Preparing for Michigan is only part of the next month’s priority. The 15 bowl practices give the Florida coaching staff an important chance to work with the young players and help them improve. While the focus during the season is on game planning and helping to improve the players that will be on the field for the most snaps on Saturday, the priority changes in bowl prep.
Florida coach Jim McElwain said he gives the seniors and players departing early for the NFL Draft the first four practices off. They’ll still lift and run to stay in shape, but the goal is to allow the departures to get their legs back under them and make sure they’re ready for their future that will include workouts and the NFL Combine. They’ll return to practice with the Gators when bowl preparation for Michigan begins.
In those practices without the players expected to depart, the coaches get more time to work hands on with the younger players that need attention the most.
“We’ll get a lot of our young guys quality practice,” McElwain said.
It’s not foreign for a Florida player to break out during the bowl practice. Heading into the 2011 Gator Bowl at the end of Will Muschamp’s first season, the staff gave freshman Loucheiz Purifoy extended reps and liked the growth that he showed on the practice field. His improvement turned into a start in the Gator Bowl, and Purifoy turned into a consistent starter over the following two seasons.
There are many young players that need to show improvement before the Gators will have to count on them next season. An important position for it is the offensive line. Martez Ivey and Tyler Jordan have been important parts of the unit as true freshmen, and Fred Johnson saw a lot of action early in the season.
The challenge comes in developing the others. Nick Buchanan, Richerd Desir-Jones, T.J. McCoy and Brandon Sandifer all redshirted during their first season on campus but could scratch out important roles up front next season. With many other young offensive linemen in their first three seasons at Florida, the Gators want to see that position improve in bowl practice to benefit the 2016 season.
“This is huge,” McElwain said. “Some young offensive linemen and young defensive players, they’ll have an opportunity to get better. That’s what is so great about bowl games.”