GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jim McElwain has been Florida’s head coach for three months now.
The first month was transitional, as D.J. Durkin prepared the Gators for the Birmingham Bowl and McElwain worked on building his staff. The second month was a frenzy spent mostly on the recruiting trail. Over the past month, McElwain has finally settled in and got to know more about his new team.
As the Gators prepare for the start of spring practice on Monday, McElwain is pleased at the progress they have made during offseason workouts under strength and conditioning director Mike Kent, who came with McElwain from Colorado State.
"It’s a big time," he said Tuesday. "First and foremost, I want to say I’ve been really happy with the enthusiasm in which our guys have kind of attacked what we’re asking them to do.
"We’ve got some hungry Gators out there, some guys that have really bought into a lot of things we’re trying to accomplish."
Following a three-year stint at Colorado State where he went 22-16, McElwain’s impact at Florida is already being felt behind the scenes.
McElwain has bulked up the football program’s support staff with several hires, adding significant depth beyond the coaches and administrative personnel.
John Garrett, a veteran coach and brother of Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, recently joined the program as a quality control assistant. Garrett was Oregon State’s offensive coordinator last season.
Mark DeBastiani, a longtime assistant coach at Norfolk State, was recently hired as a quality control specialist.
Former Cincinnati assistant Marc Nudelberg, former USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell and former Southwest Missouri State offensive line coach Jeremy Darveau have also joined the program recently in quality control positions.
Meanwhile, former UF graduate assistant Andy Belluomini has moved into a quality control position. The Gators’ four graduate assistants heading into spring are Duke Lemmens (a former UF defensive lineman), Justin Hinds, Christian Pace and James Rowe.
"We’ve been really fortunate to attract some, I think, outstanding talent and guys that are going to be able to help this program move forward," McElwain said. "We did the same thing at the place we just came from and it helped us be successful."
The Gators enter spring camp with several players nursing injuries from last season and unable to participate.
The most notable is starting linebacker Antonio Morrison, who led the team in tackles and suffered an injury in the Birmingham Bowl. Linebacker Jarrad Davis (knee) and defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. (hip) are also expected to miss spring.
Meanwhile, tight end Jake McGee, who recently was granted a sixth year of eligibility after suffering a broken leg in the first half of the first game last season, is running with the team during offseason workouts.
McElwain said McGee is able to participate in drills this spring but will not be involved in live action.
THURMAN TO REST
The biggest news to come from McElwain’s press conference Tuesday was that fifth-year senior offensive lineman Trip Thurman will not participate in spring practice.
Thurman started 10 games last season and is the most experienced lineman on the roster. However, a chronic shoulder injury continues to plague Thurman and put his playing future in jeopardy.
"He’s still with the team," McElwain said. "That shoulder is such that if we can get an eight-month cycle off of it, then maybe we’re able to piece some things together with him next fall."
With Thurman unavailable this spring, redshirt sophomore Roderick Johnson is the most experienced of Florida’s seven scholarship offensive line. Johnson started three games last season.
SPRING GAME FORMAT
With a shortage at offensive line and linebacker, McElwain joked that the Gators might have to play an Arena League-style spring game in the O’Connell Center.
While the game will take place at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, McElwain is contemplating what format the Gators will use in the annual Orange & Blue Debut on April 11.
"We’ll probably look at having a more traditional offensive and defensive scoring system and obviously within that some pure red-area competition, overtime competition," he said. "But I really don’t have that answer now until we see where we are 15 practices from now."
The University Athletic Association is close to finalizing details of a Gator Weekend to coincide with the spring game. More details are expected to be released soon.
ON THE MOVE
If you have been on campus lately, you know the Gators’ regular practice fields are currently a construction site where the program’s new indoor practice facility is being built.
McElwain said the Gators will practice this spring on the lacrosse and soccer fields. All practices are closed to the public. They will also use The Swamp on occasion for scrimmages and practices.
Once the indoor practice facility is complete the team will have two full-length grass fields to practice on outside. The shorter artificial turf field the team has used is being expanded and made it a natural grass field. In need of additional space, the project will use the space where the track team’s throwing pit is currently located.
The nomadic practice arrangements will be a challenge the next few months.
"That’s going to be a little bit different, and yet, improvise, adapt and overcome. That’s what it’s really all about," McElwain said. "You don’t worry about the hand you’re dealt; you worry about how you attack it moving forward."
QUOTE OF NOTE I
"We’re not putting a timeline on the starting quarterback. When it’s time we’ll name that." — McElwain on looming battle between Treon Harris and Will Grier.
QUOTE OF NOTE II
"He’s really attacking his rehab, a big lift to us. Here’s a guy, he doesn’t miss meetings. He’s out there at practice doing everything he can do. That’s really good to see." — McElwain on Antonio Morrison.