McElwain happy with Gators first practice

Thursday felt like it would never come for Jim McElwain.

The time off from the end of spring practice to the start of fall camp felt much longer than previous years. The spring was an important time for installation, but the start of fall practice means his first season as the head coach at Florida is coming quickly.

“Long time coming,” McElwain said with a grin as he addressed reporters following Thursday’s practice.

It was a normal first practice for Florida. It looked rusty at times, with McElwain saying the connection between the quarterbacks and receivers "wasn't great by any stretch of the imagination," but the important things were taken care of.

The most disappointing part of the spring for McElwain was the communication. Both sides of the ball didn’t communicate clearly or frequently enough for McElwain to like where they were at in that area. He made that clear at the end of the spring and made sure the players knew it was their top priority to work on during the summer. The early returns were positive.

“Usually when you see a big play or a bust, it’s because somebody didn’t communicate on either side of the ball," McElwain said. "The good thing is from a point of emphasis, we talked a lot about that. You could tell that took that to heart as to how they must have communicated over the summer as they were going through some of these things, the player-led workouts. That was good to see. I’d would say that was the one real positive that I got out of it today.”

That was especially the case at quarterback. Will Grier and Treon Harris split reps with the first team offense, although Grier did take the first reps with the starters. The two struggled at times to take command of the offense and be vocal leaders before the snap.

McElwain saw an improved command of the huddle from both quarterbacks on Thursday, even complimenting post-graduate transfer Josh Grady for the same thing during the second practice that featured freshmen and newcomers.

“I saw both the quarterbacks have command of the mic point and they were able to switch some protections in blitz," McElwain said. "They did a great job in the run game with their points. It shows me they did some studying over the summer and it’s starting to become a little second nature to them. That’s really important as far as playing that position. Those are things that are really important in playing the position.”

The Florida coach was also optimistic about what he saw from the freshmen in their first practice. He wanted the newcomers to work in their own practice late Thursday afternoon to provide more a teaching opportunity for the coaching staff. It helped them work with the freshmen in smaller numbers and let them understand the tempo that’s expected of them during each practice.

It was even more important on a team that McElwain admitted would have to count on a larger number of freshmen than he is used to.

“The first thing is we've got to do a great job of educating and teaching off film," McElwain said. "That's No. 1. And find out what they know and hopefully put them into situations that they can be successful. Just because of the sheer numbers, naturally there will be probably more guys in the two-deeps at a lot of positions. We need to make sure that they're learning stays up with what we need to do to advance the football."

The offensive line could need the most freshmen to contribute, and it’s usually the last spot coaches want to play their first-year players. McElwain and his staff might not have a choice. The numbers were so bad at the position that they brought in seven scholarship freshmen offensive linemen in the 2015 recruiting class. McElwain mentioned at media day that as many as three or four could be needed to contribute this fall, and he liked the way they looked on Thursday.

"Standing back there for a couple of the drills I realized why I wasn't a very good quarterback at 5-foot-9 because I couldn't see," McElwain said about his freshmen offensive linemen. "They were able to cover some guys up. It's good to see."

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