Notebook: Freshmen trio are already drawing attention

Dec 18, 2019 | 0 comments

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Most of the country’s top senior high school football players are getting ready to make their college decisions and sign their National Letters of Intent either Wednesday or during the February signing period.

Meanwhile, three members of the Gators’ Class of 2020 – quarterback Anthony Richardson and offensive linemen Joshua Braun and Richard Leonard – have already completed their high school coursework and arrived at UF last week to participate in the team’s bowl practices. Per NCAA rules, they cannot travel with the team to the Orange Bowl or play in the game. Still, the 12 practices will provide them with a leg-up on the rest of their classmates.

Head coach Dan Mullen said one of the biggest advantages the freshmen gain by participating in bowl practices is knowing how practices are conducted and familiarizing themselves with some of the basic terminology of the offense. This will allow them to jump right in during spring practice instead of trying to get the hang of things.

The Gators used their first four practices as developmental practices for the younger players, and the trio got some reps with the second unit, Mullen said.

“I think it’s an interesting, different, unique learning experience for them to see kind of what the program’s about and get a little taste of the football-side of things in a fun way before they get on campus and get into the offseason program in January,” he said.

As always, the quarterback is the headliner. Richardson, who played at Eastside High School in Gainesville, is ranked as the No. 5 dual threat quarterback in the country according to the 247Sports Composite. He’s already wowed his teammates.

“He’s got some zip,” defensive lineman Jonathan Greenard said. “The way he throws the ball – I’ve seen him just throwing around, tossing around – he’s got an arm. Got good size. He’s very mature coming in so far, kind of gelling with the older guys and young guys as well pretty much. Still trying to find his self in the team a little bit, but he’s going to be really good.”

Offensive lineman Brett Heggie said three things stand out to him most about Richardson.

“I think his speed, his composure, his ability to move around in the pocket,” he said. “I haven’t really seen too much of him so far, but just what I have seen, I think he just feels comfortable, and it’s really more with him going to be learning the playbook. But again, he just got here a couple of days ago, so it’s not going to happen overnight.”

While Richardson figures prominently in the program’s long-term plans, the two linemen should be more important to the team’s immediate future.

“They competed in one-on-ones, they competed in the plays they got put in there in team situations,” offensive line coach John Hevesy said. “Then again you have to tell them where to go because they have no concept of what’s going on, but that’s part of the deal for them. You just watch them compete and go hit people and see the speed of the game for them. It’s helping them obviously to get through January and the start of spring practice.”

Added Heggie: “Josh is huge, and Richie’s an aggressive guy. I think they’re both really coachable, so I think they’re doing really well so far, fresh out of high school especially.”

Franks’ Farewell

On Dec. 1, quarterback Feleipe Franks publicly announced his decision to either transfer to another school to finish his college career or give the NFL a shot.

Mullen said Franks informed him of his decision prior to the Florida State game, but they decided to wait until after the game to announce his decision to keep the focus on the game and the players who played in it.

Aside from a talented passer, Florida also loses a team leader and one of the most beloved guys on the team in Franks.

“I love Feleipe,” Mullen said. “You lose his smile, his personality, he’s pretty funny in the meetings and just great guy to be around.”

Mullen said they’ll provide guidance to Franks and assist him in whatever ways they can. Some other schools have contacted him to inquire about Franks, and Mullen’s had nothing but positive things to say.

“We couldn’t recommend him higher to anybody to go as a guy who’s going to come in and not be worried about – I mean, he’s played on the biggest of stage, he’s got a lot of talent, he’s a tremendous leader, he’s a great team guy,” he said. “So, everybody that’s called, it’s been, ‘Hey, this is a guy that you’d want in your program.’”

There’s no animosity between Franks and his former teammates for leaving. They respect his decision and wish him well wherever he decides to play next.

“I know he’s going to do great things wherever he goes,” said Heggie, one of Franks’ roommates. “He’s a hell of a leader and competitor. I’m going to miss him here, and I think our whole team’s going to miss him as well. He’s just one of those guys that you like to be around.”

Containing Perkins

While the No. 9 Gators are heavy favorites over No. 24 Virginia, UVA quarterback Bryce Perkins has the ability to take over the game if the Gators let him. The senior has thrown for 3,207 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for 745 yards and 11 scores. He’s one of the top dual-threat signal-callers in the nation. The Cavaliers run everything through him, as he leads them in rushing by more than 200 yards.

“Their offense is pretty much based off of one player,” defensive tackle Adam Shuler said. “He can hurt you in many different ways, so they’ve got a good quarterback.”

While Perkins has always been a dynamic runner, he’s improved greatly over the course of this season as a passer, Mullen said. That added dimension to the Cavaliers’ offense makes them more versatile and harder to defend.

“He can run the read-option plays,” he said. “He can run the direct quarterback runs, and he can run the ball by extending and scrambling plays and is a great threat in all three. Now you add on top of it he’s really kind of developed as a passer as well, and they have some good weapons on the outside to get the ball to. Makes them a very dangerous offense, and you see that with the points they’ve scored as the year’s gone on.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said Perkins’ mobility puts extra stress on a defense and forces defenses to mold their game plan around him.

“You have to account for an extra gap in the run fits,” he said. “And then in the passing game when you're rushing guys, if you rush four, there's actually six rush lanes, so therefore you have to be able to collapse the pocket and cover six rush lanes with four guys. If you're playing coverage, eventually you've got to get the guy on the ground.

“So, I think a guy like the guy we're getting ready to face can extend plays, he can break tackles, he's a strong runner, he's got speed. So, we have to be aware of all of that and account for it in your game plan."

Replacing Buchanan

UF will have to break in a new starting center next season following the departure of redshirt senior Nick Buchanan, who has anchored the line the past two seasons.

“I’m going to miss him,” Hevesy said. “He’s the general out there. He aligns everyone and gets everyone set. He did a great job this year obviously with four new starters in there with keeping everyone calm and making sure they’re going in the right place. Just doing an unbelievable job with communication.”

They don’t appear to have a plug-and-play successor waiting in the wings, but they do have several interesting options. Heggie has played center before, but he might be too valuable as a guard to move to center. Hevesy said Ethan White, Kingsley Eguakun, Riley Simonds and Griffin McDowell all played center during the first few bowl practices.

“You can never have enough guys that can snap,” he said. “You can put guys at guard and tackle, but you can’t have too many centers. For me, it’s about teaching them all the skills that they’re all going to learn the rest of the offseason.”


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