At this time a year ago, the Florida offensive players were wandering around a little bit lost, a little bit overwhelmed, their minds swimming, struggling to learn and understand an entirely new offense.
There were many unknowns — the biggest probably being that the Gators didn’t even know who their quarterback was going to be yet.
It’s a totally different story heading into Year Two under coach Dan Mullen.
The Gators know the offense now, know it and feel comfortable and confident in it. And they certainly know who their quarterback is — junior Feleipe Franks.
“His game is going to be phenomenal,” senior wide receiver Van Jefferson said at the team’s media day Thursday. “He’s going to have a great year. He’s been putting in the work all summer. He’s been on our tails all summer.
“You’re really going to see a different quarterback in Feleipe. He’s going to do great things. I have no doubt in my mind. He’s confident all the way around. He’s going to go out there and just blow everybody’s mind away.”
Franks and the offense started producing some glimpses of mind-blowing stuff coming down the stretch last season.
Franks and the offense had shown sure and steady improvement over the first half of the season as they seemed to gain a better feel and understanding each week.
Then, in the final four games, the Gators took a big leap offensively — averaging 45 points and almost 500 yards a game.
They had found their comfort zone in Mullen’s offense.
And now they’re carrying it into the 2019 season.
“It’s just repetition,” senior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “The more you do something, the better you get at it. We’ve had a whole year-and-a-half in the system. Everyone knows what they’re doing. It allows us to play faster and execute smoother.
“We found our strengths and weaknesses throughout the year in 2018. We really got good at figuring out what we’re really good at. We’ve got to continue to work and get better as a team. I think our offense can excel, be really good.”
It’s an entirely different offensive mindset from a year ago, when the Gators were still in the early stages of learning the offense heading into the season.
During the season, there were some tough, and often frustrating, lessons learned along the way, but they have brought the offense to a much better place in 2019.
“It’s a lot different than last year,” tight end Lucas Krull said. “Coming into Year Two, we’re comfortable with the offense, we understand the playbook. Now, it’s time to polish everything up and really focus on your opponent versus what do I have to do.
“Last season, every week we had something new coming in. We’d have times where we’d sit there and just work on understanding what we were learning.
“Now, we’ve got everything down. We can just run with it and play fast. That’s very important. The last thing you need to do is be out there second-guessing yourself. It’s important to understand what you’re doing and play fast.”
Knowing the offense produces a comfort level that leads to players playing fast and free, senior wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland said.
And the Gators know the offense now.
“It was all new to us last year. We didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “As the year went on, we bought into Coach Mullen.
“We’re very comfortable coming into Year Two. We don’t really have to think before we do things. You can just play fast and continue to make plays. We didn’t know how to do that last season, now we do.”
Franks said the players did more that just grow comfortable in the offense last season.
“We grew comfortable with each other,” he said.
That means players growing comfortable with coaches and coaches becoming comfortable with the players.
The Gators have that going for them heading into Mullen’s second season.
“We know the players better this year than we did last year,” Mullen said. “If there’s one big (box you want to check) it’s you know the personalities of the guys and what you’re dealing with. You know what buttons that you can push and you know when at practice what I see from somebody and how they have translated that to games and where they need to improve.
“If there’s a biggest box to check for me it is us knowing each other a little bit better. It’s us knowing a lot more about the players that I feel comfortable with and knowing that the players know what to expect from the practice field.
“And if I’m not getting that, then we have a problem. They should be right from day one from the first period of the first practice. They know what our practices should look like.”