The University of Florida has had plenty of issues completing passes against actual competition since quarterback Tim Tebow graduated in 2009.
The Gators struggled against air Thursday.
With the quarterback battle between Will Grier and Treon Harris — the former Booker T. Washington star — garnering most of the attention as UF opened fall training camp, the team’s aerial attack remained a mess. Passes were dropped, routes were busted and the rhythm during drills was totally off.
“It wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination,” new coach Jim McElwain said of UF’s first preseason practice. Friday’s practice was rained out.
“Pitching and catching is the No. 1 thing we’ve got to consistently get better at, and I know it will. I’m probably a little more critical because there’s no reason, to me, you should ever drop a ball on routes on air. Likewise, there’s no reason, to me, that you should ever miss the throw on routes on air.
“It’s on air. There’s nobody else out there.”
Florida’s issues in the passing game are hardly a secret. The Gators averaged just 179.9 yards per game last season — ranking 106th nationally and 12th in the Southeastern Conference — and haven’t recorded a season average over 200 yards per game since Tebow’s final year in Gainesville.
McElwain, who is considered a quarterback expert with 25 years coaching the position, is tasked with resurrecting an impotent aerial attack and bringing some stability back to the position.
His work is cut out for him.
McElwain was frustrated with the players’ focus and lack of discipline, lamenting that even the simple, mundane drills are vital to success.
“The hard thing for guys to understand is the attention to detail and how important that route on air is,” he explained.
“Sometimes guys do it thinking it’s a warmup. No. You have to understand that you’ve got to be critically detailed in that particular period. That’s one thing we continuously have to work on with those two groups. It’s not something we take lightly.”
At Colorado State last season, McElwain oversaw the nation’s No. 8 passing offense at 321.6 yards per game. He’s not expected to transform UF into a pass-happy juggernaut immediately, but even improvement might take some serious time.
“Obviously, if you can’t throw a completion against air, you’re sure as heck not going to throw one when there’s a bunch of people out there,” he said. “It’s pretty simple.”
The early returns from Grier, Harris & Co. weren’t all bad Thursday. McElwain was pleased with the group’s communication and playbook retention.
“I saw both the quarterbacks have command of the mic point, and they were able to switch some protections in blitz,” he said.
“They did a great job in the run game with their points. It shows me they did some studying over the summer, and it’s starting to become a little second nature to them. That’s really important as far as playing that position. I was very happy with the second practice with the way [transfer quarterback] Josh Grady commanded the huddle and commanded the line of scrimmage. Those are things that are really important in playing the position.”