Gator Coach McElwain Discusses Discipline, Quarterback Race, Injury Updates
By GatorZone.com // August 23, 2015
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA (Gatorzone.com) – More than once since the Gators opened preseason camp, a player has been told to get off the field and stay off by head coach Jim McElwain.
One of McElwain’s pet peeves is an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.
“If that’s the way you’re going to act, go sit on the bench,” McElwain said. “Those are the unforced errors that have been the Achilles’ heel for a long time around here. I’m tired of it.”
McElwain kicked a defensive player out of Friday night’s scrimmage for a penalty that would have cost the Gators 15 yards in a game.
Florida was the third-most penalized team in the Southeastern Conference a season ago and, prior to last season, was the most penalized team over the previous five seasons.
McElwain has stressed the importance of reducing penalties and playing smart to the Gators since he took over the program.
“The first day we met him,” junior defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. said. “Get penalties and you don’t play.”
McElwain’s Colorado State team last season ranked 75th in the country in penalties; Florida was 41st.
Alabama is usually among the league’s least-penalized teams and during McElwain’s four seasons as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator, he undoubtedly learned from the disciplined approach enforced by Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
The Gators are adjusting to the new approach.
“There’s a line Coach Mac drew,” sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “There’s a line, then there’s being selfish. You made a play, you made a play. Celebrate with your teammates, [but] not getting all loud, doing dances, getting a flag, personal foul.
“There’s gonna be some PIs, some holdings, you know, aggressive plays, but when you get the false starts, the offsides — the crazy penalties that shouldn’t happen.”
While McElwain has made his point clear in team meetings and occasionally on the practice field such as Friday, there has been progress.
The players want to play and the more disciplined approach helps them stay on the field.
“Those have been few and far between,” he said. “I’m happy to say that. Those are some of the teachable moments that we have along the way that we need to be a disciplined outfit.”
Is the message hitting home?
Cox has seen a more disciplined team in camp.
ABOVE VIDEO: One-on-One withCam Dillard. (Florida Gators Video)
“It’s definitely clear,” he said. “We cleaned up. It’s been better than today, but we’re definitely working toward a good common goal.”
The Gators face a different kind of challenge starting Monday.
The team has the day off as they transition from the summer to the fall semester, which means the arrival of thousands of students who have been away while the Gators worked out over the summer on a relatively quiet campus.
McElwain has talked to the players about the importance of staying focused amidst the distractions of a crowded campus.
“You know, it’s hard, I can’t be there every second to protect them,” McElwain said. “It’s about making the right choices. And we talked constantly about it, it also is not OK to be a bystander, if someone is acting a fool, get ‘em out of there, right.
“I mean these guys are still 18-year-olds that are away from home the first time as well. We talk about it a lot obviously and yet, when you go back, it’s really about the team rule, do what’s right and you got a chance of probably being successful in life.”
Will Grier and Treon Harris continue to compete to become Florida’s starting quarterback in the season opener on Sept. 5 against New Mexico State.
Both took reps in Friday’s scrimmage. The same might happen in the opener, too.
“I think that’s invaluable. You try to put them in some of those situations where you kind of take the colored jersey off a little bit and yet you’ve got to kind of be careful with that as well,” McElwain said Friday.
“We’ll be OK if we go into it and kind of play and go from there and see who plays under the lights the best.”
The Gators entered the 2012 season with a similar approach with Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett in a battle for the job. Both played in the opener as Driskel eventually was named the starter and Florida finished 11-2 in Will Muschamp’s best season.
Meanwhile, Brissett later transferred to North Carolina State where he is currently the starter.
Harris had a touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson on Friday against Tabor, who offered the same advice to both quarterbacks.
“I just tell them don’t throw at me. That’s the best advice I can give them,” he quipped.
“I told them that before the scrimmage. They threw me one pick but I also got scored on so I’ve got to clean that up. I like being tested. It makes me a better player.”
Safety Keanu Neal left Friday’s scrimmage with a leg injury according to McElwain. The injury is not believed to be serious and Neal tweeted “I’m good” late Friday night for the enquiring minds.
Meanwhile, tight end Jake McGee missed time with a sore foot. McElwain said the most serious injury appeared to be freshman defensive back Kylan Johnson, who suffered a lower-body injury that forced him from practice.
McElwain did not have a diagnosis on Johnson immediately after Friday’s scrimmage but said the freshman from Skyline High in Dallas has performed well.
“KC was having a great camp and we’ll see kind of where that is with his leg, but as we go, some of these guys are going to have to take more reps moving forward,” McElwain said.
ABOVE VIDEO: Coach McElwain speaks to the students. (Florida Gators Video)