Five positive signs heading into the 2016 season

We’re about two weeks away from fall football practice starting on the University of Florida campus. As the season approaches there are certain things going on that point to a positive outlook on the 2016 season. We’ll discuss five of those here.

 David Sharpe appearing at SEC Media Days…

From the outside, this doesn’t look like much. But, the fact that Jim McElwain chose junior offensive tackle David Sharpe as the only offensive representative for Florida at SEC Media Days this past week is a clear signal that the young man has been on the right path so far this offseason.

He’s had a bit of a tumultuous time at Florida. Not really a bad person, but also one that hasn’t stayed on the straight and narrow in terms of doing what the coaches have told him to do.

Now Mr. Sharpe has really changed and has become a leader for the offense and the still relatively young offensive line. It is something they have wanted from him for a while and it seems they have finally gotten it.

 

A clean 2016 police blotter…

This is one of those knock on wood kid of things. After all, we have seen guys get in trouble for barking at a police dog before. That said, from January to mid-July of 2015 there were five arrests. Since the start of this calendar year the Gators have a clean record when it comes to the law.

It is hard to really gauge how a thing like this can hurt a team, but If we are talking about one of the more important players on the team with a major distraction like that, then it could be big. It is also a hit on the psyche of the staff.

So far it has been smooth sailing and while Jim McElwain hasn’t looked like some kind of ogre when it comes to dealing with team discipline, his message of do the right thing seems to be getting cross to this team and he seems to be recruiting the right type of players to make that message meaningful.

 

The likely return of Antonio Callaway and Treon Harris…

There is no doubt that people are most interested in Antonio Callaway's  return to the offense. The sophomore receiver, who was suspended from team activities and not allowed even to be on campus for the spring semester for an off-the-field issue, is maybe the most dynamic offensive player the Gators have had on roster since 2010 or before.

While the final status for Callaway and Treon Harris, who was a part of the same off-the-field situation, hasn’t been cleared, everything points to an inevitable reinstatement sometime as the season approaches.

Callaway has a knack for the big play with four receiving touchdowns and two punt returns for touchdowns in his freshman season. Most of his scores came from 60 yards or more and he was a spark for the offense almost the entire season last year.

With a young, but even more talented group of receivers around him in 2016, Callaway can help push an offense that is quickly loading up on tools to be elite.

As for Harris, time will tell where he ends up. Maybe he will be a receiver or defensive back. The young man has heart while on the field and is a terrific athlete with play making skills. They can find a place for him as it does appear his days as a quarterback are over.

 

Improved health of Martez Ivey…

A true sophomore now, Martez Ivey performed strong as a freshman in 2015 and enough to earn Freshman All-SEC honors. He did all of this while playing with two injured shoulders.

The staff took the mending of Ivey’s limbs very seriously and will do so during fall camp, but he is expected to be healthier when the season starts more than at any time during the 2015 season.

A healthy Ivey allows for some flexibility up front and although McElwain says that he will “start out at guard” this fall, I believe he winds up at tackle due to less depth at the position.

Ivey has the physical tools to be an elite lineman in the SEC and was earmarked to the second team on the media’s preseason All-SEC team.

On a unit that will still likely be a year away from being a really good one for the Gators, Ivey has a chance to change that perception and do it quickly. It is still a group that will rely on youth and a good bit of play from guys that have never played a down of college football. But, they are a year older and will be better.

Media taking notice of Jim McElwain and the Gators…

Color me a bit surprised that Florida finished ahead of Georgia in the preseason poll of SEC Media this past week. Not that it is a great thing to be listed behind Tennessee, but the Gators were very visible in their decline as the season ended a year ago and it was a popular opinion that Georgia would finish ahead of Florida in the rankings.

It tells me the regional and national pundits are really starting to understand that McElwain has a bit of an aura or attitude that he brings to the table. Picked to finish fifth in the East a year ago, the Gators are picked to finish fifth best in the entire conference.

When you look at the question marks at quarterback and the real unknowns at running back and the NFL defections on defense, it would be easy to drop the gators a few notches. The Gators have just one player listed among the first team All-SEC candidates among media votes. Yet, they got a bit more respect than I expected given all of this.

Time will tell how it all plays out in 2016, but the respect is starting to build for the guy in charge of gator football right now. 


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