The term “shell shocked” was coined during World War I to describe the trauma soldiers who were coming home went through during months and years of trench warfare.
After years of taking jabs from fans and the media the Florida Gators offense is a bit shell shocked themselves. Success has been hard to come by and the offense have been the butt of jokes as they tried harder to simply stay out of the way of the defense, rather than, you know, score points.
Getting an offensive minded head coach in place has changed a lot, but changing the mentality of the players who have been beaten down for years is proving to be more difficult than Gator Head Coach Jim McElwain expected.
“Part of that is the understanding you’re allowed to be great,” McElwain said following Florida’s first scrimmage. “You’re allowed to actually invest in yourself and go make plays at a million miles an hour. We’re starting to get a little bit of that, but we got a long ways to go.”
Part of what a football coach will try to do is break players down to build them back up. When it comes to the offense at Florida, there really wasn’t much to break down. The players had lost confidence in themselves, in the scheme and they had forgotten what it was like to be a part of something great. To his credit, McElwain and the offensive coaching staff have been very positive with the players this offseason. There are many more teaching moments and coaching, rather than yelling and punishment.
“At some point when you’re beat over the head so much you end thinking that you’re not worthy,” said McElwain of his players’ mindset. “Everybody boos them.”
There has been improvement, but not enough. Listen, it’s no easy task to take an offense that is mentally beaten down from years of being a punch line and try to build them back up again when they have to face Florida’s defense every day in practice. The Gators can make a confident veteran defense wither like fruit left out in the Florida heat. But even the defensive players have started to see a shift. Junior linebacker Jarrad Davis said he already sees an improvement in the offense compared to his previous two years in Gainesville.
“Throughout this whole camp and the past couple days they’ve been doing some things to really challenge us as a defense,” said Davis. “So it’s not just go out there and run this way and make a play on defense. Now it’s you have to make some reads now and really get to your spot because the offense can really hurt us.”
How about that? An offense in Gainesville that is actually making the defense think, keeping them on their toes. Doesn’t that sound nice?
The next challenge McElwain faces is getting players who have become accustomed to failing to not be afraid to fail. McElwain wants his offense to be fearless. Not only should they not be afraid to fail, they shouldn’t be afraid to be great, a word that hasn’t described Florida’s offense since No. 15 played quarterback.
“We’ve got to develop that it’s OK to go up and make a great play, you know what I mean? Just have that mentality when you go out there that you’re going to do that,” McElwain said. “That’s what we’ve got to get out of some guys.”
Working on X’s and O’s is easy. Changing the mindset of an entire offense is the real challenge. McElwain has three weeks to change the way the offense thinks and perceives itself, he may earn an honorary degree in psychology if he’s successful.