GAINESVILLE — Two days after pulling starter Feleipe Franks, Florida coach Dan Mullen didn't have much to say about his No. 19 Gators' quarterback situation.
Franks and fellow redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask graded out comparably in last week's 38-17 loss to Missouri. Franks remains atop the depth chart, but Mullen didn't rule out playing Trask, or two or even three quarterbacks in Saturday's SEC finale against South Carolina.
"We'll see how this week's practice goes," Mullen said.
The only thing we do know is this: Even though the Gators' division and conference championship hopes are over, they won't give total control of the offense to blue-chip true freshman Emory Jones.
To see why, look at Franks.
"(It's) fair to say Feleipe probably played before he was ready to play," Mullen said. "I think that's hurt his development."
Mullen isn't the best person to make that claim.
He wasn't here last year when Franks earned the starting job before Week 1. Or when Franks lost the job, then re-earned it, then lost it again and re-earned it again. Those things all happened under the last regime, and Mullen has said repeatedly that he didn't break down last year's film so he could keep an open mind about his personnel.
Florida Gators' Mizzou attendance was lowest since before The Swamp was The Swamp https://t.co/FLAPrzYPp1— Tampa Bay Times (@TB_Times) November 5, 2018
But Mullen has developed enough great quarterbacks to know the dangers of giving too much responsibility to a young player too soon. And considering Mullen has rarely seen a redshirt freshman ready to start immediately, as Franks did last year…
"My guess would be — I didn't study (2017) at all — but from what I hear from everybody, I would have been hard-pressed to think he could go in for what, how everybody treats him, that he probably wasn't ready to go in when he got put in," Mullen said.
While the best way to learn is through experience, those early reps can become a long-term detriment if they go poorly. And things went poorly for Franks last year.
It wasn't just his stats (nine touchdown passes, eight interceptions). Everything else crumbled around him — sometimes literally, thanks to a bad offensive line.
Although Franks' performance has been better this year (at least until last week) there are signs that he might not have fully recovered.
Franks was backed up at his own 6 early in the second quarter Saturday when receiver Van Jefferson ran open on back-to-back plays. But Franks was under pressure both times (and hit on the second throw) and overthrew Jefferson both times. Missouri capitalized on the short field to go up 14-3.
"Both of those throws could have been made," Mullen said. "Now I mean it would've been a train wreck in the backfield, but if you've kind of played too early then you're not ready for that moment, and you start before knowing where to go with the ball, you start getting a little gun shy."
If Franks is a little gun shy, it's hard to blame him. The 29 sacks he took last year were tied for the most of any SEC quarterback.
It's hard enough to make those kinds of throws under pressure when your confidence is at an all-time high. It's almost impossible if you're scarred from taking too many hits too early.
And Mullen doesn't want to risk scarring Jones, whom he plucked away from Ohio State last December. He'd rather treat him like Tim Tebow —with limited reps in a specific package.
"I mean, 2006 Tim Tebow played barely at all," Mullen said. "Now he got an awful lot of attention on the six plays a game that he played, right? But that led to him being confident to go win the Heisman Trophy the next year."
That doesn't mean Jones will win the Heisman next year. He might not even win the Gators' starting job.
But Mullen might already have one quarterback on his roster who was thrown into action before he was ready. He doesn't want another.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.