Safety first: Florida starting QB Anthony Richardson must lead offense and stay healthy

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
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Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson wore a non-contact jersey throughout fall camp, so the risk of injury was minimal. Still, Richardson considers availability an important goal heading into the 2022 season.

When healthy, Richardson was dynamic for the Gators last season, passing for 529 yards and 6 TDs while rushing for 401 yards and 3 TDs. But he missed time with the string of injuries last season, beginning with a hamstring pull Week 2 against USF.

"The thing I’ve been trying to work on is staying healthy, just being available to the team and just being ready when they need me," Richardson said Wednesday night. "I’ve just been trying to get comfortable with the playbook and the system and my teammates, just trying to build confidence with them, and I’m just working everyday for that."

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With Jack Miller out, avoiding injury will be crucial

Staying on the field early this season is magnified due to the loss of UF backup quarterback Jack Miller, who suffered a broken thumb in camp that required surgery. Miller will miss at least the first two weeks of the season. With Miller out, Florida's backup quarterback is redshirt freshman Jalen Kitna, who has yet to take a snap in a college game.

Richardson will get chances to make plays with his legs in head coach Billy Napier's offense, but said he will slide when necessary to avoid taking contact. At a muscular 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, Richardson has the size to take some hits, but not all of them.

"Prior to Jack getting injured, that was also something I tried to improve on, not trying to be a super hero and take on big hits all the time, and try to hit people,"  Richardson said, "With him getting hurt, that also shed some light on me having to be even more smarter. I’m sorry Jack had to get hurt, but being healthy is a key component.” 

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Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier with quarterbacks Jack Miller III (10) and Anthony Richardson (15) during practice at the Sanders Outdoor Practice Fields on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville FL. August 15, 2022.

Opener marks Anthony Richardson's second start as Gators quarterback

Richardson will make his second career start — and first at the The Swamp — for the Gators on Saturday night against No. 8 Utah (7 p.m., ESPN). Last year's starter Emory Jones is now at Arizona State after transferring. 

For Richardson, a Gainesville native who grew up not far from the stadium  and starred at Eastside High School, it will be a special moment.

"Being from Gainesville, growing up here and being a starting quarterback means a lot to everyone," Richardson said. "It puts a lot on me, but I’m totally fine with that, because I get to show people what I can do and I can show people how it’s supposed to be done, you know, so I’m glad I have the opportunity.”

Buying into Billy Napier's system

This past offseason, Richardson has attempted to refine his leadership skills off the field and play on it, while adapting to a new coach and a new offense.

"I'm very pleased with Anthony's attitude and approach," Napier said. "I think he's really worked hard to have a better comprehension of the system, a lot of reps."

Napier said Richardson has "bought in" to how he and the staff approach the quarterback position and preparing during game weeks.

"He's got a punch list of things he needs to do each day starting (Sunday), and it requires some self-discipline," Napier said. "It's not easy.

"But I think he loves the game, and I think he's bought into this. The preparation ultimately is going to give you the confidence so you can go play fast and make good decisions and put the team in a position to win."

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High expectations for the sophomore from Gainesville

It's a season of high expectations for Richardson, who has garnered national attention due to his athletic ability and upside. Richardson's former coach turned ESPN college football analyst Dan Mullen referred to him this week as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate. ESPN's Mel Kiper, meanwhile, has projected Richardson as a 2023 NFL first-round draft pick.

Even Napier, on his radio show Monday, compared Richardson to NFL dual-threat star quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Cam Newton.

Richardson said Newton was his favorite quarterback growing up.

"Just to be compared to him, it makes me feel good," Richardson said. "It makes me feel like I’m doing something right.” 

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