The transition to a new coaching staff has appeared to be fairly seamless up to this point.
Recruiting went well. The fan base has been re-energized. The players have bought into the demanding strength and conditioning program, where, by all accounts, gains have been made.
Everyone seems excited, and hopeful.
Now comes the most important phase to date — stepping onto the field for the first time to see how this is all going to start working out between Dan Mullen and his staff and the players.
There are some unknowns, of course. But Tuesday, Mullen was asked about the knowns when it comes to his first Florida football team heading into the start of spring practice Friday.
“I know they’re going to play hard because they’re not going to have an option,” Mullen said. “I know that they’re going to learn to go hard. I know that we’re going to be physical. I feel comfortable with that seeing the lack of resistance in what we’ve asked them to do.
“I think we started to see some great gains in the weight room, great gains in conditioning, fitness. A lot of guys are transforming their bodies already. I think they see some positive feedback physically in themselves. Just the way that they’ve bought into that. When you’re going to go through our offseason conditioning program, me asking you to go hard on the field is not really that complicated. Those are kind of the knowns.
“I’m excited to get out there and get started on some football and coaching some ball.”
Mullen has been following his players’ progress in Nick Savage’s strength and conditioning program, and he’s spent some time watching tape of some of the players he’ll be coaching.
But Mullen said he’s been holding off forming opinions on any of his players. He’ll start doing that this spring, based on how the players react and perform now instead of what they put on tape with the former coaching staff.
“Everything else I want to see. I try not to judge too much,” he said. “I’ll try even in spring. I don’t want to get too excited. I don’t want to get too worried. Because it’s probably never as good or never as bad as it seems.
“I’m optimistic. I’m excited to see the guys. I see not just the hunger from our fan base, but the hunger from the guys. These guys came to Florida to play for championships. That’s why they came to school here. I think they’re excited to do that.”
The most anticipated aspect of the spring centers around the quarterback position: Who will emerge as the possible starter and how will he fit in Mullen’s offense?
The competition is going to be wide open between Feleipe Franks, last year’s starter, Kyle Trask, Jake Allen and true freshman Emory Jones, the only true dual-threat QB in the group.
Franks is considered more of a pro-style quarterback, but he said he feels comfortable in the offense, which includes the read-option and some designed quarterback runs.
“I like the offense,” he said. “It’s something different than what we had with Coach Nuss (Doug Nussmeier). It really breaks it down toward super simple. It’s easy for the quarterbacks to understand. I think I can thrive in it.
“If I have to, I can tote that rock. I think it’s just another aspect of Coach Mullen’s game that I’m going to have to adapt to. I’ve never been afraid to run the ball, and never will be. If I have to, I can put that head down and get rolling.”
It will be an important spring for Franks and the quarterbacks. But Mullen said it won’t necessarily determine a leader or potential starter heading into the offseason.
He said he’s not concerned about establishing a depth chart at quarterback over the course of the next few weeks.
“I don’t worry about that,” Mullen said. “It’s spring to me. Learn how to play hard. (The spring) 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.”
The quarterbacks and other offensive players are already in the playbook. How much of the offense is installed in the spring is still to be determined.
But it will be a considerable chunk, Mullen said. ‘
“We’ve talked about it,” he said. “We have an installation plan in place. It’s probably pretty aggressive offensively. And sometimes I’ll cut back as we go. But we’re going to have a lot of our concepts installed in the spring.”
Mullen said there will be a variety of plays that will come out of each formation. The plan is to not overload the players with too much information too soon.
“Even though there’s five different things we’re can run out of a formation and motion, we’re only going to run the one and mix and match the concepts,” he said. “That way 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.”
While the players are learning the offense this spring, Mullen will be getting to better know his players.
“I want to see our players’ reaction, that’s a big part to me,” he said. “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.
“Hopefully, we’re motivated. I know there’s a lot to be motivated for. I’m excited to see what our guys can do.”