’re listening, but it is hot in Gainesville again. So you just busted it for a month in the hot heat, this is your day. There’s going to be fans. We’re going to try to pack the stadium. Enjoy it.
For the fans it’s football season ended a couple months ago, really not going to pick up again for a couple months. Here’s something fun to attend, and I think a seven on seven tournament would be something fun, because you can’t have, with the numbers that Florida has at offensive line and linebacker, you cannot have a traditional game. No way about it. Jim McElwain said it yesterday. You can’t have a traditional spring game that you’ll see Alabama and Oklahoma and USC have, because they have better numbers. So I think a seven on seven tournament would not only be fun for the players, but it’d be fun for the fans. You could put a little show on. Andrew?
Andrew: Who was about to go through five different spring games, and I always felt like spring game was kind of crappy. I guess that that is kind of where it’s begun to get in college football is it’s kind of boring. So why not?
Nick: That’s the thing. Everyone is always looking forward to it, and then when it happens. Okay, Alabama’s spring day crimson beat white, so what does that mean? You get so excited, because it’s football. Football’s coming back, and then, like you said, the product gets on the field, and it’s a crappy product. It’s a glorified practice. I think a seven on seven tournament, Jim, are you listening? Would be something fun for everyone.
Andrew: I think that there’s got to be something to do with where you have, I don’t know if it’s seven on seven. I don’t know what it is, but there’s got to be some way of, I think the main goal of a spring game is to generate excitement for the team for next year. Right now there is a lot of excitement for the football team, because they got Will Muschamp out of there. So that’s a positive, but create some excited, and I notice that they’re calling it the orange and blue weekend, not orange and blue game. So maybe they do something with it. I mean, one other thing is maybe incorporate the alumni in some way. I don’t know you could do, but I think that you have to do something to have some fun with it, also have fun with the guys, but get your fans involved. We all know. There needs to be some excitement created around this football team. There has been no excitement. The fans, I mean, Alabama has 98,000-100,000 fans come for spring game, and Florida’s lucky to get, what? What would you say, 15-20 last year?
Nick: There were not a lot last year. They’ve gotten great turnouts in the past, but the previous coaching staff didn’t really endear themselves to fans. Two years ago you get Muschamp yelling at a fan as he comes off the field, after Florida loses to Georgia for the third time in a row. So the last coaching staff could have taken some PR classes, but I think there is a lot of excitement. It’s going to be tempered a little bit, because people are realizing where the numbers are for Florida, and I think you need to announce something that fans will be like, okay, that might not be what I was expecting a spring game to be, but that’s pretty fun. I want to see that. I want to see the coaching staff, and I want to see what direction this team is headed. So I think Florida, maybe 40,000, 50,000 would be…
Andrew: I think that maybe…
Nick: A good turnout.
Andrew: There has kind of been a bad situation where it’s been a football team and the fans. It’s two different sides of the party here. I think that one good thing, like Alabama does, some of the other programs do, is they do a good job of allowing the fans to kind of get around the guys a little bit more. They do some things after the game, a meet and greet, that kind of thing. So maybe that’s something that Florida tries to do is just get some way that the fans can kind of unite with the team a little bit. I mean, we all know when you have a personal interest in the players and you feel connected they’re going to cheer more, which in turn means more money for the university.
I think that, I mean, what do you get out of the spring game? Not nothing. Nothing comes out of the spring game. You’re not coaching that. The thing that comes out of spring is the 15, 16 practices they get on the practice field, where they’re doing the seven on seven. So do something fun with it to go there, but I guess to get off of this a little bit. Where do you think that needs to be the biggest improvement for the team this spring? I guess what is your goal for spring football right now?
Nick: How much time do we have? I mean, I’m saying it’s pretty much…
Andrew: Number one goal. Just number one goal.
Nick: Number one goal is, for me as a coaching staff, and they’re not going to go public, as a coaching staff I would like to have in my mind who the starting quarterback is going to be. There is no chance that the coaching staff is going to come out and say, this is our starting quarterback, because it just opens them up to having one of the kids transfer, and then your numbers are deplorable heading into next season. But that doesn’t mean that the coaching staff can’t see enough from a quarterback to in their minds say, okay, privately we’re going to start preparing our football with this guy as the leader, and start game planning and putting stuff together to complement what that quarterback does well.
Andrew: Yeah. I guess, it’s a no win situation by announcing a quarterback. That means the second string quarterback is either going to tank, transfer, or battle his ass off. We don’t know what three that would be. You would want for him to battle and try to get better, take the job back, but who knows? Say Will Grier loses the job to Treon Harris, Will Grier’s sitting in the back of his mind thinking, well shit, here we go again.
Nick: He’s thinking, okay listen, I signed up knowing that I was probably going to red shirt because Jeff Driscol was here. Then that coaching staff where we had that kind of plan in place is gone, and the new staff is in, and now I’m not here. Will’s got to be thinking, I’ve already wasted a red shirt year. If I stay here for this season, now I’m red shirt sophomore. Got to sit out next year, and I’ve already used my red shirt. So by the time I can play, I’m going to be a senior.
