New Gators head coach Jim McElwain sounded like a motivational speaker last Friday.
The usual cliché football talk morphed into an inspirational speech for Florida’s much-maligned offense.
“Guys, there are some offensive pieces here, especially with some of these young guys,” McElwain said at the start of his press conference following the team’s first fall scrimmage. “Yet, we’ve got to get over the hump from the psychological standpoint. It’s OK to care. It’s OK to compete. It’s OK to get out there and just let it all happen.”
It has been a while since the Gators have had that free-flowing mentality on offense. Florida ranked 93rd in total offense and 53rd in scoring offense last season.
Previous years proved to be even worse, as the Gators ranked 113th in 2013, 103rd in 2012 and 105th in 2011 in total offense during the first three seasons of Will Muschamp’s four-year tenure as Florida’s head coach.
“I can’t speak for the past, but I do know this, they’re capable if they allow themselves to be,” McElwain said of Florida’s offense.
“At some point when you’re beat over the head so much, you end up thinking that you’re not worthy. Everybody boos them. It’s like, ‘What about these guys?’ You guys write it, so I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. And yet at the same time when you hear it over and over and over, then all of the sudden you think it’s true. Well, I’m telling you this, it doesn’t have to be that way.”
McElwain might be right in that it doesn’t have to be that way. But the expectations surrounding the unit aren’t much higher than they have been in recent years.
“You sort of stay focused on what you do in the rooms, but there’s not a lot of people expecting a lot from us,” Florida tight end Jake McGee said. “That’s something that you put in the back of your head and build on it.”
The Gators haven’t picked a starting quarterback yet with Will Grier and Treon Harris still competing for the job. There’s uncertainty surrounding the offensive line with four starters lost to this year’s NFL draft, and Florida will have to rely on running back-turned-wide receiver Brandon Powell to be one of its top play makers at a position he never has permanently played before this year.
However, there is renewed hope with McElwain at the helm. The offensive guru knows what he’s doing, as he was Alabama’s offensive coordinator during a two-national title run from 2008 to 2011, and built Colorado State into the 18th ranked unit in total offense last season as the team’s head coach.
“It’s definitely more difficult to stop our offense now than it was the past couple of years,” Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis said of practicing against the group. “Now, you have to make some reads and really get to your spot because the offense can really hurt us.”
The offense’s improvement is noticeable, but penalties, turnovers and dropped passes in practice seem to bring back bad memories from the past few seasons. McElwain said the unit is still working to develop “a short memory.”
The offensive players believing in the scheme and themselves is the first step.
“Part of that is the understanding that you’re allowed to be great,” McElwain said. “You’re allowed to. You’re not a second-class situation. You’re allowed to actually invest in yourself and go make plays at a million miles an hour.”