Photo: Emory Jones; Credit: University of Florida athletic association
After three years of waiting, Emory Jones will finally get his chance to be the starting quarterback at the University of Florida in 2021.
Jones, a four-star recruit in the 2018 class, has sat behind two different quarterbacks in his time at Florida, awaiting his shot to be the leader of the offense. He was also the first quarterback that head coach Dan Mullen - long regarded as a quarterback whisperer - recruited to Florida, getting him to flip his commitment to Ohio State just days before early signing day.
Jones said the wait was long and not what he expected, but being the first QB Mullen recruited has always instilled confidence into him.
“That doesn’t really add a lot of pressure to me,” Jones said. “It actually made me feel a little bit better that I’m the guy he chose to go with when he first got here. That made me actually feel better. But I did not know it was going to take this long. But I was getting better every day and developing, and that’s all he preached to me and we’re here now.”
Jones will be the first prototypical “Mullen quarterback” to start since Mullen returned to Florida. Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask were both pocket passers whereas Jones is a mobile thrower who is more capable of handling the run-pass options and quarterback runs that are typical of a Mullen offense. Jones said Mullen is always going to fit his scheme to what his quarterbacks do best.
“Coach Mullen, he definitely uses his offense around the quarterback,” Jones said. “Whatever type, style quarterback you are, he’s going to make it happen. For me, just a different skill set. I feel I can do anything on the field.”
Jones was echoing what Mullen said recently about adapting to the strengths of his quarterbacks.
“One of the things that is extremely important for us is to play to the skillsets of our players, and you’re going to do things differently,” Mullen said. “Do things differently at the quarterback position, do things differently at every position where you have new faces, that you’re playing to their skill sets and strengths out there on the field.”
Under Trask in 2020, the Gators aired it out, averaging 378.6 yards per game through the air, and put together the top-ranked passing attack in the country. With Jones under center, the Gators are expected to be more focused on setting up the pass with the run using Jones’s legs as a weapon.
Trask - who famously went seven years between starts from his freshman year of high school to his junior year at UF - knew a thing or two about long waits as well. Mullen called Jones and Trask similar in the way they prepare and their maturity. He said that maturity is the main way Jones has benefited from his long wait.
“I think Emory has learned a great deal in the maturity of how to handle himself,” Mullen said. “How to prepare, how to be ready for your moment. I mean I expect great things out of him this year.”
The long wait may actually be a benefit in the long run because it has allowed Jones to build great relationships with the skill position players that will be taking over this year. The biggest hole to fill will be the one left at tight end by top-five pick Kyle Pitts. Less-proven prospects such as Kemore Gamble, Jonathan Odom, and Keon Zipperer will have to step up, and luckily for Jones, those are the players he spent the most time with in practice as the backup.
“I’ve been building a very good chemistry with those guys,” Jones said. “Kemore Gamble, he’s been here for a while. That’s a guy I’ve been throwing to [for] a couple years. We have Zipperer behind him, he’s been busting his tail the whole offseason. Jonathan Odom coming in. Those guys are ready. I’m very confident in that position.”
Gamble said that the young guys already have a good connection with Jones.
“Well, we been playing with Emory all, since he got here, in practice,” Gamble said. “I feel like, I think we already connected. I feel like we've shown, I mean there are little things we should work on but I feel like we’re already there with Emory.”
The relationship he will have with the incoming weapons should help in making Jones more comfortable as he begins his career as the starter, as well as the guys trying to replace a talent like Pitts. It would go a long way in helping Jones make what he says is the biggest improvement he has in front of him.
“Just trying to make myself more comfortable in different situations,” Jones said, “and be able to just make things work in different situations when everything isn’t going the way it’s supposed to.”
Being the starting quarterback at the University of Florida comes with a lot of expectations and responsibilities. Mullen said that is the biggest challenge that Jones faces as he gets ready for his shot, but he feels confident in his ability to handle it.
“I think everybody looks at you as the guy who’s going to be the guy,” Mullen said. “There’s certainly different levels of expectations for you within the good and the bad and I think maturing certainly helps him be able to handle all that.”
Jones says he is focused on that leadership role as he moves into fall camp.
“And leadership wise, we’re going to face adversity,” Jones said. “You don’t know when. You’re going to face adversity in a game this year. I’ve been trying to find different ways to bring the team together and get us back on track whenever that time comes.”
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