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NASHVILLE — How do you replace a quarterback like Anthony Richardson? You can’t, but Florida coach Billy Napier is going to need to make a decision pretty soon. Whether it’s Graham Mertz or Jack Miller, both of these guys seem like placeholders in regards to the future.
But the real question is how this offense will run with Billy Napier calling plays. The growth Napier has seen this summer from both quarterbacks will need to transfer over to the field pretty quickly if the Gators are looking for a successful 2023. Opening the season at Utah is a problem, and having Tennessee in the month of September is also a daunting task. The Gators are trying to rebound from a disappointing 6-7 season last year that ended in a 30-3 loss to Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
So, this is where things stand. Jack Miller started just one game for Florida last season, while Graham Mertz started 30 games at Wisconsin. Mertz finished the 2022 season with 2,136 passing yards and 19 passing touchdowns with 10 interceptions. It didn’t help that the young man was scrambling for his life behind a putrid offensive line, but he walked into the same thing at Florida.
“I’ve been very pleased with those guys this summer,” Napier said Wednesday at SEC Media Days. “The summer really presents the quarterbacks a time independent of the time they spend with our staff. Those guys have embraced that. Again, really pleased with what Graham brings to our team. Over 2,000 snaps, 32 starts. He’s caused others to respond. Jack has responded and had a great offseason.”
Jack Miller is also not just going to hand over the job, even with Napier knowing he needs to make a decision pretty quick. Could Florida play two quarterbacks? Sure, but it’s not ideal for the type of offensive system Napier runs. Mertz was brought to Gainesville to take the reins, but that has yet to happen through spring and summer workouts.
“I’ve been very impressed with Graham Mertz’s incredible motor and work ethic,” Napier noted. “He’s in the building and fanatical about his preparation. That has helped the competition.”
Billy Napier Faces A Tough 2023 Season At Florida
Expectations for the Gators are certainly higher than making the Las Vegas Bowl. But to make next season successful will depend on how the Gators offense performs and if they make it out of September with only one loss. Starting the season on the road at Utah, while hosting Tennessee during the first month is tough enough. But, Florida will open October with a trip to Lexington, before playing Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Georgia.
The fact that Napier is having to wait until the first week or two of fall camp to make a decision on a starting quarterback should be just a bit worrisome. But, when it comes to returning players, Napier is satisfied with the experience around the quarterback room.
“This is a new group of players and we have a few new staff dynamics but one of the things that I’m encouraged about is we have 97 percent of our team was with us in January,” Napier noted. “We had 27 mid-year players. We have a great group of veterans that have experience and have wisdom from the past.”
In terms of this being Billy Napier’s team, his fingerprints are all over this football squad. From the coaching staff to the extensive staff directory of recruiting assistants and support staff, Napier has built an NFL-like group. The staff is trying to get Florida back into a spot that is contending with Georgia, but that distance has widened over the years. Catching up with some powerhouse teams around the country will take a massive effort in recruiting.
But for right now, the Gators need to look like a program that is heading in an upwards direction. Having another setback in 2023 will not help the Gators, especially if Napier is swaying back and forth on the quarterback position.
One thing Florida can’t have happen in 2023 is a repeat of last season. If Florida is going to get back to its glory days, Napier will have to prove he can carry the weight of decision making.
“I like having my hand on the scripts, the installation, that process,” he said. “I think I can help establish our identity and personality as a team through that process.”