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3 things to watch as Dan Mullen era begins with Gators Spring game

Josh Ciganek

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday marks the first look of 2018 at the new Dan Mullen-led Florida Gators team. Mullen returns as the head coach of the Gators after a nine-year stint as the head coach of SEC opponent Mississippi State. This isn’t Mullen’s first appearance on the UF coaching staff, as he previously held the Quarterbacks Coach and Offensive Coordinator positions at Florida.

Dubbed the “Orange and Blue Debut,” Mullen pushed for the spring game to be moved back to a Saturday afternoon so fans could experience a real Gators gameday. The University announced prior to the game that there will be two celebrity head coaches from the Gator Boosters board of directors.

Gary Condron and Bill Heavener will get the chance to say a play type, such as run-pass, blitz, play-action, etc., and then specific plays will be called by the coordinators of the teams. However, this spring game comes with multiple questions and plenty of stories to watch for as fans get a glimpse of what is to come this fall.

First Impressions: Mullen’s Staff

Seven coaches on coach Mullen’s Florida staff followed him from Mississippi State, including co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy as well as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Each of the coaches will be split between the Orange and Blue teams for the game with coach Mullen overseeing everything.

Fans will get their first look at the new offensive scheme that Mullen’s staff brings to Florida. Many speculations have come up that the offensive plan will be similar to the scheme Mullen ran while he was the offensive coordinator at Utah and Florida under head coach Urban Meyer. In addition, the defense should see improvements under coach Grantham as he looks to get this Gators defense moving in the right direction under his 3-4 scheme. Mississippi State ranked 10th in the nation in total defense under Grantham in 2017.

Quarterback Battle: Round 1

This will be the second season for redshirt-sophomore Feleipe Franks fight for the starting position at quarterback. He does have competition, though, with fellow redshirt-sophomore Kyle Trask and incoming freshman Emory Jones. When fans last saw Franks in action, he was looked quite lost against the Florida State defense while completing less than half of his passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns. He also committed four turnovers, throwing three interceptions and losing one fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

With a bigger target on his back and new competition by his side, Franks will have to impress coaches and fans Saturday in order to continue his push for the quarterback starring role. Trask and Jones will each get their opportunities to show fans what they’ve got, as the quarterback competition in Gainesville heats up this spring.

Exposure: Offensive Talents

As the new season nears, there will be plenty of opportunity for new players to emerge as key components to the Florida offense. Running back Jordan Scarlett will be returning from his year-long suspension and will potentially have to fight for playing time with standout Lamical Perine who led the team in rushing last season. Malik Davis and Adarius Lemons round out a crowded backfield that will surely have their hands full in an attempt to shine.

With the departure of Antonio Callaway, 2017 leading receiver Tyrie Cleveland and athlete Kadarius Toney will lead a new group receivers into the 2018 campaign. Fans will get a look at two new transfers in Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes, as well. There has yet to be a decision on whether the pair will be granted eligibility waivers from the NCAA.

The last main piece that will be intriguing to watch is how the offensive lines play during the spring game. With three seniors, including left tackle Martez Ivey, returning for the offensive line and a potential position battle at center, Florida has the opportunity to shine Saturday night. They will face a strong edge rush and new defensive scheme that coach Mullen brings back to Gainesville.

The Orange and Blue Debut will begin at 1pm with the Gator Walk at The Swamp as the teams arrive. Kickoff is set for 3pm.

Josh Ciganek is a young draft pick working his way up the depth chart on the F.F.I. roster, who enjoys watching and writing about all of Florida’s football teams.

Florida Gators

Gators face annual challenge of who’s leaving?

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Gators end to the season was just as predicted, and now, so too is the leaving of significant players for the NFL, etc.

Florida ended up getting the Virginia Cavaliers in the Orange Bowl and the second-best team in the weakest conference in Power 5 football was no match for the strong talented Gators.

Just before the conference championship games, it was predicted almost everywehre that Virginia would get trounced by the Clemson Tigers, but still be the most likely candidate to face the Gators in a “New Year’s Six Bowl”.

Once the game was confirmed and the lines came out, the Gators were listed as massive 16 point favorites at the best Sportsbooks around the nation.

And, when it came time to tee it up? Florida delivered a win.

The final score was 36-28, as Virginia hung tough by scoring 14 in the 4th quarter and got the backdoor cover on the point spread. Still, the Gators finished sandwiched between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Oregon Ducks at No.6 in the AP Top 25. But, will the Gators still be as good next season?

Will they be better? And who might they be missing?

That brings us to a few key players that have declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. Let’s start by taking a look at them.

It seems that as receivers get bigger, corners have been getting smaller. So, C.J. Henderson (above) at 6’1” and 191 pounds is almost an oddity nowadays. He is long, athletic and extremely fast. In short, he was one of the best corners in college football. He’s declared for the 2020 draft and could go in the first round.

But with so much talent at QB, we could see Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Tua Tagavoilva all go in the Top-10. Then, when you factor in team needs and a few other great corners from Alabama, LSU, and Clemson in Treveon Diggs, Kristian Fulton, and A.J. Terrell, Henderson could fall into the second round. And, it could end up being a steal for some lucky team if that happened.

