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Florida Football

Florida Quarterbacks: Baptism by fire

August 7, 2018



Brian Johnson is prepared to baptize his quarterbacks by fire. The Florida Gators quarterback coach is the head of a room that includes two redshirt sophomores and a true freshman. Two have never taken a snap in a college game while the other finished his first season with a total quarterback rating of 36.8 (108th in the nation). They have a long way to go and a short time to get there so the pressure is heating up under these passers in hopes of taking the East, bound for Atlanta.

Part of the issue is the inexperience. Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask have both been around the program long enough now to not be considered young. But Trask hasn’t seen game experience and Franks was tossed around the roller coaster of last season as much as—if not more—than anyone. It means, essentially, that Johnson is introducing the guys to the fundamentals of the job while also stripping away what little they were able to carry over from the last staff.



“That’s obviously the biggest challenge: it’s all brand new to them," Johnson stated after Tuesday's practice. "So the complete cycle of a year in the program is completely new, so every aspect that they’re stepping into is something that is brand new for them.”

So Johnson is throwing them into the fire with every possible igniter going. He says it should make them retardant to any future flames.

“We are going to give them different looks and throw as much as we possibly can at them so the game is a bit slower than practice. They did a good job of bring resilient and bouncing back and taking coaching and coming back really being intentional in what they are working on after the corrections and getting stuff corrected.

“Obviously you come out here and you try to give them as much as you can and really, really stress them mentally, stress them physically and put them in as many adverse situations as possible. The whole goal of training camp is to try to get you ready for the season, get you prepared for the season.”

While Johnson and Dan Mullen are throwing everything at their quarterbacks, they’re asking their quarterbacks to do the same.

“Practice is a time to cut it loose and learn what you can get away with and not get away with,” explains Johnson.

“We talk to them about that all the time as using training camp as an opportunity to perfect your craft. And continue to go out and try new things.”

That last part—letting them throw anything at the wall and see what sticks, or doesn’t melt away to keep with the metaphor—is part of developing more than just someone to play within an offense. It’s part of developing a quarterback.

“I think one of the ones that is hard is how much work you have to put in at the QB position to be successful,” Mullen said about the roadblocks currently hampering his quarterbacks.

“I think they are young guys and they’re still learning that. That just takes time because there are so many little intricacies of it. You can’t coach everything at one time, so they got to put in the extra work so, ‘hey, I know this read, so great, now I can work on technique and fundamentals. Hey, I’ve got my fundamentals clean, here is a new play, here’s all the reads, here’s all the different things that can happen.’”

They can do some of that on their own at all times just by watching each other says Johnson. If one of them gets burned, the others need to understand not to touch that flame themselves.

“I’ve always said experience is life’s best teacher. So part of playing this position is you got to play and you got to go through some ups and downs and some peaks and valleys. Our thing is we have to minimize that and accelerate that as much as possible, with not as many practices as you normally would have in a training camp.

“We have to be mature enough as a group to not make the same mistake twice. I think the hardest part of that, especially when you have a young room, you have to mentally tough enough to learn from someone’s else mistakes. Because there’s just not enough reps, there’s not enough reps. So as a group we have to really, really watch what the other guy’s doing and learn from their mistakes so when we get that same opportunity we’re not double coaching. A lot of that is being a great self-motivated guy who puts in the extra work and extra time to make sure they’re on top of every detail.”

Learning from each other takes away double coaching and also helps increase the competition Mullen has asked for from his team. One day we see Trask being told by Nick Savage to not be at the back of the pack when coming to practice. The next time he’s out front leading the team…until Franks sprints past, cutting his eyes back to see where Trask is behind him. One day Trask makes a 6-yard throw that Mullen praises publicly and before long we see Franks making the same quick passes. We see Franks taking receivers to the Indoor Practice Facility for extra work and the next thing we hear is that Trask is lining guys up to do the same.

The mental aspect, the side that lends itself to the leadership aspect, is just as important as the fieldwork says Johnson.

“Our expectations of the quarterback room are extremely, extremely high. First and foremost you have to understand playing that position you are held to a higher standard than everybody. Everyone is going to look to you and you’re going to set the standard on what’s acceptable in our program.”

It’s something that has been easier for Franks who has a year at the helm under his belt, coupled with a personality that endures him to teammates. Johnson doesn’t want Trask feeling like he has to mimic Franks in that way though, and tells all the quarterbacks to do what comes most naturally…but do it with purpose and as a leader.

“They need to lead through their personality. So it's not a deal where I'm going to be a leader and I'm going to YouTube Ray Lewis speeches and go recite those verbatim to the team. It has to be very organic. He has a great personality, people like him. He is likable. Now it's about coming out and executing and putting people in position so they can highlight their talents as well.”

It can come in the future as well for Emory Jones, someone who Johnson says he loves, has a ton of talent and works his tail off.

For now though the race, which Johnson says is still “close” is all but whittled down to two—Franks and Trask—and both stand in the fire, having to take the heat until they can stand it; only then will the coaches ease up.

“The goal is to install the entire offense and then take bits and pieces per week and mix and match some stuff…as we get close to being able to play a game we kind of taper it down and try to get very, very specific in terms of what we feel like guys can handle, what they can do, what they do well and put them in a position to highlight those talents.”

If the quarterbacks can take the (sometimes literal) heat of fall camp then they’ll come out on the other side purified by fire and ready to shine.

Florida Quarterbacks: Baptism by fire

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