Florida’s Mullen fits his offense around players’ skill set

At Mississippi State, coach Dan Mullen fit his offense around the different skills quarterback Dak Prescott (15) brought to the team. It was the same way Mullen handled things from the start of his career. [Robert Sutton/GateHouse Media Services]

Everyone seems to agree that dual-threat quarterback Emory Jones, who signed with Florida on Wednesday, appears to be a perfect fit for Dan Mullen’s offense.

But Mullen was quick to point out that when it comes to his system, it’s not about the quarterback fitting the offense, it’s all about the offense fitting the quarterback.

“One of the things that’s most important at the quarterback position is understanding as a coach what they do well and try to put them in a position to do things that they do well,” he said.

“You have to have the flexibility that your system fits around the strengths of that quarterback, and that’s the most important thing for us, identifying these strengths for all the guys that we have and put them in the right position to be successful.”

This is something Mullen has successfully done throughout his coaching career. He has developed a long list of excellent quarterbacks as a coordinator and head coach. But no two quarterbacks have been exactly alike. They’ve had varying skills sets, and Mullen has taken those particular skill sets and built his offense around them.

Take, for example, the situation when he was the offensive coordinator at Florida. Mullen helped the Gators win a national championship in 2006 with a dropback passer (Chris Leak) and again in 2008 with a dual-threat quarterback (Tim Tebow).

Those two offenses certainly were different. But the results were the same: the Gators scored a bunch of points and won a bunch of games.

“If I lined up all of my quarterbacks throughout the years and they all stood in a line up here, you would say there’s no way those guys all had success running the same offense for the same coach,” Mullen said. “And you’d probably be right in one part of it, because even though they didn’t all run the identical offense, the flexibility within the offense to build around the strength of the quarterback is really important, and you’re not going to ask guys to do things they don’t do well.

“Even in recruiting, in talking with Emory, how are we going to change and do things that he does well, and we went back and explained and looked at the difference of the different quarterbacks.”

Mullen pointed out that each quarterback he’s coached has had a different skill set from the others.

“From what a Nick Fitzgerald was doing well was different than what Dak Prescott did well, which was different than Chris Relf did well, which was different than what a Tebow did well, which was different than what Chris Leak did well, which was different than what Alex Smith did well,” he said.

“The key is putting them in a position to be successful, not have the quarterback have to fit your system.”

At this stage, Mullen can’t tell you exactly what his offense is going to look like next season. He won’t know that until he establishes who his starting quarterback is going to be.

It could be this spring. It could be in late August. When he identifies his guy, he’ll fit the offense around his skill set, whether it’s Jones, Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask or Jake Allen.

The competition for the job will be wide open in the spring.

“I think the opportunity for (Jones) graduating early and going through spring practice will give him a chance,” Mullen said. “But I’ll be honest with you, there are a couple quarterbacks on campus that are going to have something to say about that because they’re going to have a competitive edge to them, as well. That mindset, the competitiveness at the position, is certainly going to elevate the play of all of the quarterbacks.”

When it’s come to his quarterbacks, Mullen has been flexible down through the years.

At his early signing day news conference, he talked a great deal about flexibility, about players being flexible enough to play different roles, and coaches being flexible in the systems they run.

Mullen said his defense will be similar to his offense in that it will be built around the skill set of the players.

“We’re going to be flexible,” Mullen said. “You’ll see us be in the 3-4, you’ll see us be in the 4-3. We’re not going to sit in one defense. We’re going to move in and out of defenses and use different personnel groupings.

“Very similar to what we are offensively. (Defensive coordinator) Todd Grantham is going to have the flexibility to build the defense around the personnel that we have now and around the personnel as we continue to build and recruit and get guys that fit the specific needs of what we want. That defense will transition long-term into what we want to be.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.

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