Jim McElwain’s Gators opened fall practice yesterday, and though there were things to like here and there, the Gators as a whole suffered from… well, the things you expect to go wrong in a first practice.
Most of the mistakes came from the players involved in the weakest part of the team last year: the passing game.
DeMarcus Robinson dropped a pass, causing offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to restart the passing drill they were doing all over again. LaTroy Pittman also dropped a pass during that same drill. And WR coach Kerry Dixon exploded at Ryan Sousa for not hustling during a kickoff coverage drill. But some of the mistakes came from one of two guys competing for the right the deliver the ball, too. Treon Harris had an off day, to say the least. In the air routes drill (no defenders, just QB’s and WR’s working on their timing and routes), Harris made at least six bad throws, two of them one hoppers into the turf.
Naturally, McElwain isn’t too happy. He’s made it clear that he expects it to get better, and that the overall effort needs to improve. “I’m probably more critical because there’s no reason to me you should ever drop a ball on routes on air. And likewise, there’s no reason to me that you should ever miss the throw on routes on air. It’s… on air. There’s nobody else out there.
But while the receivers struggled, and one of the two QB’s struggled, the other QB had a great first practice (at least in the open practice portion). Will Grier was on fire for most of the open portion, displaying both his strong arm and accuracy. He did overthrow Pittman once, but not by so much that Pittman couldn’t adjust and catch the ball anyway (he didn’t). He also displayed the ability to hit some safety valves, which is harder than it may sound for a guy who operates like a wild chain machine gun. And putting the ball right on the money, so the check down receiver catches it in full stride and doesn’t have to slow down or otherwise alter his running to catch the ball, could translate into a 50 yard gain in a real game.
McElwain refused to praise Grier directly, but did say he was happy with both quarterbacks’ command of the offense, noting that they picked up right where they left off in the spring.
So, OK, all in all, that sounds good. Florida’s first practice featured the mistakes you have to figure teams will make in their first practice, but Grier had a nice day, which was a pleasant surprise. Yes, Grier seems to be in the lead for the starting job, but to see him just take command so quickly like that was definitely an encouraging sign. And you have to expect McElwain to ride his team hard early on, because extensively raving about them could lead to complacency.
All things considered, it was a good first practice. But as McElwain says, each day you can get better or worse. What’s it going to be today?