I think it would be a fool’s thought to think that if Will Grier, if Treon Harris was announced as starter it would not be in Will Grier’s best interest to stay and battle it out. You can say the good of the team and the program, and he’s a Gator. End of the day, Will Grier is trying to make football his career, and he has to make a career decision, and if he’s not going to be the starting quarterback, and they’re going to say you’re number two, but don’t worry you’re one play away from being put in, look at all the injury history. No, you got to find a place where you can go, and you can play.
Andrew: I think for me the biggest thing that I want to see is to see the team come out with an understanding of what McElwain and Nussmeier want out of the offense. That way you could go through May, June, July, where the guys were able to kind of run their player oriented practices where they’re able to kind of understand what they’re doing and getting better. I think that’s one of the things that we don’t see a lot with the last staff is the team never, I don’t want to say they didn’t get together, because we know they did, but it never looked like they improved from time to time. It was never any improvement.
I guess that’s my biggest thing is for this staff to come out, be able to teach the basics of their playbook, the basics of what they want. That way a guy like Trip Thurman, when he does get healthy this summer, is able to kind of work on things, know the playbook, and just see the incorporation of the playbook. Also, what’s the defense going to look like? I’m eager to see that as well, to see kind of where, if there is any changes, I do think there should be some changes, some, not a lot. I think there needs to be a little bit of chance. So that’s something I guess I’m interested as well. Maybe see a kick returner develop for a change.
Nick: Yeah. That’d be nice. Those kind of guys, think about JC Jackson, you got a lot of guys back there. I am interested to see what the defense is, because Jeff Collins played so many different, 3-4, 4-3, very similar to what Florida would do, but you’re going to get here, and you’re going to see Quincy Wilson, and Vernon Hargreaves, and Jalen Tabor, and you’re going to think, how do I get those three guys on the field at the same time? You play some nickel. So I’m interested to see what Jeff Collins does. There is a ton of talent, everywhere except for linebacker. Not to say that linebacker’s not talented, just a little thinner, some improving guys, but a ton of talent on defense. I don’t expect Florida’s defense to take a step back at all.
Andrew: Yeah, but I think the one misconceived notion on defense is a lot of, whether you run the 4-3 or 3-4, you’re still running that nickel package, and with Auburn, with Georgia, not Georgia, Tennessee, LSU some, when they’re running four and five wide in the shotgun you got to play nickel. That goes right into Florida. I think that the thing that a lot of…
Nick: You were a coach. Let’s say you’ve got a strength at defensive back, and a weakness in linebacker.
Andrew: What defense would you play?
Nick: Exactly. You’re going to go nickel. I think that too, one thing that a lot of people aren’t talking about is the depth at this defensive line. They lose Dante Fowler, and, as Jim McElwain said yesterday, he’s not replaceable. But you start to look at some of the guys that are there, McAllister, a lot of people was downing McAllister. He played hell of a ball last year. Jonathan Bullard turned it on at the end of the year where we all thought he could go pro and be drafted. Then you got a guy like Taven Bryan who everybody you talk to says could be a starter from day one in the SEC. That’s not even talking about a guy like Brian Cox, Caleb Brantley.
Andrew: I think I fall into that category that you said, people kind of forgetting about how much depth they had, and then I started doing my red shirt reports and looking at some of the guys, the red shirt freshman. I’m looking, and I’m like, well Taven Bryan, who’s he competing with? He’s going to be competing with Jon Bullard and Caleb Brantley and Jaynard Bostwick, Kerry Clark, Brian Cox, Tomas Holley, Joey, and it dawned on me like, oh man. Florida really has some players here at this position.
Nick: Right. I think that that’s a good thing for a guy like Jeff Collins, because a lot of rotation that can be there, and that with the depth at defensive back it shouldn’t be a problem of guys getting tired. It should be a good rotation. I mean, you’re looking at a rotation at cornerback that can rotate in. Of course, Vernon’s going to be a guy that plays ever down, but then you got other side where you can rotate three guys in there, as well as some of the nickel position. You should be strong there.
One thing that I will say is I kind of learned something, to switch to offense a little bit. I was talking to a couple people about Demarcus Robinson, and one thing that stuck out to me is they said that Demarcus Robinson maybe is the guy that has bought into this new coaching staff more than any other, and that is because Jim McElwain has set him down and said, look I’ve coached this guy, I’ve coached this guy. Play ball for me, and I’ll get you to the League, and that’s something that apparently Robinson has bought into and hasn’t had any problems.
As one guy told me, Demarcus Robinson could be the best receiver in the SEC if he kept his head on straight. So to move to that offense side of the ball, I’m really excited to kind of see what McElwain can do with a guy like Robinson. He’s got big play potential.
