Mullen Notebook: Focus On Young Talent As Gators' Season Approaches

The Gators shone some light on some of their young talent in a scrimmage Sunday night as the season is now under two weeks away.
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Class is back in session at the University of Florida and the Gators are less than two weeks away from kicking off their 2021 season.

Following the Gators’ second scrimmage of fall camp, head coach Dan Mullen provided an update on the team as camp winds down and the season rapidly approaches.

“We’re getting excited right now,” Mullen said. “Had the last scrimmage and now you’re kind of into this first day of classes today, next phase of things really this week; wrapping up training camp, putting some finishing touches on things, getting prepared to transition into the season so this is a little bit of a transitional week.”

One of the major topics Mullen discussed on Monday was what he learned about the team from their scrimmage in The Swamp on Sunday night. A lot of highlights included the younger players on the team and what Mullen has seen from them as camp has gone on. Of course, one of the biggest names among the young players on the team is redshirt-freshman quarterback Anthony Richardson, and Mullen touched on his development.

“I think he looks great,” Mullen said “I think he’s prepared himself to be the starter, which is what you want, you know? He’s going to be ready to get on the field in just about any situation that it is. Now it’s our job to kind of put him in different situations, so that he has that experience in every different possible scenario for when he is on the field.”

There are three main positions at which younger or inexperienced players should get a lot of snaps: Cornerback, running back and tight end.

After junior Jaydon Hill went down with a torn ACL, the competition for the second starting cornerback spot opposite Kaiir Elam is wide open. Mullen mentioned six names that are all splitting reps and competing for that spot: Avery Helm, Jason Marshall, Elijah Blades, Jadarrius Perkins, Pat Moorer, and Ethan Pouncey.

Mullen has always said his philosophy is not to focus on who starts, but rather who gets the most snaps over the course of a game. He wants guys focused on getting more reps so they are prepared for situations that will arise throughout the game.

“For us, guys are doing that so there’s guys earning reps and there’ll be a bunch of guys that will play in the secondary and as they get to see,” Mullen said. “They get that opportunity to show they can translate not just from practice, but then translate on to game experience. The better they do on game day, the more reps they’ll get next week.”

At running back, Mullen seems very high on redshirt-sophomore Nay’Quan Wright.

“Nay’Quan’s a really intelligent guy,” Mullen said. “Understands the offense, understands the system, is a really good receiver out of the backfield, as well. Being an intelligent guy, understanding the game a lot, he puts himself in very good positions out there on the field and understanding the blocking scheme, the position or route-running.”

Mullen thinks an improved offensive line with lots of guys getting experience, as well as good depth at the running back position should allow for a more explosive running attack this season.

“Last year we did a pretty good job with the run game being efficient,” Mullen said. “The O-line’s been doing pretty well...A lot of those guys have played and I think when you look at the experience with the offensive [line] and experience with running back you have the opportunity for more explosive plays out of that position, and you’ve seen it.”

At tight end, the Gators are left with the insurmountable task of replacing Kyle Pitts, and the Gators have just two upperclassmen - redshirt-senior Kemore Gamble and junior Keon Zipperer - at the position on the roster. Freshman Nick Elksnis is one guy who Mullen has been impressed with. He has been able to stay healthy during camp which has allowed him to get a good chunk of reps in practice. Mullen said he was a big feature at Sunday night’s scrimmage.

“I think he had the most reps at tight end last night for a lot of different reasons,” Mullen said. “Some of the guys were banged up and we're limiting certain guys and getting guys ready to play. But, he's taken advantage of that and done a pretty good job and I think he's gonna have a really, really good future with us."

Other news and notes

-A major off-the-field story of the day is that Mullen confirmed the Gators have crossed the 90% vaccination threshold. Mullen said he was very thankful for the resources at the University that have led to the team’s high vaccination rate.

“We have access to a lot of people,” Mullen said. “We have access to the top doctors at Shands Hospital. We have access to information and meetings that we can educate everybody, so that everybody feels comfortable with what the situation is and feels comfortable with the opportunity to go, to get vaccinated and where that leads us.”

-Mullen said defensive tackle Desmond Watson is still a little too heavy to play consistent snaps. While he said he looks good on the field, he wants him to get down under 380 pounds in order to be able to handle a higher load of snaps.

-BUCK edge rusher Andrew Chatfield has missed some practice time due to some nagging injury issues, Mullen shared.