GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In his first interview of spring practice, Florida coach Jim McElwain shared a rather blunt critique of junior offensive lineman Tyler Jordan.
“(He) needs to really take another step forward in both his conditioning and his overall understanding on the play,” McElwain said. “He’s had two years of it now so we need some big steps and improvements there.”
Jordan had received that message much earlier and took it to heart this offseason.
After starting 10 games the last two seasons, mostly at right guard, he took his coach’s words as “a chip on my shoulder” to get better and used these last few months to make strides in the weight room and with his conditioning.
“We had conversations. He told me at the end of last year he wanted me to take a big step this spring, which I think I’m in the process of doing,” Jordan said this week. “I’ve still got a lot to work on. (But) that scrimmage on Friday was a big step for me.”
It sounds like it. Speaking about that scrimmage, McElwain’s words this week were much different about Jordan.
“This was the first time I’ve seen him really engage and play throughout with a fire,” he said.
McElwain clarified that his critique of Jordan was never regarding his effort or work ethic. It was about the attitude the veteran offensive lineman carries onto the field.
Jordan admitted that he showed “aggression that I really haven’t shown before” during that recent spring scrimmage as he seeks to bring a new intensity to his play.
“You’ve got to come on that field and flip a switch and become somebody you aren’t normally off the field,” he explained. “Like off the field, I’m a great dude, everybody loves me, but you’ve got to come on that field and flip a switch and become somebody that people don’t like.”
So far, the Florida offensive linemen really seem to like their new position coach, Brad Davis, who was hired in February after former assistant coach Mike Summers left for Louisville.
McElwain closed the 2016 season promising more aggressive, physical, tough-minded play up front, and Davis has been his messenger on that edict.
“We have a mindset. This isn’t a slight to Coach Summers at all, but we have that aggressive mindset now,” Jordan said. “The coaches have pretty much lit a fire under us and we’ve got to go out there and fight.”
Said center T.J. McCoy of Davis: “He’s very relentless. I’ll tell you what, we didn’t meet him until Swamp Life (the team’s offseason training program). … But I got to know Coach Davis very well the first day of Swamp Life. He’s always in your grill, always in your face. The one thing he always teaches us is that it’s all about love. ‘I’m not doing this because I don’t like you, I’m doing it because I know what you can be.’ He wants all of us to be the best. Just today he was telling us he was disappointed in us, but he knows we can do better. Just always striving to be the best and he always believes in us.”
McElwain has praised the energy he sees from the offensive line this spring, the response to his challenge.
The unit loses only one starter in left tackle David Sharpe and legitimately could be set up for its best season of McElwain’s tenure.
Junior Martez Ivey has moved from left guard to left tackle; McCoy, a redshirt sophomore, is back at center; and sophomore Jawaan Taylor returns at right tackle after a breakout first season.
The Gators have some depth as well as they sort out the other spots. Jordan, who was a primary starter last season when he wasn’t hurt, has worked at left guard, right guard and center this spring, and fellow junior Fred Johnson also has 10 career starts on his resume at both tackle and guard.
“Wherever they throw me, I’m going to enjoy it and I’m going to play,” Jordan said.
As for finding that aggression that doesn’t come naturally in his personality, Jordan said he’s found a few ways to conjure it up.
“Different stuff. If I think of somebody that made me mad earlier in the day, I’ll think of that,” he said. “Usually I’ll just throw on my headphones before practice and start blasting music.”
Some days it’s heavy stuff like Disturbed, other days it’s Drake or Kodak Black.
Whatever the soundtrack, McElwain likes what he’s seen from Jordan so far this spring.
“He does a really good job assignment-wise,” he said. “But like we saw in the scrimmage, I thought he took some real steps moving forward.”