McElwain spoke to the Florida media on Monday and shared his optimism about what he saw on the practice field on Friday.
“Recapping Friday’s half-scrimmage, there were some really, really good performances and things that stood out, both good and bad, and yet it was the first time I’ve kind of seen’em fight through,” McElwain said. “They played hard throughout the scrimmage. I thought some guys that showed up defensively, I thought (redshirt sophomore defensive end) Jabari Zuniga is a guy who has really taken that next step. We all saw flashes of it a year ago, but I think he is turning into a dominant force on that defensive front. You know, along with other guys, but I think he’s a guy that has kind of just stood out a little bit as we go. (Redshirt sophomore linebacker) Kylan Johnson really got after it in his last scrimmage, really does some good things. It was good to see (sophomore defensive back) Chauncey Gardner is playing real well. He got beat on a really good throw and a pretty good catch Tyrie Cleveland made on him, but he bounced right back. He got a pick. Did a couple of good things. Secondary wise, the consistency of those safeties has been really good working together. (Senior cornerback) Duke Dawson is doing a really good job and really is comfortable back at corner. That’s been good.
McElwain is starting to really see some things with the offense and yet there are plenty of things to work on. Freshmen quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are in a real for the position this spring, both have had their moments.
“Offensively, both quarterbacks had some real explosive throws, and yet, I think our sense of urgency needs to pick up a little bit at that position,” McElwain said. “Got sloppy with the ball in the red area a couple of times. We’ve got to learn from those things and understand the importance of what we need to do down there. However, our production was actually pretty good in comparison to the past. That’s a good thing.
“They did a great job throwing the deep balls and we missed some intermediate seam throws. I thought that was good by the defense in their disguise and what they rolled to, I didn’t think our pre-snap was good. I think our post-game in some areas we missed some seams, inside seams that we should have been able to hit. Then we came back and corrected on Saturday and it was good I think to see them get it corrected, some things there. I was disappointed we threw an interception in the red area that can’t happen, absolutely not, so we’ve got to learn from that. Good play from the defense, but obviously we can’t do that - take away points. We have to do better at that.”
Red zone play has been an issue in the past and an area that they are working on thoroughly.
“That’s been obviously a point of emphasis for us,” McElwain said of the point on the field as you approach the end zone. “And the specific drills which we’ve… gone in and really focused more so on what needs to be accomplished for you to be successful. A lot of that has to do (with) what we’re doing up front, I’ve been real pleased with the production with that offensive line and understanding what we need to accomplish down there from that position to help us.”
There has been a steady six to seven guys in the rotation on the offensive line this spring. Center T.J. McCoy, guards Brett Heggie (also center), Tyler Jordan (also center), Nick Buchanan, and Fredrick Johnson (also tackle), along with tackles Jawaan Taylor and Martez Ivey have gotten a ton of reps with the first team. McElwain is pleased with their progress.
“The offensive line, the guys on the inside -- our tackles are playing good, don’t get me wrong at all, I’m happy with that, the expectation is there and they’re playing up to it -- I think we’re developing,” McElwain said. “Tyler Jordan… this was the first time I’ve seen him really engage and play throughout with a fire. T.J. was good. Brett Heggie is doing a really good job, along with Buchanan. I thought Fred took some big strides, both at guard and tackle. That’s a good thing. I was happy to see that.
Jordan has been a focus of McElwain during spring, but it isn’t an issue with effort, more along the lines of the tenacity he wants to see the junior guard play with.
“His effort’s been good,” McElwain said of the seasoned junior. “I’m not downplaying the effort. The aggressive nature at which you need to come off and not take a step backwards but a step forward, you know, things like that. Not playing catch, but really being the aggressor I guess more than anything. He does a really good job assignment wise. But like we saw in the scrimmage, I thought he took some real steps moving forward."
Receivers have one key area to work on.
“Had some drops,” McElwain said. “Uncharacteristic. I thought the receivers had drops in big situations, some third-down deals that we needed to do and, again, down in the red area. We’ve got to pick that piece up a little bit.
McElwain was asked if he wanted junior Jordan Scarlett to take charge of the starting spot at running back. He does, but they have to share the ball at the position.
“We’re looking for that, and yet we’re going to need all of them,” he said. “You’ve only got so many hits in your body at that position. Really everywhere we’ve been we’ve kind of done that, as far as being able to get guys in there and guys going and produce when their number’s called.”
Injury free scrimmage…
While there are several players out all spring not participating at all or only in non-contact drills, Friday’s hard hitting scrimmage had no real injuries to speak of.
“Really nothing new in or out,” McElwain said on the injury front. “I think that was a good thing because they got after it pretty good. We had a couple guys that get this hit and lay there and flop around on the ground for a while. They gotta understand that's just not how you do business… get your tail up and get back in there or get yourself to the sideline. I think sometimes they do that so they can get air time on TV. As I explained to them, there is no TV here. Get your tail up and go.”
Less than two weeks from the Orange and Blue Debut, Florida will have another heart week of practices to prepare.
“This week, again, we’re going to finish Friday with a full scrimmage,” McElwain said. “We’ll run some situational things and start to work in on some opponent periods as we’re moving forward this week.”