Spring is in the air and the Florida Gators football team is back on the field. You won’t hear the cracking of pads until later in the week but for Jim McElwain and his almost entirely new football staff it was nice to get back on the field and get to work.
“It seems like it’s taken forever to get out on the field and do what the heck we’re here to do and that’s coach some ball,” said McElwain.
The first month of his tenure was spent in a recruiting whirlwind, trying to shore up the 2015 class and quickly after signing day the staff had to continue playing catch-up on the class of 2016 but now, the sole focus is on football and getting to know the players that will take the field next season for the Orange and Blue. Despite it being the first practice for the team with new coaches and the fact that they’re not in pads yet, McElwain feels like there is still valuable time being spent and a lot to be learned from these few practices before the pads come on.
“You can see how guys communicate,” McElwain said. “That’s first and foremost. In answer to this question earlier, I was excited to hear the guys actually communicating with each other, because if you’re all on the same page, even if it’s not maybe the exact thing that you wanted, but at least all 11 are working the same way … so from a communication standpoint, that was really good to see.”
Taking a vocal leadership role to get things started were two usual suspects — Vernon Hargreaves III and Jon Bullard — but a third could be seen working his way into a leadership role. That player was redshirt freshman Will Grier, who spent time with Hargreaves, leading the team before they began their flex program.
Grier is battling with returning starter, sophomore Treon Harris for the starting quarterback job this spring. Grier took a redshirt last season while Harris earned valuable experience and playing time. That isn’t holding Grier back. The redshirt freshman took the first snap today and worked his way in with the first team offensive line.
McElwain joked off any sort of significance that played.
“I didn’t know, did he?,” McElwain asked before turning around to the offensive and defensive linemen that were in the room waiting for interviews. “Did he take the first snap? Do you guys know? Who took the first snap?”
“It felt like Will’s hand,” center Cam Dillard joked.
McElwain isn’t worried about who took the first snap. With limited numbers at offensive line and running back, everyone is getting a lot of reps during practice and every position battle — quarterback included — will work itself out.
McElwain is, however, worried about the tempo on offense and his quarterbacks adjusting to taking snaps from under center, rather than in shotgun.
“What a novel concept, isn’t it? Taking a snap from center,” he said. “Unbelievable. Something new there, you know.”
Overall the first day was about getting to know each other. Sure, McElwain and his staff have been around and met with the players but Monday was the first day that they all were able to get together and work on their craft.
The energy was high, coaches were running around the field like kids on a playground, eager to see what they have on the roster, ready to coach kids and get the new season rolling. The players, at least early on, looked hesitant. Like kids on the first day of school, not wanting to be the first person the teacher yelled at or the first one to make a mistake.
The comfort level will come as the coaches and players get to spend more time with each other but for just a couple of hours worth of work, the head man was pleased.
“I thought our guys did a really good job,” said McElwain. “You know I mean we’ve got veteran coaches, we’ve got guys who have done it and obviously a lot of them I’ve been kind of within the past so we kind of know the pace that we’re looking for, how we go about it and I thought the coordination was pretty good.”
Notes from the first practice:
Number changes (old number in parentheses)
- DB Nick Washington — 8 (22)
- DB Jalen Tabor — 31 (5)
- WR C.J. Worton — 18 (14)
- RB Brandon Powell — 4 (20)
- DB Quincy Wilson — 6 (12)
- DB Deiondre Porter — 15 (21)
- LB Matt Rolin — 25 (9)
The offensive line only has seven healthy scholarship linemen, so the starting five is nowhere near from being officially set but the first five linemen that worked with the first group were (left-to-right): David Sharpe, Antonio Riles, Cam Dillard, Andrew Mike, Rod Johnson.