Florida coach Jim McElwain retained just one assistant from the previous staff, keeping offensive line coach Mike Summers, who drastically improved the Florida offensive line in 2014. He’ll have another challenge this season while trying to put together a functioning offensive line with just seven scholarship offensive linemen available this spring.
While trying to make that work, the offensive linemen think it will be easier to learn from a coach they’re familiar with. The group raved about Summers last season, and the younger players left at the position are happy he’s still their position coach.
“He’s the one that helped me in that transition,” Florida guard Antonio Riles said about when he moved from the defensive line. “He expects greatness in everything you do. That’s the kind of coach you gotta have. I don’t want that to be an excuse for me coming to this side. Now I just gotta plug all the pieces together, and that’s what I’ve been working on, and he (Summers) has most definitely been helping me get that down.”
The comfort is the biggest issue. At other positions on Monday, players were trying to learn the tendencies of their new coaches. The defensive line was trying to learn about a new coach for the second time since the previous staff was fired. But for the offensive line, it was more of the same.
The practice style was different, but their familiarity with Summers has helped ease the transition.
“I’m real comfortable with him. I’m like comfortable as a new bed right now,” Florida offensive tackle Roderick Johnson said with a grin. “Pretty much everything is the same there.”
DEFENSIVE CONTINUITY: When the Gators opened practice on Monday, the defense was noticeably ahead of the offense. That’s to be expected for any team at the start of practice but even more so for Florida. The defensive scheme coordinator Geoff Collins is running is similar to what the Gators did last year, and that group was already one of the top defenses in the Southeastern Conference.
There might be some touches that are new, but the message from the coaches to the players was that if it wasn’t broken on that side of the ball, they weren’t going to attempt to fix it.
“It’s very similar for a lot of us,” defensive lineman Joey Ivie said. “We kept some of the same terminology. A lot of it for us, guys who have played in this defense, it’s kind of easy to pick it up. It has been simple. A lot of my teammates, we talk to each other and we’re all picking it up quickly. We’re ready to get this show on the road.”
When defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard was talking to the new staff and making his decision about the NFL, the defense was a big part of what they talked about. Bullard didn’t want to be forced to learn an entirely new defense, and Jim McElwain and the defensive staff assured him that things wouldn’t be much different.
“It's basically the same, a few different things,” Bullard said. “I think it's a good defense. Hopefully we'll get it down pat and have a good spring and it will be successful."
GETTING TO KNOW MCELWAIN: The Florida players have had over three months to build relationships with McElwain off the field, but Monday was their first opportunity to see what he was like on the field.
"He's a really great guy,” Florida center Cam Dillard said. “He's really personal. Who coach Mac is off the field is who he is on the field. There's no two-face to him."
McElwain put the emphasis on his players when he took the job, asking them to come up to his office when they had time to start building that relationship. McElwain was surprised to find out that many players rarely went to the coaches’ offices under the previous staff. He wanted to change that, and it worked, helping him and his staff begin to build those relationships before ever stepping on the practice field.
“He’s a great guy,” defensive tackle Thomas Holley said. “He keeps it simple. He doesn’t want to overcomplicate anything. Our one rule on the team is ‘do what’s right.’ He’s really an easygoing guy, but he’s going to get on top of you when he has to. For the most part everything is simple and we’re just going to have fun.
“We have fun, but at the same we feel that business aspect. We’re going to do it in a way that everyone is going to enjoy it and it’s definitely a great experience to be able to work with him and have that relationship.”