FOOTBALL

Florida football: Coach Billy Napier discusses Jalen Kitna, other QBs, Las Vegas Bowl

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier waves at the crowd during Gator Walk before Florida takes on Georgia at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL on Saturday, October 29, 2022. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

Florida football coach Billy Napier said he had no knowledge of the investigation into backup quarterback Jalen Kitna until the morning of his arrest and called it a "sad, tragic event" for all involved.

Kitna, 19, was kicked off the team last Friday after being arrested on five felony counts of possession and distribution of child pornography.

"It’s a sad, tragic event for all the people involved here," Napier said. "I think really trying to help all the people involved. Obviously Jalen is going to have to move forward. But it’s a challenge, and it’s one that I appreciate our leadership.

"Certainly, we’ve done everything we can do to help our players and staff. But as you said here, there’s some things that come with that. We’re turning the page and moving forward.”

Florida QB Jack Miller set to make first start

Florida is moving forward without Kitna and starting quarterback Anthony Richardson, who declared for the NFL Draft on Monday. That leaves Jack Miller, a transfer from Ohio State, to make his first career start at quarterback when the Gators face Oregon State at the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 17 (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Behind Miller will be walk-on sophomore quarterback Kyle Engel and true freshman quarterback Max Brown.

Who's Jack Miller?Florida football: Five things to know about probable starting quarterback Jack Miller

Transfer portal:Florida football transfer tracker: Gervon Dexter headed to NFL Draft, Jalen Lee in portal

Miller missed the first half of the season with a broken thumb and was moved down from second to third on the depth chart when he returned in late October.

"He has been participating in practice for a number of weeks," Napier said. "He’s perfectly healthy. You’ve got to remember, Jack joined us back in the springtime, right? So, he went through spring practice and summer and the majority of training camp as the No. 2. And he was the No. 2 for a little bit early in the year."

Napier said Miller has been traveling with the Gators and taking part in film sessions.

"Obviously the volume of work will be a little bit different for him," Napier said. "That’ll be the biggest challenge."

Enough numbers to bowl

As for the rest of the team, Napier said none of the 17 players currently in the transfer portal will take part in the game. Also missing will be defensive lineman Gervon Dexter Sr., who also has declared for the NFL Draft. Florida began the first of 13 practices to prepare for the Vegas Bowl this week.

"There'll be a few positions where there's some challenges in terms of practice and scout teams and those types of things," Napier said. "But each group has got a solid group of players. We’ll be ready to go.” 

Napier said it presents opportunities for younger players on the roster to lead and cited linebacker Derek Wingo as an example.

"Derek Wingo addressed the team after practice (Thursday)," Napier said. "He did a phenomenal job. We’ve got a handful of players like that that maybe played for the first time in their career this season that are returning and I think there’s an opportunity to build some momentum here. We’re in year one. There’s tremendous opportunity that comes with playing a really good Oregon State team in an early bowl game in Vegas.”

OL O'Cyrus Torrence, LB Ventrell Miller not playing

Florida will be down one of its top offensive and defensive players as offensive lineman O'Cyrus Torrence and linebacker Ventrell Miller both will skip the Las Vegas Bowl to prepare for the Senior Bowl and NFL Draft.

Torrence was one of the highest graded offensive linemen in the country, per Pro Football Focus, and was named to the AP All-SEC team as a first-team, right guard on Thursday.

"Very understandable and a guy that, you know, did a phenomenal job for us this year," Napier said.

Miller ranked third on the Gators in tackles with 74 with two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and seven quarterback hurries while playing through a foot injury suffered in the second week of the season against Kentucky.

"He is the best Gator I’ve been around, and certainly understanding of where he’s at in his career and what he’s focused on," Napier said.

More depth at WR

Napier said Florida will have more depth at wide receiver in the bowl game after being down five scholarship wideouts against rival Florida State to close the regular season. Starting receiver Xzavier Henderson returned to practice this week, along with Ja'Quavion Fraziars and Thai Chiaokhiao-Bowman. Napier is hopeful that receiver Marcus Burke will be back as well.

"That group is a lot healthier than the last time we played," Napier said. "It’s good to see those guys back and a smile on their face, moving around and participating in practice.” 

QB Anthony Richardson's decision

Napier said he understood quarterback Anthony Richardson's decision to declare for the NFL Draft. Richardson won't play in the bowl game.

"Anthony sees an opportunity," Napier said. "He's going to work extremely hard to solidify his position in the draft and, you know, [he] did a lot for the Gators, man. You know, and certainly proud of him as a person and the way he went about his business and represented this place."

Richardson had some growing pains early in the season but started all 12 games for the Gators and improved as the season progressed, finishing the year with 2,549 yards passing, 17 TDs and nine interceptions along with 654 yards rushing and 9 rushing TDs.

"Made a ton of progress," Napier said. "You know, just, most importantly I think as a person, comfort with the role, you know, the leadership aspect. And certainly, I thought [he] made a lot of progress when it comes to football intelligence and defensive structure, protections."