Five questions as Gators football camp approaches
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Once the groundwork was finished and the foundation laid, the Florida football team’s new indoor practice facility began to rise higher and higher each week throughout the summer.
The job is on schedule to be completed in time for the Gators to move in soon.
The Gators hope to experience a similar ascension under head coach Jim McElwain.
The Gators report for their first fall camp under McElwain a week from today and begin practice Aug. 6 in preparation for the Sept. 5 season opener against New Mexico State.
"Every time we wake up, our responsibility is to try and go out there and win,” McElwain said. "That’s really what it’s all about. We’ve got a ways to go, and yet there are some good things in place."
McElwain takes over a program that is 37-26 the past five seasons, a significant drop from the 57-10 record (and two national titles) from 2005-09.
What are the major questions as camp approaches?
Here is a look at five that, depending on the answers, will likely go a long way in determining what kind of season the Gators have in their first season under McElwain.
CAN WILL GRIER OR TREON HARRIS TURN AROUND FLORIDA’S FORTUNES AT QUARTERBACK?
Since Tim Tebow took his final snap for the Gators in the Sugar Bowl to cap a 13-1 season in 2009, the Gators have used eight different quarterbacks in five seasons. The musical chairs behind center must end for Florida to compete regularly for SEC titles. McElwain’s background as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has produced results during his career. First, he must find out if Grier or Harris is the team’s starting quarterback in 2015.
WHO WILL FILL THE VOID LEFT BY DANTE FOWLER JR.’S DEPARTURE?
It’s never an easy task to replace a player selected third overall in the NFL Draft. However, the Gators have a strong mix of veterans and young players on the defensive line to have a solid unit without Fowler harassing opposing quarterbacks. That group includes Jonathan Bullard, Alex McCalister, Bryan Cox Jr., Joey Ivie and Caleb Brantley. Taven Bryan and newcomer Cece Jefferson could also factor into the equation.
DOES THE OFFENSIVE LINE HAVE ENOUGH BODIES FOR A LIVE SCRIMMAGE?
McElwain has joked he might have to play on the offensive line based on the depth chart in the spring. Fortunately for him, a batch of newcomers arrived over the summer to boost the group’s numbers. Freshman Martez Ivey is a player everyone is talking about as a potential star, and graduate transfer Mason Halter is a much-needed addition who provides some experience after starting the last three seasons at Fordham. Also, fifth-year senior Trip Thurman, who has 12 career starts, is ready after missing spring camp due to a chronic shoulder injury. Who knows what the starting lineup and rotation will look like by the season opener, but at least the 53-year-old McElwain or any pizza delivery guys won’t have to take the field.
WHAT IMPACT WILL JAKE MCGEE HAVE ON THE OFFENSE?
McGee was touted as an important addition last season in former offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s no-huddle offense. McGee was a dangerous threat at Virginia and opted to transfer to Florida for graduate school and a final season of college football. Well, he played all of nine snaps before suffering a broken leg that ended his season. McGee was granted a medical hardship and sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and is fully recovered. A talented tight end as a safety valve underneath is usually a good thing to have for an inexperienced quarterback. In McGee’s case, he has the speed and athleticism to stretch the field too. If Florida’s offense improves significantly, look for McGee to have some nice numbers at the end of the season.
WHO IS GOING TO STEP UP AT LINEBACKER UNTIL ANTONIO MORRISON IS READY?
McElwain recently stated that Morrison, injured the the Birmingham Bowl, is not fully recovered from offseason surgery and won’t be ready at the start of camp. That leaves Jarrad Davis, Alex Anzalone, Jeremi Powell and Daniel McMillian as the team’s most experienced linebackers with the loss of starters Neiron Ball and Michael Taylor from a season ago. Matt Rolin, who has missed the past two seasons due to injury, also returns. Linebackers coach Randy Shannon is very good at what he does, so this group has a proven teacher. He hopes he has some quick learners.
- Alex McCalister
- Bryan Cox
- Caleb Brantley
- Dante Fowler Jr.
- Florida Gators
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- Jake McGee
- Joey Ivie
- Jonathan Bullard
- Taven Bryan
- Treon Harris
- Trip Thurman
- Will Grier