For the second time since 2011, Florida enters a season with a new leader at the helm of its once pristine football powerhouse.
Jim McElwain comes to Gainesville checking every box that Jeremy Foley needed in a new head football coach. He wanted a guy with head coaching and SEC experience (check and check). He wanted a guy known for developing high-powered offenses at a championship level (check and check). He wanted a guy who will rally the fan base and build a quality staff (check and check).
But that doesn't mean McElwain doesn't have loads of depth chart issues to overcome in his first spring.
5 Storylines to Watch in Florida’s Spring Practice:
1. The Quarterback Battle
There is no doubt Treon Harris sparked the Gators' offense when he took over full-time midway through the season. But he was far from All-SEC good, completing just 49.5 percent of his passes and averaging just 126 yards per game in six starts to end the year. He will be pressed by a new coaching staff as well as redshirt freshman Will Grier. McElwain needs to figure out if either can be the future star at quarterback Gators fans have craved since No. 15 departed.
2. Replace four starters up front
The best way to help a struggling offense is to rebuild the offensive line, protect the passer and open up running lanes. That's been easier said than done for Florida lately and it won't get any easier for the new staff this spring. Only Trip Thurman returns to a group that needs to replace both tackles, the center and a guard all in one offseason. Remember, someone might just be keeping the seat warm for consensus No. 1 offensive tackle prospect Martez Ivey.
3. Develop some playmakers
This also has long been an issue in Gainesville but this is a program located in a state that should never want for playmakers. Demarcus Robinson has special ability and is back, but no other returning Gator caught more than 15 passes. Additionally, leading rusher Matt Jones left early for the NFL. McElwain has some nice pieces to work with in Robinson and Kelvin Taylor, but he needs to find All-SEC-type stars to get the football too. He did it at Colorado State with Kapri Bibbs and Dee Hart, he should be able to do it at Florida.
4. Fill Dante Fowler's shoes
Be it Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd or Dante Fowler, the Gators have long been inking five-star defensive line talent. CeCe Jefferson is the next in that long line but won't get to Gainesville until the summer. So with Fowler leaving, new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins needs to find a star pass rusher this spring. Jonathan Bullard can be a rock in the middle but isn't the explosive athlete Collins needs on the D-line. Alex McCalister and Bryan Cox both played significant minutes, combining for 10 sacks last fall. More will be expected of them this spring. The rest of the defense is stacked so a quickly developing D-line could give Florida the top defense in the division.
5. Get your swag back
These are the Florida Gators we are talking about here and this program needs to regain its former swagger. Part of the reason Will Muschamp was able to win 11 games in 2012 was the physical nature of the team and the overall confidence of the roster. This program has lost its confidence and Collins' defensive attitude needs to set the tone this spring. After all, this is a team that really won eight games last year (Idaho was cancelled) and was just quarters (not games) away from winning the East.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Florida:
The issues, in particular on offense, are obvious for the Gators: Develop a quarterback, find some playmakers and rebuild the offensive line. However, Florida isn't short on talent and there may not be an elite, playoff-caliber team in the East. This team wasn't nearly as bad last season as the headlines portrayed, so if McElwain is as good as advertised, this squad could easily be competing for an East title in 2015.