Spring prospectus: Competition for jobs wide open, Mullen says

Florida head coach Dan Mullen. [Lauren Bacho/The Gainesville Sun/File]

Dan Mullen knows a thing or two about second-year bounces in college football.

He’s experienced one everywhere he’s been, starting at Bowling Green, moving on to Utah, then to Florida and again at Mississippi State.

So, will another one be coming in his second year as the head football coach at Florida?


“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Mullen said Monday. “I think our guys are probably better understanding what’s going out on the field. It should be a lot easier going out to practice than it was this time last year when nobody really knew what to expect.

“I think they know what to expect. I don’t know about the jump from one year to the next. We’ll take a jump if we work harder. If we do what we did last year, then we can’t expect to be better than we were last year.

“If that’s all we’ve done, then we can’t expect to be any better than we were last year. That’s the minimum. So it’s really what everybody does above and beyond that. That is going to determine your success.”

Mullen’s teams have a track record of second-year bounces.

In his first stint at UF as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator, the Gators went from 9-3 in 2005 to winning the national championship in 2006. Before that, there were big jumps at Bowling Green and Utah in year two.

At Mississippi State, the Bulldogs went 9-4 in his second year as the head coach after going 5-7 in his first.

Mullen and his staff will start finding out if the trend has a chance to continue over the next month, as the Gators go through spring drills, starting at today’s open practice and concluding with the spring game April 13.

“Hopefully, we’ve made some good physical gains, a little bigger, a little faster, a little stronger during the offseason program,” Mullen said. “Get back out and get back to work.

“I know we had a good year last year. But, obviously, we want to be better. If we want to be better, we’ve got to work harder, we’ve got to practice a little bit harder, we’ve got to practice better, we’ve got to perform at a little bit higher level, and that’s everybody. We had unbelievable fan support last year from the Gator Nation. We need even more this year.

“You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. Never stay the same. We’re always striving to push ourselves to improve in every aspect of the program and in everything we do. That’s our challenge.”

Mullen is stressing that the competition is going to be wide open at every position this spring, including quarterback, where junior Feleipe Franks is going to have to fend off Emory Jones, Kyle Trask and true freshman Jalon Jones to retain his starting role.

“I would hope a guy like (Franks) expects to be the starter,” Mullen said. “But he better know he’s got to compete to make sure he keeps that job because there’s other guys that want to compete to go take that job from him.

“Nothing gets handed to you. I think guys understand that. I think they want it (that way). I wouldn’t want a quarterback that wouldn’t want it that way, that doesn’t want to be pushed every day to compete to be his best.”

Mullen said now that he has an experienced quarterback and skill players, it should allow him to open up the playbook more in the second year. How much will be determined over the course of the spring and in preseason camp.

“There’s more you can do,” Mullen said. “But we’re going to do what our guys do well. It’s a brand new team this year. We’ve still got to learn what this team is going to be about.

“There better be a lot more carryover. They know how to practice, they know what we expect from them. They also have an idea within the scheme. There will be a lot of young faces out there, guys in new roles that maybe haven’t been in that part of a lead role before.”

Mullen said this spring is going to be important for the young players, especially the members of last year’s recruiting class who are being counted on to have bigger roles in 2019.

“This is a huge time for guys that are entering their second season,” Mullen said. “You should see huge jumps for players going into their second season. They’ve been through it a little bit. They know what to expect, they’ve adjusted a little bit to the speed of the college game.

“You’re not a rookie anymore. You know what the practice tempo’s like. You know what the speed of the college game is like. You should know our offensive and defensive scheme. Now let’s go see what you can do.”




    • First of all, I want to say what an absolute joy it is to have a head coach who speaks plain text English, no CEOI required, who means what he says and says what he means. If anybody doesn’t understand him — well, let it go at that.

      Second of all, I think Art Kehoe, or his curse thereof as the case may be, is dead nuts spot on. While my emotional side would like to come off the Peach Bowl with predicting an SEC and NC in 2019, I’ve got to slow down a little and be real. One game at a time, one season at a time, there’s still work to do, and I’m willing to say 2020 is the year it all comes together. Now of course, that said, I sure wouldn’t throw CDM and company under the bus if they pull off a 14-0 and a natty this year!

