Florida’s endless quarterback conundrum continues into yet another football season

By Adam Silverstein
August 29, 2017
Florida’s endless quarterback conundrum continues into yet another football season
Football

Image Credit: Courtney Culbreath/UAA

There’s no need to once again slog through the recent history other than to say that not since 2009 have the Florida Gators had legitimately great quarterback play for an entire season. And yet, eight seasons since the departure of Tim Tebow, Florida may be starting its 10th quarterback.

We say “may be” because we are not yet sure who the Gators are starting on Saturday in the program’s biggest Week 1 game in decades. We say “may be” because there is technically an incumbent starter on the roster, one initially signed as an insurance policy who began 2016 as the starter only to be injured twice during the season. A transfer on his third program who faced as surgeries over the last calendar year and missed all of spring practice but appears firmly in the mix — and may even be the favorite — to start in 2017.

Or maybe not. Maybe it’s the redshirt freshman with prototypical size and skill who appeared to have won the job straight away in spring practice only to find himself rotating first-team reps in the fall with the aforementioned incumbent and a graduate transfer who joined the team this summer and has only thrown 78 passes in his career.

That, in summation, where Florida stands at quarterback in 8 AT (After Tebow, of course). Now let’s get to the specifics.

Whether head coach Jim McElwain is playing mind games with the Michigan Wolverines and counterpart Jim Harbaugh or not — and that may be the case — the Gators are beginning the season with the quarterback position once again unsettled.

“The quarterback situation: We have a plan that’s in place,” he said Monday. “No, I’m not going to tell you what it is — so there’s no reason to ask. But we’re excited about that. We’ll leave that for them to guess as well.”

Excited about what?

It does not matter whether Florida splits reps evenly between all three, uses two with some gadget plays for a third or even starts one quarterback the entire game. External perception is that the No. 1 role has not been decided, and unless the Gators are wasting time in practice splitting reps between three guys to roll out a single quarterback on Saturday, the job has not been won.

And whatever is thrown out there may not be the same in Week 2 against Northern Colorado.

“I think it will evolve as we go,” McElwain said. “… It’s one of those deals that’s as important as anything because of that position.”

It was assumed Malik Zaire would automatically be the starter for reasons that are tough to comprehend considering his relative lack of playing time over the span of his career. If not Zaire, surely Feleipe Franks would be a shoe-in for the gig because McElwain is not going to go into another season starting Luke Del Rio, right?

These theories are looking less likely by the day, and McElwain has certainly laid the groundwork to start Del Rio on Saturday.

Compliments for Zaire have centered on his “good feet,” “good pocket awareness” and his overall character as a source of energy for the locker room. When asked specifically about Zaire, McElwain has primarily responded by focusing on how he has forced Franks and Del Rio to compete harder. He does not discuss how wildly inconsistent Zaire has reportedly been throwing the ball in practice, of course.

Discussion of Franks has been relatively nonexistent, though there’s not much to say about the youngster because what he brings to the table is obvious. He has a strong arm and can make throws the others cannot, but he also remains wet behind the ears, still makes mistakes and is the least experienced of the bunch.

Del Rio is where the conversation gets interesting. McElwain has gone to bat for his 2016 starter, noting multiple that Del Rio started the season 5-0. Del Rio tore up his knee in Week 2 against North Texas and was never the same afterward even as he helped the Gators pick up some victories. When he seriously injured his shoulder against Georgia, Del Rio should not have seen the field again. Instead, McElwain started him — a move the coach regretted — in what became a blowout at Arkansas.

Surgeries to both of his shoulders in the offsesaon followed the in-season knee procedure Del Rio underwent. He did not practice or play in the spring yet somehow has as much of a chance to start Saturday as Franks. That tells you one of three things: McElwain is scared to put Franks in such a massive moment right off the bat, Florida has once again failed to develop a talented second-year quarterback well enough where putting him in such a spot is more than a passing thought, or Franks cannot legitimately beat out the nation’s 693rd ranked player in the Class of 2015.

Franks may not be as talented as a Deiondre Francois, Jalen Hurts or Shane Buechele, but he was higher rated than all three as a recruit (per the 247Sports Composite) yet has seen each of them shine — Hurts and Buechele as true freshmen who combined to throw 44 touchdowns a year ago. Jacob Eason, who was ranked higher than Franks as a five-star prospect, was uneven with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions a season ago, but he started the year for Georgia and enters his second campaign relatively seasoned with high expectations.

The Gators appeared to have it all in place to make the offensive improvements they have long desired entering 2017: talent and depth at running back, explosive options at wide receiver, a stronger and more experienced offensive line.

But there’s still that missing piece to the puzzle. The corner piece, the one that ensures the rest of it all lines up and comes together. It’s the reason that any expectation for Florida to make the offensive strides it absolutely must achieve in Year 3 under a coach who made his name scoring points should be put on pause.

The Gators still do not have a quarterback. Maybe they will on Saturday. “Maybe” once again being the problem.

7 Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Seriously…. write about something else. Like the tandem of Pinero and Townsend. You can’t help yourself with the guessing and criticising of Mac and QB situation. Let it be until after 9/2. You don’t know that they are scared to put Franks on the big stage, etc. So much speculation on your part. It just bothers you that they don’t let you in on the team game plan before the first game. Ugh! Let ’em play!

    • Mark says:

      Dont blame the witer because Mcelwain cannot make a decision and has likely NOT properly developed a player at QB. They are splitting reps among 3 QBs, that is not disputed.. So that is an indication of a problem, your defending something you may have no reason to defend..

      • Michael Jones says:

        That is the glass is half empty interpretation. There is another inference that could just as reasonably be drawn: it is a close competition between 3 capable QB’s and at this point none of them has pulled away.

        Good, even competition is not necessarily indicative of a “problem.” Sometimes it’s indicative of a blessing of riches. Let’s hope in this case it’s the latter.

  2. GATOR-6 says:

    “Scared”—>”Failed”—>”Cannot”. Have to agree c Andrew.

  3. Michael Jones says:

    Luke Del Rio is a good quarterback. The other ones may be good as well. I don’t know. But we can win with Del Rio.

    Gator fans are hard on their QB’s. That Gator Nation so easily wrote off Del Rio is inexplicable but very predictable. Those are the same geniuses who still believe that Treon Harris was a better choice than Jeff Driskel, lol. Their favorite QB is anybody besides the one who is playing. It gets old.

  4. Erng'n Blue says:

    Not a lot of coverage on the Qb situation other than it sucks. One of two things, it’s true and Mac is a fraud, or f* with Harbaug Spurier style. My bet is on Mac knowing what he’s doing. If I’m wrong, the bigger problem is whos office is down the hall from him that allowed this to happen

  5. Gatorz says:

    There’s really no reason to name a starter when not naming one forces Michigan to prepare for both Ziare and Franks/DelRio. Now, if this continues beyond this game then it will be an “endless quarterback conundrum”. Right now, it’s just smart.

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