Florida is only dealing with minor nicks and bruises as it prepares to face Missouri on Saturday. Florida coach Jim McElwain credited director of strength and conditioning Mike Kent for that. Kent followed McElwain from Colorado State and has implemented the same program in Gainesville.
The players have stayed healthy and aren’t worn down. Kent and his staff have made sure the Florida players are still at peak performance after the first five games.
“I feel like they’re in pretty good shape,” McElwain said. “We’ve been pretty decent on nicks and bruises, just normal stuff that every team is going through. I haven’t seen it as an issue. We might have got a little winded on that long drive right after half (against Ole Miss). I say that but there again we had a goal line, what was it, five plays inside the five-yard line or something, and it shows me that they dug down with some heart and found the energy to finish. Credit not only the guys that are down in the weight room, but more so the investment of the players, what we’re doing and understanding the why of what we do why we do to help them on Saturday."
The players bought into Kent and his staff not long after they arrived in Gainesville. He brought a training style that players believe translates better to the field, providing different exercises and reps for each position to help them excel on the field.
“There’s a lot of things that go unnoticed and I think one of those are how quickly our guys adapted to coach Kent and his staff,” McElwain said. “The position specific conditioning that we do pertains to them being successful to play their position and more so their investment in it. The way that they have attacked, the amount of reps and speed at which we practice and the chaos that we create.
“Coach Kent does a great job of that, too. By simulating chaos, it helps you focus on the detail of being successful. He does that, same thing it matches everything we do in the program. I can’t say enough good things about those guys down there.”
BRANTLEY STARTING TO MAKE PLAYS
When McElwain and staff first got to Gainesville, they were trying to understand what kind of players they had. One of the first players that stood out to McElwain was defensive tackle Caleb Brantley. His 6-2, 314-pound frame plus the athleticism was easy to see on the field.
After spring practice, every assistant coach did a ranking of the top 50 players on the team. Brantley was in the top 10 for every coach.
“I think that speaks for how much we think he’s a really good player and he’s doing a great job,” McElwain said.
Brantley is often the defensive lineman facing double teams on the interior of the defensive line. Line coach Chris Rumph has encouraged the players to sacrifice the team, and when it requires taking on a double team, he wants the players to take up both offensive linemen and allow a teammate to make a play.
With nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and one sack, that’s where Brantley is making his impact. It may not come in a huge statistical season so far, but Brantley has been tough to block, allowing his teammates to make plays.
“That speaks to what we and how we as an organization promote the unselfish behavior and award those who don’t show up in the box score,” McElwain said. “We celebrate that more than we do the guy that gets his name in the paper. I think they know the importance of doing their job to help us be successful.
“And really what happens, too -- usually when you’re doing your job and doing it at the technique that you’re taught, sometimes you do spring in there for some sacks or whatever it is. The amount of hurries, pressures, putting a quarterback where he’s not able to get his feet set, a lot of those are Caleb.”
KICKOFF RETURN STRUGGLING
McElwain was hoping the kickoff return would be a weapon for Florida this year, but through the first five games, that hasn’t happened. The Gators are averaging only 20.6 yards per return.
The Florida coach emphasized that they have played teams that excel at covering kicks, but the Florida blocking is also just not getting it done. Another challenge has been changing the Florida special teams players’ mindset about it.
“Part of it is challenging them to understand the importance of the first play on offense,” McElwain said, referring to the kickoff. “They’ve never been really approached like that before and so it’s new. You continue to do it and just keep working on it.”