Florida coach Jim McElwain doesn’t think that will change much going forward.
The rotation between Will Grier and Treon Harris at quarterback was only the beginning of it. Florida went through five different running backs and even more wide receivers and offensive linemen.
There were 14 different Florida players that caught a pass on Saturday. The heavy rotation played a big role in that, keeping the starters fresh by giving some of the inexperienced players reps. McElwain said that wasn’t just the plan for the season opener. He has always believed in heavy rotations on the offensive side of the ball and will continue to push for that moving forward.
"I would like it to be that way every week,” McElwain said. “You would like to see the guys understand the importance of the reps that they have, and if they do their job, good things may happen. That's what we're trying to get accomplished. We've got certain things that guys do well, so they're on the 'get-it-to' sheet in those situations. Wherever (the defense is) giving it, you want the quarterback to take it."
The offensive line rotation was about building experience for players and will likely continue into conference play. The goal is to find the five best linemen on the team, even if that means cross training linemen to play new positions.
Florida started an offensive line with left tackle Mason Halter, left guard Trip Thurman, center Cam Dillard, right guard Antonio Riles and right tackle David Sharpe. It didn’t take long for the rotations to begin. Travaris Dorsey saw time at guard while Tyler Jordan split time at guard and center. Fred Johnson served as the team’s third tackle, giving a breather to Halter or Sharpe. Andrew Mike also saw time at guard during the game.
“We’ll continue that,” McElwain said. “We have a standard rotation there that we’ll do with the O-linemen. We look to do the same thing when (Martez Ivey) gets back. I thought Dorsey did a pretty good job, too, when he was in there. As we talked about establishing the ability to get your best five on the field for whatever happens, I think it’s important that guys be able to train at different spots. It’s what we try to do.”
Preparing for tempo
East Carolina ran 101 offensive plays in the Birmingham Bowl. Their no-huddle, Air Raid offense usually puts up a lot of yards and plays, which can wear out an opposing defense. The Pirates put up 536 yards against Florida in the bowl game, but the Gators were able to force turnovers in the red zone that would secure the game.
Preparing to face that tempo can be a challenge for teams that aren’t used to seeing it. The Florida offense has different tempos it can use, but they don’t go consistently as fast as the Pirates do.
“Unless you do that yourself, it's really hard to truly duplicate it,” McElwain said.
One of the key ways Florida tries to prepare for it comes early in practice. After the team stretches and warms up, they break immediately into a period known as ‘fastballs.’ It’s first team offense against first team defense for only about 6-8 plays, but it comes at a quick tempo with little time to get set up between snaps.
“The first part of practice every single day -- we go one word -- fastballs,” McElwain said. “That's all part of it. That's obviously a speed at which we go as well. We work it as well as we can. I think our defensive staff has a couple kind of neat things they do during practice to help simulate it, simulate that. It seems to work pretty well."
Injury and suspension updates
Florida safety Keanu Neal returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time since suffering a leg injury during a scrimmage on August 21. McElwain said he went from doubtful to questionable by returning to practice. In the portions of practice open to the media, Neal wasn’t working with the first team defense.
Offensive tackle Martez Ivey (knee) has a chance to return to practice Thursday afternoon, but McElwain said he’s likely “still a week away” from seeing game action.
Florida will also get safety Marcus Maye and defensive end Alex McCalister back from suspension on Saturday. Receiver Latroy Pittman still has “a little time to go” on his suspension before returning, but McElwain hopes the two defenders learned from not being on the field last week.
“Well, they better have fresh legs,” McElwain said. “We’ll play a lot of guys. I think they found, as they were able to watch, that life moved on. Sometimes that’s the greatest lesson that any of us can learn. Maybe that’ll put a little fire in their tank.”