Head coach Jim McElwain wants his starting quarterback to be a “winner.”
So do Florida Gators fans.
It has been five seasons since Florida entered the season with full confidence in its starting quarterback, and it will be six when the Gators take the field on Sept. 5. Whether redshirt freshman Will Grier or sophomore Treon Harris wins the job, it will come after a long, drawn out competition with the coaching staff – one month out from the season – unable to name a leader and only able to point out certain qualities both players possess that make them contenders for the job.
“I just like the way both of them have kind of embraced the competition, obviously I think what we do fits both of them in a lot of ways, their skill sets,” McElwain said Wednesday during Florida’s media day.
They both compete! The offense fits both of them! It sounds like an embarrassment of riches only rivaled by Ohio State’s three-headed monster at the position.
“The way [Harris] moved the team in two-minute drills, the way the team moved down the field, I liked his energy, his confidence [in spring practice],” McElwain continued. “Will, I think did an outstanding job of kind of developing how to get the ball to the playmakers.”
One can move the ball, somehow. The other is able to target the right players to seemingly gain larger chunks of yardage. And yet?
“And yet, we still need to learn how to throw to our color jerseys. To play the position, the number one most important thing is ball security and taking care of the football. That’s the thing I’m going to be looking for as we go through camp.”
Let’s see if offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier can offer any insight.
“When you talk about the position of quarterback, each guy, they’re very different. All quarterbacks are different, their mannerisms, the way they conduct themselves, the way they handle the huddle, the way they handle themselves in meeting rooms. [Harris and Grier] are two different guys. They both have certain strengths and certain weaknesses,” he said.
Indeed. True of all quarterbacks in all programs and systems. Anything else?
“I don’t want to get into comparing them. I think if you look at their styles and the way they’re different, obviously Treon’s ability to expose the defense with his feet is different from Will,” Nussmeier continued. “You look at Will, he’s more of the prototypical drop back passer, with the ability to go through his progressions and find third and fourth receivers.”
There we go, the first potential hint at how this quandary will end.
As OnlyGators.com surmised back in March, the prototypical size and ability Grier possesses looks to give him an edge in this competition. Let’s reflect.
Grier’s larger frame (6-foot-2, 197 pounds) gives him a physical advantage over Harris (5-foot-11, 193 pounds), especially considering Grier can still add 15-20 pounds to his frame. Over the last 12 years – as an assistant head coach, offensive coordinator or head coach – new Florida head coach Jim McElwain has never started a quarterback shorter than 6-foot-2 or weighing less than 215 pounds.
Grier is now 6-foot-2 and … wait for it … 215 pounds. He has gained 25 pounds since 2014, 14 since he was last weighed in at Florida.
“I’m going in[to camp] with the attitude that I feel great, I feel ready to go, and I’m going to do my best to put this team in a position to be successful,” he said Monday. “All I can control is what I can control. I feel really, really good about going into camp. I look at it as I’m going in with a lot of confidence in myself and in this team and that’s all I can control.”
But McElwain and Nussmeier will not tip their hand – nor should they, really. There is nothing to gain by saying Grier or Harris has the leg up on the other, though it would not hurt to have a bit more detail about what exactly McElwain is looking for in his signal caller aside from some generalities.
“Being a winner is huge. That’s huge to be a proven winner. To be a proven winner, what it’s done is that means people around you have played better and elevated their play based on you being on the field,” he said. “We’re looking to kind of see where that is as now they’ve had a full summer back in to what we were doing in the spring to see how we advance this fall.
“[It’s about] courage and not being scared to fail, sometimes in life there’s a lot of talented guys out there that are not willing to put themselves out there. … Putting yourself out there is a huge deal, especially at that position, because you’re going to take all the criticism and you’re going to get all the praise. So you better be able to handle it. Courage, toughness and standing and taking a shot, not blinking, those are all things that being successful at that position are all about, not just being able to throw a 95-mile-per-hour fastball.”
Though Harris provided some flashes in 2014, McElwain made it clear that he does not take that production into account; the only experience that matters is that in the current system.
So how exactly will McElwain and Nussmeier evaluate Grier and Harris aside from determining which of them is “being a winner?” McElwain wants to see how the play of his signal callers “elevates” whoever else is in the huddle with them.
Grier made his case in that regard on Monday.
“I’m not a rah-rah guy,” he admitted. “I lead by example and I like to encourage the guys around me and talk to them, a lot of time off to the side and stuff like that. You raise the level of play of the guys around you by, first off, limiting your mistakes, which is something that I’m big on: limiting the mistakes I make and fixing the ones they make and putting them in a position to be successful.”
Reports from player-run practices from his player moles have been positive, McElwain noted, with teammates providing “great reports” on Grier and Harris from the summer.
And as to whether this competition will cause a rift in the team, like the Jeff Driskel-Jacoby Brissett battle did a few years ago, McElwain doubts it will be an issue.
“It usually sorts itself out,” he said said. “They know the best player is going to play, just like their position. …
“Somebody’s going to take a snap on the first play. I don’t know who it is yet. As soon as we know, we’ll let you know.”