Considering the caliber of opponents the Gators will face in 2006 those kinds of numbers might be unrealistic. Still, in talking with Gator Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen there's no question he thinks the Florida offense can and will be much more productive next season. Florida will be trying to improve on an average of 28.6 points and 373.4 yards per game. Another goal will be to improve consistency. Last year in games two through seven Florida point total looked like a roller coaster ride 41, 16, 49, 3, 35 and 17.
I sat down with Dan Mullen to talk about his preparations for year two with the Gators, the priorities in finding improvement with Chris Leak plus his thoughts on the offensive line and the return of Bubba Caldwell.
LV: Dan, you've had about a month since the Outback Bowl game to assess year one for this offense in Gainesville. How would you assess the first year as you begin preparing for spring ball in a few weeks?
DM: We've taken a lot of steps in the right direction and we've really seen the tools that we have to work with. We've gotten a chance to really know the strengths and weaknesses of our players and you sometimes don't get to do that until you're in game situations. One thing we have to focus in on now is what we did well as a team, what we did poorly as a team and what are the strengths of all of our guys.
LV: Let's look at the weaknesses. We talked during the year about the lack of big plays and I know consistency is an issue. But what would you use to complete the sentence, "we really have to get a whole lot better at ______?
DM: Confidence is definitely number one, and that means playing with confidence at every position. With confidence comes speed. As we look back there were a lot of missed opportunities last year that we didn't execute things as fast as possible. That's the linemen getting in position on pass protection. That's the quarterback getting the ball out on time. That's the receivers running their routes at full speed and the running backs hitting up in the hole when it's there. We need to get rid of any hesitation that there is, have the guys confident in what we're doing offensively. Then we'll pick up the speed of what happens.
LV: Is this a case of having guys who can run fast, but now you need them to play fast?
DM: That's exactly what it is. There's a big difference in going out there on off-season testing day and you put your hand on the ground and run the forty-yard dash. Now let's see you do that when there's a guy in front of you that you have to make miss. Or you have to go up and catch the ball. Or you have to make the throw at precisely the right time.
LV: Obviously it all starts with Chris and we've talked about him a ton already. What is the progression you are looking for out of him?
DM: It all comes down to the processing of information. His decision-making needs to be sped up so that he can get to a third read on a play lightning fast. With that you can make the step from being a good quarterback to a great quarterback. A good quarterback can make a read and throw it on target to the receiver. A great quarterback can make that read, get ready to throw, but when sometime breaks down on the play he can re-set his feet, make another read and get that ball out in a fraction of a second. That's where we got to get to this off-season where Chris' reaction time to what he sees on defenses is picked up to a whole new level.
LV: One issue this spring that everyone is wondering about is rebuilding the offensive line. We've seen a lot from inside guys like Steve Rissler, Jim Tartt and Drew Miller but not very much from the young tackles. Where is your comfort zone with the unit and how much can you put them through this spring?
DM: Oh we're going to put them through a lot. That's going to be the position that is called out and called upon every single day to develop toughness and develop a personality. There's some toughness, but there's an awful lot of youth. That's an okay combination, but that puts a lot on us to make sure the guys we're counting on – Ronnie Wilson, Phil Trautwein, Jason Watkins and the guys you mentioned – are ready to step up. Plus we get the added bonus of the guys who came in early with Maurice Hurt and Carl Johnson to give us some depth. We're really going to open up that competitive battle for guys up front.
LV: The young tackles hardly got a chance to play last year with two senior starters (Randy Hand, Lance Butler). Often when guys see little chance to dislodging a starter they kinda put it on autopilot. Are you curious to see how guys respond this spring now that there are jobs to try and win?
DM: You definitely see a little more life in them right now. They know there's a job out there for the taking and that they have to go get it. I think as a season drags on it's tougher and tougher to be a backup. It's tough having that focus of getting ready to play and trying to improve yourself and not being rewarded with the game every week. We're going to do a lot of things to build this offensive line how we want it into a tough, physical, rugged group. That's going to be done by all of our coaching staff from now through the spring and probably all the way through next season.
LV: How about the trade you made in the off-season. Chad Jackson leaves for the NFL but you add the return of Bubba Caldwell. Bubba had shown such dramatic ability early in the year (10 catches, 148 yards / 5 runs, 64 yards in less than 3 full games) what are your thoughts on getting him back out there?
DM: It's so great to have him back. We would have loved to have Chad back but I know he'll do well and he'll have the full support of Gator Nation as he makes that move. But it'll be a great thing for us to get Andre back within the rotation because he's got a lot of special talents. He's got a new little fire inside of him after having football taken away from him. He has a great desire to get back out there and be the best that he can be. So we're really excited to have him back on the field.
LV: Much has been said and written about the second-year success of this system at both Bowling Green and Utah. Is it realistic, with a rebuilt offensive line to expect similar improvement for the Gators this fall?
DM: Sure. And we should see it a lot going into spring practice in that we won't be teaching the base plays on day one. Instead we can put in the majority of the offense on day one. Then we can start tweaking with the adjustments you want to make and the new wrinkles you want to add. You should see the execution at a much higher rate early on. Our players won't be worrying about what to do on day one; instead they'll be focused on how to do it better. That's when you'll really see the offense take off.
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