Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen confirmed on Saturday that the plan to move forward with a redshirt season for freshman quarterback Emory Jones was still on. The coaching staff did not even prepare any packages for him in the Missouri game after he played well in some significant snaps against Georgia the week before.
Many outsiders proceeded to question the point of keeping Jones off the field with the season Florida had hoped for out of the picture and starter Feleipe Franks struggling mightily. Why not just let the freshman take his lumps and set sights on the future?
Mullen’s response was simple. He’s not ready.
“There’s an injustice to put guys on the field before they are completely ready to go play,” he said. “Now, if I think Emory is completely ready to go play, we can go play him. If he gives us the best chance to win, we’ll go do that. But there’s also a lot of discussion, too, you have to have with his overall development.”
From what Mullen has gathered since he took over, he believes his starting quarterback was thrown into the fire too soon.
Franks started for the Gators last season as a redshirt freshman, which is something Mullen said he has tried to avoid in his years as a head coach.
“It’s fair to say Feleipe probably played before he was ready to play,” he said. “I think that’s hurt his development. I’ll be honest with you. When I got here in 2005, Chris Leak played, I think, before he was ready to play. And that hurt his development. So, I think you have to be careful with that of saying, ‘Hey, let’s just throw this guy out there.’”
When players are young, a lot of the focus is on building confidence. Put them in situations to be successful early so they can have that faith in themselves down the road.
If the quarterback is taking hit after hit every time he throws, the natural response is to expect that, even if the pressure is not there. Mullen thinks that happened to Franks, and to other quarterbacks around the country who became starters so early on.
Franks had a year to develop, but he has since been benched multiple times over the last two years and taken some harsh criticism from both media and fans. Part of the reason he has played so poorly at times could link back to being scared to do something wrong instead of expecting to do it right.
Then again, that may have absolutely nothing to do with it. But Mullen is not ready to throw Jones to the wolves just yet.
“Not that you can’t, not that you don’t, but I think you better be really cautious if you’re going to play that young of a quarterback,” Mullen said. “You could play freshmen. You just got to be really cautious with them.”
For now, it looks like Jones will get a shot in two of the final four games this season, but he will have to continue to sit back and make strides in his development before the coaches are ready to hand over the keys.