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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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