Passing game catches McElwain’s eye

It hasn’t happened a lot with the transition early in spring practice, but Florida coach Jim McElwain liked what he saw from his passing game on Tuesday.

The receivers made plays in the portion of practice open to the media -- the first three periods of practice -- but it wasn’t obvious that they were dominating. The deep secondary still won more reps than it lost, playing tight coverage as All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III added an interception during the open period.

But McElwain liked what he saw when the doors to the practice field were closed to the media. He saw the receivers learning quickly. In an offense that puts a lot on the receivers to understand different shifts, motions and tempos that the offense will run, Tuesday was a big day for their development.

“I think the receivers stepped up, had a really good day as far as the learning aspect,” Jim McElwain said. “There's a lot of new things going in with those guys when we talk about the formation shifts, motions and the different things that we do and the different tempos. I think they really stepped up. I thought they did some good things.”

Demarcus Robinson, last year’s leading receiver, was a favorite target of the quarterbacks during the open portions of practice. The Gators opened practice with a drill called “speed ball,” splitting into two units and running as many plays as possible at a high tempo. Will Grier started his portion of practice with three straight throws to Robinson.

Brandon Powell, who moved from running back to receiver before the spring, got open almost at will during the early part of practice.

Those two will have a big role in the Florida passing game this fall, but the spring is aimed at figuring out who else will. During the season, McElwain said the team would travel with 11 receivers but likely have a rotation of nine at the position.

“The idea is to get as many guys involved as we can,” McElwain said. “We’re not there yet, necessarily, but we’re finding out what some of these guys can do. We’re getting ready to add some of the speed sweep stuff and some of those things, so it will be interesting to find out who some of those guys are.”

The focus remains on the quarterbacks with Grier and Treon Harris battling for the starting job. McElwain said he has put a lot of focus on the quarterback’s passing numbers without a defense on the field. When the receivers are running routes without a defense, it puts an emphasis on the minor details of an offense.

On Saturday, Grier went 26-29 with two drops in that area while Harris went 27-29 with two outs.

“What they’ve got to understand is every single rep they take they’ve got to prepare and execute as if it’s the last rep they’re ever going to take,” McElwain said. “Trying to understand that, focus on every single drill, the footwork it takes to accomplish the task at hand is something that is kind of new to them for whatever it is worth. The emphasis is the details.”

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