Anthony Richardson learning how to be a quarterback and leader for Gators | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports

ATLANTA – The biggest question Florida faced at SEC Media Days on Wednesday was an unanswerable one.

Is Anthony Richardson ready?

It’s not oversimplifying things to say as Richardson goes, so will go the Gators' season. So there was encouraging news for Florida fans on Wednesday.

The last time they really saw Richardson, he had a flashy nickname and a hot car. He showed up in Atlanta sounding like a guy who’s learned from his mistakes.

Much ado was made when Richardson was ticketed for driving 105 mph in the wee hours of an April morning. He was driving a Dodge Charger, compliments of an NIL deal.

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Richardson’s traded that in for a Toyota Camry. No more Chargers?

“I’ve got to stay away from those,” he said.

Richardson also decided to stay away from needless controversy. Just in time for Media Days, he retired his “AR-15” nickname. With mass shootings seemingly making the news every day, there was no sense courting a backlash over a marketing gimmick.

“I’m not going to play football for the rest of my life,” Richardson said. “Eventually, I’m going to become a businessman. I just need to be myself. Not AR-15.”

The car and the nickname are lessons in his continuing education. It would behoove everyone to remember the Gainesville native still has a lot to learn. But being AR (non-15) means expectations tend to run about 105 mph.

That pass caught on video at Manning Passing Academy

The buzz Wednesday was about his recent appearance at the Manning Passing Academy. America’s Quarterback Royal Family invited Richardson to its throwing camp, and video got out of him flicking a perfect strike to a receiver in the next county.

“73 yards,” Richardson said.

Was it as effortless as it looked?

“I wouldn’t say it was a light toss,” Richardson said. “I put a little bit into it.”

Such raw ability has college fans and pro scouts drooling. But it pays to remember, Richardson’s pertinent career stats are 38 completions, six TDs, five interceptions.

Well, he did look fabulous against FAU and USF last year. That prompted an instant quarterback controversy as Emory Jones sputtered along.

The AR-as-Savior hopes turned into a love bug on Georgia’s windshield. For all his potential, it pays to remember Richardson hasn’t done anything yet.

“You gotta think this is my first year starting,” he said. “Who knows what’s going to happen?”

We can only go by the clues. Coach Billy Napier is not known for blowing smoke, and he says Richardson is getting the knack of reading defenses and getting the ball where it needs to go.

Of course, Dan Mullen was saying the same thing this time last year about Jones. And we know how that turned out.

“I see his football intelligence is growing,” Napier said. “His awareness of front-pressure coverage, protections, all the different things we ask a quarterback to do. It’s very much a quarterback-driven system.”

AR figuring out how to be 'The Guy'

There’s a lot more to being a QB than deciphering the X’s and O’s, however. I remember a scrimmage at FSU years ago when Casey Weldon was shoved out of bounds, whirled around and drilled the ball into the back of the defensive player.

Bobby Bowden ran over, got in Weldon’s face and yelled, “You can’t do that! You’re the quarterback!”

The quarterback has to be the leader, set the tone for the entire team. That means being early for meetings, staying late after practice, realizing that the eyes are always on you. It does not mean driving 105 mph at 4 in the morning. Napier let his QB project know that.

“He told me I need to move like a head coach. I can’t just be out here willy-nilly just doing anything,” Richardson said. “I am the guy.”

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His teammates have noticed a difference. Last year’s redshirt freshman is acting like this year’s name on Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board.

“We hear him talk more. I see him with his pen and paper everywhere we go,” Ventrell Miller said. “He’s being a student of the game.”

If nothing else, Richardson probably won’t mess up his knee dancing before the South Carolina game. There’s no more time for such growing pains when you’re The Guy.

“There’s a lot riding on me,” Richardson said.

Is he ready?

Who knows?

But it’s a good sign Richardson’s learned he’s better off riding in a Camry.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley