Florida football notebook: Billy Napier builds army, NFL Draft decisions, Emory Jones staying?

By Adam Silverstein
January 6, 2022
Florida football notebook: Billy Napier builds army, NFL Draft decisions, Emory Jones staying?

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

With the calendar turning to 20222 and Florida Gators football now fully in transition mode with new head coach Billy Napier and his staff leading all facets of the program, fresh news is coming out of the team seemingly multiple times a day. Napier is still adding coaches and building his “army” of off-field staffers all while the roster itself is getting refreshed.

“We got a lot of work to do. We got a lot of work to do,” Napier said Wednesday night during a halftime appearance on Billy Donovan Court at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

“We are going to do things with class. We are going to do things with integrity. We are going to build young men with character. The goal is to create an organization that has life-changing impact. We are going to have a place that can change the future of young mens’ lives.”

With Florida football undergoing so many changes and plenty happening over the last week, let’s wrap it all up and take a look at what’s happening throughout all facets of the program. From the staff to the roster to the training room to even the parking lot, there’s plenty going down with the Gators. Let’s take a look.

Billy’s army

In addition to the hiring of Florida legend Mike Peterson as outside linebackers coach and alumni liaison, Napier on Thursday announced the retention and promotion of former cornerback Vernell Brown Jr. as the team’s senior director of player development and alumni relations. Brown rejoined the Gators as a staffer in 2018 under previous head coach Dan Mullen.

Napier also reportedly added a significant piece to his off-field staff this week with Auburn director of football operations Josh Thompson joining the program in a prominent role that is expected to be nearly equivalent to the one he’s leaving, according to FootballScoop. Earlier this week, Napier hired Bird Sherrill from the Detroit Lions to be the director of college personnel, a position that will see him focus on adding prospects from the transfer portal and the junior college ranks.

On Dec. 28, Napier announced another notable retention from Mullen’s staff. Paul Pasqualoni, who was a special assistant to the head coach, will remain in Gainesville, Florida, as director of advanced scouting and self scout. Pasqualoni, 72, was head coach at Syracuse and UConn for a combined 17 seasons while spending nearly the remainder of his career as an NFL defensive coordinator and position coach.

With the NFL regular season coming to an end Sunday, it’s expected that Napier will have the opportunity to add at least two more assistants to his on-field staff as soon as next week. Among the coaches who could join Florida immediately are Rob Sale (offensive line) from the New York Giants and Karl Scott (co-defensive coordinator, defensive backs) from the Minnesota Vikings. It’s also been reported that Eric Henderson (defensive line) will join the Gators from the Los Angeles Rams, but they should be heavily involved in the NFL Playoffs, putting Henderson’s availability and timing in limbo.

Transferring in …

Florida officially announced the additions of quarterback Jack Miller III and offensive lineman Kamryn Waites from the transfer portal. Miller (6-foot-4, 210 pounds), a former four-star prospect in the Class of 2020, transferred from Ohio State after only seeing sporadic action as a reserve the last two seasons. Waites only played three games for Louisiana as a true freshman but is not only following Napier but being put on scholarship. Napier is clearly making building the line on both sides of the ball his top priority in terms of player acquisition.

Not transferring out …

Well, at least not yet. Redshirt junior QB Emory Jones was expected to enter the transfer portal following the 2021 Gasparilla Bowl. However, nearly two weeks after the game, he has reportedly not done so. It’s unknown at this time what Jones has planned, but a source did confirm to OnlyGators.com that Jones is enrolled at UF for the spring semester. As he is one semester away from graduating, it makes sense for him to stick around and get his degree. That would also give him an opportunity to work with Napier and the coaching staff, perhaps seeing if he can find a role on the team.

Jones could wind up serving as a veteran backup during the 2022 season. He could also explore changing positions. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds with tremendous speed and shiftiness, Jones could transition to wide receiver and perhaps be an effective weapon for a Gators program that badly needs playmakers. Should exploring these options be his plan, he could still enter the transfer portal after the spring and likely find a role as a starting quarterback on an FBS program.

While Jones is the most notable name not in the portal, he’s not the only one whose had a change of heart. Defensive linemen redshirt junior Dante Zanders and redshirt sophomore Lloyd Summerall III were two of six players who had entered the portal following Mullen’s firing. However, both have reportedly since removed their names and decided to remain with the program. Zanders is a three-star prospect from the Class of 2018, while Summerall was a four-star prospect and one of the top 250 players in the Class of 2019. Neither has seen significant playing time behind a number of veterans in the defensive front seven.

They gone …

As for the players who did leave, junior linebacker Mohamoud Diabate is headed to Utah, redshirt junior wide receiver Jacob Copeland is off to Maryland, redshirt freshman DL Khris Bogle found a landing spot at Michigan State, and freshman offensive tackle Gerald Mincey joined SEC East rival Tennessee.

Draft decisions

With the 2020 college football season impacted by COVID-19 and a number of players across the FBS opting out as a result, the NCAA decided to grant an additional year of eligibility across the board to players who were rostered on teams last year. As such, players whose eligibility would have otherwise expired have the ability to come back and play one additional season if they so choose.

While most are not using the extra eligibility, senior safety Trey Dean III has chosen to take advantage of it, announcing Wednesday that he will return to The Swamp for a fifth playing season. Dean likely sees an opportunity to raise his NFL Draft stock with a new coaching staff in place, and while some fans may not be pleased with his play at times, he will there’s no doubt that his presence ups the overall talent on the field and in the locker room.

Unlike Dean, senior running back Malik Davis announced this week that he’s chosen not to use his additional availability. That’s hardly a surprise as Davis will surely get an opportunity to play in the NFL, though it will likely come as a third-day selection. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Zachary Carter previously decided not to return on Dec. 10, but he’s made that call early as he chose to skip the Gasparilla Bowl and prepare for the NFL Draft.

Food and parking

Not long after the end of the 2021 season, players began publicly sharing some of their gripes about the Mullen regime. In a tweet that picked up significant steam, Diabate noted how football players were frequently eating food out of a hot box and therefore struggled to put on clean weight and maintain their physical conditioning. Others complained that there was no parking for players near the facility.

In just a few short weeks, Napier has seemingly solved both of those issues. “We got football parking though, and a great food, change has come,” sophomore DL Gervon Dexter tweeted Wednesday night. And if you’re wondering what the meals look like now, well, Florida made it a point to showcase it on social media.

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