Going into the 2015 season, the Florida football team had no idea how it would fare against tough SEC competition with a first-year head coach attempting to rebuild the team.
One year later, they’re looking to replicate this past season, and they want to make sure that the man who orchestrated it all gets his benefits.
It was announced that football coach Jim McElwain received a $750,000 raise for the upcoming season, making him the highest paid head coach within the SEC East. One year after leading a team which was quarterback-deprived through the majority of the year to a 10-4 record and an SEC East Division title, McElwain is happy that a team believes in his team building approach. He says that the amount of confidence the university has given him really helps the team overall.
Now, he must continue to help this Gator team thrive.
With the first scrimmage in the books, there were multiple things to look at. Many questions have yet to be answered. How secure is the position at wide receiver? Who’s the leading candidate for the quarterback position? How can the team fill the voids left by so many potential NFL draft picks?
While not all answers could be found so early, there is finally some on-the-field work to start clarifying these questions.
The wide receiver position continues to be thin, with injuries to Dre Massey, Ahmad Fulwood, and Brandon Powell. With the suspension of star receiver Antonio Callaway, the position was extremely thin coming into the scrimmage. However, McElwain says that guys such as Alvin Bailey, who caught three passes for 49 yards in 2015, were able to capitalize on the opportunity of getting reps. McElwain also said that young receivers Joshua Hammond and Freddie Swain were able showcase their abilities in the scrimmage as well. This may not clear up how the position will look in the latter portions of the year, but it does give some much needed reps to guys who can play roles for the team and add depth.
As for the quarterback position, there seems to be no clear cut front runner, as McElwain says that all of the signal callers had some good and bad. Speculation around the team has transfer sophomore Luke Del Rio as the favorite to win the starting job for Week 1, but its far too early to tell what any of the players can actually do. Both freshmen Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks are much bigger than Del Rio, standing at 6’4″ and 6’6″ respectively. This extra size can do nothing but help the young players, although their lack of overall experience could push Del Rio over the cusp. While he hasn’t played a snap for the Gators, he has been around the team for far longer than both Trask and Franks, coming in as a transfer from Oregon State before last season and watching the offense at work. There is also a belief that starting a freshman quarterback wont help a team that wishes to win games now.
With the NFL Draft taking away key talent, the Gators will have to find leadership in new players. According to McElwain, this could be found in defensive lineman Bryan Cox. The current senior, who totaled 45 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles last season, will look to become one of the alpha dogs both on the field and in the locker room. Departures from Antonio Morrison, Jonathan Bullard and Keanu Neal on defense will push players such as Cox and senior linebacker Jarrad Davis into a leadership position.
With a lot of time on their hands, the Gators are in no rush to name clear cut starters or give accurate predictions to how this team will play. However McElwain says he is happy for the entire organization. There is room to grow, and as spring progresses, the Gators hope that they can provide excitement and hype to their upcoming season with a strong scrimmage performance on April 8th in the Orange and Blue game.