Florida hosted their annual Media Day on Thursday and the Gators media had the opportunity to take their first look into Dan Mullen’s program for year two of his tenure in Gainesville. In his typical confident yet lighthearted fashion, coach Mullen entered the room sporting a bandage just above his right eye and cracked a joke about making it through the concussion protocols.
The first question asked of Mullen is one that many people have been talking about throughout the off season and is a subject that will greatly impact the success of this coming season. So, what does Dan Mullen think of the offensive line’s progress and development?
“I don’t know it’s the concern of numbers,” Mullen said. “I think, you know, our depth is not great right now. You know, you get concerned in experience and depth. Those are the two big things on the offensive line, and I think our guys have put in time. They’ve worked! I think we have some pretty good offensive linemen. They just haven’t played a whole lot and that’s a position, obviously, where–when you look–we get young really quick, and when you do that, when you have those depth concerns, you’ve gotta stay healthy. They’ve put in a lot of work. One of the things we set up in training camp, a lot of guys get a lot of reps. I think one thing John [Hevesy] always does is move guys around so that you get used to playing with different guys.”
There will be a great deal of focus on creating depth on the offensive line during the fall camp, and by many accounts, it has been an emphasis of the players, themselves, throughout the off-season. The unit will be tasked with growing up rather quickly, as they open the 150th college football season in a nationally televised bout with in-state rival, Miami.
With such a high profile date to kick things off, Mullen was asked how that impacts the preseason preparations. Having coached a handful of these marquee matchups during his career, Mullen was quick to reply.
“What it can lead to is a little more sense of urgency during training camp and I think the other… that’s a key component to it, and then the other component of, you know, as we talk of transitioning right now. You know, as we’re transitioning from off season mode, mindset, into football mindset. At the back end of training camp, you’ve got to transition from training camp mindset to game week mindset. You know, the practices, everything you do is how you prepare in the practices. What you’re doing is completely different when you get in season than training camp.”
The staff knows how important it is to come out prepared and to execute at a high level in the opener. A win will set the tone for the season and will go a long way in building confidence and momentum for the remainder of the season.
One of the tenets of becoming a truly great football team is having internal leadership. Mullen was always wary of giving the impression that there was real leadership from any of the players last season. However, there have been many reports this off-season that several players have emerged as true leaders, both setting the example and holding their teammates accountable.
Mullen addressed this by saying that he wouldn’t be able to determine how much leadership has been shown until he has been around the team for at least two weeks. He did sound somewhat optimistic, however, in his response.
“I think that everything that’s gotten back to me has been real positive, with our guys. You know what I mean? And the positive of… there’s a couple aspects to it, which is the team getting along, which is huge to me. And by getting along, the positive one, are the things they do away from football together. I think one of the great things, you know you’re going to have a successful team when you get in and you see the team’s together. They do group activities. You know, whether it’s, ‘Hey, we’re all having a cookout pool party at someone’s house when we have an off day,’ or, ‘at this apartment complex.”
Mullen continued on the signs and rewards of internal leadership, saying, “Then the other one, you know, I mean to me is, I think they know what our expectation is and I think their comfort within the system makes it easier for them to do the extra work. You know, that when the quarterbacks and receivers go out, they know the offense now. They know the passing game and they’ve been through it all for a year. So, they know how hard they need to work. And then you look at the guys, when you have guys like CJ Henderson, who is such a hard worker. He might not be the loudest and the most vocal guy and a leader, but when you watch his work ethic, it’s great. He’s taking the young DB’s and he’s showing them little extra things. He’s always someone that jumps out. Every time you do a workout, when the workout’s over, he’s always working. Or practice is over, working an extra technique and pulling young guys along with him. So, I think that’s real positive for us moving forward.
Florida has one of the best receiving corps in the nation. They are expected to be one of the strengths of the 2019 team and they have been receiving due credit. Coach Mullen chuckled a bit at the way perceptions can change on a dime.
