It starts from the most basic steps. Last year, the Gators ran an offense exclusively out of the shotgun. Will Grier and Treon Harris both ran offenses that featured mostly the shotgun in high school, so going under center to take a snap is somewhat of a foreign concept to both of them this spring.
They’re still forced to learn a brand new offense, one that Florida coach Jim McElwain called “quite a bit” different from what the Gators ran last season, but the focus is on the fundamentals that start as basic as taking a snap.
“It’s a learning curve, a steep one right now for them,” Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “They weren’t under center last year, so we’re starting from that. Talking about getting in a stance, proper hand placement to take a snap. You’re talking about things that if you don’t focus on little things, they become major issues.
“We started from the basic premise and they’re doing a really good job of being eager, wanting to learn and studying extra. Like anything, it’s going to take a little time.”
Add in an offensive line without much experienced, and it’s a tough setup for the offense this spring. The Gators have just seven scholarship offensive linemen practicing this week. McElwain said on Wednesday that redshirt sophomore Cam Dillard is working as the starting center, and the backup is 6-3, 256-pound walk-on Nick Davis.
The Gators will also teach their guards how to snap for emergency situations. However, there are parts of practice where offensive linemen that have never snapped are snapping the football to quarterbacks that haven’t been under center in years. It’s easy to see how this transition to the new staff’s offense could take time, especially against a defense that returns a lot of talent and is running a similar scheme.
“Get back to basics,” Nussmeier said as the key to improving. “Start with the little things. We've got to clean up some of those things that show up when you first started camp. We've got some balls on the ground on some exchanges and those type of things. We'll continue to talk about No. 1 ball security and obviously you look over the history of football, and the No. 1 telling statistic is the turnover margin, so it's a point of emphasis.
“It's always about the ball with us, and then finding ways create explosive plays and putting our playmakers in position to make plays."
The coaches only have 15 practices to install the offense and try to clean up areas that need work on the offense. It will take into fall practice before they feel game-ready, but McElwain and Nussmeier have emphasized that they understand it will take time.
The most important thing now is that the players are showing effort and energy in learning, and all signs point to that happening so far.
"The biggest thing that jumps out to me is how hard our kids compete and how eager and willing they are,” Nussmeier said. “Change is inevitable in life. You can either resist it or you can embrace it. They've done an outstanding job of that, couldn't be happier."