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SEC Media Days 2017: The sound and fury from Florida’s stay in Hoover

Breaking news: The Gators will start “a quarterback.”

The Florida Gators got their turn in the spotlight today at the 2017 SEC Football Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.

Florida head coach Jim McElwain, senior defensive back Duke Dawson, redshirt senior safety Marcell Harris, and junior offensive lineman Martez Ivey stepped in front of microphones this afternoon to answer inquiries about Florida’s upcoming season.

Below you’ll find some of today’s noteworthy nuggets.

Mum’s the word on Antonio Callaway

News: The story regarding Florida’s top receiving target is that there really is no new news. Junior wide receiver Antonio Callaway was cited for marijuana possession earlier this year, and McElwain was, of course, asked about the status of his star wideout, but declined to address Callaway’s availability for Florida’s opener with Michigan.

Opinion: A source close to the program told Alligator Army earlier this offseason that it was unlikely Callaway will face a suspension in the wake of that citation. But McElwain saying that Callaway is “going through some things” is a pretty good hint that he’s serving some sort of internal punishment, possibly to include abiding by provisions of Florida’s drug policy for student-athletes.

James Robinson has “NCAA” to deal with

News: The four-star wide receiver was the only member of Florida’s 2017 recruiting class to not report to campus and enroll for the start of Summer B. McElwain explained that Robinson’s absence is due to an “NCAA” issue. You may recall that Robinson’s road to Florida was a bumpy and sometimes bewildering one, with the Gators pulling back from recruiting him after he was cited for marijuana possession on his visit to Ohio State — only to have McElwain fight to include him in the class after all, making for a surprising Signing Day coup.

Opinion: The NCAA being involved in Robinson’s case means that he’s either dealing with eligibility issues related to amateurism or academics. In Robinson’s case, given that he’s not enrolled, what’s far more likely is the latter, and that Robinson is trying to get clearance to enroll from the NCAA Clearinghouse, something that could be accomplished by raising his grades with summer classes or retaking the SAT and/or ACT.

Robinson could be a contributor this fall if he can enroll, but missing the Summer B semester will put him at a disadvantage both on the practice field and in the classroom at Florida if and when he does ultimately enroll. Time with the team in offseason activities and good grades earned in summer classes — the most structured environment available as an introduction to university learning for athletes — are key to most players’ careers.

McElwain believes Florida’s OL is team’s strength

News: McElwain is “fired up” about the Gators’ offensive line. He explained that for the first time in his Florida tenure he doesn’t feel like the Gators are reaching or trying to find bodies to plug into the unit. He believes that the O-line is the group which has come the farthest since his first year. SEC Network analyst Booger McFarland predicted that the Gators will have the best line in the conference this year.

Opinion: Given the dire state of the offensive line in McElwain’s first year, it would be natural to peg that unit as the most improved, despite it not really being a strength of the team consistently during the time since that inaugural season. The Gators’ offensive line group is under new leadership with Brad Davis, and could certainly take a much balleyhooed step forward this year.

Malik Zaire adds wrinkle to quarterback competition

News: This offseason Florida acquired the services of Notre Dame transfer QB Malik Zaire. McElwain noted that the Gators are now up to the number and scholarship count that he wants in the quarterback room. Florida’s head coach is not just pleased about adding options to his roster, he also spoke warmly about Zaire’s personality and work ethic.

Opinion: Zaire brings added competition to the position group. After spring, it seemed rather clear that Feleipe Franks would get the start for the Gators this fall, but with Zaire on board, it remains to be seen how the contest will shake out. For what it’s worth, the SEC Network analyst desk was unanimous in declaring Zaire the presumptive starter. It remains to be seen whether the addition of Zaire will turn out to be a good thing for Florida or not, but the run-up to the first snap this season is certain to again be dramatic.

The LSU Homecoming scheduling isn’t big news — for the most part

News: Though the news of Florida scheduling LSU for Homecoming was met with smirks from Gator fans, McElwain stated repeatedly that he has no say in the date selection of Florida’s homecoming games, and was only informed that this year’s opponent was LSU once he returned from vacation in Montana. (He also took what could easily be construed as a veiled shot at Florida’s administration by comparing that to Nick Saban’s situation at Alabama.) A slightly annoyed McElwain noted that he had been hearing about that choice all day long at Media Days and “loved” the fact that the media thought that it was “news.”

Opinion: It makes perfect sense for Florida to have selected LSU, given the recent history of the rivalry and very recent animosities between the programs. What better way to guarantee a rabid and raucous crowd that will be utterly involved in the Gators’ recrudescence?

But it also makes perfect sense that representatives from both programs at Media Days would downplay this.

McElwain is no fan of shark photo jokes

News: Naturally, McElwain is sick of hearing about this nonsense. In the event you don’t know what nonsense I am referring to, earlier this spring a photo circulated the internet that showed a naked man astride a dead shark on a boat. That man bore a resemblance to McElwain. When being asked about this again today — despite his involvement being thoroughly debunked — McElwain’s exasperation was apparent.

Opinion: We’ve made our thoughts on this clear: The story is stupid, and it’s a shame that McElwain has been made to repeatedly answer questions about it, two months after denying his involvement and making his frustration with it crystal clear.

But, hey, asking the question again guarantees a story — whether it’s “McElwain can laugh about shark tale now” or “McElwain still doesn’t think that shark-humping meme is all that funny” — just like asking Tim Tebow about his virginity once did, and why should anyone care about journalistic scruples or basic human decency? Jokes trump truth, and if you don’t feel that way, the joke’s on you, says society.

T.J. Slaton working on defensive line

News: Despite being listed in Florida’s roster as an offensive lineman, Martez Ivey clarified that “big boy” Tedarell (T.J.) Slaton is presently working at defensive line, but noted that he was unsure whether the coaches would change his position or not. Slaton was a four-star recruit and the No. 3 offensive guard in the 2017 signing class, but had indicated that he wanted to play defensive line in college, and that Florida was on board with that decision.

Opinion: It seems logical that Slaton would get a tryout on the defensive line, where he wants to play and where Florida reportedly told him he would get a shot. As we’ve learned in our few short years with him, it is not wise to read too much into a Jim McElwain depth chart, and perhaps that goes for roster positions too.

So there you have some of the main highlights from Florida’s appearance at the 2017 SEC Media Days. (Well, those and Marcell Harris’ hair.)

What did you think of Jim McElwain and crew’s comments? Anything else notable that we missed? Tell us in the comments.