McElwain notebook: Secondary impressing early

Looking around the practice field on Wednesday, Jim McElwain’s eyes were drawn to the secondary.

The numbers on the back end of the defense aren’t great -- and the numbers aren’t at multiple positions on the team -- but the talent jumped out immediately.

Led by All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, the Gators have six scholarship cornerbacks and five scholarship safeties on campus this spring. Those numbers will go up when the freshmen get to campus in the summer.

The secondary will be one of the most talented groups on the team, if not the most talented, and McElwain has seen that after two spring practices.

“I am really impressed with the amount of talent they have collected at the position,” Jim McElwain said. “Those guys are really good players and they compete. I really like the way they take every down and every play and try to get better. They push each other. That’s definitely something that’s great to see, just that competition among all of them. They communicate and help each other get better. It’s fun to watch those guys play.”

The previous staff had specific criteria they wanted from the secondary spots. The cornerbacks were preferably tall, long athletes, and they also used a left and a right safety instead of strong and free safety. McElwain has emphasized that this year’s defense will be similar to last year’s scheme, and that size on the back end of the defense is still an important part of what they want.

“Yeah, and they can cover,” McElwain said. “They’re not afraid. They’re really a good veteran group, obviously guys that have played that way. We’re going to have to rely on them a lot to make a lot of plays, and yet, they can’t take that upon themselves. They just have to win each and every down and have short memories, because that is a position where at some point you’re going to get beat. That’s just the nature of the position. The great ones have real short memories.”

TIGHT END IMPRESSIONS: Jake McGee isn’t participating in any team drills as he continues to recover from a broken leg suffered in the season opener last season. He’s still going through some portions of practice, but when the team drills begin, McGee watches the younger tight ends get reps.

McElwain has four scholarship tight ends getting reps in place of McGee. DeAndre Goolsby is the only one that played last season while C’yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens redshirted. Early enrollee Daniel Imatorbhebhe is also in the mix this spring.

"We've got a lot of options there,” McElwain said. “We've got some guys that are battling. I really like their want. They're still probably not as big as you want yet. They're young. They'll get bigger over the summer and in the offseason. But the good part about that is I think we've got a couple guys we're going to be able to play on the line, with their hand in the dirt.

“They run well. We're going to be able to stretch the field at that position and I kind of like those match ups."

RETURN GAME: After two practices, McElwain mentioned Hargreaves, J.C. Jackson, Brandon Powell and Demarcus Robinson as four players handling kick and punt returns. The Gators will have to replace Andre Debose, one of the best returners in school history, and will use spring and fall to figure out who the next returner will be.

“We haven’t determined any real starters on any of the special teams,” McElwain said.

POWELL FITTING IN: Powell was pulled in different directions last season at Florida. He started the season at running back moved played the last two games mostly as a receiver. This spring, McElwain wanted to make things easier on Powell.

He’s playing slot receiver this spring, but he gives the new staff a chance to be creative on offense and get him the ball in multiple ways.

"He kind of moved in and out of positions, and what we're trying to do is find him a home,” McElwain said. “In our offense, he's a guy that's obviously got to touch the ball. He's probably more comfortable at running back, but we're putting him at full-time receiver. We'll use him in jet sweeps, we'll bring him back in the backfield and he can still run the ball as a running back, but that's the versatility that you kind of look for at that position. I think he really looks comfortable out there. That's something that's good to see."

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