For five days from March 5-9, OnlyGators.com has handed a guest editor role over to you, the loyal reader. This is the fourth of five Readers’ Choice posts covering topics you want to know more about concerning the Florida Gators athletics program.
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Florida’s quarterbacks will be springing forward in a different way come March 11 as second-year signal callers Treon Harris and Will Grier will once again do battle in spring practice. This time, instead of Harris and Grier fighting to become Jeff Driskel’s backup, they will be vying for the starting quarterback job, one that has yet to be filled by a game-changing player since Tim Tebow graduated in 2009.
Harris won that showdown in 2014, though Grier – who hoped to redshirt his freshman season in order to gain experience and seasoning – ultimately got his wish and was not broken up about the decision, a source told OnlyGators.com last season.
Those that entered the 2014 campaign with a long-lasting distaste for Driskel fawned over Harris when, in the season opener against Eastern Michigan, he threw two passes and completed both for touchdowns – one 78 yards, the other 70 yards. His 1,051.6 quarterback rating was joked about as a king-making performance for Harris, and his calm under pressure after replacing Driskel at Tennessee – completing 2-of-4 passes for 17 yards and leading Florida to a come-from-behind 10-9 win – gave fuel to the growing spark of him stepping in for Driskel for good.
That happened against Missouri, and UF finished the season 4-3 under Harris with the rookie signal caller completing just 48.6 percent of his passes for 835 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions over those last seven games. (Harris also carried the ball 68 times for 307 and three touchdowns in those contests.)
In other words, while Harris was an admirable back-up, he certainly fell short of cementing himself as the starter in 2015, especially under a new head coach in Jim McElwain who expects a lot from his quarterback.
That’s where Grier comes in.
Despite not having any collegiate experience, Grier put together quite the resume in high school, completing 70.2 percent of his passes for 14,565 yards, 195 touchdowns and 27 interceptions, never having a year with fewer than 49 scores or more than 11 picks. The knock on Grier is that he was overrated as a prospect with his gaudy numbers supposedly inflated because Davidson Day High School (Davidson, North Carolina) played in Division III during his sophomore season and Division II during his last two years, all three of which resulted in state titles for the private school.
As a means of juxtaposition, Harris also led Booker T. Washington High School (Miami) to consecutive state titles but did so at the highest level of competition in Florida.
Those statistics and accolades aside, Grier holds what could amount to an important advantage over Harris: prototypical size.
Simply put, Grier is larger (6-foot-2, 197 pounds) than Harris (5-foot-11, 193 pounds) and can certainly add 15-20 pounds to his frame. Over the last 12 years – as an assistant head coach, offensive coordinator or head coach – McElwain has never started a quarterback shorter than 6-foot-2 or weighing less than 215 pounds.
Grier has also been clean off the field, while Harris dealt with sexual assault allegations (which were completely withdrawn) and a misdemeanor charge for driving without a license (marijuana was also found in the car) last season.
“We got to understand that there’s certain things that – especially at the quarterback position – we need to do to affect people in a positive way,” McElwain said in late December.
But while the battle between Harris and Grier will undoubtedly be the focal point of Florida’s spring practice, which begins on Wednesday, expecting a resolution by the 2015 Orange & Blue Debut on April 11 is likely foolhardy.
McElwain has no reason to end the competition, and it would likely take a major development – obvious breakthrough by one of the players, injury, etc. – to get him to name a starter for a game more than four months away.
So over the next four weeks, the names Harris and Grier – perhaps even redshirt junior Skyler Mornhinweg, on occasion – will be the subjects of questions and answers, rumors and speculation. And in the end, it will likely all be for naught with the defining parts of spring practice closed and McElwain almost assuredly keeping the all-important decision in-house as long as possible.
Then again, if you recall, he thinks he can win with anyone behind center.
“You got to understand this. I believe I can win with my dog Clarabelle. That’s the attitude. There’s good players here. [Coaching them up is] just our responsibility,” he said at his introductory press conference.
So there you have it, a look at Florida football’s upcoming quarterback battle, per reader request. Be sure to check back soon for the last OnlyGators.com Readers’ Choice installment heading into McElwain’s introductory press conference for spring practice on March 10.