The first step is erasing the memories of the past. It’s hard for the players to forget what has happened in recent years. They’ve been a part of offenses that were among the worst in the Southeastern Conference, and even when they weren’t in the bottom third, they were incredibly boring. The players have been through a lot mentally, even being booed on their home field multiple times last year.
It’s hard to forget those things happening. Even with a new coaching staff and a head coach with an impressive offensive pedigree, McElwain still feels like his offense is letting what hurt them in the past dictate how they perform in the present.
“At some point when you’re beat over the head so much you end thinking that you’re not worthy,” McElwain said to the media after Friday’s scrimmage. “Everybody boos them. You guys write it, so I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. When you hear it over and over and over then all of the sudden you think it’s true.
“Well, I’m telling you this, it doesn’t have to be that way. We go against a very good defense every day, and we’re moving the ball on them in spurts. To consistently be great you’ve got to be able to step off and say I’m going to work my tail off on every single snap. I’m not going to allow someone to be beat me to the point.”
The coaching since McElwain has taken over has been focused on the field and what goes on in the players’ heads. He made it clear that it goes for the Florida defense also, but since that unit has been dominant under the previous coaching staff, confidence on that side of the ball isn’t an issue.
It’s the offense that needs it the most. They’ve been the ones McElwain and his staff have spent time with, encouraging them that they can improve and be mentally capable of turning the offense around.
“That's how you build a team and part of that comes with the mental conditioning piece that takes time,” McElwain said. “If we continue to go and keep loading the wagon and understand that it's OK to play your tail off, we're going to be alright."
McElwain has encouraged the players that working hard and competing on the field and in the weight room are important ways to get ready for the season. The physical training is important to what the Gators do, and the team looks to be in good shape after a 109-play scrimmage on Friday.
But all of the offense’s hard work doesn’t mean much if they’re continually weighed down by the struggles of past seasons.
“We've got to get over the hump from the psychological standpoint,” McElwain said. “That's where we've got to get offensively a little bit. Because there's times they allow a negative play affect the next couple plays. To develop a really good offense and core defense, you've got to have a short memory. You've got to come back and compete.
“Part of it is the understanding that you’re allowed to be great. You’re not a second class situation. You’re allowed to actually invest in yourself and go make plays at a million miles an hour. We’re starting to get a little bit of that, but we got a long ways to go."