Mullen praises defense, evaluates each position after final scrimmage

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Florida coach Dan Mullen sees the Gators' defense improving for the 2021 season.

Florida concluded spring ball Saturday with its final practice in The Swamp.

With no Orange & Blue Game this year, UF coach Dan Mullen didn’t split up the roster into two teams and instead held a normal scrimmage.

He said the Gators don’t have any serious injuries coming out of camp, but a lot of players were banged up Saturday.  

“We were kind of really down on numbers. I think we finished with like 10 total offensive linemen,” Mullen said. “But the biggest thing for me was that guys made plays. We made a bunch of plays out there on the field.

“I think there were more plays made in today’s scrimmage than maybe in the other scrimmages on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, which is what you want. As spring goes on, you want to see guys understanding the system, and then making plays within what we ask them to do. And I think we saw a lot more of that (Saturday).”

Mullen also saw Florida’s defense once again get the best of his offense, which happened in all three scrimmages. Todd Grantham’s unit was able to make strides this spring while the other side of the ball worked to replace quarterback Kyle Trask and his receiving corps. 

“You’d say the defense won pretty much all the scrimmages that we had,” Mullen said. “So I think overall the defense had a very good spring. But we got to continue to take those steps and create that depth."

Offensively, Mullen acknowledged Saturday that Emory Jones is the starting quarterback heading into the offseason. The biggest improvements Jones made this spring were his accuracy and throwing mechanics, according to Mullen. 

“He really went from a guy that understands the offense to a guy that's making his reads and working on his technique, fundamentals at the quarterback position. At the backend of spring, you watch his balance in the pocket throwing the football, instead of just trying to make plays, and him focusing on being balanced with his accuracy,” Mullen said. 

“He’s getting a lot of the one reps, so now it's on him and I think with that, you know, comes the responsibility. … He plays physical and he plays strong at his size out there. … We're constantly on him about the consistency within his performance. He has great talent to go make plays, but getting the timing down because we have some younger receivers.” 

Mullen broke down the strengths and weaknesses of each position following the scrimmage. He singled out wide receiver Ja’Markis Weston and nose tackle Gervon Dexter as two standout players from spring ball. 

“I feel really good with our running backs and linebackers. I think there's some solid depth right in there,” Mullen said. “I'm comfortable with some of the O-line. Solidifying who the five are and the next three are, we're still getting there. The quarterback position, we're trying to create the two starters and then get the young guys caught up to be the backup. The tight ends, I thought those guys played pretty good. I'm comfortable with those guys. Receivers are coming along. Like one guy to me, Ja'Markis Weston, I thought took huge steps this spring. 

“Defensive line wise, I do think we're creating that depth. The two new guys, Daquan Newkirk and Valentino (Antonio Shelton), they stepped in and just took over right from Day 1. I mean, we expect Zach [Carter] to be where he is. Dexter took some good steps forward this spring. Coming off the edge, I thought we were able to create some depth there with [Jeremiah] Moon coming back. Secondary, I think we'll feel good with putting four to five guys out there on the field, but you want to get to six, seven, eight in a hurry. We need a bunch of those guys to really grow."

Running back Malik Davis (20) finds a gap in the defense during Saturday's scrimmage at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.