GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s been a whirlwind few months for new Florida football coach Dan Mullen.
Hired in late November, he immediately went to work selling his vision to high school prospects and pulling together the No. 14 recruiting class in the 247Sports composite rankings. He hired an entirely new coaching staff (well, new to Florida, that is). He hit the road sharing his energy and message with fans in Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando.
And at some point he found time to do a little house shopping as well.
“We were going to try to buy our old house. [It] was on the market and it sold the day before. We did see it and somebody bought it that day,” said Mullen, who was Florida’s offensive coordinator from 2005-08. “ We’re renting right now. We’re going to build a house. It will be bigger.”
But probably not bigger or grander than Mullen’s expectations for this Gators program.
He won two national championships on Urban Meyer’s staff the last time he was here, and he has not been bashful about pledging the program will get back to those heights.
For as busy as he’s been these last few months, though, he hasn’t gotten to work with his players on the practice field yet. That changes Friday with the official start of spring practice.
The first two sessions Friday (4:25-6:55 p.m.) and Saturday (12:20-2:50 p.m.) are open to fans.
“I’m excited to get out there and get started on some football and coaching some ball. Cut down on some of my, maybe, administrative work that I’ve been doing an awful lot of and to get out there and have some fun and go play,” Mullen said. “I want to see our players’ reaction, that’s a big part to me. Hopefully they are excited to get out there and go start playing. You put in all this work, all the training, you do that to go perform at a higher level on the field, so we’ve got to see that transition from our players.”
There is such excitement around this program, never mind the 4-7 finish last fall, that the Gators’ offseason strength and conditioning program became a buzzworthy talking point in its own right.
Intensity & #RelentlessEffort are the price of admission.
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) March 16, 2018
But now it’s time to actually get to work on the field, around the coaches, setting the foundation for what is to come in 2018 and beyond.
Before anything else, Mullen said he first must establish the mindset and expectations for how his teams will attack practice.
“It’s always a challenge because it’s just not learning the offense or defense and special teams, but learning what we expect in the speed of practice. How practice is going to go. Running from drill to drill and just how things work,” he said. “It’s different, so that will be a challenge for the guys. I’ll try as best as I can to be patient and make sure they understand and we teach it the right way. If they’re not living up to our expectations at practice right away, it’s not maybe because of effort or desire or any resistance, it’s more that maybe they just don’t understand the tempo of what we expect practice to go at.”
He said his coaching staff does have a “pretty aggressive” plan for installing the offense this spring, that may be cut back or adjusted based on how the players are taking it.
With Florida moving to a spread offense, there will undoubtedly be a learning curve, and Mullen has said previously he’ll only be using a small segment of his expansive playbook this fall.
“What we’ll do is kind of mix and match and take different pieces,” he said. “We’re going to run this play out of this formation and motion, well that covered the play concept, the formation and that motion. So even though there’s five different things we can run out of that formation and motion, we’re only going to run the one and mix and match the concepts that way so there’s not too many calls so they can get comfortable with the calls that are in. But then they’ll know the motion, they know the formation, they know the shifts and adjustments and they know the play concepts, protection and run concepts.”
Got it? Exactly.
There are positions battles of note, of course.
All eyes will be on the quarterbacks as redshirt sophomore incumbent starter Feleipe Franks looks to win his job back again and hold off freshman early enrollee Emory Jones along with untested QBs Kyle Track (redshirt sophomore) and Jake Allen (redshirt freshman).
It’s not expected that Mullen will make any real decisions at the position by the end of spring practice next month. In fact, he essentially dismissed the notion of having a QB depth chart established by the end of the spring game.
“[There will be] a lot of worry about fundamentals and just really understanding the base concepts on offense and defense. We’ll have 25 practices now, [and more] in the summer before we have to go play a game,” he said. “Depth chart, I don’t know [that] it sets depth chart to me as much as it sets the opportunity to earn playing time. At every position. If we have more than one guy who earns playing time at quarterback, we might play more than one. It’s guys earning the right to get on the field.”
That will be the same all across the field on both sides of the ball.
Florida should have some more competition along the offensive line with the mid-year newcomers it brought into the mix. The Gators have a deep stable of running backs that will be competing for their share of the carries, and an intriguing group of wide receivers and tight ends all with a lot still to prove in their own ways.
The Gators will also have a new defense under coordinator Todd Grantham, introducing 3-4 schemes while remaining versatile and open to catering to the strengths of the personnel. It will be informational to see how that all comes together these next few weeks.
Because in general, this is the first true evaluation opportunity for this coaching staff.
“We’ve evaluated a little bit of what they’ve done. I’ve watched a couple of the games. I didn’t do write-ups on every player, I just kind of watched in general to see if anything was a glaring issue in one part of the game or not. So we’ve got to see a little bit,” Mullen said. “I don’t want to prejudge people, because a lot of times you’re watching you don’t know what they were asked to do.”
He knows what they’ll be asked to do moving forward, and the expectations are non-negotiable.
Mullen is here to win quickly and win big, claims he’s reiterated himself in his own words.
Starting Friday, he’ll see just how ready his team is to meet that demand.
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