MULLEN CAN'T WAIT TO DO SOME COACHING One week until spring football practice begins and it’s fairly obvious Dan Mullen can’t wait to do some coaching. August will be about getting offense, defense and special teams ready for the rigors of a 12-game schedule. Spring is about coaching and teaching and developing players.
“I think spring ball is such a learning time,” Mullen said at his pre-spring practice press conference Monday afternoon. “I use springtime as a coach. I mean we’re going to do a lot of competitive things, but as a team, in the end of the spring, we’re 0-0.”
And that means 15 practices to see who has used the offseason to get bigger, faster and stronger; who is ready to expand last year’s backup role into a starting position; which of the redshirts are ready to make a move up the depth chart; which of the veterans are ready to assume or increase their leadership roles; and which of the wet behind the ears freshmen are ready to prove they’ll be contributors on the field in the fall and not on the scout team.
Mullen does his best to give all his players plenty of repetitions in the spring.
“I think our guys understand if you watch our practices, everybody gets reps,” Mullen said. “One thing guys aren’t going to complain about is their reps. They’re going to get their reps and their opportunities throughout the spring.”
First teamers are not only going to work with other first teamers. The way the coaches break things up, they give opportunities for everyone to work at every level. If you don’t think that pays off then check out Exhibit A – Kyle Trask.
A career backup who hadn’t started a game since his freshman year in high school, Trask made the seamless transition to effective starter in the Kentucky game when he became the QB out of necessity when Feleipe Franks went down with a season-ending injury. Because he had been getting first team reps the entire time Mullen had been Florida’s HBC, Trask was well prepared, leading the Gators to a come-from-behind win against UK and an 8-2 record as the starting QB.
It all started with spring practice two years ago.
“Coach Mullen’s always done that, ever since we’ve gotten here, especially in the spring,” Trask said. “Everyone’s going to get their opportunity. We just have to take it upon ourselves to compete every day and make sure we are getting better.”
#1 GATORS GO FOR 12TH STRAIGHT WIN OVER FSU
Two streaks will be on the line tonight when the #1-ranked Gators (16-0) take on 15th-ranked Florida State (10-5) at McKethan Stadium (6:30 p.m.). Not only are the Gators the last unbeaten baseball team in Division I, but they’ve won 11 straight over Florida State dating back to the NCAA Super Regionals in 2016. Since 2012, the Gators are 24-5 against the Seminoles.
Two other streaks on the line for the Gators: Right fielder Jacob Young has a 17-game hitting streak dating back to last season and catcher Nathan Hickey has hit a home run in four straight games.
Florida will send righthander Nick Pogue (1-0, 6.14 ERA) against FSU lefty Antonio Velez (0-0, 0.79 ERA).
IF BLACKSHEAR CAN’T GO, CAN THE GATORS WIN IN NASHVILLE?
There was good news and bad news from the Florida basketball training staff Monday. The good news was there isn’t the kind of serious damage to Kerry Blackshear Jr.’s wrist that will require surgery. The bad news is that Blackshear is day-to-day heading into the Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament in Nashville on Thursday and his status is questionable for the Gators game against the winner of a round one matchup between Georgia and Ole Miss.
Blackshear does so many things for the Gators at both ends of the floor. With him in the lineup, the Gators are capable of beating every single team and winning the tournament. Without him, they’re going to struggle even in that first round game.
The Gators remained at #28 in the NCAA NET rankings Monday. Combined with their #15 national strength of schedule, they’re pretty much locks to make the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in Nashville. But, if Blackshear can play and the Gators win at least a couple of games, they could seriously enhance their seeding. As of Monday, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had the Gators a nine seed and playing Saint Mary’s in Cleveland in the first round. SEC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
WEDNESDAY’S GAMES GAME ONE: #13 Georgia (15-16, 5-13 SEC) vs. #12 Ole Miss (15-16, 6-12 SEC) GAME TWO: #14 Vanderbilt (11-20, 3-15 SEC) vs. #11 Arkansas (19-12, 7-11 SEC) THURSDAY’S GAMES GAME THREE: #9 Alabama (16-15, 8-10 SEC) vs. #8 Tennessee (17-14, 9-9 SEC)
GAME FOUR: Georgia-Ole Miss winner vs. #5 FLORIDA (19-12, 11-7 SEC)
GAME FIVE: #10 Missouri (15-16, 7-11 SEC) vs. #7 Texas A&M (16-14, 10-8 SEC) GAME SIX: Vanderbilt-Arkansas winner vs. #6 South Carolina (18-13, 10-8 SEC)
FRIDAY’S GAMES GAME SEVEN: Game three winner vs. #1 Kentucky (25-6, 15-3 SEC) GAME EIGHT: Game four winner vs. #4 Mississippi State (20-11, 11-7 SEC)
GAME NINE: Game five winner vs. #2 Auburn (25-6, 12-6 SEC) GAME TEN: Game six winner vs. #3 LSU (21-10, 12-6 SEC)
TUNING IN ON A TUESDAY
(1) Maybe you’re of the opinion that Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari is the sludge on the bottom of the septic tank, but on the SEC Basketball Coaches Teleconference he raised some important issues about the proposed transfer rule that will grant a one-time transfer without consequence for athletes in every NCAA sport. Calipari doesn’t think enough thought has been given to the proposal. “This – if they go through with it, which I hear they are – it doesn’t hurt Kentucky, it helps us,” he said. “We’re going to have all kinds of calls, kids wanting to join our program … Okay, but what does it do to all the mid-majors, low majors, or even the bottom half of the power fives?” Calipari thinks kids should be allowed to transfer, for example, if they were lied to or if kids and coaches agree that it’s just not working out at a certain school, but as for wholesale free agency, he thinks it needs to be studied more carefully and a very good rule put in place rather than rush into things with a rule that might have to be tweaked several times to get it right. I agree.
