"I thought this Wednesday was actually really good,” Florida head coach Jim McElwain told the Florida media shortly after the practice ended. “I thought it was a little better than last week. I thought we handled some third down and red area things that we need. There's still a couple things obviously that we need to clean up. You never have it all in. We'll get a good look at it tonight, but we had some guys flying around, and I think guys are excited about playing their SEC opener. That's a good thing.”
Of importance is the injury situation and Florida had a couple of players go they weren’t necessarily expecting to.
"Injury wise, we'll see here by the end of the week, but (junior receiver) C.J. Worton was running pretty good,” McElwain said. “I'll take a look at video today, but he wasn't laboring. I thought he finished practice, so I think we'll be able to get him back and that will be a big help. The two freshmen (receivers Rick Wells and Tyrie Cleveland), they've missed a lot of practice obviously (due to hamstring issues) and they need to get up to speed a little bit, but we'll find out from there. They should be ready to go if needed. Duke Dawson was fine. He practiced the whole time. (Senior linebacker Daniel McMillian) went, that's a tough guy now. I'm telling you. I mean I've seen some high ankles go for, man, half a season. But I thought he did pretty well for a Wednesday. You guys know, you kind of have to practice on Wednesday to play in the game on Saturday, so we had some guys pushing some guys and that's a good thing.
Worton’s return is a big one with the loss of Massey. The junior from the Miami area had a terrific spring and early fall before succumbing to a high ankle sprain himself. He tried to give it a go last week, but he just couldn’t. He should be a ble to help provide more of a deep threat this week that the Gators desperately need.
"He'll roll like those other guys did last week,” McElwain said of Worton. “They all played pretty much the same amount of plays. It just adds to that rotation. It picks up where obviously without Dre going, there's some more snaps there that we can take some reps off of those other guys."
With Worton returning, this should allow preseason All-American sophomore receiver Antonio Callaway a chance to do more things. He will be asked to move around a ittle more and put him in even better situations than they could against UMass where he caught the ball eight times for 72 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought he stepped up,” McElwain said of Callaway. “He was ready to play and excited to play and taking advantage of opportunities. I think he really understands that. Playing a new position, I thought he handled that well. This week he’ll play kind of two true positions, which last year he was kind of just a Z. This last game he played X. Now his versatility to be able to get him on the inside when needed … I’m excited about his growth as a receiver.”
Callaway was thrown into the fire as a true freshman a year ago where he produced big time and came up with big plays a lot of times when the Gators needed them most. McElwain thinks the young receiver has only touched his potential.
“I think his upside’s huge,” the head Gator said. “Here’s the thing, here’s a guy that loves to practice. It makes a difference. When you love to just go out and play, you know what? It makes the games go a lot easier. He’s a guy that a lot of times makes it look pretty easy, but that’s because of the work he puts in out there on the practice field.”
OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY
One unit on the team that has been heavily scrutinized for the last game and especially all of last year is the offensive line. UMass used a lot of movement on defense before the snap and that caused some issues with late switching on their assignments and other things. McElwain says they just have to work through it.
"Well, we just keep working it,” he said. “It's something that our defense does as well, so it's not like anything we didn't know they were doing. And yet, I think has a lot to do with pre-recognition of an actual alignment to give you a little answer to the test as to what's going to come based on that look. So, I really think that it's not just about playing fast -- and obviously that's a lot to do with it -- but an understanding of how to play fast based on the looks you're getting.
“They did give us a couple of new looks, but there again, that's part of the adjustment piece that we talk about. (UMass) had all year to work on some things, as (Kentucky has). You know, they didn't show everything, obviously, that they're gonna do against us in that first game. Both offensively and defensively and as well as special teams. And we’ve got to be prepared. A couple of years ago, they hit us with one of those little flip things out of a field goal deal. I know they try to, they got a fake punt they’re trying to sneak a guy out of the shield and some things like that. So, we’ve got to be prepared for those things even though maybe we haven’t seen them. But you’ve got to be sound in your preparation and our guys are doing a good job of preparing.”
McElwain was surprised at some of the things that happened to the line on Saturday. He says the main issue isn’t ability, it is technique, they have to use the right techniques to do their job.
"You know, I thought it had been pretty good,” he said. “We've got to just continue to grow there and the guys have got to not be on edges. What happens a lot of times is, you know, yeah, they've got kind of the right spot, but then you're on an edge, which really goes to your technique. In other words, we're maybe in a slide. I get my outside shoulder turned and I've got to be ready to bounce back based on the looks. Things like that. And so the technique piece has got to be sound in everything that they're doing as well as the assignment piece. I think they've worked harder this week. We'll find out Saturday. It's another opportunity. I go back to that and that's really what it is. It's an opportunity to go out and prove to yourself that you're capable to go out and perform at a high level. And that's what we've got to do."
BACKS NEED TO BE READY
A couple of the bigger gains were called back Saturday, but the Gators averaged only 3.7 yards per carry rushing the ball. Some of that was due to the penalties, some to quarterback scrambles, a fumble, etc. They backs only toted the ball 23 times total and caught the ball three times. McElwain anticipates those numbers to grow extensively as he continues to call the group one of the best on the team.
"I thought they've done a nice job,” McElwain said. “Again, we've got to play to our strength and you saw us in a little more two-back, three-wide stuff last week. We've got to increase that package, be prepared to use those guys in a lot of different ways because you need to get your best 11 on the field and in a lot of ways in different things that we do, our best 11 might be with two of those guys on the field at the same time."
The head man is looking for more big plays this week. The longest run from scrimmage was 11 yards against UMass and the Gators had only two pass plays of 20 or more yards.
"It's really pretty simple,” McElwain said. “They go and make plays. When they're open, you've got to throw it to them. Then when you throw it to them, they kind of got to catch them. When you run through the hole you might have to pick your feet up a little bit, when there’s a big abyss there, you know to take advantage of it.”
EXPECTATIONS OF A HIGH LEVEL OF PLAY SATURDAY
Much like Steve Spurrier used to preach, there are only 12 scheduled football games in a season, you need to take advantage of those few opportunities you have to play. With the way the team performed at the end of the year last year and even last week at times, he thinks his guys have a bit more pride than to not play at a high intensity level.
“Us, letdown?” he scoffed when asked of the possibility. “Look, we’re 0-3 after the end of the year last year, right? I mean, we got our tails kicked. We gotta show up no matter what it is. Now, if we do, we’ll find out.
“I know our guys are ready. Here’s the thing. Great teams, the opponents don’t matter. It’s the personal part of the preparation and play and taking in pride in who you are and what you’re all about to go out and compete no matter who you’re playing. It doesn’t matter. And that’s where we’ve got to learn where the Florida Gators can’t be up and down. Up and down. They’ve got to understand the level and certain standard in which you have to go about your business to be a champion.
“Are we there yet? No. No. But, the understanding that Saturday is an opportunity, take advantage of it. That’s what has to register with our guys. It’s about how you go and be proud of what you put on film every snap and that’s the way we’ve got to kind of go in and think about it. Not about anything else but how we go about our business and play in the game. “
That thought process goes for the first year guys on the squad too. Florida played freshmen all over the field against UMass and McElwain expects more to play this week and do so at a high level.
“I think there will be a couple more this week that will jump in,” he said of the freshmen. “As we talked about earlier in the week, ‘OK now here’s the deal, you’re not a rookie now. You’ve played. You’ve come out of the tunnel. You’ve experienced a game in one of the greatest places in all of college football, The Swamp, in front of great fans. Now you can get an opportunity to do the same on national television. OK, no more excuses.’”