      Say it with me y’all…….one game at a time, one season at a time…………………………

      • It is human to want to believe that your/our team will go all the way to a NC. The way I look at it is that we have just as good a chance as any other team right now. CDM has this team on the right rails to move forward and be better prepared year after year. To Gator-6 I agree that it is a joy to be able to understand our HC. He leaves a lot less of a gray area to speculate on. Our hopes are high and so am I…on life. Alright GATORS – go take that NC and bring it back home! It has already begun. GO GATORS!!!

        • Jaws while all the games matter the only one that really matters is the one that is about to be played. Last year they got out of sorts thinking about the UGA loss and Mizzou got us again. They started to have that attitude in the SC game and shook it off. That was the coaches finally getting them to listen and look at what they are doing “now’ not what happened or should have happened, but what they can make happen going forward. Assuming they keep that mindset they should start to do some good maybe even amazing things. They are still going to lose some but it shouldn’t be for the same issues. Getting beat by a better team lets you know what you need to do to get better and where your weaknesses are.

    • Art, your forecast for the 2019 Gators is most likely correct. With the defense looking like it’ll be better in 2019 thanks to their familiarity with Coach Grantham’s schemes and few significant losses to graduation, transfers and the NFL draft, how far the Gators get in year two will depend on how much better the offense gets. How much offensive improvement we get in year two will depend on two things: (1) successfully replacing almost the entire OL, including the TE, without a dropoff in performance early in the season and (2) improved performance at the QB position, with 300+ yard passing games becoming more commonplace.

      I sincerely believe that the coaching staff and pressure of being ready for the opening game vs. Miami will have the OL ready to perform by day one. On the other hand, I don’t believe Franks can improve significantly beyond the level he attained by the Peach Bowl game vs. Michigan. That performance level at QB should be good enough to win 10 games and play even with LSU in Baton Rouge, but not good enough to beat the Dawgs in the Cocktail Party.

      So, barring major injuries, if the Gators manage to upset LSU in Death Valley, they’ll likely finish 11-1 and be at the CFP committee’s mercy on whether they qualify for the playoff because UGA will beat them and win the SEC East. Obviously, if they lose to LSU, they’ll finish 10-2 and out of the playoffs for sure.

      Go Gators!!!

      • I think the TEs will be better this season than last. As for Franks, he made me a believer, and I do think he will continue to make strides. One thing I loved last season was that he started to run the ball harder, and that will open up a lot. One question I have is how he will deal with success. He has shown that he thrives on negative energy– proving the doubters wrong, but what will happen if people start to believe in him?

        Hmmmmnnnn— maybe doubting him is the better move!

        • There’s a point I totally concur with, Franks running at the end of the season was real and effective! He ran with power and purpose, so improved it was noticeable. You are so correct that that will change things in a game. So many good defenses fail when a QB starts running including the Gators defense last season. It always took awhile for them to adjust; which they got better at as the season progressed. Our defense will be the difference maker this year, just wait and see. Awesome defenses win championships, none better then the 2008 gator D!

          • Glad you’re finally back, Daz.

            The QB competition will be fascinating this year c Franks starting to run like an old time fullback — God knows he has the size now — and the Jones boys — Emory, Jalon, and CO (😜) being as elusive as they are…..and don’t forget Trask who just might have something to prove too. If the OL does gel early and the running backs do come into their own, Katie bar the door. Now to StL’s position on Franks, if he has learned to temper if speed and make reliable reads finally, then he’ll be the starter IMO. If not, whoever can will. Anyway you slice it, this offense is poised to score points, and a lot of them at that.

            IF the defense can keep the ball in their hands. As Daz says, “wait and see (you ain’t seen nothin’ yet)”. GO GATORS!

          • Defenses hate it, especially when the QB can hurt you as a runner. In this offense, of course, it opens everything up for all the other guys as well.