That said, the Broncos, Seahawks, Vikings, 49ers, and Dolphins all need help at corner. And the Seahawks would be a great landing spot, as they may favor him over some of the other top contenders for his excellent ability in man coverage. That is, if they don’t fill another position need such as DE or OLB – which would make sense as well since they had the leagues lowest number of sacks during the regular season.

Seniors who will go on are Van Jefferson, Josh Grimes, Freddie Swain, and Tyrie Cleveland. And the Gators will lose some talent in their TE depth with Lucas Krull hitting the bricks. He was usurped by Kyle Pitts but still caught nine balls for nearly 110 yards.

It isn’t a huge loss, as Pitts is one of the best TE in the SEC. But not having that extra option with experience at TE will hurt a bit. A handful of QBs will also be leaving. For starters Nick Sproles, a walk-on back-up out of Winter Park has been sitting behind both Franks and Trask. So, he elected to hit the transfer portal and take off.

QB Feleipe Franks will also step through the transfer portal to another school. His horrible ankle injury opened the door for Kyle Trask to take over. Now, we very well could see Franks move over to Kansas, as he had originally committed to former LSU coach, Les Miles, who’s now there.

Although Trask is on the rise, this does hurt the depth chart. Emory Jones is reliable, but he’s no Franks … at least not yet.

On top of this, Chris Bleich and Umstead Sanders both hit the transfer list. But, the Gators actually are not hurt by this, as they picked up Brenton Cox at OLB which is probably a big part of why Umstead elected to transfer.

Cox has solid experience at Georgia and will likely earn a starting spot with the Gators. He tallied 20 tackles, a sack, a pair for loss, and six tackles in the Sugar Bowl alone! Then, he also racked up three pass deflections on top of all that.

The Gators lost a lot of depth at receiver, but they pick up one with Jordan Pouncy. He’s big at 6’2” and 205 and has decent speed.

All in all, the Gators won’t be too much worse for the wear. And, with the shift in emphasis to the SEC West, they have great shot at winning the East and to play for the SEC title next season.

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Florida Gators

How legit are Dan Mullen to Cowboys rumors?

Florida Football Insiders

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Spruce Derden- USA Today Sports

The Cowboys finally made the move to fire longtime coach Jason Garrett on Thursday night and there has been great debate about whether Oklahoma college coach Lincoln Riley will be his replacement? Now, comes more speculation that the Cowboys may be going with a college coach, but not Riley. Rather, it’s a name that’s very familiar in our state.

With the understanding that no one has credibly tied Gators coach Dan Mullen to the Cowboys vacancy, as of yet. There are rumors and speculation in the Dallas Market and around Mullen in Gainesville that there is mutual interest in him potentially heading to Big D. And there, he would be reuniting with his star college protege’ from Mississippi State, Dak Prescott.

Prescott took over has the Cowboys starter unexpectedly in his rookie year (2016), when Tony Romo suffered a back injury. And, Prescott has had a very successful four year career in Dallas going 40-24 as a starter in the regular season, and including leading them to the playoffs and a playoff victory a year ago.

However, the Cowboys faltered down the stretch of the season and Prescott has been mostly blame for the offensive struggles. They lost head-to-head with the Eagles in week 16 and ended up finishing 8-8 losing the NFC East leading to Garrett’s dismissal.

Another factor is Prescott is slated to be an unrestricted free agent after only making $2 million this year, and clearly, the Cowboys have to commit to him first before any rumored reuniting with Mullen could take place.

As for Mullen, he clearly has resurrected the Gators program over his two years since coming to Gainesville from Mississippi State. They have won 10 or more games in each of the seasons and won a “New Year’s Six” bowl game over Michigan and Virginia in those two years.

It’s unknown how much Mullen would value heading to the Cowboys vs. staying in Gainesville, but clearly he would make more money coaching for Jerry Jones in the NFL. Perhaps, he’d get as much as double his believed $6 million salary for the Gators.

Mullen and Prescott turned Mississippi State into a national power in 2014. That’s when Prescott broke 12 school records, and finished eighth in the Heisman voting as Mississippi State ascended to the number one ranking in the country in October of that year.

The Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, as Prescott had over 500 yards of total offense in that game. He came back for a senior season in 2015 under Mullen and was first team All-SEC as well as a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, while accumulating 4,300 yards of offense and 39 combined touchdowns.

By the time Prescott left Starkville he owned 38 school records and was a two-time All-American. Mullen and his staff deserve a good deal of credit for helping him with that.

So, on the surface, it makes sense that the Cowboys might have interest in Mullen, but then again, Jones has been infatuated previously with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and now with Riley.

And, Riley produced back-to-back Heisman winning number one overall draft picks with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray the last two years. And, it’s expected that his quarterback from this past season, Jalen Hurts, will also be drafted, if not in the first round, at some point.

Now, we wait to see if the rumors are just that, or if the Prescott-Mullen previous connection gains traction on Mullen heading to the NFL

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