There was a moment Friday that showed just how different it is for Dan Mullen’s return to the practice fields where he once coached offense.
Freshman Amari Burney read the quarterback perfectly and stepped in front of a pass, picking it off and sailing down the sidelines. When he came back to the huddle, he exchanged a flying hip bump with the Florida head coach.
“I get to be excited about defense now,” Mullen said. “When you’re the quarterback coach, you don’t get to do that stuff. It’s fun.”
The head coach of the Florida football team still hasn’t coached a game, but he could check one thing off his to-do list — run your first Gator practice as a head coach.
With a crowd of about 600 watching on the east and south sidelines of the practice fields, the Gators took the first divots out of the pristine grass fields during their first practice of the spring.
The energy was palpable and it started earlier in the day when Mullen showed up for 2:30 p.m. meetings.
“I was the only one in the hall,” he said. “Everybody was in their seats at 2:25. That tells me how hungry these guys are.”
A 4-7 season will make you starving. And for these Gators who struggled through the mess that was 2017, any injection of energy is welcome.
“It was a different kind of energy, a new vibe,” said left tackle Martez Ivey. “Everyone was excited. You see a different urgency with the players and the coaches.”
The up-tempo practice went more than two hours and included highlight plays on both sides of the ball. Van Jefferson, the transfer wide receiver from Ole Miss who has yet to be cleared, was one of the stars on offense.
Jordan Scarlett, suspended all of last year for his role in the credit card fraud case, was the most polished off the tailbacks.
“Scarlett hasn’t lost a step,” said linebacker David Reese. “He’s going to pick up where he left off and I’m excited about that.”
Feleipe Franks started the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills as the first quarterback followed by Kyle Trask, Jake Allen and Emory Jones, in that order.
They all had their positive plays, but there were plenty of interceptions to go around.
The fans starved for offense cheered every completion, groaned at every dropped pass and did both on every interception.
“It was lovely,” Reese said of the crowd. “I’m mad that they only cheered for the offense today.”
More than anything, Friday’s first practice in jerseys and shorts was about getting the players acclimated to the speed of practices as coaches and athletes continue to get to know each other.
“I thought they did pretty good,” Mullen said. “Obviously, there were a lot of new things. But it’s like everything they’ve done in that the effort was there.
“This was first practice for everybody. I thought overall guys were picking it up pretty quickly. We’ll see because we have a quick turnaround.”
Florida will practice again today at 12:20 p.m. and again it is open to the public.
For Mullen, it’s another practice at a field where he has already done a lot of coaching. At least the first one is out of the way.
“I’ve been dying to be out there and start doing some football,” he said. “It was like my first practice all over again. I was a little nervous, a lot of nervous energy. Maybe not as paranoid. I definitely felt it was my first practice as the Florida Gators (coach), but I wasn’t just completely out of my mind.
“Walking out to practice, it does kind of bring it back (memories). I love being out here. I love football. I love the excitement. I’m happy to be a Florida Gator.”
What: Second practice of the spring open to the fans and media
When: 12:20-2:50 p.m. today
Where: Sanders Practice Fields on UF campus