Photo: Jalen Kitna; Credit: Alex Shepherd
Redshirt freshman Jalen Kitna has grasped onto the Florida Gators' backup quarterback role, head coach Billy Napier shared on Wednesday during the SEC Coaches teleconference.
Kitna, son of former 14-year NFL quarterback Jon Kitna, remains listed as the co-No. 2 quarterback on the Gators' depth chart, but Napier indicated that the second-year Gator has edged out walk-on and redshirt sophomore Kyle Engel as the primary reserve signal-caller following a string of strong practices.
“I thought Jalen Kitna had his best week last week. In particular last Thursday, he was extremely sharp," Napier said on Wednesday. "He had a good day of practice yesterday.
"He’s our No. 2 [quarterback], and I would say Jalen has done a great job of making good decisions, he’s been very accurate and each week he gets a better understanding of our system. Been pleased with Jalen and the progress there."
Kitna saw his opportunity to climb the depth chart arise during fall camp when redshirt freshman Jack Miller III, an offseason Ohio State transfer who had long been expected to back up starter Anthony Richardson, suffered an injury to his right thumb that required surgery. Kitna had returned to practice from an undisclosed offseason procedure around that time.
Miller has yet to fully recover from the operation, with Napier having deemed the timetable for such an injury as a "subjective opinion" last Wednesday. That being said, Napier has said on numerous occasions in recent weeks that Miller has continually made progress.
His time away from practice, however, has resulted in Kitna obtaining Miller's previously projected role.
"Jack is still to be determined relative to his role Saturday and potentially going forward," Napier said. "He has made significant progress. He’s got a football in his hands now. I think it’s just more about his comfort level physically and mentally with the thumb and where it’s at.”
Not long after Napier's time on the teleconference, UF's Week 4 depth chart was released with Miller being listed as out against the Tennessee Volunteers this Saturday.
Kitna has yet to take a college snap and was considered a consensus three-star prospect coming out of high school, but his father's legacy as a pro quarterback and his strong senior season at Burleson (Texas) High with 33 touchdowns to three interceptions made him an enticing commitment paired with quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson in the class of 2021.
Del Rio-Wilson transferred to Syracuse this offseason, however, leaving Kitna in the driver's seat to benefit from the backup quarterback competition at hand. He's impressed Napier along the way with his work ethic and understanding of the Gators' quarterback development plan.
"Mentally, he’s probably one of the brighter kids in that room and really has probably worked as hard as anybody to get to a point," Napier said of Kitna on Aug. 21. "It's the beautiful thing about the way we practice, the number of repetitions throughout the summer OTA, that experience for the quarterback and really our year-round plan for the quarterback — in the summer, in particular — is a gauntlet."
"The amount of work we asked those guys to do independent of the team I think he really jumped in with both feet there and has a really good understanding. I would say as good as anybody in the room of what's going on out there.”
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