Florida QB Emory Jones steps into the pressure cooker after patiently waiting for a field to explode on

By Adam Silverstein
August 30, 2021
Florida QB Emory Jones steps into the pressure cooker after patiently waiting for a field to explode on
Football

Image Credit: ESPN Images

There may be no greater pressure for a college football player at the start of the season than being a first-time starting quarterback for the Florida Gators. From fan hopes to the gauntlet that is the SEC to the lofty expectations that come as a constant reminder thanks to the three bronze Heisman Trophy statues standing outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, starting under center at Florida Field is a position that’s much desired despite coming with unenviable demands.

Enter Emory Jones, as unique a first-time starting quarterback as can be found these days. Not unique because of his talent, pedigree or playmaking ability but rather the fact that Jones is … old.

It’s not common in 2021 — nor has it been the last handful of seasons, particularly since the introduction of the transfer portal — to see a blue-chip quarterback prospect patiently waiting his turn at a top-tier program. Especially considering Jones committed expecting to replace Feleipe Franks in two seasons only to wind up sitting three.

“I did not know it was going to take this long. But I was getting better every day and developing, and that’s all [Mullen] preached to me. We’re here now,” Jones said at the start of fall camp.

Given the surprising emergence of Kyle Trask and Jones’ progressing age, his patience at Florida and trust in head coach Dan Mullen are not only stunning but noteworthy.

Now a redshirt junior in his fourth year with the program, the opportunity has finally come for Mullen’s first quarterback recruit in his return to UF. Jones’ coach doesn’t plan to hold anything back.

“We put it all in on him,” said Mullen, noting the entire playbook is open to be Saturday against FAU. “It’s not like he’s a freshman or hasn’t been around. That’s part of the experience. He’s played in meaningful snaps in each of the last couple of seasons. He’s a guy I feel pretty comfortable throwing the whole thing at him and just letting him go.”

Mullen noted Monday that former Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott similarly waited his turn, seeing action as a replacement during his redshirt sophomore season before becoming a full-time starter the next year. That was nearly a decade ago at a much different program, and Prescott (No. 601 overall, Class of 2010) hardly had the profile of Jones (No. 85 overall, Class of 2018) as an incoming prospect.

Though Jones has seen plenty of action in spots during his career, Saturday will be the first time he’s counted on to lead the team full-time. In 24 career games, Jones has completed 55 of 86 passes (64%) for 613 yards with seven touchdowns, adding 514 yards rushing and six more scores on the ground.

While Jones’ consistency has improved this offseason, Mullen cautioned that Jones is a far different type of quarterback than Trask. As such, his unique skill and playmaking talent will require the Gators coaching staff to manage both him and the game differently.

“He has so many different ways that he can make explosive plays that you’re going to live with certain things,” Mullen said. “Kyle was probably really efficient throwing the ball, managed the offense pretty well. There will be some times Emory will probably take some shots that — whether it’s trying to extend the play scrambling — that you’re OK with because he can make something dynamic happen out there on the field.

“You just got to be patient with that as a coach. … He needs to [play safe sometimes], but there’s other times where you say, ’OK, let it develop and see what you can create on your own to allow explosive plays to happen.’”

Jones is being given a lot of leeway in the offense in large part because this first-time starter is a fourth-year player. He will have package play options and automatic calls that can be used at any time. Just as important, he has trust from the coaching staff to make the right decisions beyond what’s called from the sideline.

“He knows he has the ability — if he sees something he likes or that’s different that we weren’t planning for — he can check to it and go get what he sees,” Mullen said.

The coach explained earlier: “He understands [the system]. You look at his playing time as experience throughout the years. This will be his first time playing the first play of the game, but I mean, to say he hasn’t played in a lot of big moments in a lot of different games [is untrue].”

While Mullen and his assistants have coached plenty of dual-threat quarterbacks over the years, the coach stressed that the signal callers within that subsection are nevertheless unique onto themselves.

“I feel like I can do anything on the field,” Jones said.

For that reason, Florida can teach techniques and fundamentals while developing passers mentally all day long. However, it’s recognizing the strengths of the individual talents that has set Mullen apart historically as a so-called “quarterback whisperer” while ensuring players feel comfortable in his system.

“Our focus is on the intangibles,” he said. “… We’ve been really good at identifying the strengths and having the flexibility within our offense to highlight their strengths and to ask them to do what they do well. That’s kind of the secret, I guess.”

Jones’ time in the program has provided him with one additional advantage: familiarity with his pass catchers. With the Gators losing tight end Kyle Pitts and numerous receivers after the 2020 season, their replacements are all players with whom Jones has been practicing on the second team for the last couple of years.

“I’ve been throwing to those guys for years. In the offseason, we got a lot of [extra] work in,” Jones said.

Jones getting the orange-and-blue reigns on Saturday does not necessary mean he will play every snap of Game 1 let alone Game 4 or Game 10. Just as Mullen utilized Jones as a change of pace behind Trask, redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson could be allowed to take snaps even before contests are out of reach.

Richardson is two inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than Jones. That additional size could benefit the Gators near midfield or around the goal line, field positions in which Jones often entered for Trask in 2020.

“Every situation is very different and unique. … If your quarterbacks have very different skillsets, there’s value to using two on the field,” Mullen said. “… Guys are one snap away from being the guy, and we put a lot on our quarterback. We’re a very quarterback-based offense.”

Richardson’s potential appearance is far from the most anticipated element as Florida kicks off its 2021 season.

Eyeballs will be fixated on Jones as he attempts to step in following one of the most dominant and statistically gaudy seasons produced by a Gators quarterback in history.

Whether he comes close to replicating Trask’s production remains to be seen. What we know for sure is that (preparation) time is squarely on Jones’ side.

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