Surely this is all a coincidence and not at all a way to gain a recruiting advantage, but junior college linebacker Umstead Sanders will join the Florida Gators as a walk-on player this year. The Gators do have a need to boost the depth at linebacker, so the addition of a junior college player is a quick and easy fix to address that concern, but there is a little more to the story here. Sanders is also the older brother of Trey Sanders, a five-star running back in the Class of 2019 from Bradenton, Florida.
Umstead Sanders announced he will be joining the Florida program with a message on Twitter over the weekend. He will do so as a preferred walk-on, which will likely lead to him landing a scholarship later this year. Sanders is expected to enroll at Florida this summer, so he is not around for spring football practices already underway in Gainesville. While the addition of a 6′-2″ 240-lb linebacker is nice, the whole thing smells like a package deal pitch to lure Sanders’ younger brother into the program down the line.
Package deal commitments and recruiting strategies have long been a part of the game, so this would hardly be anything new if there is a wink and nod to the recruiting efforts going on at Florida. There are no recruiting rules that could prevent Florida from offering a scholarship to a junior college player with the hope of landing his brother in the next recruiting cycle. Other schools have gone so far as to hire the fathers of certain recruits to hopefully gain an advantage, and making sales pitches to high school teammates and family members with scholarships involved has been a trendy technique some schools have put to good use.
Dan Mullen certainly knows what it takes to revamp the Florida program, and taking advantage of all the recruiting angles he can is fair game.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen has done enough in his coaching career to deserve the opportunity he has in front of him in Gainesville, but his work with quarterbacks is easily one of the top reasons Florida fans are happy to see Mullen in charge of the program. Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott are two of his greatest achievements when it comes to player development and performance, with one winning a Heisman Trophy and being a key cog in a national title run and the other quickly rising to become the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. So it only makes sense that Mullen will plan on spending a good amount of time with his quarterbacks at Florida this spring, knowing just how much room for improvement there is at the position.
“That’s my position of comfort,” Mullen said to reporters during a press conference on Tuesday, according to Gridiron Now. “I will spend a lot of time with the quarterbacks.”
Florida ranked 11th in the 14-team SEC in passing offense last season with an average of 179.5 yards per game through the air. Of course, it is fair t point out Mullen’s previous program, Mississippi State, ranked last in the conference in passing yards per game (166.9 ypg) and tied for the most interceptions thrown (14) among all SEC programs.
But the passing stats do not tell the whole story when it comes to Mullen’s offensive plan of attack, because Mullen likes to have quarterbacks run the football too. Last season, Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald was the team’s second-leading rusher with 984 rushing yards and a team-high 14 touchdowns. Florida’s quarterbacks combined to rush for 50 net rushing yards with no touchdowns. Look for that to change if Mullen has anything to say about it (which, of course, he pretty much does).
How quickly Mullen can get the offense to run the way he is comfortable doing remains to be seen, and it may take more than a year to really take form.
Helmet sticker to Gridiron Now.
The SEC may be packing up their media day extravaganza and moving from Alabama to Atlanta, but this year’s media day schedule shows the SEC will still carefully roll out plenty of storylines over the course of a four-day love fest for the conference.
The SEC is setting up shop at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, which feels like a great landing spot for the new media day fun for the SEC. The conference has established Atlanta as a destination point for the end of the regular season and the city just played host to the first College Football Playoff national championship game between two teams from the same conference, the SEC (Alabama and Georgia). So why not kickstart a new football season with the media in Atlanta too?
New Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher will be the headline act for the first of the four media days for the SEC. Fisher will make his SEC Media Days debut as head coach of the Aggies on Monday, July 16. Other coaches speaking that day will be LSU’s Ed Orgeron and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops. Day 2 will be an interesting one with Georgia’s Kirby Smart in the spotlight coming off the SEC championship last fall and new Florida head coach Dan Mullen addresses the media for the first time as the Gators coach, although the former Mississippi State head coach is no stranger to the SEC media day circuit by now. Day 2 will also be the first SEC Media Day introduction for new Arkansas head coach Chad Morris and second-year Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke (Luke took over as head coach in Oxford after SEC Media Days last summer following the removal of Hugh Freeze not long after media days).
But when is Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaking, you ask? Day 3 (Wed., July 18 for those keeping track). Saban headlines the third day of the media day event for the SEC. Two other coaches speaking that day will be new head coaches in the SEC with former Saban assistant Jeremy Pruitt representing Tennessee and Joe Moorhead of Mississippi State stepping to the SEC podium for the first time. Missouri’s Barry Odom is also scheduled on day three. Day 4 will feature Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, South Carolina’s Will Muschamp, and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason.
Player representatives for each school in addition to any other speakers will be announced at a later time.
What’s one easy way to get fans on board with a new head coach? Invite them to practice.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen wants the doors to be open to fans to come watch the Gators practice during the first two spring practices the Gators will conduct next month. Seats will be limited at the practice field, of course, but Mullen seems optimistic this will help get the energy going for the program from the jump this spring, and that could potentially lead to a good crowd at Florida’s spring game to wrap up the spring practice schedule.
Florida is scheduled to begin their spring football practices on March 16. That practice and the next day will be open to fans to attend practice, which likely will lead to some personal interactions with coaches and players for any fans who take Mullen up on his offer. Florida’s spring game is scheduled for April 14.
Florida fans may be getting a chance to see a hard-working bunch of Gators. Early indications are Florida players are already claiming to be working harder than they have in years in the offseason workout routine.
But it won’t be just the fans that will be given some exclusive first-hand looks at the Gators this spring. Mullen will also look to extend an open invitation to Florida faculty and staff to some spring practices. Those dates are yet to be determined.
Helmet sticker to SEC Country.
It did not take very long for Dan Mullen to prove his way of working in the offseason is going to be a little different from what Florida players had become accustomed to. Judging by a few tweets from Gators players coming out in recent days, Mullen has Florida players working harder than they have in quite some time.
It is not all that uncommon to have a completely new approach to training and physical conditioning any time there is a coaching change at a football program, and the mere change in workout approach alone can be enough to send a jolt through an entire program. Not to suggest workouts under former head coach (and new Michigan offensive assistant) Jim McElwain were easy, but some players on Florida’s roster are claiming on Twitter the workouts they are going through now are getting the job done.
Mullen brought strength and conditioning coach Nick Savage with him from Mississippi State, and you probably see why. Savage has quickly earned the respect of a number of the Florida football players after some intense workouts. Mullen and Savage are out to raise the bar when it comes to both toughness and physical endurance. That could have been seen as an area of weakness for Florida the past couple of years against certain teams (Alabama and Michigan, for example).
The work being put in now is just the beginning for how Mullen wants to get Florida back to the top of the SEC. Getting the team stronger now will have to lead to on-field development as well, especially on offense. Fortunately for Mullen, the offense has been one of his specialties.
Helmet sticker to SEC Country.