HOOVER, Ala. — Predictably, Florida coach Jim McElwain wasn’t willing or ready to offer any real insight into the Gators’ quarterback depth chart while making the rounds at SEC Media Days on Tuesday.
No matter how many ways he was asked, including one question about whether his recent vacation to a lake house in his native Montana offered him any clarity on the decision between Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire and redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks.
“I figured out a lot of stuff at the lake place in Montana. Starting quarterback wasn’t one of them,” he retorted.
McElwain also wasn’t willing to offer any details on what discipline star wide receiver Antonio Callaway has received, is receiving or might receive, or whether his status for the season opener against Michigan is in jeopardy. That too was expected.
He deftly handled questions about the gap between his program and perennial power Alabama without really saying anything of note, downplayed the significance of Florida making LSU its Homecoming opponent and in general simply focused on the optimism he feels heading into his third season in Gainesville.
So what did we learn about the Gators from SEC Media Days?
Well, there were still a few takeaways to be had.
- McElwain’s strongest comments on Florida’s quarterback situation came when he said: “Here’s the beauty, I think for the first time our (QB) room is really good. We’ve got talent. We’ve got guys that are going to be able to compete against each other, learn from each other and I’m looking forward to it.” That indicates he feels the quarterback position will not be a hinderance this season and thus can’t be an excuse. This is a pivotal year for McElwain, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and the Gators’ offense, and his confidence seems genuine.
- The Florida players are expecting a breakout season from redshirt sophomore defensive end Jabari Zuniga, who finished with a team-high 5 last season while doing most of his damage early in the schedule. Said left tackle Martez Ivey: “He came a long way and when he was playing last year, you could tell. He came in and was leading in sacks to start the season off with. Just his work ethic, I see him work, I see him grind, I just see how dominant he is at whatever he does.” Safety Marcell Harris also spoke highly of Zuniga, saying “Just seeing the things he did his first year on the field, he’s going to be a great asset for this team.”
- Despite some confusion from the roster Florida released for SEC Media Days, highly-touted freshman T.J. Slaton is still a defensive tackle and not indeed moving to the offensive line. And Ivey, for one, thinks Slaton is primed to make an immediate impact for the Gators.
- McElwain doesn’t understand why Florida designating LSU as its Homecoming game is newsworthy and reiterated that he had nothing to do with that decision. “I’ve heard about this all day long and I’m loving the fact that you think it’s news,” he said.
- Intriguing and complicated wide receiver signee James Robinson still has not been cleared to enroll at Florida and the matter remains with the NCAA Eligibility Center.
- McElwain has no interest in looking back at the shark ordeal from the spring with any humor and would surely appreciate not being asked about it again.
- As it relates to the season opener against Michigan in Arlington, Texas, McElwain indicated he’s not opposed to scheduling more non-conference games of that kind in the future: “I think it’s really good for college football that two different conferences are playing each other on opening day. … It’s something moving forward that we’re looking to do in these neutral site games as well in the future. I just think it’s the way it should be.”
- Harris, the Gators’ fifth-year senior safety, said the Gators have been aggressively scouting Michigan for that much-anticipated opener and are eager for a better outcome after losing 41-7 to the Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl to end the 2015 season. “Definitely a lot of motivation. I was on that team that lost to Michigan so I take it personally every day. We watch Michigan film every day.”
- The Gators are not looking forward to their 2017 roadtrip to Missouri, purely for non-football reasons.
- And, finally, we learned that McElwain’s retreats to Montana involve closer-than-comfortable encounters with imposing animals: “Truth is, (a bear) ran through the breezeway of the cabin. It looked hungry, but I’m not sure who was more scared — us or him. We got a mountain lion out on the island now that kind of worries me too. Keep an eye on your pets. That’s the thing to do.”
So there you have it. That’s all from Hoover for Florida’s turn at the 2017 SEC Media Days.