Gators head coach Dan Mullen took to the microphone Thursday morning for a press conference before the start of fall camp.
The Gators—coming off an 8-4 season—begin fall camp on Friday, one that is expected to look much different than last year’s, which was severely affected by COVID-19 protocols. Mullen spoke about what to expect from fall camp among many other topics on Thursday.
Here are some of the highlights from Mullen’s initial press conference of the 2021 season.
Handling COVID Protocols
Mullen said the team will still have certain protocols in place internally as they try to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 as the Delta variant spreads rapidly. He believes it will be easier to handle this year because everybody involved is used to dealing with protocols.
“I think everyone’s a little bit more educated about it now moving forward,” Mullen said. “How you pay attention to all these different protocols that are in place, I think there’s a lot more familiarity with it right now…I think we’re just a lot more educated on how we adjust within what we’re doing to keep everybody as safe as possible.”
Mullen would not guarantee The Swamp will be at 100% capacity as concerns arise about the spread of the Delta Variant.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Mullen said, “that’s probably way above me.”
He said after last year he is hopeful they can get back to normalcy and give the fans the experience they have been longing for.
“I hope we’re able to get the stadium where we want it to be and get the excitement back in the stadium,” Mullen said, “that feeling of feeling the energy, and feeling the noise of Gator Nation on the field. Not just hear it, but you can feel it. That’s what special in that environment of playing here.”
Mullen said the Gators know what they must do to keep the team safe regarding vaccinations.
“We have a very high percentage of our organization as a whole that has been vaccinated,” Mullen said. “We’re not at 100%, but an extremely high percentage within the organization has been vaccinated.”
The team will be staying in a hotel for fall camp this year, one of the major changes from last year. Mullen feels because of their vaccination rate and their knowledge of how to keep players safe that they will be able to run camp smoothly.
“I’m feeling pretty comfortable with where we’re at and what Paul Silvestri [UF’s Associate Director of Sports Health] and his staff have done and some of the protocols we’re going to put in place as we continue moving forward,” Mullen said.
Redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones is the expected starter coming into fall camp. Mullen suggested that the competition was open, but also hinted Jones comes in with a lead which comes with big responsibility.
“He’s got to go win the job still,” Mullen said, “but I think everybody looks at you as the guy who’s going to be the guy. 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 has featured in 24 games in three seasons at UF, mostly in running packages. He has rushed for 514 yards and six touchdowns on 92 attempts in his career. Though featured mostly in the run game, Jones has shown to be an efficient passer in limited reps, completing 55 of 86 attempts (64%) for 613 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception during his career.
The Gators had one of the most prolific passing attacks in school history with Kyle Trask under-center last year. It was very different from typical Dan Mullen offenses, which usually focus on running the ball while utilizing a mobile quarterback.
He said how they shape the offense with Jones will be much different than how they built the offense for Trask.
“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.”
Despite the differences in their skill sets, Mullen said that Jones and Trask have plenty of similarities in their personalities, their approach, and “how they’ve developed and how they’ve matured.” He believes that Trask played a major part in Jones’s growth.
“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.”
As far as redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson—who switched his number to the iconic #15 this offseason—Mullen said he wants him to learn and develop in the same way Jones and Trask did. Mullen is known for not being afraid to play his young quarterbacks in certain packages to get experience, as he did with Tim Tebow and Jones before they were starters. He said he expects Richardson to see the field this year.
“He’s a weapon with the ball in his hands,” Mullen said, “both running and throwing within his growth and development. He’s a guy coming in wanting to compete to be the starter, understanding that he’s one play away from being the starter.”
Texas and Oklahoma
Mullen welcomed the idea of bringing the two schools into the SEC, saying it only increases the tradition of championship football in the conference. He believes they will fit right in.
“You’re looking at two academic schools,” Mullen said, “two schools with very strong football traditions. Two excellent football programs. Very passionate fanbases that really fit what the league is all about, and so makes sense.”
Mullen believes this is only the beginning of much larger change to the college football landscape.
“I think I’ve said this,” Mullen said, “college football will look differently than maybe what it’s looked like in the past. That’s just going to be another step of it, and exciting to have those two great schools coming into our league.”
Adding the two legendary Big 12 schools means the SEC will now boast 14 of the 21 National Champions this century. Adding in Oklahoma’s four College Football Playoff appearances means the SEC will have 43% (12/28) of all playoff participants. They also will have four of the just eleven teams that have ever made an appearance in the playoffs. Mullen said adding in two giant programs in Texas and Oklahoma will only increase the dominance of the SEC.
“I know the term is, there aren’t megaconferences yet,” said Mullen, “but if you look, we’re as close to being that now, and then you add those two teams and certainly it is the strongest conference in college football.”
Other News and Notes
--Griffin McDowell—a redshirt junior who was recruited as an offensive lineman—is going to be given a shot on the defensive line. Kahleil Jackson—recruited as an athlete—will be getting a look at wide receiver. Mullen said position changes are more about personnel packages, and less about giving guys set positions coming into the year.
--Mullen would not say if the Gators have seen enough of RB Demarckus Bowman for him to see the field this year. Bowman transferred from Clemson in the offseason and reportedly dealt with a lower body injury in the spring.
--Mullen said they expect to have EDGE Brenton Cox to begin the season after dealing with a foot injury in the offseason. He said he may not be ready to do everything right away, but he will be practicing with the team right away.
--Mullen said he expects more two-back sets on offense than in seasons past. The running back room is one of the most loaded across the roster and appears to be a strength for the Gators on paper as Malik Davis, Lorenzo Lingard, Dameon Pierce, Nay’Quan Wright and Bowman could all be in contention to get touches this season.