Biggest concerns for Florida coach Dan Mullen heading into spring practice
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Which position(s) does Mullen & Co feel are the greatest concern for this team?
— DleeJ15 (@pigskinGATOR) March 13, 2018
In his press conference Tuesday, Florida coach Dan Mullen did not single out positions that concern him heading into spring football.
Mullen said he and his staff have watched a couple of games from last season and made general evaluations, but he doesn’t have write-ups on every player with pros and cons from their film.
“I don’t want to prejudge people,” Mullen said, “because a lot of times you’re watching and you don’t know what they were asked to do.”
The Gators have question marks on both sides of the ball, and not all of them will be answered by the end of spring. There’s no denying the quarterback position is the greatest concern.
Florida is holding an open competition for the fourth year in a row, and three of the four candidates haven’t taken a collegiate snap. Feleipe Franks started eight games in 2017 as a redshirt freshman, but went 3-5 and struggled throughout the season.
Franks believes he has learned from his mistakes and will be able to thrive in Mullen’s offense. That remains to be seen this spring, but the coaches and players seem to have confidence that Franks can turn it around. If not, many expect early enrollee Emory Jones to be next in line.
Jones may be Florida’s quarterback of the future, but starting a freshman under center isn’t an ideal situation. Mullen and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson won’t make that call unless they feel Jones is ready, but getting him to that point will be a process.
Cornerback, linebacker and kicker are also question marks in 2018.
The Gators are set with starters C.J. Henderson and Marco Wilson, but they only have two returning corners in McArthur Burnett and C.J. McWilliams. Early enrollee Trey Dean and incoming freshman Justin Watkins will need to contribute right away. Mullen said Tuesday that Watkins — a top-100 overall athlete — will start out at cornerback instead of wide receiver.
Florida has several positions with few proven players but a lot depth, such as wide receiver, tight end, defensive tackle and safety. That applies most to the linebacker spot, which returns nine players from 2017.
With a pair of incoming freshmen (Andrew Chatfield and David Reese) and the use of CeCe Jefferson at outside linebacker, the Gators will have numbers for their new 3-4 scheme. However, the coaches have to figure out who plays where and which combination gives them the best four linebackers on the field.
The staff also has to replace Eddy Pineiro, the most accurate kicker in school history. Florida has three walk-on kickers on the team right now, including redshirt senior Jorge Powell. But the favorite for the job is signee Evan McPherson, the nation’s No. 1-ranked kicker in the 2018 class. He arrives this summer and has a strong shot to start, but will he be ready as a freshman? We won’t find out until fall camp.