        • Jaws, what helped SOS splash in 1990 was a TE named Kirk Kirkpatrick. As a tight end, he led the SEC in receptions (55) was 2nd in receiving yards (770), and grabbed 7 touchdowns. With the burgeoning WR corps, if you add Kirk’s TE production, Franks could throw for 300 in a few games, not to mention CDM’s propensity for developing QBs. Coach might rethink using Kyle Pitts at his original TE position rather than moving him to WR, especially if Cleveland and Copeland among others can get open and make plays.

          • Yeah. I forgot about him! I feel Spurrier got away from the TE over the years, but we have some guys who can create mismatches against any linebacker/safety coverage out there.

      • Really good insight, this is similar to what I am thinking too. The only item I would quibble over is that Mullen’s offense does not require a 300 pass yard/game QB. The perfect QB in Mullen’s offence will throw for 150-225 and rush for 75-100 yards a game. So the total production does get to about to 300, but it is always a combination of passing and running at the QB spot. If Franks can get close to 200 passing and be in the 50-75 yards range, we will be in great shape. Then add a combined rushing attack of RB’s and WR’s that is over 150-200 yards per game, and now we are really humming. I agree that to beat UGA we need a special special QB. Maybe Emory Jones can be this in 2020, but I agree, I don’t see that happening in 2019 for Franks.

        • You’re right Brian. The CDM offense typically generates 300 YPG at the QB position in combination of running and passing yards. However, a post 2012 championship QB MUST have the ability to exploit a good defense that sells out to stop the run by loading 8 and 9 into the box, leaving CBs on an island and making LBs cover TEs and RBs out of the backfield.

          I’m NOT advocating Fun-and-Gun type passing numbers every week. The secret to great defensive performances is keeping them well rested with your own strong running game. The 2008 Gator team was the epitome of that.

          However, there are times when you find yourself down a couple of scores, especially late, or an opponent “gives you” the pass in order to stop your run, that you MUST have a QB who can move the team through the air, like Lawrence, Tagovailoa and Fromm.

          Franks is NOT able to do that, at least not yet. So, the Gators would likely lose such games, which may end up being the difference between making the CFP field of 4 and just qualifying for another NY-6 bowl game. Maybe, one of the Jones brothers may be “that guy,” but likely as not, it won’t be in 2019, not without something bad happening to Franks.

          • Well said, StLGators. That context helps explain the point about 300 yards passing. I agree, there are those unique situations when the QB must be able to get to the 300 yard passing ceiling, and right now, based on his history at least, Franks just doesn’t have the skill set to do that. I hope he can improve, but we have all seen him miss wide open receivers too many times. Maybe if he begins to identify them and learns to pull the trigger at the right moment he can make it happen. But I just don’t think the skill set is there, which seems to be the consensus on this board.

        • I’m confused as to why you guys don’t believe Franks can improve any more than he did last season. Last season he improved drastically from beginning to end, all the while trying to learn a new offense. I’m giving him a pass on some of the continued mistakes he was making simply because of learning a new offense. He should know it like the back of his hand now, which should allow him to know where everyone is on the field. Being aware of where everyone is will make him a better QB, and it will allow him to be quicker with his decision making. Mullen will also be able to open more of the playbook. He hasn’t had legit coaching until last season, so I find it hard to believe he’s already reached his peak. With the experienced weapons he’ll have at his disposal and as long as the O-line gives him time, I’m fully expecting him to improve even more and not only be one of the best QB’s in the SEC, but in the nation. This offense was rolling on all cylinders by the end of the season, averaging over 500 yards and 45 pts per game over the last 4 games. They were one of the hottest and most potent teams in the nation, so I find it hard to believe it’s just going to stall out and not continue progressing. Mullen has made drastic improvements from year one to year two at every stop he’s been at. No reason to believe he won’t have the same success with this team and Franks.

          • I think StL is basically saying, “show me” Joe — not ruling out Franks entirely. I think he can still learn more “touch” on certain passes, although I’ve already made my thoughts known on the biological bases for his deficiencies in reading the field. I still believe that will limit his ceiling, but damn — a good part of me also believes in “heart”, and that kid has more heart than any quarterback in the league. In my own experience, I’ve seen some young men with a lot more going against them than Franks does do some pretty amazing things that everybody said they weren’t capable of. Pretty sure 65 and GatorEd have too……as old Dan Cook would have said, “…the oprey ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings”.

