GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When true freshman quarterback Emory Jones trotted onto the field late in the first quarter against Georgia, particularly after a shaky start from starting quarterback Feleipe Franks, many fans wondered if first-year coach Dan Mullen was finally ready to unleash the gem of his 2018 recruiting class.
That was never the plan, though. Jones will almost certainly redshirt this season, gaining some valuable experience and development in the system.
Truth be told, Mullen rarely throws freshmen into the fire.
arly in the season, I think you come out, you think you know the offense and you think you know how to gameplan each week,” Mullen said Monday. “I don’t know that you really do as a freshman.”
Instead, Mullen has given Jones a chance to watch and learn. He got to play a little bit late in the team’s season opener against Charleston Southern, but that game was already decided and Mullen mostly just had Jones hand off.
Over the past few weeks, Jones has continued to take sparing reps with the full offense while working more on specific packages designed to take advantage of his strengths.
“And all of a sudden, I think he’s seen as the season has gone on, ‘I understand the different checks and the different looks and how you apply plays from one week to the next,'” Mullen said.
On Saturday against Georgia, Jones was brought in as a change of pace. Something a little different that the Bulldogs hadn’t seen on tape that maybe the Gators could take advantage of.
For the most part it was successful. Jones had a number of quality runs. Aside from a botched option play, his first experience in a truly big game was an overwhelming positive. He even nearly connected on the little bit of creativity Mullen had for him within the package, launching a deep ball that nearly connected with Van Jefferson for a touchdown (it drew a useful pass interference call, instead).
That’s the way Florida will use him again down the stretch this season.
“We’ll do that for at least two more games this year,” Mullen said.
The most obvious option in terms of which games he plays in is a bowl game. There’s nothing really on the line there, and it’s a chance to work extensively ahead of the bowl game getting Jones ready for a bigger role.
Mullen won’t delve into specifics on which games he plans to feature Jones in, of course, but he and the rest of the Gators have been pleased with the true freshman’s focus this fall.
“Emory’s a great kid. He’s not one of those guys that was trying to beg to get in the game or anything like that,” receiver Joshua Hammond said. “He stayed back and listened and listened to Feleipe (Franks), listened to Kyle Trask, listened to the coaches and just was always willing to learn. He was a guy that would come in everyday trying to get better, trying to get better, trying to get better no matter where the coaches put him, and I think that’s one of the things I admire about him the most, especially being a five-star quarterback.”
For a freshman that was among Florida’s highest-rated recruits in Mullen’s transition class and a major steal late in the recruiting process, Jones entered with no shortage of fanfare.
Seemingly every time Franks makes a mistake, a certain segment of fans are ready to see what Jones can do.
That’s not his role this season. Jones might have thought he had a shot at starting this fall, but if he did, he hasn’t let the way things played out dismay him.
“They don’t want to be benched or not play as much as he expected. I know it was definitely on his mind when he wasn’t the starting quarterback and I know it was definitely on his mind just the way he took it in and sat back observed and still continued to work and continued to grow and get better,” Hammond said. “I think it showed the maturity of him. It showed that he is going to be big for this program in the future.”
As far as Mullen is concerned, things have worked out nicely for both Florida and Jones so far. The new redshirt rule the NCAA adopted this season allows for the first-year coach to get Jones even more experience than he might in years past.
That should only accelerate his growth going forward.
“I think he’s right on schedule,” Mullen said. “I think he’s on a great shape.”