When the Gators closed practice on Thursday night and the coaching staff turned its preparation to Friday’s scrimmage, they weren’t sure what was going to happen. The large number of inexperienced players had the staff unsure what would occur when they stepped off the field and went to the sideline, keeping them from being able to walk the younger players through what they should do.
“I kind of didn’t sleep last night thinking this could be a disaster,” Jim McElwain said after Friday’s scrimmage. “And it actually turned out pretty darn good. I guess that’s comforting.”
Florida went for 109 plays of offense against defense, adding 26 special teams plays. They worked through overtime, two-minute and red zone situations. McElwain said the offense got off to a good start on Friday before hitting a lull in the situational work in the middle of practice. The offense regained steam and finished practice on a high note.
Florida quarterbacks Will Grier and Treon Harris split time between the first team and second team. McElwain said Harris moved the second team offense better than Grier did. Grier got off to a fast start and closed practice on a high note, too. The Florida coach even said Josh Grady led the team to successful overtime drives.
There was only one interception mentioned during McElwain’s press conference, and cornerback Brian Poole later said that it was an interception returned for a touchdown by Vernon Hargreaves III. The junior cornerback also returned an interception for a touchdown during Thursday’s practice, Poole said.
The number of drops by the Florida receivers has frustrated McElwain this fall, and it happened on the first play of the scrimmage on a throw from Grier. The Florida coach didn’t identify who the receiver was.
“It's a never-ending issue,” McElwain said. “And really as open as he was, that was like routes on air. Those are things that we've just continually got to work on.”
Asked to point out some offensive players that stood out, McElwain named Ahmad Fulwood, Kelvin Taylor and Chris Thompson. Fulwood made an impact on the passing game, but McElwain later echoed that Fulwood needs to use his size to his advantage when the ball is in the air.
“What is he, 6-foot-3?” McElwain asked rhetorically. “He ran a pass under there that he looked like he was 5-foot-2. Go get it. Be aggressive. You own it.”
Thompson made “a couple of big plays” with his speed, but the drops plagued him. McElwain said Thompson dropped a pass because he heard footsteps of a defender coming his way.
Taylor stood out at running back for Florida. McElwain complimented the junior for how he has run the ball in recent practices. When the new staff arrived in Gainesville, every handoff Taylor received ended with him trying to get to the sideline. They’ve worked hard to break that habit and help him keep his eyes in the middle of the field.
“For the first time since we’ve been here, he didn’t just try to run everything to the sideline,” McElwain said. “He actually stuck his foot into the ground. We’ve been working on this little concept -- the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I thought he got that today. It was good to see because he’s struggle with that. Caught the ball out of the backfield well, too.”
The Gators have no choice but to lean on young players on offense this fall, and as the season opener gets closer, McElwain doesn’t think that will be an issue. The young offensive linemen, namely Martez Ivey and Tyler Jordan, have started to prove they can handle the responsibility of playing as a freshman.
“Guys, there's some offensive pieces here, especially with some of these young guys,” McElwain said.
INJURY REPORT: Florida receiver Raphael Andrades (leg) and linebacker Matt Rolin were both injured during the scrimmage, but McElwain wasn’t sure of the severity for either. The Florida coach added that “it’s something every week” with Rolin.