Richardson, Bowman among standouts from Florida's final scrimmage
The Florida football team concluded preseason camp Sunday with its final scrimmage before the season opener Sept. 4 against FAU.
With players leaving the team hotel and starting the fall semester Monday, game week has almost arrived for the No. 11 Gators.
“We’re getting excited right now. Had the last scrimmage and now you’re kind of into this first day of classes,” Mullen said. “This is a little bit of a transitional week, kind of putting some finishing touches on things.
“Obviously getting ready to transition into game week and 12 days from now, you know, the next time we’re putting the pads on, going in the Swamp, it's for real.”
In addition to wrapping up camp, the team reached another milestone last week with COVID-19 vaccinations. The football program is over 90 percent vaccinated, according to UF athletics director Scott Stricklin, meeting the SEC’s 85 percent vaccination threshold for teams to avoid regular COVID-19 testing and mask requirements inside team facilities.
“I think it is really encouraging within our program,” said Mullen, who became fully vaccinated May 10. “It shows with all the information that we have, the decision guys make and hopefully it encourages people outside of the program.
“To look at that and say, ‘Hey here's a group of guys that have access to the ability to be vaccinated and access to information and access to people that can educate them on making that decision.’ And those are the decisions that we've made, so hopefully we can lead other people in the same direction.”
Mullen is pleased with the direction of his team coming out of the camp and how the young players performed in Sunday’s scrimmage. The staff decided to pull starters and veterans on both sides of the ball, opening the door for several underclassmen to get more looks.
“Pretty pleased with where we're at, pretty pleased how the scrimmage went. We stayed healthy, for the most part,” Mullen said. “I thought guys played hard. The effort and the energy our guys played with, I was pretty pleased with that. And especially handling the situation.
“When you start pulling a lot of the older guys out early, young guys have the opportunity to go step up and there’s a lot of guys who put themselves in a position showing they’re ready to go play.”
Among those young guys was redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Richardson, who threw three touchdowns in the first scrimmage. Though Emory Jones has established himself as QB1, Richardson played well again Sunday with extended reps and Mullen is confident in him running the first-team offense.
“He looks great. I think he’s prepared himself to be the starter, which is what you want, you know? He’s going to be ready to get on the field in just about any situation that it is,” Mullen said. “Now it’s our job to kind of put him in the different situations, so that he has that experience in every different possible scenario for when he is on the field.”
Mullen spoke highly of Malik Davis and Nay’Quan Wright when asked about both backs, though they didn’t run much behind their starting offensive line Sunday. Nonetheless, transfer Demarkcus Bowman broke off some long runs for the second scrimmage in a row.
“I think when you look at the experience with the offensive line and the experience with running back, you have the opportunity for more explosive plays out of that position, and you’ve seen it,” Mullen said. “The O-line’s been doing pretty well. The 1’s really solid. The 1’s didn’t get many reps last night. A lot of just seeing who’s ready and who’s prepared to play. A lot of those guys (the 1’s) have played.”
On the defensive line, one player who took advantage of the extra reps was Desmond Watson. According to one team source, the 6-foot-5, 400-pound freshman was virtually “unblockable” in the scrimmage.
Watson has lost more than 40 pounds since he arrived on campus as an early enrollee, but still has more weight to drop before the coaches can count on him in the defensive tackle rotation.
"He's done solid,” Mullen said of Watson. “He’s still a little bit too heavy to be able to play and he knows that. So, he's gonna have to lose some weight still right there and just to get him where he needs to be functional.
“But he’s got the potential for sure. He’s got power and he’s got quickness for a guy his size. I’d love to get him down into that under 380 [pound] range, right around 380 to be able to go play a little bit more consistently.”
With Brenton Cox Jr. (foot) still being held out and Andrew Chatfield missing time “with some nagging little deals” according to Mullen, Khris Bogle has made the most of his snaps at the BUCK position and elevated his game.
“Bogle's done really well. I think Khris has really kind of taken another step of being ready to play, has a lot of flexibility within his game,” Mullen said. “He's a guy that, to me, really stepped up special teams-wise, and that shows. So I think he's really kind of taken a huge step forward from a young guy that was just here and there as a rotating guy on the field, getting some reps into — you know, I guess if we were NFL and we had to cut it down to 53 — into a guy that would be on a 53-man roster.”
Asked about the secondary, his biggest position of concern heading into camp, Mullen said he’s seen growth from the group in practice. However, he admits there’s only a few defensive backs who have experience in game situations and that’s still cause for concern ahead of the opener.
“I think that they’ve grown up a little bit, but there’s a lot of scenarios guys haven’t been in,” Mullen said of his secondary. “There’s a bunch of guys in the secondary that haven’t been in scenarios. Like, Kaiir Elam’s been in situations. Trey Dean’s been in situations. Rashad Torrence’s been in situations. Tre’Vez Johnson’s been in some situations. None of the other guys have really been in those situations much before. It’s not just their growth and development and how they’re doing at practice, it’s how that transitions into a specific game plan from one week to the next.”
“Obviously you had some veteran guys last year … so it’s a very different, whole different feel this year with a lot of young guys. We have some young, talented guys that I'm really excited about, but you see them make mistakes that are not as much physical but mental mistakes that we've got to get corrected and fixed up.”