Defending SEC East Division champion Florida got its turn in front of the cameras and microphones Monday during the first day of SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama. And not surprisingly, many of the questions coach Jim McElwain and his Gators players faced were related to the team’s offense.
Florida managed to win 10 games in 2015 despite ranking 11th in the conference in scoring and 12th in yards per game. The offense went into a major backslide after quarterback Will Grier was suspended by the NCAA in mid-October for a failed drug test, with the Gators averaging 16.5 points and 296 yards over their final eight games.
A three-game skid to end the season put a sour note on the overall season, with Florida managing just 24 points in that span.
“I’m very disappointed in how we finished,” McElwain told reporters on the SEC Network broadcast of SEC Media Days. “Not something we’re proud of or something we take very lightly. Learning from that, it will be interesting to see how this team responds. Looking forward to seeing what this team is all about.”
There’s an ongoing competition to determine the starting quarterback, with two true freshmen (Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask) and two transfers (Purdue graduate Austin Appleby and ex-Alabama/Oregon State passer Luke Del Rio) battling for the job. The winner will be working behind an offensive line that was a major weakness a year ago, allowing 45 sacks in 14 games.
McElwain noted that playing three true freshmen on the line contributed to the struggles but that it should also help this year in terms of experience and expectations. He’d ideally like to have a rotation of nine guys to shuffle through the five line spots, with versatility needed across the board.
To that end, sophomore Martez Ivey—who was the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the 2015 recruiting class—is being worked at guard heading into this season, per Zach Abolverdi of SEC Country.
“Our offensive line play has got to get better,” McElwain said.
Much of how Florida operates on offense might depend on whether it has a full assortment of wide receivers to work with. For now, that’s still very uncertain.
Antonio Callaway and Treon Harris, suspended since January for unspecified reasons, remain in a state of limbo as far as their status with the football program. McElwain said the duo are enrolled in school and “using the academic center and working out,” but beyond that, nothing has been resolved.
“There’s not really a timetable on that,” he said.
Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports noted McElwain said it’s “out of his hands” about whether the duo will be on the roster for 2016.
Callaway led the Gators with 678 receiving yards last year as a freshman, his four touchdown catches tying for the team lead. Harris, who was switched from quarterback in the winter, threw for 1,676 yards and nine TDs while rushing for 238 yards last season. He also caught a TD pass in Florida’s 41-7 loss to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl.
If neither player is available this season, Florida’s top returning pass-catcher will be junior Brandon Powell, who had 29 receptions for 390 yards three TDs in 2015.
As previously referenced, Florida won the SEC East and played in its first conference title game since 2009. Yet a high percentage of questions posed to McElwain, offensive lineman David Sharpe, linebacker Jarrad Davis and safety Marcus Maye were in reference to other teams.
Beyond the expected queries about reigning SEC and national champion Alabama, the Gators were asked about East Division foes Georgia and Tennessee, West contender Ole Miss (whom Florida beat in 2015 but doesn’t play this past season) and even in-state rival Florida State.
The Gator contingency deftly handled these inquiries, with McElwain saying he wished new Georgia coach Kirby Smart was in “another division somewhere” and giving props to FSU for the state championship rings it gave to its players by virtue of going 3-0 against other Florida teams in 2015.
“They won it, so why wouldn’t you?” McElwain said. “That’s a hell of a deal.”
But it wasn’t all humility and diplomacy. Davis made the most of an opportunity to throw shade at Tennessee:
Florida has won 11 straight games against Tennessee, including last year’s come-from-behind 28-27 win in Knoxville. The Gators and Volunteers meet in Gainesville, Florida, on Sept. 24 in a matchup that figures to go a long way toward deciding the SEC East.
SEC media days have become an unofficial offshoot of New York’s famed Fashion Week, with last year’s edition featuring discussions on footwear and other clothing items. Through one day in 2016, the biggest apparel topic seems to be about socks—or the lack thereof.
McElwain is apparently not a fan of wearing them. He told ESPN’s Mark Schlabach that even his daughter’s upcoming wedding won’t change his aversion to socks:
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Source: Bleacher Report CFB