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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Mullen speaks with media before spring practice Thursday

Gators football returns Feb. 18 for spring ball

Dan Mullen
Dan Mullen

The final chapter about Kyle Trask’s legend was written when he declared for the NFL Draft Dec. 31, 2020. 

But his ascension from a 2-star quarterback recruit to Heisman Trophy finalist will never be forgotten. But it’s time to move on. The keys to Florida’s offense will be passed down to redshirt sophomore quarterback Emory Jones this offseason. 

Coach Dan Mullen will get his first glimpse at a Jones-led offense Thursday when Florida spring practices begin. With Trask at the helm, the Gators’ offense felt like an air raid attack. Mullen tailored the offense to his strengths as a passer. But Jones brings an entirely different skill set than the signal-caller from Manvel, Texas.

When defenders leave their passing lane, the LaGrange, Georgia, native will exploit that gap and take off for 20-30 yards downfield, Mullen said at a Tuesday press conference.  

This allows Mullen to return to his wheelhouse as a play-caller as he will call more zone reads and designed runs for Jones. 

Jones was implemented sparingly last season. He primarily ran the ball when he came in for Trask and averaged almost seven yards a carry.

But Florida still has questions to answer about its defense. The Gators ranked 83rd nationally in yards per game allowed and 72nd in third-down conversion percentage. 

When reflecting on the defense last season, Mullen pinpointed one area they struggled with — getting aligned pre-snap. 

Blown assignments were too common. There were too many examples of running backs reaching the secondary without a Florida defender laying a finger on him last season or miscommunication in the back end that resulted in a linebacker covering Heisman Trophy-winner Devonta Smith in the SEC Championship game.

Mullen fired coaches Torrian Gray and Ron English to address those issues and replaced them with Wesley McGriff and Jules Montinar

He also found a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach as the Philadelphia Eagles hired Brian Johnson. Garrick McGee was promoted to the position from an off-the-field offensive analyst position. 

Replacing coaches wasn’t the only adversity Florida overcame this offseason. Mullen was linked to a handful of NFL jobs during its annual coaching carousel. 

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When asked Tuesday, Mullen said he didn’t interview with any NFL teams this offseason. He said he’s evaluating all of his options, including the NFL,  because of the ever-changing landscape in college football.

Then, he pivoted to his commitment to the program.

“I love being here at the University of Florida,” Mullen said. “We have a great program. We have a great fan base, great history, the opportunity to become a championship program every single year.”

This will be the first opportunity for players from the 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes to participate in spring practice because of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, Mullen said. It’s a great opportunity for player evaluation. 

“We’re going to get to go through this spring to be able to evaluate a lot of young players out there,” he said. “Making sure that we are putting them in the best position to be successful on Saturdays next fall.”

There will be no Orange and Blue game for the second-straight season due to COVID-19 restrictions, Mullen said. However, spring football games are special to a team and a fanbase because it's a celebration of the players. 

One hidden benefit of no spring game, Mullen said, is that he can hold more scrimmages with his team. 

Gators football returns Feb. 18 for 15 practices in preparation for the 2021 season. 

Contact Zachary Huber at zhuber@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber



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