Andrew: Absolutely. Some of things I would see last year is Demarcus would get frustrated on the field, and not give effort. It’s a very stereotypical kind of receiver response to, well I’ve been out here for two series, and they haven’t thrown me a ball yet, so I’m not going to run on this play. I’m not going to block on this play. Wide receivers are divas. Just to see somebody, and point to a guy like Latroy Pittman, or a guy like Quinton Dunbar, they might catch one ball a game, but you see him 5, 10, 15 yards down the field blocking, running their routes, even if they’re the third option on that route. So I think Demarcus Robinson has all the physical tools, and if you just get that extra effort that you don’t see from all wide receivers, but you see from some, if you just get an extra effort, that’s what takes him from a guy that everyone says he’s a freak athletically to that’s a damn good receiver.
Nick: Yeah, and you’ve kind of seen it at times. There was a few games last year where he was blocking his ass off. He was down the field making good blocks. Some of the times there were holding. Some of the times there were blocking the back, but you would see it at times where it is, but just think about, and this is bad to say, but if Robinson truly believes he’s going to get the ball a lot more, his hustle’s going to get a lot more. So that’s something to see. I would like to see as well.
Then what does a guy like Robinson do for a guy like Fulwood? Fulwood maybe doesn’t have the elite playmaking ability that a guy like Robinson does, but if now you’re double-teaming Robinson, that’s single coverage for a guy like Fulwood, and Fulwood showed us in the ECU game and a lot of other games that he can make a play if you give him the ball and give him an opportunity. I really like Fulwood. I did a bold predictions before the year last year, and I predicted that he would lead the team in receiving yards. That didn’t come to fruition, but I think you can see, people see he’s 6’5”, he’s probably not, doesn’t have that great speed. You see in the Birmingham Bowl, takes a little screen, gone. He’s got some sneaky speed. He’s a good rat runner. He’s got good hands.
I still want to believe in him, and I think that, like you said, if Demarcus Robinson starts showing strides, that he is turning a corner as far as attitude wise mentally, teams are going to have to take him even more seriously, and then that opens things up for everyone, Brandon Powell playing in the slot. CJ Worton playing in the slot, Fulwood on the outside. It opens up for everyone, and I think maybe that’s something Mac is trying to get across to Demarcus. Like, do the little things that maybe you haven’t had to do, and you’ve gotten away with because you’re so gifted, and then that opens things up for your teammates, and when things start opening up for teammates, now we can’t double Demarcus, because we have this guy over here. Then now you’re in a better situation for yourself. So being a better teammate is going to give Demarcus Robinson, he’s going to start see rewards come from that.
Andrew: Let’s just also point to the monkey that’s out there that’s been out there. There hasn’t been a true coach on the offensive side of the ball besides Mike Summers, and that’s sad to say, because Florida has paid millions of dollars to those guys. You start to look at last year’s staff, and, I mean, Kurt Roper, he’s done some things, but he only points to Payton Manning. He’s almost like the Charlie Weis only points to Tom Brady. Brian White still points to Ron Dayne at Wisconsin, but what has he done since? Chris Leak, no offense to him, he’s never coached receivers before. Derek Lewis at tight end. So these guys are finally some guys that have coached some guys that can play ball, and you have to reap.
Nick: I mean, with Brian White, Ron Dayne’s 36 years old. Does Brian White go into a running back’s house and say, I coached Ron Dayne? What does a 17 year old kid say to him? Who?
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, a lot of running backs would tell that Brian White would say he coached a Heisman Trophy winner at Wisconsin. Well, that’s fine, but I mean I coached a running back in my dream, but that doesn’t mean anything. That sounds crazy to say, but when you start to look at the staff you start to see that these guys are actually coaches. Again, Randy Shannon is one of the best coaches. Aubrey Hill, who is a great guy and is a good coach, told me Aubrey Hill is a guy that can find a guy that maybe doesn’t play up to his ability in high school that will come in in two years and can be an All American. You start to look at some of the guys he’s coached. I mean, it’s there. It’s there. The proof’s in the pudding. I mean, half of his guys are in the NFL still playing ball. So I think that you will see some guys maybe emerge out of everything because of being coached.
Nick: I think so. The good thing is we’ll slowly start to find out. I’m holding out hope soon when spring practice starts.
Andrew: Absolutely. Well, Nick, we got to cut this short and get out of here. Everybody’s got things to do. Softball, baseball, little recruiting this weekend. Any last thoughts?
Nick: Junior Day, start of SEC play for the baseball team, and softball, hosting LSU, big weekend on the diamonds, men and women. Big recruiting weekend with Junior Day.
Andrew: Number 1 versus Number 2 in softball again, a little Braves action, maybe some golf if this rain gets out of here. But that’s all for today. I’m signing off. Nick, sign off, my buddy.
Nick: You, stay classy, Gator Nation.
Andrew: Peace, Gator Country.