Notebook: Jones remaining patient

Nov 13, 2019 | 0 comments

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Wide receivers have a reputation for being overly dramatic divas who mostly care about their statistics. They want the ball in their hands every play and sometimes throw tantrums when the ball doesn’t come their way often enough, as evidenced by the off-the-field antics of Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown in recent years.

Then there’s the Gators’ Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond, who are rewriting that narrative. Prior to the season, wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales told them that he felt they were interchangeable in the slot. So, he let Hammond and Swain decide who would take the first snap in each game, Hammond said last week. They decided upon a rotation, with the two alternating every game but one. Swain has started five games and Hammond four. They opened in a two-tight-end set against Towson, so neither one of them started.

“All the receivers are like my brothers,” Swain said. “So, I don’t care who’s in. I don’t care who scores. That doesn’t matter to me. As long as we get a win and as long as somebody has fun and is getting off, we’re all going to have fun. But, as long as somebody is catching the ball and we’re not letting the ball drop, I don’t care who catches it.”

Coach Dan Mullen rewarded their team-first mindset by naming them both captains for every game this season. He’s used them as examples to the younger players of the buy-in he’s looking for.

“You look at the leadership of the receiving corps and the success that group has had because they understand,” he said. “They’ve bought into it, and you try to show that with a lot of young players of the key of how to grow and how to develop. We live in such an instant gratification society, but you got to learn, you got to grow, you got to develop and you worry about the things that will make you a better player, not the ones that won’t.”

Swain and Hammond’s impact isn’t limited to the younger players, though. Even their classmates are impressed by their unselfishness.

“Those two guys, man, are like the best teammates you can have, and they're just like great leaders for this team,” receiver Van Jefferson said. “Like I said, it's coming to the end, but those are going to be some of the guys I miss, especially Tyrie [Cleveland] and Tre [Grimes]. All the receivers, man, we're all tight. It's going to be like – I don't know. I don't want to think about that right now."

Regardless of who starts at any of the wide receiver positions, the Gators like to rotate six or seven receivers and give them all some touches. The result is a group of individuals that likely won’t be nominated for any postseason awards or all-conference teams but rank as the third-best passing offense in the SEC. They’re one of only six FBS teams featuring at least four receivers with 375-plus yards, 25-plus receptions and at least three touchdowns.

As long as the wins and yards keep piling up, they’re perfectly OK with that.

Jones Remaining Patient

The wide receivers aren’t the only ones who have shown exemplary patience this season.

When quarterback Feleipe Franks went down with a season-ending dislocated ankle against Kentucky, it looked like the start of the Emory Jones era would be imminent. Instead, Kyle Trask grabbed the reigns and wouldn’t let them go, relegating Jones to a run-heavy package. Jones played a key role in the LSU game but played only a couple of snaps against South Carolina and Georgia.

Rather than getting frustrated by the lack of playing time and entering the transfer portal, he’s remained focused. His goals are to get better every week and make the most of however many snaps he gets. Mullen has helped him remained focused on what’s important, he said.

“Patience, it's kind of hard for anybody, especially in my position,” the former top-100 recruit said. “But having him around, I mean, he always comes and pulls me to the side, tells me, 'It's a process,' tells me 'Just patience' and tell me one thing I need to work on. So, I just focus on those things more.”

Rather than becoming jealous of Trask’s newfound stardom, he’s learned from him.

“Just like his poise,” Jones said. “I've never seen him get rattled. I think that's the main thing. I've been learning a lot from him, just like seeing him making mistakes and not getting down about it. That's probably the biggest thing.”

With Franks possibly re-entering the mix in the spring, a monster quarterback competition could be right around the corner. Jones insisted that he’s not thinking about that possibility yet.

“Just going there and trying to be better and finding little things that we need to work on before getting into camp,” he said. “I am focused on getting better myself and just staying focused on the next step in the process.”

Mullen said Jones’ athleticism and arm strength allow him to make some special plays, but he needs to become more consistent with the routine plays.

“It's consistency, and that's one that I talk to him all the time about,” Mullen said. “Consistently making unspectacular plays. He can make spectacular ones. But, consistently make the easy, unspectacular play. I think that is always a learning curve, especially for younger guys.”

White’s First Start

With Brett Heggie out against Vanderbilt with headaches, freshman Ethan White made his first career start at right guard. The day didn’t get off to the greatest of starts for him.

"I just know he left the pregame meal pretty fast,” offensive line coach John Hevesy said. “He didn't eat the pregame meal. We got our food, came down and he wasn't there, and I asked them, and they said, no, he's not eating anything. So, good thing it was a noon game. But, I guess his nerves, didn't want to eat anything. Maybe he still threw up. I don't know.”

If he was nervous, it didn’t show once the game started. He displayed a level of aggression and physicality that the offensive line had missed most of the season. He opened several holes in the running game and didn’t give up a sack. Though it was his first significant action, he seemed to play with his instincts rather than overthinking things.

“He did well,” Hevesy said. “It was good to see him. Again, he's a kid who has been very conscious of everything he's done since he's got here. To me, he's earned the right to play. He went out there and performed well. Got to keep getting better at a lot of things.

“He's thick and very athletic. To me, it's just good component to have on the line; he has all the traits you're looking for in a guard."

Hevesy said he told redshirt senior Nick Buchanan that it was his responsibility to make sure White and redshirt freshman Richard Gouraige were under control on Saturday. Buchanan said he’s liked what he’s seen from White since he arrived on campus in January.

“He’s just a hard worker,” he said. “He comes out every day, comes out to work. He improves every day on his technique, his fundamentals, little things, you know. Really doesn’t take anything for granted, so it doesn’t surprise me at all when he goes out there and has a big game like that. I’m really proud of him and how far he’s come.”

Gators Move Down in CFP Poll

Despite blasting Vanderbilt 56-0 last week, the College Football Playoff selection committee moved UF down a spot to No. 11 in their poll that was released on Tuesday night. Minnesota’s upset of Penn State was enough to catapult them from No. 17 to No. 8 and bump the Gators from the top-10.

As of now, the Gators are on the outside looking in when it comes to the New Year’s Six. However, No. 9 Penn State still has to play No. 2 Ohio State and Minnesota could face the Buckeyes as well in the Big Ten Championship Game. No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Utah could also face off in the Pac 12 Championship Game. So, there are still plenty of opportunities left for Florida to work its way back into the New Year’s Six.


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