“Well, you know what’s really funny is,” said Mullen. “It just shows how hard these guys have worked because this time last year, this same exact wide receiver corps, everyone was like, ‘Boy, this is like the big weakness of the team,’ and ‘they’re the worst ranked wide receiver corps in the Southeastern Conference,’ and now, a year later, all the exact same guys are getting the hype of being this big group. So, it just shows how hard… what a great… Billy Gonzales has done a great job with them, coaching, and how these guys have bought in and how hard they’ve worked, I guess, to get that hype. We’ve had some pretty good receiving corps through the years with some talented players so you’ve got to see how these guys go. The one thing I’m excited about, that I think is pretty special, is the depth that we bring in that group. I think the other thing that makes it great is the confidence. When you have the depth and the confidence in that group, you don’t get in to the point where you say, hey, you’ve got two to three really special wide receivers that youre just trying to get those two or three guys the ball. When you have a depth in a group of guys that you have confidence in, you can let the defense dictate who gets the ball. You know, we don’t have to force feed the ball to certain people. We can let the quarterback go through his reads and take what the defense gives because we’re pretty confident in every one of them being able to go make plays out there. So, it allows you to kinda run the offense more, and the quarterbacks to run the offense and say, ‘Hey, if they’re going to give us this throw or give us this matchup, we feel great with that matchup, and if they’re going to try to double this one guy, good. We feel great with this guy over here.’ You know? You’re bracketing these two, we’ll go to the third option. I think that makes life easier within running the offense.”
A ten win season with a Peach Bowl Championship was an excellent first year for Dan Mullen and the Gators. However, going from four wins to ten is easy. It’s getting from ten wins to eleven or twelve that proves to be the most difficult.
With such lofty expectations from fans and media alike, coach Mullen was asked what gives him confidence that his team can clear that next hurdle.
“Well, I think the biggest one is the fact that you look at this roster and they’re in year two of the program,” Mullen began. “So, they know, kind of, what to expect when they come in. I think we have some talented guys, but I also think we have some guys that can look at last season and have the maturity to look and say, ‘Hey, we had ten wins but we missed some opportunities last year where we could have been even better.’ Also, though, the maturity of being able to say, ‘Hey, we had ten wins but there was some games that we let get awful close that it could’ve been… it could’ve very easily been an eight win season last year. A seven win season.’ So, I think it’s getting the understanding of how small that margin for error is, and when you really understand that and understand how small the margin for error is, that’s how you get those wins. That’s why it is so difficult. I mean, you take a big leap from four wins, I think the guys, obviously, are disappointed being on a four win team, and you can take a big step and get up to–four to eight is probably easier–but they can say, ‘Hey, that step from four to eight was probably not as difficult, but that eight got to ten because of how we performed in these two games and the margin could have been really close to get to eight but we found a way to get to ten. But that ten could have also been twelve by about that much too.’ You know, in the little things in our approach and our mindset and our attitude in how we handle different games. So, I think that maturity within the team gives you the opportunity to go do that.”
Finally, with the advent of the transfer portal, teams are learning how to adjust to the influx and departure of players. This obviously can have an adverse effect on depth.
Mullen weighed in, saying, “We’re getting there. You know? We’re getting there. I think that when you come in, I think the biggest one in us taking the program over is that that is creating that depth. You always have… you know, you have, always, a little bit of attrition when you take over a new program of guys that came, you know, maybe I came to play in a different style of offense. The program was different, a little bit, when I came. So, there is always, sometimes, a little bit of attrition that you get into. I think the new norm in college football, which is going to be really interesting with the transfer portal, is, depth will be an issue for a lot of people, moving forward I think, until everybody gets into the adjustment of it. But overall, I think our depth is good. I don’t think it’s great yet, but I think we’re going to get there within the next, you know, hopefully within the next two to three years. We get to where we feel really comfortable with our depth, top to bottom.”
Florida kicks off fall camp at 8:20 a.m. on Friday morning. Portions of the first practice will be open to the press. Friday is also the date of the annual Friday Night Lights recruiting event. The Gators will be hosting the nation’s elite talent in an opportunity to showcase their skills and to see what the University of Florida has to offer.