The first spring game in the era of a new head coach is always one to look forward to — especially when he’s replacing a particularly unsuccessful (to put it nicely) one.
The lead up Saturday’s Orange and Blue Debut in The Swamp was just that. It was a fresh start, our first look at the future, and the first of hopefully many Orange and Blue games under Jim McElwain.
Except…it sort of wasn’t. To sum up the Orange team’s 31-6 ‘victory’ in one word would be a difficult task. It wasn’t disappointing, but it wasn’t necessarily encouraging. It wasn’t forgettable, but far from memorable. It wasn’t exactly what you wished to see, but there was plenty to be excited about.
It was Jim McElwain’s first showing as head coach of the Gators — the band was there, former players from recent years and the 90’s were among the crowd, and we saw two talented young quarterbacks compete with each other. It was a great day in The Swamp.
The number one question on the collective minds of Gator Nation was certainly focused on the debut of quarterback Will Grier. Grier didn’t disappoint. In fact, I thought it was an impressive performance considering this is our first time seeing the highly touted quarterback in action.
Grier completed 7 of 9 passes for 130 yards, which is nice, but what impressed me the most was his body language throughout the game. It really is a huge component of the position as the leader of the team, and something Florida has lacked in its previous quarterbacks besides Treon Harris. When Jeff Driskel was leading the offense a year ago, you could tell you were looking at a guy who knew he was possibly a snap away from being yanked. That’s the way Driskel played and that’s part of what doomed his career at Florida.
Grier, who’s battling for the starting spot against a more proven player, showed confidence on every down. Granted, the circumstances will always be different when the fall comes, but I was pleased with the way Grier led the offense.
And that is not to say he out-shined counterpart Treon Harris by any means. Harris has shown poise in his career thus far at Florida and, more importantly, the ability to win ballgames.
There isn’t much to comment on his performance because we knew what we’d get with Harris, except for he was good, too. His 24-yard completion to Valdez Showers was one of the best connections of the day. Showers, who’s made a career at Florida by making one big catch or run every seven or eight games, is an effective player when the ball is in his hands.
Speaking of which, have I mentioned Demarcus Robinson yet? The junior receiver had a great showing as expected — he’s clearly Florida’s best offensive player and its greatest scoring threat. Unfortunately, he may be Florida’s only threat at receiver. Ahmad Fulwood, who turned heads in the Gators’ bowl victory over East Carolina, was targeted zero times in Saturday’s game. For this team to become a serious contender in the SEC, more players in the pass-catching-department need to emerge. Fulwood is one of those players.
With that said, WR Brandon Powell and TE Jake McGee were among several Gators who were sidelined due to injury. Florida’s offense showed it likes to target tight ends early and often — McGee can thrive in that role if healthy and Powell should become a familiar, do-it-all target this fall.
Offensive line…it is an absolute mess and a depleted group as of now. News that sophomore OT Rod Johnson may never play football again — while obviously an issue that concerns the health and well-being of Johnson first — is salt in an open wound. Johnson suffered a stinger in practice on April 3 which has turned from bad to worse.
Update: Johnson diagnosed with congenital cervical stenosis, ending career at UF.
Starting center, Trip Thurman, missed the game due to a nagging shoulder injury — he’ll remain questionable until fall camp begins. With the loss of Johnson and Thurman, Florida was left with six scholarship offensive linemen. Six true freshman, including Tyler Jordan out of Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, will join the team in the summer. I spoke with Jordan briefly during halftime, and he told me is looking forward to competing and contributing. These freshman will grow up quick in 2015 and will be counted on early and often.
Bottom Line & Quick Hits
It’s a spring game. It’s the first live action for the team under McElwain and it’s about seeing how players react and perform under live scenarios. Maybe you thought the offense didn’t look so good. If that is your opinion, I won’t argue. With that said, Florida’s defense has the potential to make a lot of offenses look bad in 2015. The defensive unit has its share injuries and depth issues, but the starting 11 is loaded with speed, confidence, and experience. The defense will force turnovers and make every game winnable just like seasons before — only now, the offense will be guided under a coach who knows how to take a shot at the jugular.
Kelvin Taylor was solid in his performance. He appears to be a bit bigger and faster than last year.
Daniel McMillian, Matt Rolin, and Alex Anzalone will all have roles at the linebacker position. Those three are covered in potential and all have multiple seasons with the program under their belt.
Austin Hardin will be a dependable kicker in 2015. He seemed to come on late in the season last year, and I expect him to be much improved come fall.
Will Grier will be Florida’s quarterback. Once again, that’s not a knock on Treon Harris. Both players can lead the team to victory and Harris has already proven so. It might be McElwain’s nature to pick one guy (which looks like Grier now) and stick with him throughout the season, but I wouldn’t be discouraged to see Harris under center at all.
The McElwain era has begun and it feels right. That’s all I can say despite not seeing a whole lot from the spring game on the field. The Gators will head into summer knowing exactly what they have and I expect to see a confident team in August.