GAINESVILLE, Florida — Before Florida coach Jim McElwain started answering questions about his first official practice, he wanted to talk March Madness.
"My alma mater did make it," he said. "Eastern Washington University, a 13 seed."
Great, coach. But at Florida — at least this year — the NCAA Tournament is mostly an afterthought. The Gators missed the tourney for the first time since 2009.
So all eyes are on the football team, which opened a new era Monday with the start of McElwain's first spring practice.
"Finally," McElwain said. "It seems like it's taken forever to get out on the field and do what the heck we're here to do and that's coach some ball."
The Gators held the first of 15 practices, this one a two-hour session without full pads.
It was the first chance players got to work in a revamped offense, something Florida fans are counting on to change recent results. The Gators are 11-13 the past two seasons, which got Will Muschamp fired near the end of his fourth season.
Florida hired McElwain to turn things around.
"Lot of energy the first day," offensive tackle Rod Johnson said. "I could tell the energy difference and how excited everyone was to come out with a whole new defense, whole new offense. Pretty much the energy level was where it needed to be.
"Everybody is investing in the day. We couldn't wait to get back here on the field. We've been out of football for a while. I can see why the energy was so high. We just have to do it every day."
McElwain has offered few hints into what he plans to do on offense, where the Gators have mostly struggled since former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow's departure following the 2009 season.
McElwain plans to shape the offense around his players — and that starts with finding a starting quarterback.
But the 6-foot-2 Grier, a decorated high school quarterback from Davidson, North Carolina, took the first snap of the spring Monday. Although many outsiders viewed it as an indication that Grier has an edge over the 5-foot-11 Harris, McElwain acted as if he didn't even know Grier would get the first snap.
"I didn't know, did he?" McElwain said. "Did he take the first snap? "I didn't (see that). I didn't. Somebody had to I guess, so he must have ran in there first. Good for him, nice job."
Regardless, the spring will give McElwain a chance to evaluate his players, devise an offense and have at least a better idea of what to expect in the fall.
"There's some base principles you're going to get in no matter what," he said. "I think the big part for us is just the discovery of what guys do best, what guys need to work on and hopefully then in turn not put them in situations to not be successful. It's kind of like 'In Search Of' with Leonard Nimoy. You know the old show Leonard Nimoy used to have? 'In Search Of.' That's what we are this spring."
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