First-year Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen has a well-known track record for grooming quarterbacks at the college level.
There's Alex Smith, who Mullen helped developed at Utah into the No. 1 pick of the 2005 NFL Draft. In their two years together at Utah (2003 and 2004), Smith threw for 5,199 yards, 47 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Smith, a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, has played 12 years in the NFL.
There are Tim Tebow and Chris Leak at Florida, who helped lead Florida to two national titles over a three-year span with Mullen as offensive coordinator.
And there are Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald at Mississippi State, the cornerstones of the Bulldogs offense over the past five years that Mullen turned into a competitor in the vicious SEC West.
And with each of those quarterbacks, Mullen pointed to one timeframe in specific that helped him determine which quarterback would have the potential to stand out, the opportunity to leapfrog over the rest of the depth chart and became "the guy."
"For any [quarterback] to be successful, they have got to take massive strides between the spring game and the start of fall camp," Mullen said Tuesday at a speaking engagement in Fort Lauderdale. "Every great quarterback I've ever had, that's when they've made their biggest gains."
Mullen is hoping to see that same type of growth this year from at least one of the quarterbacks at his disposal as he attempts to bring an end to Florida's eight-year stretch of offensive struggles.
Florida's quarterback room consists of redshirt sophomore Feleipe Franks, redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask and freshman Emory Jones. Joe Burrow, an Ohio State quarterback who announced Tuesday he is seeking a graduate transfer, has been linked to Florida but Mullen said Monday the Gators aren't in the market for a graduate transfer "right now." He reiterated that sentiment Tuesday.
"It really hasn’t changed for us," Mullen said..
Franks left spring practices as the presumptive leader in the room, but he didn't make enough of an impact to separate himself from the rest of the pack and solidify the starting job.
Franks started eight games as a last season, throwing for 1,438 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. He was benched twice during the season, only regaining the starting job after Luke Del Rio and Malik Zaire each suffered season-ending injuries.
"[He] was probably put into situations he wasn't ready to go handle and that really shatters your confidence," Mullen said. "You have to remember, these are 19-year-old kids and that can shatter your confidence. We're trying to build all that up."
Trask sat out last season with a foot injury but showed marked improvement over the course of spring practices, enough to still be in the thick of the race heading into fall camp. Jones also showed promise at times during practice but would likely be third on the depth chart if the season started today.
Luckily for Mullen, the season is still four months away. Unfortunately for him, though, he's not allowed to coach the team until they begin their 25-practice fall camp in late July or early August. The last five of those practices, Mullen said, will be tailored toward gameday prep for the season opener. That leaves him 20 practices to identify his starter.
"I cannot develop them to the level they need to be developed in 20 practices. I can't. It's physically impossible for me to do," Mullen said. "So they have to do the work between now and that first practice of continuing to take huge strides forward. If they do, I'm hoping someone separates himself."