Gators notebook: Offseason critical for Emory Jones, team chemistry

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Florida quarterback Emory Jones lets one fly during Saturday's scrimmage at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Spring football is over, but the real work begins now for Florida quarterback Emory Jones and his teammates. 

With UF coach Dan Mullen acknowledging him as QB1 following the final scrimmage Saturday, Jones now has the responsibility of leading the Gators through the offseason. 

The next few months will be significant to his development as well.

“The most important time I always think for a quarterback is the end of spring ball to the start of training camp,” Mullen said. “I’m not allowed to be with him for that time on the field. What they do and how they’re able to handle it is critical.” 

More:Mullen praises defense, evaluates each position after final scrimmage

Defender to watch:Florida's Gervon Dexter striving for greatness, playing new position

Mullen said Jones needs to spend the next four months getting his timing down with Florida’s receiving corps, which lost senior wideouts Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney and junior tight end Kyle Pitts. The onus is also on Jones to organize player-run workouts and 7v7 sessions against the defense. 

“What he’s never had to do is manage and run the team,” UF quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee said of Jones. “Emory was here with Feleipe Franks too, so he got to see Feleipe work. Now the transition is going from the guy who looked up to Kyle Trask to the guy who has everyone looking at him. Your energy level and the way you show up focused, concentrated and executing on the practice field is going to affect the whole practice session. 

“That’s what being the No. 1 quarterback at this program means. … If you’re going to have a chance to be great, it starts with leadership. And you build that throughout the offseason and in the weight room. Your team needs to say to themselves, ‘We got a chance to win any game because this guy’s on our team.’ That’s where it starts.”

McGee said he’s seen those qualities in Jones and believes the players are already behind him. He was more vocal during spring camp and embraced his leadership role, according to running backs Malik Davis and Nay’Quan Wright. 

“He’s definitely speaking up more, which is something that needed to be done,” Davis said. “As an older guy I tell him all the time to take control, speak up, be loud. Just so everyone can get a feel for him and understand that he’s out here now. I think he just played a little bit in the back seat and now he’s in the front.”

Wright said of Jones, “He’s becoming more of a leader every day. He didn't really have to lead last year being a backup to Kyle. This year is his offense, so he’s taking full control and stepping into that role.”

Mullen leaning on veteran leaders

Jones won’t be alone in leading the Gators this offseason. 

Mullen is counting on several veteran players to stay on top of their position groups with the coaches away.

“Emory obviously a lot,” he said. “You’re looking at, ‘Hey Zach Carter, the whole defensive front, you gotta take control of that.’ You look at Kaiir [Elam] in the secondary, ‘You have to make sure those guys are communicating and getting the work in.’ Ventrell Miller at linebacker. You’re looking at guys like Big Stew [Stewart Reese], Ethan White and Richard Gouraige on the offensive line, making sure they’re getting the work in they need to get in.

“The running back position, there’s not one guy teaching the young guys how to do it because you have so many veteran guys that know what to do. Emory and Anthony [Richardson] have to get the tight ends and receivers to work on the same page. So it’s kind of the veteran guy at their position group pulling all the other guys along, saying, ‘This is the work we need to do.’”

After Saturday’s scrimmage, Mullen gave the team a week off to take a break and refresh. Once the players get back to work, Davis said the coming months will be huge for them after they weren’t able to train and work out together last offseason due to COVID-19. 

Wright thinks getting that time back will be beneficial off the field as well. 

“It’s just going to build some chemistry,” he said. “Go out and do fun things, maybe if it’s not even just football. Maybe just go out and go to the bowling alley.

“One day we go out and throw routes, the next day we go out and get some food somewhere. Just create that chemistry so we can trust one another.”

Hoops tournament for football team

The fun activities this offseason might include a basketball tournament.

Mullen said he’s done it in the past and could be having one with this year’s team at the end of April. 

“We’ll see how they shape up and how they do,” Mullen said. “There are probably a few guys that would surprise you and they would be pretty legit out there.”

Two local players, Richardson (Eastside) and Trent Whittemore (Buchholz), starred on their high school basketball teams, as did defensive lineman Gervon Dexter (Lake Wales). Who would make up the starting five on Florida’s football team?

“If I went into the locker room right now, you’d have about 80 guys that think they would be in the starting five,” Mullen said. “That would be a huge argument. … I’m not reeling off who they are. I just can’t.

“Maybe that’s something we invite you (reporters) to. Invite you to the basketball tournament and you can make the judgment. You guys can call out who was good and who was not. We can bring some reality to the situation.”