          • I think he was showing it last season. Looking at how he was playing by the end of the season, one can only imagine how great he’d be playing right now if it were still going on. I’d like to see the fans stop questioning him so much and start getting behind him and encouraging him. But then again who knows, he seems to play better when the fans are down on him, so maybe there’s some reverse psychology going on. I think the “touch” and reading defenses and understanding where everyone is on the field will all improve with more comfort in the offense and the game slows down for him.

          • Good post, Joe. I don’t think Franks will feel the need to shush our fans because he won’t give them reason to boo, which I don’t agree with anyway, booing college students. I’m confident with Mullen’s history with QBs.

          • Some really good points here, but I don’t think the offense was humming at full capacity, at least Franks was not. Mullen adjusted the offense to fit Franks, and while Franks did improve, I really think it says more about what Mullen was able to do with Franks than Franks improvement. Now Franks can improve, and I sure hope he will, but I don’t think we can count on him to make those critical 2 or 3 plays in those key 2 or 3 situations that end up defining a season. That is how you beat UGA, with precision and accuracy and skill. No one is saying Franks won’t improve. We are saying (or at least, some of us are) that his ceiling just isn’t high enough to get the Gators back to the promise land. I will be MORE than happy to be proven wrong!

      • STL I would expect UM to be on Franks like he hasn’t seen as yet forcing the decision making and adjustments. IF our OL can do well this will be the opportunity Franks needs to show his progress and whether or not he is or should be the starter. He showed huge gains last year. I think he has some room for growth but I am not sure his ceiling is that much higher. Given our coaches put him in much better positions to succeed than he had before he has to make that leap in play making that still eluded him last season. I hope he does, but we now have a full stable of QB’s to back him up and will be ready in the event his progression isn’t up to it. Not trying to be a downer just a realist. He needs to make the touch passes, hit the receiver in the High/low slot, find and hit the receiver masked from his view that he knows has to be there due to play design.
        I also think there is a little dissention in UGA. If Smart cannot corral that there could be trouble up there. Sure players are lining up to play there and they have beaten us (I got to that game) for two years. They may make it 3 but it won’t or shouldn’t be a blow out. How much mettle (gumption to steal a word from 6) they have will show what CDM has for the year.
        Lastly if we beat UM good out of conference win and it sets the tone for the season, Maintain that and we could beat Auburn and LSU. If they stay focused and build the momentum they could be set for some unexpected upset wins. Malzahn is again coaching for his job and they will be better this year. LSU will want revenge and they have been building too. Both of those teams are more volatile emotionally than we are and where they are ion their schedule w/l will effect them in our game. That is what hurt us last year after UGA and CDM seemed to have curbed that by SC.
        Can season start already.

        • I agree with you 65. The key to winning the UM game will be how well the OL develops over spring and summer practices. They must be ready to open up consistent holes for the running game so the Gators can control the clock and allow the Gator D to snuff out of what should be an inferior Canes O. It probably won’t be a high scoring game and Franks won’t need to be any better than he was vs. the other UM on NY’s Day in Atlanta.

          As to Franks’ development as a QB in year 2 under CDM, he will be more knowledgeable and confident running the offense. He became a more aggressive runner from the USCe game forward, which he should continue doing in 2019. And the team seems to rally around him as their leader. That is all to the good.

          Franks’ glaring deficiencies are that, after 3 years playing CFB, he STILL stares at his primary receiver as he’s calling out signals, he STILL misses wide open receivers on the other side of the field from where he’s been staring, he STILL loses receivers or throws behind them when they’re crossing over the middle of the field and he’s always had trouble throwing to TEs. If CDM can break him of THOSE bad habits, then Franks will become the QB that can take the Gators back to the promised land. If not, then we should expect to lose to the likes of UGA and Alabama, who can shut down any running game while their offenses score 4+ touchdowns in almost every game.

          Still, 11-1 or 10-2 with an invitation to a NY-6 bowl is an improvement over 2018, which I would gladly accept as another step in the right direction.

