In the book that is the collegiate career of Emory Jones, two critical plot twists took place this past week. And those plot twists may just be the start of bigger ones to come.
First, Dan Mullen used the bye week to install a package specifically for Jones against Georgia. The package was used five times on the day; once, Jones got hit and lost the ball before he could properly pitch it outside to his running back, once, he threw a beautiful deep ball that Georgia defensive back Tyson Campbell spoiled by tackling Van Jefferson before the ball could get to him for the cheapest pass interference penalty you’ll ever see, and on the three other occasions, Jones carried three times for 19 yards. Not Heisman type numbers, but certainly worthy of another look.
Which brings us to the second major plot twist in Jones’ career. Earlier this week, Mullen made a point to declare that Jones would play in at least two more games. Not two more games, but at least two more games. There’s a big difference there.
Under the new NCAA redshirt rule, a player can participate in up to four different games of action- that includes a bowl game- to as large of a degree as the coach wants in one season and still redshirt, so that season does not count toward his four years of eligibility. That means it makes no difference if Jones takes two snaps or fifty two snaps in a given game, if he’s dressed up and on the field, that counts as one of the four games he’s allotted under the rule.
Mullen used up the first of those four right away, in the opener against Charleston Southern. Which I understood, because it was a chance to get him some real live reps right off the bat so that if Feleipe Franks went down soon thereafter, Jones would at least have that experience in his back pocket. But then Mullen burned the second game of the given four against Georgia- and that made absolutely zero sense to me. If the point is to keep Jones from using a year of eligibility, it was nothing but counterproductive to use his second of four games in game eight of thirteen (since Florida had already secured bowl eligibility). Now, there are five games left, of which Jones can only play in two.
Dan Mullen, I love you and all that you’ve done in your time at Florida, and I agree with almost everything you do, however I’m struggling to see the logic behind this. I ask this not in anger or frustration, but out of genuine curiosity: why did you play him against Georgia, and more importantly, how the hell do you manage Jones’ two final games now? Do you use him against Idaho and FSU? That would take away his opportunity to get five weeks of preparation to start the bowl game, because if he won’t play in that game you’ll need to save the first team reps for the quarterback who will. Do you use him against FSU and then in the bowl game? That would take away his opportunity to start against Idaho, in the kind of cupcake game most teams start their seasons with (and Florida once tried to) to build confidence for their newbies. Do you use him against Idaho and in a bowl game? That eliminates any continuity either
If I were the Gators’ head coach- granted, I’m not, nor am I claiming I should be, but if I were- and my primary goal was to keep Jones from wasting a year of eligibility, I would have kept him shelved against Georgia and used him in these four games: Charleston Southern, Idaho, FSU and the bowl game. Good of a kid as he might be, Feleipe Franks isn’t it, and never will be, but I do think there was merit to Mullen’s public comment that Franks was the best fit to win games in 2018. Jones is ultra-talented, and his ceiling is exponentially higher than Franks’, but he’s also raw. Franks at least had experience behind him.
That said, if I was insistent on keeping Jones from burning his redshirt and wanted to maximize his playing time, the nanosecond that Florida was eliminated from the SEC East race, I would have begun quietly prepping Jones to be the starter beginning with Idaho. Because once Florida no longer has the SEC East to play for, all realistic opportunities to achieve the ultimate goal- a national championship- are gone. And once the opportunities to win a national championship are gone, the duration of the season becomes about learning, developing, and priming for next season. Even in a New Year’s Six Bowl, while a major badge of honor, I would rather see Florida play the game more conscious of the future than to win that game A.
But Georgia dropping the guillotine on Florida’s East chances turned the season in another way, too. Once the season became about learning, developing and priming for next season, it became about Emory Jones. Even if that means burning his redshirt.
