HOOVER, Ala. – Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida’s All-America cornerback, has an idea on how to fix the Gators offense: Put him on it.
“Maybe I can get in at receiver,” a smiling Hargreaves said Monday in front of a host of camera-toting, notebook-wielding, recorder-carrying reporters.
Florida’s woeful offensive production, its starting quarterback battle and brand new head coach, Jim McElwain, helped kick off Day 1 of the four-day Southeastern Conference media days at the Wynfrey Hotel in this Birmingham suburb.
Questions abound for a program that’s lost 26 games and won no championships over the last five seasons. Most of them regard an offense that’s slipped dramatically from the record-setting, trend-making schemes of coaches Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier.
In fact, Florida’s offensive situation and quarterback competition isn’t all that dissimilar from their yearly SEC West rival LSU – a head-shaking passing unit, inconsistent playcaller and embarrassing air numbers.
“It’s tough when you’re consistently on the field,” said Hargreaves, a junior and projected first round NFL draft pick next season. “You do get frustrated.”
LSU and Florida were two of the worst passing units in the league last season – 14th and 12th respectively – and they were led by starting quarterbacks who now find themselves being pushed for the No. 1 job.
Treon Harris, the dual-threat passer who split time as a starter in 2014, completed 49.5 percent of his passes and threw for 113 yards a game. Sound familiar? Anthony Jennings, LSU’s incumbent starter currently suspended from the team, threw for 123 a game and completed 48 percent of his attempts.
They’re both in hot battles with second-year players. Will Grier, a redshirt freshman, is on Harris’ heels – he may be even a notch ahead. LSU sophomore Brandon Harris seems to be catching up to Jennings, who remains on suspension after his arrest last month.
Jennings was arrested for unauthorized entry into a dwelling after he and other LSU players defensive lineman Maquedius Bain and defensive back Dwayne Thomas allegedly walked into a fellow student’s apartment to retrieve items they claim were stolen from Jennings earlier.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore has yet to formally charge Jennings or the others. He said in a text message to The Advocate on Sunday that there’s nothing new with the cases.
Coach Les Miles is sure to face a slew of questions about his quarterbacks and his offense when the Tigers take their turn at media days Thursday. It was McElwain’s turn Monday.
The Gators hired the former Colorado State coach and Alabama offensive coordinator in a move similar to the one athletic director Jeremy Foley made by hiring Meyer after the tumultuous tenure of Ron Zook. McElwain follows Will Muschamp, the former Texas and LSU defensive coordinator who went 28-21 in four seasons in Gainesville.
Florida has an offensive-centric coach again.
McElwain described his offense Monday by using words like “multiple shift” and “multiple motion.” He said the Gators will “try to create as much confusion” and include unbalance sets.
It’s all part of getting “an edge,” he said from the main ballroom at media days as he sported a sunburned face and went sockless with a suit.
He’s tempering expectations for a quick turnaround.
“I think part of the experience of being in this conference is realizing it doesn’t happen just overnight,” McElwain said. “We’ve got a ways to go.”
Players are noticing the change from Muschamp, Mr. Defense, to McElwain, Mr. Offense. Hargreaves doesn’t expect McElwain in the defensive meeting rooms too much – certainly not to the extent that Muschamp was.
Schemes, sets and personnel are changing. Florida featured more variety offensively during spring practice, said UF receiver Brandon Powell. Players previously not used were making plays, and the offense seemed more multi-dimensional, Powell said.
Powell said that’s been the issue with Florida’s offense over the last several seasons: not enough versatility, not enough variety.
The Gators never finished better than 96th nationally in total offense under Muschamp. Everybody, Powell said, is getting their shot at the skill positions in McElwain’s system.
“It’s the style we’re running,” Powell said. “Everybody is touching the ball.”
Except Hargreaves, of course. McElwain hasn’t yet agreed to move him to offense.
“I brought it to coach,” Hargreaves said. “Maybe I can get in.”
Florida QB Treon Harris and LSU QB Anthony Jennings had similar numbers last season during rocky years.
Yds a game
LSU and Florida’s offensive numbers in 2014 were similar. And toward the bottom of the Southeastern Conference.
Yds a game
Pass yds a game
Points a game
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.