Jim McElwain’s practice plan for the Gators provided a glimpse of what is to come. Florida opened bowl practice on Friday with the seniors and NFL-bound players away from the field. Vernon Hargreaves III, Alex McCalister, Demarcus Robinson and Kelvin Taylor joined the seniors as the returning players got their work in under the cover of the indoor practice facility.
McElwain didn’t want the older players feeling like they needed to save themselves for the NFL Draft workouts to come after their college careers end on January 1 against Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. The players rejoined the team on Tuesday as bowl prep began and the game plan installation got underway.
As important as it is for the veteran players to get their legs back under them, the time away also allows the returning players to see what the team could look like in the spring. For some players, that includes seeing how they need to step up and be leaders on and off the field.
“I think it pushes the sense of urgency,” McElwain said. “(Players think) ‘Boy, I better get ready, ‘cause this stuff’s about to happen.’ We had a lot of guys who are making a lot of strides.
“It gives us a little jump-start moving forward as we get back on the fifth (of January), when school starts. It’s a quick turnaround for our guys as we start our offseason stuff. It’s kind of fun to see. As a coach and as players, it’s kind of fun to look into the future with the guys that are taking reps.”
The switch flipped for multiple players in the early part of bowl practice. When the secondary met and Hargreaves wasn’t a part of it, sophomores Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson had to become leaders. Without Antonio Morrison at linebacker, Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis were forced to be more vocal. The missing presences of defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard, offensive lineman Trip Thurman and tight end Jake McGee made players at their position think about what the spring will be like.
It can open the eyes of the players who have been led by older players in recent years.
“It’s weird now because I feel like I just came into college, but now I’m basically going into my junior year,” Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson said. “Me and Jalen are one of the old guys now. It’s weird, but it’s time to take on that role.
“It’s a good transition to be one of the older guys now, take those young guys under the wing and teach them what we know.”
As the veteran players rejoined the team on Tuesday, McElwain isn’t worried about motivation for them. The coaches have made sure the NFL-bound players understand that the professional teams will still be watching closely in the bowl game to see how they handle a situation they know will be their final college game.
“You’ve got one more opportunity to put on film before you move to that next step,” McElwain said.