To me, Dan Mullen’s announcement that he would play Jones in at least two more games was an encrypted statement that he’s at his wits end with Franks, too, and sees the move of burning Jones’ redshirt as a net positive. There’s just no other explanation when you consider the quandary of which two games to play Jones. Maybe Franks has more prior experience than Jones, but if the on field result of all that prior experience is going to be no better than what you’d get with a raw true freshman, there is no reason whatsoever to continue playing Franks. Mullen has had to carefully babysit Franks by limiting the amount of times he throws the ball, the degree of difficulty with which he has to make throws. Sure, you’d expect him to have to do the same thing with Jones, but if you’re going to have to manage someone like that, it may as well be a freshman, as if Feleipe is likely never going to be better than what he is right now.
And yes, I would even ride with Jones at the expense of his redshirt. The reasoning is simple. If Jones is really going to be all that he’s been hyped up to be, he’s not staying four years anyway. None of the star QB’s who were redshirted over the last few years stayed throughout their four years of eligibility. Not Cam Newton, not James Winston, not Johnny Manziel, not Cardale Jones, etc. The NFL Draft will allow you to declare if you’re three years out of high school. How many years of eligibility you actually used in the NCAA’s eyes is none of their concern. So if Florida does truly have a star in Jones, he’s leaving after 2020 whether he redshirts or not. And if he turns out to be a bust, well, then burning his redshirt in 2018 didn’t really do any harm, did it?
Of course, there’s a middle ground possibility between stardom and bustdom, too. Jones could take the reins and have good numbers, but not receive as high of an NFL Draft grade as he’d like and want to come back for 2021 and maybe even 2022, and if Florida burns his redshirt now, he won’t have the option to come back in 2022. There’s a risk of some kind involved with pretty much every decision a coach makes, and this would be the major risk in wasting his extra year of eligibility.
But back to Jones and his learning curve- there are going to be frustrating moments with him. He’s 18 years old. He’s going to make mistakes. That’s perfectly fine, because with no national championship to play for, what’s the worst he could do? Throw three pick sixes to FSU in Tallahassee? Feleipe Franks basically did that last year. The difference is, if it’s Jones doing it, there’s real hope that those sort of errors could make him a better quarterback, whereas with Franks we’ve seen one full season and two thirds of a second season worth of proof that they would not do so for him.
The bottom line is, I’m fairly sure that whether Jones redshirts in 2018 or not is not going to have any effect on his career. The only way it would is if he wants to play at Florida in 2022, and just given the nature of the game, there’s a fairly high likelihood that he’ll be done by then anyway.
And though I believe all the good things I’ve heard about Feleipe Franks as a person and a teammate, I’ve grown rather weary of watching him miss reads, fumble the ball and fling inaccurate bullets 150 mph into traffic. We’re at the point now where he’s as good as he’s ever going to be, and as we saw against Georgia, that simply isn’t good enough to have Florida compete for national championships. Any mistake he makes going forward isn’t a potential teaching moment, it’s deja vu, a pattern, what we’ve come to expect, and there are no positive “well he’ll learn from this” type of feelings attached. I wish him well, but with the position the Gators are in now, I clamor- no, I beg- for Dan Mullen to back up his words and make the switch.
It’s what a year and two thirds has proven is best for the teamB. And above all else, that’s a coach’s job.
AThis is only my take on a New Year’s Six Bowl this year, not for any other year. Normally, the focus of reaching a high profile bowl is to win it and add some prestige points to your program. But more likely than not, Mullen will guide Florida to New Year’s Six Bowl games after this year. But because this is his first year, the focus should be on the 2019 season and beyond.
B: while the premise of this article is about Jones and his development, this move would have a notable effect on Franks, too. Priming Jones to start would display the kind of teammate Franks really is, for better or worse. During the Colorado State game, SEC Network reporter Kris Budden announced that Mullen had screamed at Franks for what he had called a “pouty face” when things didn’t go his way. How would Franks react to both seeing Jones getting reps with the first team and seeing him actually replace him in the lineup? Would he sit with him in the film room, breaking down plays with him and be there when he needs guidance like a good hearted, selfless, team-first, me-last veteran leader who cares about the welfare of the team? Or would he sulk and whine like a petulant little bitch? I genuinely do not know the answer to that, but it would be a good test of his character.)