Orange and Blue Debut Spring Game Set for April 11


The Orange and Blue Debut is scheduled for Saturday, April 11 at 12:30 PM. It will be the first opportunity to see new head coach Jim McElwain’s heralded offense. There are numerous questions heading into next season, and there will be plenty more after the game is over. However, it will give Gator fans a glimpse into the future as Florida tries to get back to its winning ways of the 2000’s.

McElwain and his offense recently were the focal point of Jon Gruden’s “Gruden QB Camp”. Gruden sat down with former Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson as they broke down game film and discussed his future in the NFL. The link lies in McElwain, who was able to develop the quarterback into a pro prospect in part to the pro-style offense and detailed coaching.

This is not McElwain’s first stint in the SEC – he was previously the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Alabama for four seasons and knows the conference. His new challenge is taking the likes of Treon Harris and Will Grier and finding out which one is best suited to run his offense with the same efficiency.

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  • Harris took over the starting job last season and went 4-2, including a victory over Georgia in Jacksonville. He was an SEC All-Freshman with 1,019 passing yards and nine touchdowns. The biggest difference this season is that the new offense is expected to throw much more than in 2014. Last season, Harris had 32 and 21 attempts against FSU and Vanderbilt respectively, but did not make more than 12 attempts in any other start. The rushing attack was the focal point, as Harris was delegated more to handing the ball off than throwing it downfield.

    The quarterback competition will also feature redshirt freshman Will Grier, the Parade National Player of the Year and Mr. Football USA coming out of high school in 2013. Grier saw no playing time last season, but could be the starter come the first game of the season September 5th against New Mexico State. He threw for 14,565 yards in his high school career, and numbers like that at the collegiate level would be much appreciated by Gator fans.

    Florida has 13 wide receivers on the roster, and somebody needs to step up to catch all the passes that will supposedly be coming this season. Junior Ahmad Fulwood is a top candidate despite only having 29 catches and 326 yards through two seasons. He has the size and the speed to develop into a number one or two receiver. Demarcus Robinson is the other top receiver in the bunch; he has 833 yards and seven touchdowns in his time at UF, numbers which could be matched in just one season under McElwain.

    The leading receiver last season for CSU was Rashard Higgins. He totaled 1,750 yards and 17 touchdowns on 96 catches. Those numbers are highly doubtful to be replicated by any receiver in the SEC, but it does show the need for a receiver to become the go-to option in the offense.

    A battle for the running back position will also be intriguing to watch, as Adam Lane, Kelvin Taylor, and Brandon Powell all have game experience. Taylor is the fan favorite being the son of former Gator running back Fred Taylor, but the workload could be too much for him to handle as a full-time starter. McElwain had a 1,300 yard rusher last season in Dee Hart, but again, the increased SEC competition is likely to limit those types of numbers.

    Orange and Blue Debut: Defense

    Defense was Florida’s strong point last season, if there was one. Vernon Hargreaves III was a first-team All-SEC selection and should continue to limit opposing teams trying to pass the ball. Randy Shannon, the former Miami head coach, is the new linebackers coach; he will have a talented leader in Antonio Morrison who sustained an injury in the bowl game last season and has yet to take the field in spring practice.

    On the defensive line, Dante Fowler Jr. is gone. Darious Cummings is gone. Leon Orr is gone. That leaves Jonathan Bullard, Alex McCalister, and Bryan Cox Jr. as the top returners. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the linemen progress through the spring with a now offensive minded head coach. They will need to work even harder to get another 30 team sacks this season.

    While spring games are the first live action of the new season that players and coaches see, the bigger agenda is evaluating talent of the returning players and newcomers. There are always high expectations for Gator Nation, but none more so than 2015. After a disappointing 7-5 season and tenure under Will Muschamp, McElwain has the task of returning the Gators to the powerhouse that it once was and can be again. The Orange and Blue Debut will be the first glimpse into the future of Florida football.