Florida coach Jim McElwain came to Gainesville with an impressive track record of offensive success, particularly during his years as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.
Six months into his tenure, the influence of McElwain’s time with the Tide is already evident at UF.
It first showed in the football offices, where McElwain doubled the number of support staff members and created a recruiting department similar to Alabama’s. This instantly helped Florida’s ability to evaluate, pursue and host prospects on official visits, as seen in this photo.
With the indoor football practice facility months away from completion, McElwain has taken major steps to improve UF’s infrastructure. But his No. 1 priority is and always has been fixing the offense.
That starts with giving the Gators an offensive identity, which they haven’t had in years. It will be a work in progress throughout the fall due to the varying skill sets of players at each position.
“They went through three transitional stages on offense here,” McElwain told ESPN last month. “You get a new group of guys in, and it’s not that their offense was bad or wrong or anything. That’s not what I’m saying. But each coach is looking for a different kind of guy when he’s recruiting.
“You look at us getting off the bus now offensively, and it’s like the Land of Misfit Toys. They’re all different and recruited for different systems.”
While McElwain attempts to piece together an efficacious offensive product for his inaugural season, he and his assistants are recruiting for the future and trying to build a roster that can have long-term success in the SEC.
What they’re looking for offensively is a mirror image of the players McElwain recruited and coached at Alabama, and for good reason. His rushing offenses ranked 2nd, 2nd, 10th and 1st nationally during his four years in Tuscaloosa, and he helped the Tide win a pair of national championships before becoming the head coach at Colorado State.
Given Florida’s uncertainty at quarterback and the lack of a passing game, it will be critical for McElwain to get it going on the ground right away. The Gators have a stable of backs for 2015 and years to come, but they’ll need a formidable offensive line to run behind.
Up front is where McElwain’s recruiting blueprint is most identifiable early on.
Despite two of his three offensive coordinators having pro-style systems, former UF coach Will Muschamp and his staff recruited mainly agile and athletic big men. The average weight of the high school offensive linemen Muschamp signed from 2011-2014 was 283 pounds.
McElwain, however, prefers much more girth on his blockers. The seven prep prospects he and OL coach Mike Summer have landed thus far weigh an average of 307 pounds. The average weight of the linemen who committed to the Tide under McElwain’s watch? 310 pounds.
His desire for size carries over to the other offensive positions as well.
A total of five running backs pledged to play for McElwain at Alabama. Three of them — Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy — weighed 200-plus and became high NFL draft picks. The other two, both under 190, eventually transferred.
Four backs (six if you count athletes D’Anfernee McGriff and Tyrek Tisdale) have committed to McElwain and RB coach Tim Skipper, and all tip the scales at over 200 pounds.
The one current player without size at the position, Brandon Powell, was moved to slot receiver in the spring. Outside of the slot WR spot, where UF signee Antonio Callaway and 2016 target Sam Bruce play, the majority of Florida’s future pass-catchers will have height.
Nine of the 10 Tide receivers McElwain brought in were 6-foot or taller, and nearly all the recruits being targeted by him and WR coach Kerry Dixon for 2016 meet that standard. McElwain’s Alabama criteria is also seen at tight end, where he and position coach Greg Nord want players who stand at least 6-foot-4 and have the frame to bulk up.
McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have yet to land a quarterback, but looking at past players and current targets, their ideal signal-caller is minimum 6-foot-3, highly touted and fit for a pro-style offense. Both McElwain and Nussmeier won a national championship at Alabama with AJ McCarron, a U.S. Army All-American and top-150 overall prospect in high school, and this year their sights are set on Elite 11 finalist Feleipe Franks.
McElwain’s recruiting blueprint for offense is more of a guideline than an ultimatum, and sometimes he’ll take kids who lack in one area but make up for it with other strengths. But mostly, he’ll stick to his guns and go after the type of players he likes and knows how to win with.
In a few years, Florida may not be a carbon copy of Alabama’s offenses under McElwain, but expect the Gators to share many of those same characteristics.