Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain met with reporters on Monday in his first press conference since the program announced the suspensions of seven players through the Gators’ season opener against Michigan for unspecified “choices that are extremely disappointing.”
Anyone hoping McElwain would lay out significant details about those choices or his response in his remarks was probably delusional.
McElwain elaborated only minimally on the discipline, saying that he took “quick, swift action” to suspend those players and that they “will not go to Michigan,” strongly implying those players will be left behind when Florida travels to North Texas to take on the Wolverines.
Asked about whether players would have to make or had made restitution for “misuse of funds,” McElwain did not directly comment on the reported cause of the suspensions, saying only that “Anytime there’s choices made ... you’ve gotta make up for whatever happened, and those guys are doing that” before dissembling about “taking away ... something that really means something to them.”
Asked specifically about the effect of discipline on Antonio Callaway, McElwain responded, in part, that “It’s not just Antonio,” and cited the value of getting calls from former players thanking him for discipline. Asked about his words on “bumps in the road” in May about Callaway, McElwain explained that he’d seen “strides” from him since, which is part of what makes the actions leading to his suspension disappointing.
Asked about “a limit” in regards to tolerable misbehavior, McElwain said “Absolutely,” then expounded with mostly vagueness; asked about whether the suspensions were “frustrating” given how “high-profile” the season opener is, McElwain chose to emphasize just how exciting playing a season opener in Cowboys Stadium is.
The assembled reporters, perhaps wisely, made few further attempts to draw blood from a stone.
- Florida had an “unbelievable” scrimmage on Friday, with McElwain implying that several players “made the team” — earned playing time — in that scrimmage, but coyly telling reporters that “you’ll see” who those players are.
- Injuries have kept C.J. McWilliams (hamstring), Kylan Johnson (hamstring), and Quincy Lenton (foot) out of practice, but McElwain said Johnson and Lenton are on the road to returning. Walk-on defensive back Garrett Stephens will be out for a while, but did not require surgery. Running back Mark Thompson has been held out with a shoulder injury. C’yontai Lewis — “C-Lew” to McElwain — “should be back today.” Jawaan Taylor (“Wanny”) was held out of Friday’s scrimmage with “a leg deal” but is “ready to go.”
- With Callaway out, “Brandon Powell really stepped up” in Friday’s scrimmage. McElwain also cited Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, and Dre Massey in talking about Florida’s wideouts, and mentioned that Kadarius Toney “needs to touch it.” McElwain is also excited about the receivers’ ability to “cross-train” effectively with Callaway out, suggesting that Florida has found personnel groupings that work well together even without its primary receiver.
- For the non-Callaway players suspended, not being able to practice is “significant” for their chances of contributing later this year.
- Tackles Martez Ivey and Taylor being dinged up this fall has gotten Tyler Jordan — a guard and center by trade — chances to play outside. In discussing Florida’s offensive line, McElwain also mentioned the importance of having nine linemen — five starters and four reserves — to rely on.
- Asked a meandering question about the weekend’s events in Charlottesville and the prospect of players taking a stand akin to the boycott Missouri football players held in 2015 in response to a white supremacist involved with that rally planning to visit the University of Florida in September — yes, that meandering — McElwain said “Any extremist group — I don’t care, the nationalists, whatever they’re called — is unacceptable. That’s not what we believe in here” while praising Florida president Dr. Kent Fuchs’s response to that supremacist’s plan to speak at Florida and stating his belief in freedom of speech. (McElwain also said “What makes extremists nervous is when they can’t get to you ... because you’re true to your beliefs.”)
- When a reporter followed that discussion with a scrimmage question, McElwain interrupted him to say “Boy, you guys are bouncing around today, aren’t you?” and mentioned Captain Kangaroo to make a point about following the ping-pong balls. (Captain Kangaroo ended its original run in 1984. McElwain is 55.)
- McElwain was impressed with the aggressiveness and ability to “rally to the ball” of Florida’s first-string defense in Friday’s scrimmage, and reserved special praise for the defensive line. But asked about whether that ability to play fast was related to Randy Shannon simplifying things, McElwain implied that it was less players responding to simplifying things and more Shannon simplifying things because of Florida’s youth on defense.
- Asked about weaknesses from that first scrimmage, McElwain cited tackling and sloppiness in an implied crunch-time situation — specifically, “a ball on the ground” and back-to-back dropped passes — by the offense.
- In response to a question about managing oft-injured players, McElwain cited the example of managing Antonio Morrison’s recovery and practice schedule after his torn ACL in 2015, explaining that players like Jordan Sherit and Powell may be on a “rep count” or excluded from certain drills because of it.