FOOTBALL

Whitley: Will Gators quarterback Emory Jones be ready when the 'moment' arrives?

David Whitley
Gator Sports

For Kyle Trask, the moment hit like a lightning bolt.

Feleipe Franks’ ankle was mangled in a Kentucky pileup. Dan Mullen felt confident sending Trask in to rescue Florida from an 11-point deficit, but Mullen was also holding his breath.

“He was going into a situation I had not seen him in, and how he was going to handle that,” Mullen said.

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Trask handled it well. So well that the other quarterback Mullen planned to use that September afternoon never got off the bench.

Two years later, Emory Jones’ moment has arrived like a slow train everybody saw coming. But the eternal QB question is still in play.

Is Jones ready?

Quarterback Emory Jones hands off to running back Nay'Quan Wright during Friday's practice at Florida's Indoor Practice Facility.

“There’s nothing that tells me he’s not going to handle it as good as anyone I’ve ever had,” Mullen said.

Dan Mullen's skill with quarterbacks

That should make you feel better if you’re nervous about the main topic of conversation going into preseason camp. Mullen is a modern-day Henry Ford when it comes to quarterbacks. He’s built an assembly line that keeps rolling out successful products.

But if you’re not the least bit nervous about the Gators’ QB succession, you’re suffering a case of blind faith. For all the confident talk we’ll hear in the next few weeks, not even Jones knows for sure if he’s ready to assume the throne.

The truth is, nobody can know until it happens. All we can do is look at what’s led up to that moment, and then make a prediction.

With Jones, it begins with Mullen, a.k.a. Quarterback Whisperer. (Why is it you never hear about Left Tackle Whisperers? Are left tackles deaf? But anyway…) Mullen’s had the Midas Touch since he became quarterback coach at Bowling Green.

It continued at Utah with Alex Smith, then on to Florida with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. If you think Mullen was merely the beneficiary of superior talents, consider how Florida’s QB assembly line derailed when he left for Mississippi State.

Mullen turned the scraps he inherited in Starkville into competent quarterbacks. Then he took a 3-star recruit LSU thought would make a good tight end and turned him into Dak Prescott.

Next up was Nick Fitzgerald, who’s only other scholarship offer was from Middle Tennessee. He eventually led the SEC in total offensive yards, then Mullen returned to Gainesville.

He quickly smoothed out Franks’ rough edges. When Franks went down, Trask went from Mr. Nobody to Mr. Heisman Candidate.

In other words, if the Royal Family was as good at succession as the Mullen QB Family, Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t have to turn off the TV every time Prince Harry gets near Oprah. Mullen is the power behind the throne, and the strength comes from tailoring his offenses to fit his quarterbacks, not vice versa.

Showtime for Emory Jones?

Which brings us to Jones.

“Elite arm talent,” Mullen said.

Add elite leg talent, and what do you have?

“An athletic human being,” receiver Justin Shorter said.

Probably the most athletic quarterback Mullen has ever had. But what about the skills from the neck up? The ones that instantly analyze defenses, make a leader, keep the mind focused when Nick Saban comes to town?

“My confidence in Emory as a player is extremely high,” Mullen said. “My confidence with his maturity is extremely high.”

As a hotshot recruit, Jones probably never thought he’d have to wait this long to start. He’s been a good soldier, patiently waiting and working.

He’s bulked up about 10 pounds to withstand the increased pounding he’ll get. He’s organized informal workouts with receivers six days a week this offseason, eager to show UF’s passing game won’t fall too far.

“If y’all think Emory Jones is not going to throw the ball, that’s a mistake,” safety Trey Dean said.

Mullen has always relished having a dual-threat quarterback, and Jones is his first one to fit that mold since returning to Florida. He’s probably stayed up countless nights fiendishly designing sequences that will keep defensive heads spinning.

Jones has shown he can execute those plays — in spurts. The redshirt junior has run 92 times for 514 yards and completed 55 of 86 passes for seven TDs, with only one interception.

That’s a lot more seasoning than Trask had, but that’s all it is — seasoning. Jones has never been thrown into the fire like Trask was.

It’s hard to say when that moment will really arrive. FAU and USF should be nice dry runs. The third game against Alabama won’t be.

“That is such a big deal, of now all the extra responsibilities that you haven’t had to handle,” Mullen said. “That are really almost non-football related, more mental and handling different situations and pressures.”

Will Jones be ready?

Check back in about six weeks. Until then, all we can say for sure is Jones is as prepared as any newbie quarterback Mullen has ever had

So if history is any indication, there’s only one prediction to make.

When his moment arrives, Jones should be more than ready.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley