It really has been a crazy ride with all of the personnel issues the Florida offense has faced over the last two years. From the first spring when they had just six scholarship offensive linemen to the issues at quarterback that saw every signal caller on the roster when McElwain arrived disappear before year two, to the same thing at running back, to a receiver group that was all but completely devoid of talent.
It was an offensive unit that has undergone a total makeover in just two years and now they are hoping to see some of the benefits
“It’s a big difference,” Nussmeier earlier this week about year three. “When you look at the first two years how many young players we’ve played, the production we’ve had from young players and the moving pieces we’ve had in there at times. We had one guy that started basically the whole season last year for us (offensive tackle David Sharpe), that was it. Really excited about the group we have and them understanding what we’re trying to do and where we’re trying to go.
“Every season is a new season. We’ve won 19 games in two years. Obviously, every game you look at and say, ‘What can we do better? What do we want to do more of? What do we need to develop?’ Really feel good about the weapons we have and the ability to do some things up front. Being in year three and having some guys who have played in the first two seasons, true freshmen… you go and start true freshmen in this league, it’s a big learning curve for them. The overall big picture of where we’re headed and the guys understanding how we’re trying to accomplish it, I feel real good about it.”
There are several positions on offense that look to be part of the strength of this 2017 team. Wide receiver was likely the weakest unit when this staff arrived a couple of years ago. With talent like Antonio Callaway, Brandon Powell, Dre Massey, Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, and more, this unit is likely the best on the team in year three.
“We’re really starting to build a core of guys; you look at our perimeter players — our wide receivers are probably one of our deepest positions on our team,” Nussmeier said. “I really feel good about the way the line is starting to gel together, the depth at the running back position. Obviously we’re young at quarterback but I like the players that are in our system.”
"I feel good about our players. Like I said, I think that now in year three, we've played a lot of young players in the first two seasons. We have a lot of guys that have experience now. They've been in big games. We've won 19 games in two years. We've played in big games. We've played against great quality opponents. Playing in this league, you're not getting any layups, you know? So you've gotta come week in and week out, and that's hard with young players, and I think they've done a good job of understanding where we were at and where we've gotta go. And they understand the expectation, but I'm really excited about the group, the leadership that's coming from within that group and they're gelling together."
When you think that almost every receiver, running back, and quarterback that made a difference last year were recruited to Florida in the last two years, there should be an understanding of not only the youth and experience issues they were facing, but also an understanding that all of the playing time will now pay off.
“I feel really good about where we’re at from a speed standpoint of perimeter players,” Nussmeier said. “When you talk about Tyrie and you talk about Brandon Powell, and you know Antonio and those guys, and Josh Hammond and Freddie’s out right now, but we’ll get Freddie back. We’ve got some weapons. And like I said, excited about that group of tight ends run extremely well. So we’re really excited about that. And then the running backs, you know Jordan had a great year. I thought Jordan (Scarlett) last year was a guy that week in, week out, kind of became our bell cow. And he was a guy that brought toughness and energy every week. Lamical (Perine), a young player that played as a true freshman, really excited about him. I think Mark (Thompson)… consistency and finding that consistency, saw it in the bowl game, the big screen play… really tried to get him to step into that role and really take his game to another level.”
He is starting to see the youthfulness fade from his guys and they are maturing into players that are going to be able to step into roles and be comfortable with them in 2017.
"I think we play with confidence every day,” he said.
And now the quarterback position is the one that has to come along. Junior Luke Del Rio is out for the spring and will undergo minor shoulder surgery on his throwing arm this week. His status doesn’t look great for the fall. Two freshmen, Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are battling and they have zero experience playing the college game.
Early returns on the two are promising, but the 10 guys around the quarterbacks should help a great deal. Nussmeier and company can put a lot of effort in getting one position working at a higher level while the others help out. He’s not worried about the position undermining the production in 2017.
"No,” he said when asked if he was worried about the young signal callers holding back the offense. “Why should we? Last time I checked, greatness wasn't defined by age or experience."
Big spring for Callaway…
As much as he has produced for Florida in the last two years, some forget that junior Antonio Callaway hasn’t been on campus for a spring practice yet. He arrived in Junie his freshman year and last year he was suspended for the spring for a matter that was cleared up afterward.
The spring is a time to hit the details of the game as the fall is so compressed to prepare for the start of the season. Callaway can really refine some things and spend some time perfecting things he just hasn’t had the practice time to do so in his career so far.
Nussmeier has seen Callaway grow in areas and expects a lot more from him in 2017.
“His overall understanding of what it takes to be great, to be special,” he said as to how he’s grown. “And it’s not just being a fast guy than can make plays. It’s about ‘how I get open versus great players.’ His attention to detail has improved so much in the passing game. What people don’t really talk about, he didn’t really have an offseason last year. So this is his huge – to have him out here, to have him getting a full offseason where he can really work at honing his craft.”
New assistants help in opening up the offense…
The Gators look to include more of a spread look and a dual threat quarterback look to the offense in 2017. It won’t be a wholesale change, but add a wrinkle or two will help. New running back coach Ja’Juan Seider and offensive line coach Brad Davis were brought in with backgrounds in the dual threat quarterback style. Nussmeier is looking forward to working with them and knows they will bring some expertise to the field.
"I'm really excited about having both those guys,” he said. “I really feel good about those two guys. Ja’Juan coming from a little bit of a different system, and so is Brad. You know, they're both a little bit more spread guys. Have done a little more of that stuff. So just the ability to talk about some ideas they may have different from what we've done before and what they've done."