Florida coach Jim McElwain revealed this week that wide receiver Antonio Callaway and last year’s quarterback Treon Harris are not currently with the team and won’t participate in spring practice. This has the makings of a potential catastrophe for the Gators.
McElwain provided few details for the players’ absence and because of that, there’s a temptation to fixate on the mystery of the situation. What did the players do? Will they ever play for Florida again, and if so, when?
There are too many unknown variables to speculate too much about those questions, so it’s probably best to focus on what can be easily understood: If Callaway misses any portion of the 2016 season, Florida is doomed.
Of course, Callaway wasn’t the only Gators player mentioned by McElwain, but he is the only one that matters. Harris — the other missing player — just hasn’t found a successful role at Florida with the head coaches he’s played for — McElwain last year and Will Muschamp in 2014.
Ironically, the reason Harris might not have a role for the Gators this season is also the reason Callaway’s role is so vital.
Florida had serious problems at quarterback last season — on and off the field. Will Grier initially won the job, but was suspended in October for the remainder of the season for testing positive for PEDs. He later decided to transfer out of the program. Harris stepped in as Grier’s replacement and was unable to help the Gators establish any offensive rhythm. Harris completed just 50.6 percent of his passes and threw almost as many touchdowns (nine) as interceptions (six).
Despite the struggles at quarterback, Florida did witness the emergence of an offensive star last year in Callaway — who caught four touchdowns to go along with 678 receiving yards. Impressive numbers for a true freshman wide receiver.
Those numbers were expected to be even better this year because of a likely change at quarterback from Harris to one of a trio of signal callers, which includes transfers Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby, along with true freshman Feleipe Franks.
While all three of Florida’s new quarterback candidates might be more adept than Harris at throwing the ball, none can be considered a “sure thing.” Florida will be Del Rio’s third team, Appleby transferred to the Gators because he lost the job at Purdue, and Franks is fresh out of high school. No matter which guy emerges as the winner of the quarterback job, a reliable wide receiver target will be crucial to his success, and Callaway is supposed to be that reliable receiver.
Unfortunately, that reliability has been called into question.
However, it should be said that it’s almost impossible to believe that a player with Callaway’s value could actually be dismissed from the team. Certainly he’ll be back on the field at some point, right? Probably, but that won’t mean all the questions regarding Callaway have been answered. If the cause for Callaway’s absence continues to linger once he’s back with the team, then it could become a distraction that limits his impact.
If that’s the case, then Florida fans should prepare themselves for a repeat of last year’s disappointing showing on offense.