(2) Tua Tagovailoa has been cleared to resume football activities which gives him a month to prep for Alabama’s pro day (April 9). Because of the ankle surgeries the last two years and now the broken hip from which doctors say he has recovered, there are always going to be questions about his durability but if Tua throws the ball at pro day with anything close to the precision he showed during his Alabama career, there is going to be a scramble to move up in the NFL Draft. Joe Burrow is a mortal lock for #1 with the Cincinnati Bengals and perhaps the Washington Redskins aren’t going to waiver from their preference of Ohio State DE Chase Young with the second pick. That means the third pick, currently held by the Detroit Lions, is going to be very, very hot. The Lions have an established QB in Matt Stafford, but would they be willing to part with Stafford, who is 32 years old, for a potential QB talent of a lifetime in Tua?
(3) As I read the Andrew Baggerly story about Barry Bonds in The Athletic, I wondered when – if ever – Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, in particular – will ever be forgiven for juicing. I’ve had mixed feelings about it over the years, but even before I read the Bonds story I thought back to 1998 and how McGwire and Sosa brought Major League Baseball back from the dead with their historic home run chase. Fans were still angry about the 1994 lockout that resulted in the cancellation of the World Series, but when McGwire and Sosa started launching homers at an historic clip, the fans came back and the TV ratings began to spike. In the last couple of years, I’ve talked to a lot of people who were close to the game during that year and the subsequent years when it became evident that Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemons and others were using performance enhancing substances. They tell me that everyone in baseball knew what was going on but didn’t do anything about it. And they ask me, “Did it harm the game irreparably?” I know a lot of people seem to think so. I’m not so sure. I’m starting to think it’s time to forgive.
(4) For a guy whose seat is supposedly molten hot, Clay Helton is getting a lot of love from the Southern Cal administration. They’ve given him more money for assistant coaches, added analyst positions and doubled his recruiting budget. Either AD Mike Bohn and school prez Carol Folt think Helton will deliver if he’s got the support or else they’re covering their butts so that if USC comes up short this year they can fire Helton and say, “We gave him everything he needed and he still couldn’t get it done.”
GOOD QUOTES FOR TUESDAY
From Tom Reed of The Athletic, Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett is trying to deal with the lack of discipline in his game that led to a brawl that caused his suspension for striking Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph with his helmet:
“Garrett says he has been speaking to a therapist recommended by the Browns, trying to manage the fine line between aggression and recklessness. Even before he struck Rudolph, Garrett contributed to the undisciplined play that helped sink the Browns season. He committed three personal fouls in the first two games, including one for punching Titans tight end Delanie Walker.”
Tom Archdeacon (America’s best sports columnist) of the Dayton Daily News, describes the night Dayton’s Obi Toppin had Saturday, which included a number of ESPN-worthy highlights: “Toppin had several Saturday night. In that run he had four dunks, including the spin move, as well as the slam right over GW’s 6-foot-7 freshman Jamison Battle and, finally, the breakaway, take the ball beneath his right leg during midflight and jam, a play that made the UD players on the bench erupt as [Dayton coach Anthony] Grant laughed and the crowd went nuts. Saturday’s performance – 27 points on 11 of 15 shooting, five rebounds, five assists and seen dunks which lifts this season’s total to 107, top in the college game – may have cemented his spot as the national player of the year.”
From Jeremy Schaap of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” Jalen Hurts talks about the 2017 national championship game in which he was benched in favor of Tua Tagovailoa, who led Alabama’s comeback win over Georgia: “I’m a competitor and I would’ve loved to come back and bring the team back like I’d done many times before, but it happened the way it did, and we were national champions at the end of it. Put emotions to the side. I’m not a robot but you [grow] out of yourself and into the team. Me being emotional, what good would that have done to the guys around me? The joy of being able to hold up a national championship trophy and achieve that goal as a team regardless of how I got there. It’s a joyful moment.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Auburn Director of Football Recruiting Operations Mollie Moore is leaving. No reason given … Antonio Alfano, the former 5-star defensive lineman who left Alabama during the 2019 season, didn’t last long at his transfer destination. A little less than two months into a fresh start at Colorado, Alfano has been suspended indefinitely for violation of team rules … Second-ranked Gonzaga (30-2) beat San Francisco to move into the West Coast Conference semifinals … East Tennessee State (30-4) punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a win over Wofford.