GAINESVILLE, Fla. — During his first stint at Florida, Dan Mullen helped set the standard for quarterback play in college football.
Mullen served as the offensive coordinator for former Gators coach Urban Meyer from 2005-08, and their spread offense revolutionized the game with the success of Tim Tebow.
Dual-threat quarterbacks are now the norm at this level. Just look at three of the last four national champions and five of the last eight Heisman Trophy winners. Teams still produce and win with prototypical quarterbacks such as Georgia’s Jake Fromm, but not the way they used to.
While schools such as Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State have figured out the formula at quarterback over the past decade, Florida has fallen behind the pack. The last two coaches tried to have offensive success with a pro-style attack, but could not find — or keep — a quarterback to run their system.
Mullen already has two in the making.
Florida quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are battling for the starting job this season. Neither player fits the mold of Tebow or Dak Prescott, but both have some mobility and Mullen will tailor the offense to their strengths. He’s done it before with Chris Leak (Florida) and Tyler Russell (Mississippi State).
But ultimately, Mullen has been at his best with dual-threat quarterbacks who can execute every aspect of his system. In less than four months, he has landed a pair of QBs who fit the bill: Emory Jones and Jalon Jones.
Both received scholarship offers from the top two college coaches in the game — Alabama’s Nick Saban and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer — before committing to Florida.
“By landing those two, what it does is give Dan Mullen guys in the quarterback room that fit his offense,” said 247Sports national analyst Brian Dohn. “Coaches can bend their offense to fit their personnel, but you’re still looking for certain guys. Now he’s going to have that base in the quarterback room. It’s just a starting point, but it’s a good one.”
The foundation was laid in December with the addition of Emory Jones, a top-100 overall recruit from Heard County High School in Franklin, Ga. He flipped from Ohio State to Florida during the early signing period and also picked the Gators over Alabama and Florida State.
As a ninth grader, Jones received his first scholarship offer from Mullen when he was at Mississippi State, and that history held weight when his decision came down to the wire.
“At the end of the day, a business decision was made at the final hour and Emory made his choice based on what would be best for his future and his development as a quarterback,” his mother, Trina Jones, told SEC Country. “Coach Mullen has developed quarterbacks that are playing in the NFL. I trust that Coach Mullen is going to do what’s in Emory’s best interest. Take the spring game, for example.
“I don’t think Coach Mullen was going to put Emory in a position where it became too overwhelming for him. He did just enough to give him an opportunity and expose him to a big crowd. So going into it slow is not a bad thing. If he’s not the starting quarterback when fall comes, he’s going to work hard and compete regardless. He trusts the process and he trusts Coach Mullen.”
Jones completed 3 of his 7 pass attempts Saturday for 93 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 58-yard strike to tight end R.J. Raymond. He also threw an interception and showed some freshman jitters.
Even with Franks and Trask ahead of him, Jones likely will contribute in some capacity this fall because of his potential and skill set. However, Dohn advised Gator Nation to be patient with his development.
“You think of Florida and who they are, fans want those immediate results and it’s just not fair to expect that,” Dohn said. “You have the kids at Alabama and Georgia and they do it on a national stage as freshmen and all of sudden people think it’s easy.
“Every year, conservatively, there’s probably 100 quarterbacks that go to Power 5 schools and 2 to 3 percent do well as true freshman. There’s a reason it takes a while. At Florida, you’re talking about a kid who just got on campus and another who’s still in high school.”
That would be Baltimore’s Jalon Jones, who is ranked the nation’s No. 10 dual-threat quarterback in the 2019 class. As a junior, he led St. Frances Academy to an undefeated record (13-0) and its second consecutive Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship.
Jalon Jones earned offers from the likes of Alabama, Louisville, Ohio State and Oregon, but like Emory Jones, his long-standing relationship with Mullen could not be topped. Jones committed to Mullen last summer and decided to follow him from Mississippi State to Florida.
“I told him the first time I committed to him that I believe he’s the coach who can bring out my potential and turn me into the best quarterback I can be. I just want to play for him,” Jalon Jones said. “I’ve talked to a lot of his players and they all speak real highly of him and attest to how good of a person he is.
“The talks that I’ve had with him are great conversations and I haven’t connected with another coach the way I connected with him. That’s another big reason why I committed to him again. It’s just crazy how it comes full circle and now I’m at Florida.”
Jones is the quarterback that Mullen wanted all along in the 2019 cycle and for good reason. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound signal caller tested in the 99th percentile at the Elite 11 camp on Sunday, including a 40-yard dash time of 4.45 seconds and a power ball toss of 39 feet.
“The term dual-threat gets thrown around a lot by people that just like the sound of it,” Dohn said, “but it really doesn’t apply to a lot of quarterbacks. Jalon Jones is a legit dual-threat because of his speed, acceleration and wiggle. Jalon’s ceiling is really high if he can get more consistent throwing the ball. By the time he’s a redshirt sophomore and has developed, he could be absolutely sensational.
“So this is the starting point for Florida, but the quarterback room has to really evolve. And it’s going to take time. But when you factor in what Dan Mullen has done with quarterbacks in his career when he gets his hands on them, I think Florida fans should be patient while he builds this thing.”