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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.

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Florida Gators

Gators coach Dan Mullen talked tradition and positive outlook at SEC media days

Florida Football Insiders

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday in Atlanta, it was time for Gators boss Dan Mullen to take his turn at the podium (and several other outlets) and be subjected to the SEC’s annual media circus/media days.

The first year Florida coach is no stranger to the media days, as he had done it for the last nine seasons as Mississippi State’s head man.

However, the anticipation and expectation to restore Florida to an SEC power is building and Mullen embraced it, once again:

In particular, when he was asked about the winning culture at Florida, where he was part of on Urban Meyer’s two national championship staffs last decade, Mullen beamed again Tuesday about the job:

“Having been at the University of Florida before…and won multiple championships there, I know what a special place it can be. I think that was big help for me walking into a situation where I had familiarity with a lot of things,” Mullen told the media mass in his main press conference. “I think all the things: the tradition, the University, that Gator standard, all made it a very easy decision for me.”

Mullen was asked about incumbent Feleipe Franks and the quarterback competition, the rivalry with Georgia and so on, in that session, but we were particularly interested when the question turned to transfer receiver Van Jefferson from Ole Miss and his possible eligibility and impact.

First, Mullen answered about the status of the waiver to get Jefferson eligible immediately this season,

“I don’t want to say ‘frustrating,’ cause having done this (wait on NCAA decisions on player eligibility) within the NCAA and as this goes, you just understand that it is a process. As the process plays out, you get a ‘feel.’… Hopefully, we’ll be able to announce something in the near future one way or the other about what’s going on with the transfers.”

We wrote previously that the Jefferson has a chance to be immediately eligible this season, where he would not have in years past, because the SEC changed their rule in May on players leaving one program in the conference for another due to NCAA sanctions, etc., possibly being able to be cleared to play.

Jefferson wasn’t spectacular last year in Oxford, with just 42 catches for 456 yards and one score. However, he’s expected to immediately help infuse the Gators receiving corp with some life, if he can get on the field.

As for what Jefferson would bring, Mullen got somewhat specific Tuesday:

“I think he would have the opportunity to fill a need as a playmaker with experience in this league. And, I think that’s a huge benefit….when you get in big games, that’s been in and played in big games, that’s made big catches in big games, he has experience. And that’s a huge plus.”

So, it was a chance for Mullen to “sell” the Florida program, and oh, flash his new “Jordan Brand” Nike Shoe game, too:

Mullen, was selling the Gators, indeed.

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Gators to put former Heisman winner Tim Tebow in their “Ring of Honor”

Florida Football Insiders

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Brett Davis- USA Today Sports

The legend of Tim Tebow in Gainesville, and around the SEC, is well known. And the University of Florida added to it on Wednesday, when they announced Tebow will join their “Ring of Honor” this fall.

The former 2008 Heisman winner, who quarterbacked the Gators to the National Title that year as well, will be honored at halftime of the October 6th home game with LSU.

From the school’s official release:

His name will be unveiled and displayed in the North Endzone of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
 
The display, which will be approximately 18-feet wide and five feet high, will now feature Tebow, along with Wilber Marshall, Emmitt Smith, Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Jack Youngblood. Marshall was the most recent inductee (Sept. 29, 2007), while the other four members were part of the original unveiling back on Sept. 30, 2006 as part of the 100-year Celebration of Gator Football.

The school also got reaction from Tebow to the announcement:

“I am so humbled and thankful to be able to receive this blessing, being inducted into the Ring of Honor,” Tebow said. “I know in my heart that I truly couldn’t have done it without amazing coaches and teammates who loved and sacrificed for each other so that we could accomplish our goals.

“Loving Florida wasn’t just something I did for four years, but it has been a lifelong passion. I want to thank the University of Florida and all the fans for making Gator Nation so special. I was born a Gator, I played as a Gator, and I’ll always be a Gator!

“God Bless and Go Gators!”

Tebow, who along with Spurrier and Werffel are the only three Gators to win the Heisman Trophy, left Gainesville holding 14 SEC and 28 Florida all time records. This included becoming the NCAA’s first ever quarterback to run and throw for 20 or more TDs in the same season.

We have written recently that Tebow’s latest passion is baseball, where he is currently playing and having some hitting success for the New York Mets Double-A franchise in Binghamton, NY. The now 30 year old Tebow was recently named to the Eastern League All-Star game, and there is belief that the Mets will call him up to the majors in September, when rosters expand.

The University will also honor Tebow and the 2008 National Championship team on it’s tenth anniversary this upcoming season, as well.

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Homicide investigation at home of former Gators now Giants DB Janoris Jenkins

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Trouble has always seemed to find former Gators-now New York Giants defensive back Janoris Jenkins, and now the trouble has gone to the highest level.

This with news on Tuesday afternoon that authorities in New Jersey are at Jenkins home, where a dead body has been found. Authorities in Bergen County have confirmed that the body is not Jenkins, but that there is a homicide investigation underway.

TMZ was first to report the details including that Jenkins is apparently in Florida right now.

The former Florida Gator star defensive back, who was part of the National Championship team in his freshman year of 2008, signed a massive contract with the Giants two years ago. He received $62 million over five years that included nearly $29 million guaranteed with a signing bonus of $10 million.

Jenkins lived up to that contract in year one with three interceptions, 18 passes defended and a Pro Bowl selection as the Giants made the playoffs. However, during their dismal 2017 season, Jenkins played in only nine games. And, he was actually suspended for failing to show back up in October after the Giants bye week. He eventually went on injured reserve with what New York said was an ankle injury.

Back to the homicide investigation, Bergen County authorities say that a worker discovered the dead body in the basement of the home Tuesday morning. The victim was identified Tuesday night as 25 year old Roosevelt Rene, who is a music producer and friend of Jenkins. Rene had apparently been staying in the $500,000 home for some time with members of Jenkins’ family.

NFL Network and NFL.com insider Mike Garafolo updated the cause of death of Rene from his sources late Tuesday afternoon:

Jenkins representatives when reached by TMZ, had no comment. Neighbors told CBS2 TV in New York Tuesday afternoon that Jenkins has been in Florida for the last couple of weeks, since Giants mini-camp ended.

Jenkins also had trouble that ended his career at the University of Florida, when former coach Urban Meyer booted him from the program for marijuana possession charges in 2011.

Jenkins, who was a former all state defensive back at Pahokee High School, transferred to the University of North Alabama and finished out his college career. He was drafted in 2012 in the second round by the St Louis Rams and played there for four seasons.

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