Photo credit: University of Florida athletic association
What's it like to be a part of an offense transitioning from a Heisman Finalist at quarterback to someone with fewer than 100 career passing attempts?
The passing of the torch at quarterback has been the talk of the town in Gainesville for several months. The first Florida quarterback to enter the Heisman conversation since Tim Tebow won it, Kyle Trask no longer wears a Gators uniform. After leading the nation in passing yards per game in 2020 behind Trask's accurate arm, the Gators will now turn to redshirt junior Emory Jones as the team's new signal-caller.
What does such an adjustment entail for the remainder of the offense? A key figure among the group offered some insight to AllGators, offensive lineman Ethan White.
"It's just everybody becoming more accountable for their job and knowing what's going on and not placing everything on the quarterback," White explained.
"Obviously, Kyle had been there for a long time, so he knows a lot more of, you know, the next-level things like protections and picking up blitzes and things like that," White said. "Not that Emory doesn't know what Kyle did, but [there is] just a higher sense of accountability for everybody else around them."
Head coach Dan Mullen considered Trask's understanding of Florida's offense as "graduate-level," commending his ability to check in and out of plays and truly manage the offense as its leader. As a result, Trask had the most productive season as a passer of any quarterback in program history, setting school records in yards and touchdowns.
Outside expectations for Jones are high - he was Mullen's first quarterback commit as head coach and has shown plenty of talent over the past three years. Naturally, those expectations rise even higher considering the act that Jones has to follow.
However, it isn't a knock on Jones to suggest that he might not meet those expectations right out of the gate. The entire offense will be affected by Trask's departure, White suggests, which means everybody has more responsibility on their plate to make the transition for Jones as seamless as possible.
"I can speak personally for the offensive line. It's a lot more of holding each other accountable for maybe differences in the offense, or new tweaks because of a different quarterback," White said. "And really, it's just kind of making sure that everybody is on the same page and there is no communication errors within our position group."
Florida is widely expected to incorporate the run game into its offense far more often with Jones behind center, given his threatening dual-threat abilities. Jones has averaged 5.6 yards per rushing attempt in his Gators career, breaking off on runs of 10 or more yards 16 times and scoring six touchdowns on the ground.
How will the Gators' line handle the task? White is encouraged by what he has seen, although there's been a good bit of change upfront, too.
UF is tasked with replacing NFL-bound linemen as well as its quarterback after left tackle Stone Forsythe and center Brett Heggie made their jump to the pros this offseason. Their departures sting, no doubt, but White believes enough veteran leadership returned to balance the losses out and that Forsythe and Heggie left the line in good hands.
"Stewart [Reese] and Jean [Delance] obviously came back, so they kind of provide that veteran leadership as well," said White. "A thing that Brett and Stone did well was preparing the younger guys under them so it wouldn't be such a significant drop-off, not just focusing on themselves."
Reese, who has three years of experience with Mullen and offensive line coach John Hevesy dating back to their time at Mississippi State, moved to center this spring after playing right guard in his first season at UF. Reese hasn't played center in a game before, but White is confident that the sixth-year lineman has the instincts and athleticism to play "really any position on the offensive line."
Delance, meanwhile, is expected to start at right tackle for the third year in a row. White, along with Joshua Braun, has primarily worked at guard while Richard Gouraige has filled in for Forsythe at left tackle.
To accommodate Jones' skill-set, piecing together a stout offensive line that excels in run blocking is crucial.
The transition to a dual-threat quarterback, of course, will lead to tweaks in blocking schemes in numerous ways. The rushing game will be expanded and is sure to feature more option play calls, quarterback draws, and so forth. But pass protection will change for offensive linemen as well, as Jones and No. 2 quarterback Anthony Richardson can extend passing plays outside of the pocket or scramble under duress. Those skills were never Trask's strong suits.
"Kyle, you had a pretty good idea of where he would be back there," White shared. "And in the sense of holding your blocks with Emory or Anthony, either one of them, if there's any type of pressure or somebody gets through, they can just take off anywhere."
For Florida's offensive line, that means finishing blocks will be of utmost importance. Should Jones (or Richardson) take off, the front five must continue to control the line of scrimmage for the quarterback to break the plane.
Only time will tell how well Florida's offense will look in the post-Trask era. There is a lot of change throughout the unit beyond the transition at quarterback, but of course, as quarterback may be the most important position in all of sports, that is the adjustment that will catch everyone's attention.
So long as the rest of Florida's offense manages its responsibilities, as White indicates, the team intends to make the evolution at quarterback as easy for Jones as it can be.