Mullen Sees Progress In Offensive Unit

The overall numbers of able bodies are down because of injury and some other extenuating circumstances so there is a certain amount of difficulty in gauging Florida's offense eight practices into the spring. At every practice, there's plenty of good along with a certain amount of bad and just plain ugly but enough progress has been made that offensive coordinator Dan Mullen feels encouraged by what he's seen.

The greatest improvement that Mullen is seeing this spring, particularly when compared to last spring when players and coaches were still feeling each other out, is in intensity and the learning curve. Players are going at it faster, harder and with much more intensity and they're doing it without having to think all that much. That's what getting into the second year with an offensive system will do for you. Last year, the Gators averaged under 400 yards per game in a 9-3 season and many of the problems Florida encountered could be traced directly to an inability to completely grasp the new offensive system.

Mullen thinks this year's offense is far ahead of last year's at the same point in spring practice.

"There are a lot of new guys out there but as a whole, I think we're ahead of where we were at this point last year because there is no question what is expected out of our players when they come out to practice," said Mullen after Monday's practice. "When you see the tempo and the effort that our guys are giving, the intensity of how our guys are practicing, they understand now how we want them to practice. Now it's a matter of giving guys that have not had a lot of reps that experience to see those live shots."

Mullen coaches Florida's quarterbacks and because there are only two scholarship QBs on the roster, that means a lot of reps for both senior Chris Leak and true freshman Tim Tebow. Leak has drawn the praise from Coach Urban Meyer, who continually talks about the overall improvement of his senior quarterback both in on the field performance and in the all-important area of leadership.

Mullen says there is a very good reason for Leak's night and day difference from last spring's spotty performance to this spring's more polished look.

"Obviously, Chris is moving along much faster than he did last year because this is the first time he's gone into a spring since he's been here knowing an offense," said Mullen.

Like all talented freshmen, Tebow has his moments when he looks very good and other moments when he looks like a typical newbie. Monday was one of those days when the overall performance was improved.

"I thought Timmy had his best day today," said Mullen. "He's working hard. When you're a guy who's supposed to be getting ready for your senior prom and you're out there grinding away at big time college football, stuff moves really fast. You have to get adjusted to that."

Mullen has the perfect situation with Leak and Tebow because they're both football junkies. Their daily routine is go to class, work out and practice, then if there is any spare time, it's spent with the coaches watching film or asking questions about the playbook.

"That's what you have to do," said Mullen. "That's what's expected of quarterbacks. If you want to be good you have to put in that extra work to see and to understand everything that's going to happen in a game."

Mullen is also pleased with the level of cooperation that he sees developing between his two quarterbacks. They are working hard together and there is no jealousy. Leak is very secure in his belief that this is his team and Tebow is well aware that he's got a long way to go before he can be at the level of understanding and comfort with the offense that Leak enjoys.

"They work real well together," said Mullen. "Timmy, because Chris has a lot of experience, asks those questions and says 'What do we need to do? What have I missed?' They've worked pretty well together so far."

While the offensive line doesn't offer a lot in the way of actual game experience, there is size and talent but best of all, Mullen likes the chemistry that he sees developing among his starting five of center Steve Rissler, guards Jim Tartt and Ronnie Wilson, and tackles Phil Trautwein and Drew Miller.

"There isn't a lot of experience over there," said Mullen, "but they're coming together. They are working hard and the intensity that they practice with is better than it has been."

Chemistry is measured in cooperation, communication and cohesiveness when it comes to an offensive line. That means a lot of watching film together, talking about assignments and spending time away from the football field to develop a level of trust. Effective offensive lines are ones that work together as a singular unit and usually that means they're always together both on and off the field.

"They are also coming together as a group," said Mullen. "Your offensive line has to work together as a unit, as a group of five in everything that they do and that part is developing. Even though they don't have a ton of experience in games, they're developing that togetherness. That's what I like that I've seen thus far."

It's hard for Mullen to get a real gauge on the wide receivers and running backs. Injuries have taken their toll this spring. Bubba Caldwell is no contact all spring and Dallas Baker and Jemalle Cornelius have had to fight their way through nagging type of injuries.

At running back, often-injured DeShawn Wynn is healthy but taking limited reps because Kestahn Moore is out for the spring with a back injury and Markus Manson has a concussion. Fullback Billy Latkso has had a hamstring problem. That leaves Wynn and walk-on Antonio Gay as the only two healthy running backs. That also means the situation at running back is difficult to figure.

"There's a long way to go there," said Mullen. "Nobody has claimed anything. Kestahn Moore being out doesn't help anything. Markus Manson has been dinged up for two or three days so he hasn't been able to show much. Billy Latsko has been dinged up. We've been disappointed in where it's at. It's going to have to improve an awful lot."

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