Without them being healthy just yet, Jim McElwain couldn’t name the players that would be available, but knowing somewhat of the severity we can conjure a guess as to those that can return.
“We should have a core group of those guys back,” he said. “Obviously a couple of those surgeries are ones that won’t return and yet we should be back and really be able to put a full squad out there. Meeting with our team today, they were excited to go because they heard great things about the bowl there. Playing a team that is on a roll right now is a good thing.”
The list of players that should fit the healthy bill by bowl time should be quarterback Luke Del Rio, receiver CJ. Worton, offensive linemen Martez Ivey and Fred Johnson, defensive lineman Bryan Cox, linebackers Jarrad Davis and Daniel McMillian, and defensive backs Duke Dawson and Nick Washington.
McElwain did say that Del Rio isn’t quite back yet, but that intimated he is getting there.
“I’ve been pretty open about it,” he said. “I made a mistake putting him out there in the Arkansas game, but realizing how bad it was. It is obviously getting better, but that is still to be determined.
The practice schedule will get a slow start, which is usual for bowl practices that are limited to 15 anyway.
“This week, we’re a little bit unique because we actually had an extra week of practice for playing in the SEC Championship Game,” McElwain said. “This week will be heavy body recovery time and obviously getting ready for finals, which start next week. We’ll do some things in no pads toward the end of this week. Then we’ll crack down on finals, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (of next week).We’ll start back up and get some practices in on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. We’ll come back and get about four more practices in starting that Monday. Give the kids a break for Christmas, get to Tampa and get ready to go.”
McElwain has stated the importance of winning the bowl game with Iowa. A year ago, the Gators were embarrassed to the tune of 41-7 by Michigan in Orlando. He expects a different attitude from his team.
“Any time you win, that’s why you go,” he said. “You don’t go for a participation ribbon. I’m not sure a year ago we didn’t have some guys in there looking for a participation ribbon. That’s a player message and this is a different team. The group of seniors and even the ones that are banged up, they’re excited to help our guys get ready, and we’ll be excited to go play.”
“It speaks volumes about each person’s character that was involved in that event,” McElwain said echoing back to last year’s debacle. “I can speak personal and inside, I was embarrassed and yet, it happens and happens in a lot of programs. But, this is one that they have to understand they are representing the Gators and that means it is different. I felt that in today’s meeting (from his current players).
These practices are also a good chance to get a closer look at some young guys on the team that have been working on the scout team and haven’t had a lot of work with the first or second team.
“It’s an opportunity for you to get some of those young guys who have been doing a great job for you on even some of the scout stuff,” he said. “We’ll get them prepared as we move forward as a program looking at the following year, and yet staying sharp with the guys that are going to play is very important.
“Anybody in this business will tell you that these 15 days that you get to practice really help your program and if you aren’t able to do that, it sets your program back a little bit.”
He’s also confident the older guys are going to be there this month pushing the younger and less experienced players.
“This morning’s team meeting obviously was met with a lot of different emotions, but one of the overriding emotions was that we were able to say that this is a place where we would go and the opportunity to play a Big Ten opponent was something we could see they were looking forward to.
“I have told them over and over that I really like this football team. They’ve committed to a higher standard and are excited to get back to work when we get back off the road.”