Year one for McElwain: After a long offseason, the Jim McElwain era in Gainesville is close to getting underway. The first-year coach has done a lot right since taking the job, taking over a program desperate for energy. He put together an impressive coaching staff, had a strong close in the 2015 recruiting class and has started the process of improving the program’s facilities, but the Florida coach knows he’ll ultimately be judged by what happens on the field.
The next step to putting an improved product on the field starts on Thursday when practice begins.
Offense hoping to bounce back: To make the first year a successful one, McElwain knows it starts with the offense. He’s taking over a team with a stout defense and has put together an impressive defensive coaching staff that should keep the unit playing at a high level. To renew energy around the program and get the Gators back near the top of the Southeastern Conference, McElwain and his staff have to rebuild the offense.
Even with a tough defense in recent years, opposing teams were able to play safe on offense because they knew the Gators would have trouble scoring. Playing for time of possession and field position didn’t work, and now it’s up to McElwain to put a productive offense on the field.
Offensive line questions: True freshmen aren’t allowed to speak to the media, which means almost half of Florida’s scholarship offensive linemen won’t be at Wednesday’s media day. The Gators return just one offensive lineman who has ever started a game at Florida, and sophomore David Sharpe is the second most experienced lineman despite playing in only six games last year.
Trusting a freshman on the offensive line in the SEC isn’t ideal. The Gators could be forced to trust multiple ones this fall. It’s not a recipe for success this fall, but it does mean Florida should be in good shape up front in the future.
Hargreaves hype: Everyone knew how good Vernon Hargreaves III was heading into last season, but Dante Fowler was a year older and heading into what everyone knew would be his last season. This year, Fowler is in the NFL and Hargreaves is the leader of the Florida defense. He has handled that role well during the spring and seemed to embrace it when he was at SEC Media Days last month.
The junior cornerback has always had a mature approach to football. He credits his father, who has been a college football assistant coach for 30 years. Hargreaves grew up around the game because of his father and knows how to carry himself on and off the field. That shouldn’t change this year just because it’s his first draft-eligible season.
Quarterback battle: Will Grier and Treon Harris began their battle for the starting quarterback job in the spring, but Harris missed about a week of practice because of a death in his family. McElwain admitted Grier was slightly in the head in the battle but only because he was able to be at more practices. There’s no reason for the coaches to make a quick decision on the starter, and that’s why it will likely go as late as the week before the first game.