Mullen: Young receivers emerging

Aug 25, 2020 | 0 comments

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Dan Mullen held his first press conference of the week on Tuesday afternoon following the Gators’ eighth practice of the fall. He discussed the return of four players who had previously not been at practice, the state of the wide receiver position, why they’re cross-training players at multiple positions, and more.

Here are the highlights.

  • After missing the first week of practice, defensive end Zachary Carter and wide receivers Trevon Grimes, Jacob Copeland, and Kadarius Toney returned to the field on Monday. Mullen said it's good to have them back, and he would've supported their decisions either way. Without the three most experienced receivers, Penn State transfer Justin Shorter did “an unbelievable job" and served as the veteran leader.
  • Last week, the NCAA ruled in favor of not counting the 2020 season as a season of eligibility for any fall athlete regardless of how many games he or she plays in. Mullen said it was a smart decision and will help athletes make their decisions on whether to play or not. It helps create as much certainty amid the uncertainty of the pandemic as possible.
  • He thinks it would be wise for the SEC to alleviate the restrictions on how many players can dress for conference games. With players likely having to miss games due to positive virus tests, they need to be able to play more players early in the season to create functional depth.
  • They had their second practice in full pads on Tuesday. They're still at zero positive tests, and his biggest concern is giving the players more free time. That's why he's not a big fan of the extra off days the SEC gave players during fall camp. They'll have their first off-day on Wednesday, with the first scrimmage scheduled for Friday. They're going to start spreading things out once school starts next week.
  • He said he laughed when he saw some of the depth charts that people have posted online, which caused him to receive some phone calls from concerned parents. They'll do some situational work next week followed by the second scrimmage on Sept.7. The depth chart will start to come together after then.
  • They're "much deeper" on the offensive line this year, at least when it comes to experience. They only lost one senior and they added a graduate transfer, so it's basically like returning everybody.
  • The running backs got plenty of reps at catching the ball last year; they just didn't get to do it as much in games last year due to Lamical Perine. Mullen singled out Malik Davis as a "really good route-runner." He thinks they’ll be fine in this department.
  • He tries to look at a recruit's future development potential instead of where they are now. He reemphasizes that they’re a developmental program. "We're not a program that relies purely on guys' talents."
  • He said Kyle Pitts played a lot more flexed out as a receiver in 2018, and that helped him learn how to run routes and operate in space. Last year, he learned how to be physical as a blocker and be more of a complete tight end. He expects him to be a "mismatch problem" this year and said he'll be a focal point of the offense. He made a “spectacular” leaping catch over somebody on Tuesday.
  • Mullen said they're playing multiple guys at the safety and nickel positions so they can defend multiple types of offenses. It might be a matchup-based decision as to who plays nickel in a given week. If the opposition has a lightning-quick slot receiver, you might see Marco Wilson slide inside. If they have a physical, multifaceted tight end, you might see a linebacker or safety at STAR.
  • Cornerback Kaiir Elam has shown a lot of maturity, he said. He hasn't gotten big-headed from his success as a freshman. He loves the work ethic and willingness to learn that he's seen from him. He doesn’t expect a sophomore slump.
  • He said they've got five guys playing center right now to create depth. One of the big keys to the O-line is communication, and having veteran players around the center should help in that regard.
  • Mississippi State transfer offensive lineman Stewart Reese knows what to expect in this system, and he’s picked things up quicker than you would normally expect from a transfer. He played for Mullen and offensive line coach John Hevesy for two years with the Bulldogs.
  • The freshmen receivers had the opportunity to practice with the ones with the three veterans holding out, and Mullen wants to see them fight to hold onto those spots. He said some of the freshmen defensive linemen are also getting some opportunities because of depth.
  • They'll play as many running backs as have earned the right to play, whether that's two guys or all five scholarship running backs.
  • He loves the attitude and effort his guys are giving, but it's still hard to tell whether something's a strength or a weakness in the opposing area, he said. For example, the offense did a great job of running the ball last fall camp, but that ended up being more of a product of bad defense than good offensive line play.
  • Mullen said Jacob Finn and Jeremy Crawshaw are competing at punter. Kadarius Toney is one of the guys handling punt returns, but it's too early to start determining roles. They only started full special teams drills two days ago.
  •  Trent Whittemore is a versatile player with great hands who can play all three receiver spots. Mullen said Ja’Markis Weston made “unbelievable improvement” from last season, and he’s excited about him. He’s doing a much better job of catching the ball now. He wants to see more consistency from the other young wideouts.
  • The players have got to continue to make smart decisions with students coming back to campus, Mullen said. They've already proven that playing football is safe; now they've got to be safe with everything else. He said it's "ridiculous" to think there won't be positive cases on campus with students returning. They’ve got to be as safe as they can so they can start the season on time.
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