          • I think UM will bring the heat as they are going to be limited on their defensive options. I am not sure with their losses if they will have the coverages but I think they will try to stop the run and force the pass. We will be better in that regard but You are correct if FF can’t get over those hurdles there will be a point when the coaches say no mas and make a change. I am not advocating for that but sometimes FF limitations may limit our offensive options.

        • It would take a meltdown I don’t anticipate for CDM to pull the plug on Franks this season. He is the most experienced QB on the Gator roster and CDM’s history shows he prefers working with experienced QBs and bringing younger ones along slowly.

          Franks is good enough to beat Miami if he just gets adequate blocking, given they lose their entire secondary and best rush DE from last year’s squad. He’s also good enough to win every other game in 2019, except UGA. Playing Alabama would only happen in the SEC Championship and would be a problem I’d love to see the Gators have.

          That said, injuries do occur sometimes and Franks did melt down vs. Mizzou last year (I know, I was there.) In such cases, it would be good to have one of the Jones brothers ready to step up and I’m sure CDM will.

  1. I get nervous about offensive line, but i must admit that we are fast becoming Offensive Tackle U in recent years. one guy today just hit the big bucks in the nfl after winning a super bowl (brown). another was a first rounder with the cardinals a few years back, and one more is about to go in the first round.another guy just moved up with the cardinals (gilbert). i hate to see us lose all of our offensive tackles, but i think i better wait and see about the new group, they should be more talented than i thought.

    • I share your concern, Mveal — but that’s all it is and we’ll know better what things look like after April 13th. I take a lot of comfort tho in StL’s comments above; c the advent of the Miami game being moved back into August, I think he’s got a good point. That O-line is gonna get worked silly to make sure they’re ready!

    • I am counting on our coaches including the Savage Beast to whip the line into shape. But, that is one of the big question marks heading into the season, of course, simply due to lack of experience. We’ll see!

    • Mveal I was thinking the same thing at first but look what they did with the guys we had last year compared to the year before. Then think that CDM has had two years recruiting so the OL has a fair amount of his recruits. Last year he had to turn around a group that was listless and lost so he didn’t just have to coach them he had to change their scheme, mindset, fitness etc. I think the group this year will come along faster because there are less variables and the one returning player hopefully becomes a leader. My concern is getting the TE position up to speed and probably blocking more at first to augment the OL and them catching some passes.

    • Mveal, it just goes to show you how bad the coaching was over the last 8 years. That same guy, Brown, who just became the highest paid tackle in NFL history, was playing guard for Muschamp. A 6’8″ 363 lb guard, how stupid is that? No way in hell Hevesy would’ve had him at guard. This line is in great hands and will be ready to play this season. You’d be hard pressed to find any line under Hevesy that didn’t give everything they had.

    • I agree. I really would like to go behind the curtain on this and see what these workouts involve, including the famed “Matt drills.” I know there have been pieces written in the past on M. Marotti, and what Savage does is supposed to be a clone system, so there might be some insight there. But I agree, I would love to know more about what Savage does to help the team improve physically and mentally.

    • You know, I’ve love to be a fly on the wall of a freshman football player’s dorm room after his first couple of Savage workouts. I’ll bet there is some grumbling along the lines of “what the #$%^&* have I gotten myself into 🙂

  2. How refreshing to at least talk about seriously competing for an SEC Championship and maybe even a NC. I don’t know that we will win those , but we can at least say that now more realistically. Who would ahve thought we would have won and SEC and NC in 06? The key to me will be the D . We can’t give up the big plays and if we can be dominant, I like our chances. and we can be dominating . If Felipe , or whoever starts, can just keep the chains moving and hit a big play every once in a while, we should be competitive in every game. We don’t need to dominate on O , but I think we do on D. Our kicking game will be great. I have noticed that when Franks runs the ball hard and acts tough doing so early in games, it seems to fuel the rest of his game. He needs to get dirty. He needs the contact. He seems to feed off it.We need to start running over our rivals . How awesome would it be if we at least made the LSU fans burn all their voodoo dolls after the game! Cause the Tenn fans to finally scribble out in crayon the words to a different song! To make the Bulldogs look like gerbils. And , last but not least, make the Noles wish they could have been accepted to Florida! GO GATORS!