Gators Notebook: Dan Mullen discusses vaccination rate, special teams, Tyreak Sapp

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Florida coach Dan Mullen

Florida coach Dan Mullen likes what he’s seen from his team through the first week of preseason training camp. 

Thursday was the first off day for players since practices started. The Gators will return to the field today before holding their first scrimmage this weekend. 

“I think the training camp is going pretty well,” Mullen said Thursday. “We’re still in the installation phase of things right now. We’re going to continue to install through the weekend and the plan is to have our first scrimmage on Sunday.”

Regarding COVID-19, Mullen said the Gators continue to make progress with their vaccination rate. The SEC has an 85 percent vaccination threshold for teams to avoid regular COVID-19 testing and mask requirements inside team facilities. 

"Our vaccinations continue to increase," Mullen said. "I don't know the exact number. We're not at 100 percent, but we're really, very, very, very high that way. We're at a grade that you could bring home to your parents, you wouldn't have to hide that report card. We're at that percentage where you'd be proud to bring your report card home with our percentage number on there."

Earlier this month, Mullen said the Gators “are probably over” the 85% vaccination threshold the league requires, but he admitted he wasn’t sure about the exact number. 

Special teams battles 

The Gators have four special teams starters to replace from 2020, including their kicker and return specialists. 

Jace Christmann, who played for Mullen at Mississippi State, joined the program this summer as a graduate transfer. MSU’s all-time leader in scoring (219), Christmann is competing with redshirt senior Chris Howard for the job. 

Howard started in place of Evan McPherson last season against Missouri, making two field goals (28 and 32 yards) and all five extra point attempts. 

“It’s a good little competition between those two guys,” Mullen said. “Obviously, Chris has been with the program since I've been here and I've seen unbelievable improvement of him from one year to the next within our program. I think, comes into the year with a lot of confidence. And then obviously, Jace, knowing Jace, recruiting Jace out of high school, having him play for me. 

“Heck, he's the one that scored the points when we went out there to play him a couple years ago at Mississippi State against us. So, I know that he has experience and a background. So, it’ll be a good little battle for those two guys, but I think they work together and it gives us the opportunity to make sure we have two kickers that are ready to go play.”

Redshirt freshman safety Fenley Graham is projected to take over on special teams for Kadarius Toney, who handled Florida's punt and kick return duties last year. Graham starred as a return specialist at Lakeland High, and Mullen has a few more players taking reps as returners. 

“Fenley coming out of high school, obviously everybody knew that was a guy that was very much a utility player, a really good football player, can return punts, can return kicks, can move him around defensively. A guy who has a really natural instinct for the ball. Obviously in the return games he’s up there big,” Mullen said. 

“Trying to work Demarkcus Bowman into that situation to return kicks. Punt return, obviously you have Xzavier Henderson, Kaiir Elam, guys that have been back there in the past to go do that stuff as well. Ja’Markis Weston is a guy I’m really excited to see in a kickoff return role, possibly.” 

News & notes

Mullen on whether incoming freshman defensive lineman Tyreak Sapp will be cleared to enroll and join the team this week: "We're hoping. On our end everything's done. Now it's just waiting on other people."

Mullen on Tim Tebow’s chances of making a successful transition from quarterback to tight end: “I never put anything past Tim, of doing things. You know what I mean? We’ll see. I’m not there. I think he could. He’d be an interesting guy in that position because I think he brings different value of a guy that has a different skill set.”

• Mullen on the impact Bobby Bowden had on him: “He came to speak, when I was at Mississippi State. Being around him, you study him — obviously schemes. I thought he was a pretty unique innovator of the game of football; a lot with the shotgun and no huddle offenses. And then, obviously, one of the things you see, guys that have a long period of success, they must be doing something right. … One thing is the respect that coaches have as a peer. But I think what’s even more telling is all the respect his former players have and the impact he made on their lives, which is so special. It really shows you not just that he was a great coach and an innovator of the game and made an impact on the game that way. But even more importantly, made an impact on so many young men’s lives, I think is what really makes him so special.”