Dan Mullen Expresses Confidence in Florida Gators' Fresh, Young WR Group
The Florida Gators will enter the season with unproven talent at wide receiver, however, the impression left by the previous tenure could pay dividends for them moving forward, Gators head coach Dan Mullen says.
"I think one thing that we’re very fortunate of is the leadership of last year's crew," said Mullen this month when asked by reporters about the team's wide receiver room with the loss of key veterans this year, "and the bar that they set and the standard that they set."
Following the 2019 season, the Gators saw receivers Josh Hammond, Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain and Tyrie Cleveland leave for NFL just a few short months ago in April.
All four receivers are currently on a team, with Jefferson (second round selection), Swain (sixth round) and Cleveland (seventh round) getting selected, while Hammond was immediately signed following the draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent.
The Gators will undoubtedly miss the production from this group of talented receivers. In 2019, the four combined for 139 receptions for 1,871 yards and 16 touchdowns on the year. Jefferson, Swain, Hammond and Cleveland all landed in the top-seven of the Gators' receiving group by receptions as well, leaving quarterback Kyle Trask plenty to work with.
Under Mullen, the Gators have deployed a rather unconventional, yet rewarding, rotation for the team's receiving corp; often playing the group of talented receivers in spurts throughout a given game rather than having one, go-to target on offense. This allowed for growth and maturity while keeping the team fresh for several series.
Entering 2020, the Gators will rely on several more inexperienced players including receivers Rick Wells and Jacob Copeland. While players such as senior receivers Trevon Grimes and Kardarius Toney have had plenty of snaps over the past couple of years, neither player has stepped into a large role as they are expected to do this coming season.
"When you look at the young — the young guys are now the old guys — so you look at a Rick Wells, [Jacob] Copeland, Tre[von] Grimes, those guys are now looking at how last years veteran group, how they carried themselves around the room and they learned how to do it the right way and they’re gonna carry that on."
The "right way" Mullen is referring to has been echoed in the past by Hammond, now with the Jaguars. In May, Hammond told AllGators that he is excited for the team's young receiver room, expressing confidence in the players as they've all been able to learn from each other over the years.
Hammond also mentioned the team's unselfish attitude as a reason for their success over the past two seasons.
"I think that's the one thing I admired the most, just how unselfish we were," said Hammond. "I think I get more excited when somebody else scores rather than myself. Just because, that's just how we were and I'm sure they all feel the same way."
The Gators will also be incorporating several players who redshirted last season, not able to get on the field but were able to be studious in watching the older players work week after week, said Mullen.
Players such as Dionte Marks and Trent Whittemore could receive plenty of playing time entering their second season with the team, their first time receiving much playing time, if any, at all.
"Now they’re able to see this next group of guys doing it the same way those guys did it so I think they really set a great bar, the guys that left last year, for the young guys to work on," Mullen said. "And these new guys that are coming into the program and are gonna look and say ‘ok this is the right way, this is how you do things.’ So it’s pretty good learning experience for those guys."
While this year has been very unconventional due to the lingering pandemic caused by the coronavirus, the Gators have been able to conduct virtual meetings, staying on top of assignments and football during uncertain times. It has been positive, Mullen says, and he has been able to see the growth out of the now-veteran receiving group slated to play a big role on the team this upcoming season.
"It’s great to see."