With just four days until the season opener and plenty of roster issues yet to be completely ironed out, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp released a depth chart for the first time in nine months on Tuesday, announcing before it was published that freshman quarterback Treon Harris would be the second-string signal caller during his team’s season-opening game against the Idaho Vandals.
It will be Harris, who enrolled this summer, and not classmate Will Grier, who joined the program four months earlier for spring practice, taking snaps behind redshirt junior starter Jeff Driskel on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Yet while that was Muschamp’s decision on Tuesday, he made sure to point out on multiple occasions during his weekly press conference that it will not necessarily carry over for the duration of the 2014 campaign.
“The backup quarterback will be Treon Harris going into this game. There was really no separation from the backup standpoint. We met through the weekend and talked moving forward. I felt like Treon has some things he can provide for us offensively. That’s nothing that’s been made for the long-term,” he said.
“Going into the first game, we plan on playing Treon. That could change in game two, could change in game three. It’s a long season.”
Unfortunately, it may not be that easy for Muschamp and the Gators.
Harris will likely get a series or two of his own in the second quarter, and he could even be used sporadically throughout the rest of the contest with his own package of short-yardage and Wildcat-style direct snap plays.
“He presents some things and may take some hits off Jeff,” Muschamp said of Harris. “It’s a long season. That’s something that certainly Treon has done before. But he’s also a very accomplished passer, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in him as far as continuing to do a lot of the similar things we’re going to do with Jeff.”
It has long been believed that offensive coordinator Kurt Roper had such a package of plays in mind when recruiting Harris, one that would give him ability to play early while Tyler Murphy backed up Driskel and Grier took a redshirt as originally planned.
Murphy’s transfer altered those plans. In order for Harris to earn that same opportunity, he needed to either pull even with or go out and beat Grier in the head-to-head competition for the No. 2 job.
After a slow start to fall camp, most of which can likely be attributed by his adjusting to the collegiate game, Harris has now done just that.
Ideally, Florida will still be able to redshirt one of its freshman signal callers at year’s end, but the plan as it exists right now – for Harris to play during the opener with Muschamp claiming the backup job not set – is murky at best.
Once Harris steps foot on the field, barring an unfortunate injury during the first third of the season, his redshirt will be burned.
If Grier were to theoretically unseat him in week two, week three or later in the season – and was then called on to replace Driskel for one reason or another – UF would then have burned the redshirts of both its freshmen quarterbacks. That is not an ideal situation for the Gators by any means.
That is why, despite Muschamp asserting that Harris is only the second-string quarterback for week one and not necessarily the rest of the season, it will be exceedingly more difficult with each passing week for Grier to unseat him.
“I think that Will and Treon are both very talented players [but] there’s some things that we felt like [Harris] could provide for us offensively, maybe in some short-yardage situations, some red zone,” Muschamp noted.
“He’s done a nice job with some command things. There wasn’t really enough separation as far as that position was concerned, but he deserved the opportunity and we’re going to give him that opportunity.”
So how exactly did Harris beat out Grier, and what does it say about Grier that he had more time in the offense but ultimately lost the competition?
Unlike Grier, who dominated small private schools during Division II and Division III high school competition in North Carolina, Harris spent his formative years playing at Florida’s Class 4A level with Booker T. Washington High School, leading his team to back-to-back state titles before enrolling at UF.
His teammates have noticed the experience and noted the resulting benefit.
“[Harris] has just showed some emerging leadership signs, which is probably why Muschamp gave him the backup job,” explained redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor. “He has great elusive ability and can throw in the pocket and on the run. He makes quick decisions, which are very effective in this offense.”
Ultimately, Harris is better prepared for the difficulty of college football has been tested more throughout his career than Grier has to this point.
There is no discounting Grier’s high school success, but the change in level of competition has certainly been more drastic for him, which is one reason why he and ex-offensive coordinator Brent Pease thought it would be best for Grier to take a redshirt year when he first committed to the program.
If Harris can hold onto the backup job and the Gators’ quarterbacks stay healthy this season, Grier may get that redshirt after all.
No matter how the rest of the season unfolds for the freshmen, Harris and Grier will have a mentor in Driskel who is well-versed with quarterback competitions and handling the situation the right way.
Muschamp said he spoke to Driskel for a while Monday about helping “these guys through a very tough time.” Driskel appears gung-ho to offer advice based on his experience competing with Jacoby Brissett for two seasons.
“They’re going to keep competing. They’re going to keep battling. I’ve told all the other guys that this isn’t a permanent thing. It’s week-to-week. Just stay involved and keep getting better and don’t hang your head,” he said.
“When you’re a freshman, you can’t worry about that. You got to worry about getting better yourself. It’s tough to do. You start thinking about the future, which you shouldn’t be doing as a freshman. It’s just human nature.
“Young quarterbacks and young players in general have to worry about themselves and not the depth chart as much.”