For the first time in what feels like forever, the Gators entered fall camp without a quarterback competition. Instead, with the possibility that Feleipe Franks declares for the NFL Draft following this season, the main storyline at the position this fall is the development of redshirt freshman Emory Jones, pegged as his likely successor.
Jones arrived at UF in the spring of 2018 as a great athlete with a strong arm, but he was still raw as a passer. His throwing mechanics had to be refined. He seemed to make some strides late in the 2018 season and in the spring, although his accuracy is still a bit erratic, as he completed less than 50 percent of his passes in the spring game.
He worked with the third unit in all of the portions of practice open to the media this fall, so it appears that he lost his battle with Kyle Trask to be the backup.
It’s not unexpected or discouraging for a redshirt freshman like Jones to be where he’s at right now; few freshmen develop at a Trevor Lawrence-like pace. Still, it’s important for Jones to make another big jump this season so that everybody involved with the program feels comfortable with him taking the reins when the time comes.
Quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson said he’s liked what he’s seen from him so far in fall camp.
“He’s coming along,” he said. “He understands exactly now what’s required of him in terms of the intensity that he needs to prepare with and make sure that he’s always ready to go. He’s done a fantastic job of handling the install, of doing everything we’ve asked him to do over the course of the summer. Now, it’s just about how consistent can we be each and every day.”
Because Jones was an early-enrollee last year, this is his fourth time going through the offensive install. He said he feels a lot more comfortable on the field, and practice is going smoother for him.
Last season, Dan Mullen created a package with a handful of plays for Jones. He played in four games, including the Georgia game. Jones said that experience has made him more prepared to take over the entire offense if needed this season.
“It definitely helps because he might put me on a big stage with a small package, so it’s not a lot for me to do,” he said. So, it’s not that hard, but then I’m on a big stage. So then, when that time comes that he gives me the whole offense on those type of stages, I’ve already been there. It’s just a bigger package.”
Johnson obviously wouldn’t get into specifics, but he said he was sure they would find a way to play him again this season. He said Jones’ ability to improvise and make big plays out of nothing makes him a special talent, but he wants him to improve at consistently making the common plays that don’t show up on highlight reels.
“Sometimes, [a] four-yard gain is OK,” he said. “Sometimes, punting is OK in certain situations, like when you don’t want to force the ball on 3rd-and-20, we’re going to follow our plan to win. The most important thing is finding a way to put your team in a position to win games.”
Jones said he wants to be on the field every play because of the competitor he is, and he admitted it’s been a bit challenging to remain patient at times. However, he said he trusts in Mullen’s process for developing quarterbacks.
“He talks about [his process] a lot, especially with me,” Jones said. “He always tells me [to] just keep focusing on my development and just keep trying to get better and just not focusing on the present and just focus on the future for me.
“I’m just going with the flow right now, just perfecting every day and trying to be the best I can be.”
In the transfer-portal era of college football that we live in, it’s very common for a highly regarded prospect like Jones to jump ship after one season when it’s clear that they’re not going to be the starter. Johnson said he tells his quarterbacks to be patient and focus on getting better every day, not the amount of playing time they receive. If they handle the things they need to in practice and the meeting room, the playing time and accolades will eventually follow.
“I tell these guys all the time, if you want to play this position for a really long time, then play the position to beyond here, those guys continue to get better going into their 30s,” he said. “So, it’s not a fast journey by any stretch of the imagination to be a big-time quarterback.”
Though he has yet to contribute much in his brief college career, Jones has already won the respect of his teammates. They voted him as one of the members of the team’s leadership council. The quarterback has to be the biggest leader on the field, so that’s an encouraging sign for Jones, who isn’t a very talkative or outgoing guy, at least with the media.
“He’s very, very likeable and does a great job,” Johnson said. “He’s very relatable.”
Jones said he was honored to be selected to the leadership council by his teammates, as it shows that they trust him and have taken notice of his hard work in the offseason.
“These guys, they trust me a lot more,” he said. “I been working out with them and helping them guys out, so they obviously trust me now. So, I mean, I’d say that’s where I grew the most.”
Franks said Jones’ selflessness and willingness to learn have endeared him to his teammates.
“I’m a big fan of Emory,” he said. “He knows that. Everybody on the team really loves Emory. You never hear him complain one time about, ‘I didn’t get this rep, or I’m not getting in the game.’ That’s not the kind of guy he is; he’s a team player, just always wanting to win no matter what. I think that’s one of the best traits he has.
“People respond better to people that are willing – everybody on the team has a role – and are willing to help others. Emory could just as well be off in a corner pouting or anything like that, but he’s always engaged in what’s going on. He’s always engaged to other players and helping coach.”
Jones said his comfort level in the offense has allowed him to lead more. At this time a year ago, he was still trying to figure out what he was supposed to do on a given play. Now that the playbook’s second nature to him, he can focus more on coaching his teammates up and making sure everybody’s on the same page.
“I’m still working on, like, just helping guys around me and making sure they’re in the right places, doing what they’re supposed to be and making sure they’re going hard every play so we can be a championship team,” he said.
Johnson said one of the biggest keys to being a successful leader is understanding who you are and staying true to that.
“I’ve always said that leadership isn’t Googling some great leader’s speech and copying it verbatim,” he said. “You have to lead through your personality. All three of those guys have different personalities. If they don’t do that, then their team will know they’re not genuine and that’s not who they really are. You’ve got to find a way to connect, whether that be vocally, verbally, by example, that fits your personality best.”
Jones said he learned a lot about being a leader from Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain. Hammond and Swain are two of the hardest-working guys on the team in the off-season program, and their teammates respect them and turn to them when things get tough. Jones wants to follow in their footsteps, and he knows what his leadership style is.
“I’m not that type, like aggressive, vocal guy,” he said. “So, I’m the type of guy that might walk up to you, make sure you’re motivated, keep you motivated instead of like yelling in the scrimmage all the time. I’m going to keep you up, make sure you’re good, like, 'Good job’ when you do good, and I might tell you to kind of get up sometimes.”
He’s made strides as a leader; now, he needs to make similar jumps at the physical aspects of the position.
Franks believes the future of the quarterback position at Florida is in good hands whenever he leaves.
“I think Coach Mullen and Coach Johnson are doing a great job of developing him into what they want him to be,” he said. “He can run, he can throw it really good and he’s starting to become more of a vocal leader. I think Emory’s going to be really good when his time comes.”