Florida still doesn't have a quarterback, and coach Jim McElwain knows it
Florida coach Jim McElwain has little motivation to announce his starting quarterback prior to kickoff vs. Michigan in Week 1.
The Wolverines are replacing 10 of 11 starters on D, so they’re going to be a lot more inexperienced on that side of the ball in 2017. Having to prepare for three QBs with decidedly different styles requires tons of practice time, as well.
That being said, the latest answers coming out of McElwain’s mouth with regard to the game’s most important position are increasingly desperate. Instead of playing cat-and-mouse with UM, it’s beginning to sound like he genuinely has no idea what to do only nine days before toe meets leather at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
McElwain even suggested Wednesday that Luke Del Rio, Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire could all see the field against Big Blue.
“You’re going to see a bunch of them in there playing,” McElwain said, according to ESPN.com. “The three guys have done a really good job. I think there’s some things that they all bring to the table that are really good. Now the key to us is putting them in those positions that play to their strengths.”
Del Rio, a two-time transfer, started six games for the Gators last season with rather lackluster results. Even if he assembled a 5-1 record, he only completed 56.7 percent of his passes with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 8-to-8.
Franks, a 4-star recruit from the class of 2016, appeared to win the job during spring practice. With Del Rio sidelined due to shoulder surgery, Franks outdueled fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Trask in the Orange and Blue Debut. While his performance was still hit and miss, he was clearly more comfortable with the offense than Trask.
But then along came Zaire, a graduate transfer from Notre Dame who arrived prior to fall camp and has further complicated the depth chart.
“Will all play? I don’t know yet,” McElwain said. “Will a couple of them play? I don’t know yet. I know we will have somebody at the position.”
Depending on who you listen to in Gainesville, a different signal caller looks to be pulling ahead in the race each and every day. Zaire was the presumed starter after he enrolled, but Franks has the most upside and Del Rio knows the system best.
Nevertheless, each field general has noticeable flaws, too. Zaire couldn’t hold on to the gig with the Fighting Irish, as he battled both injury and ineffectiveness. Franks is yet to throw a pass at the collegiate level and can be wildly inconsistent. Del Rio (below) is viewed as a marginal talent and wouldn’t inspire much confidence from the fan base.
It’s one of the most well-known expressions in football: If you have more than one quarterback, then you really don’t have any.
“Ultimately, the guy that the team moves with the best,” McElwain said when trying to describe what he’s searching for under center. “The guys that create positive plays on third down and get the ball in the end zone. That’s kind of where we’re at.”
Somewhat forgotten about during spring ball, when the competition was temporarily down to just Franks and Trask, Del Rio has recently gotten back into the mix. He was in and out of the lineup last year due to that bum shoulder.
Starting the first three games in 2016, Del Rio handled UMass, Kentucky and North Texas by a combined score of 101-14. He fired 6 TDs against 2 INTs, although he still wasn’t overly sharp. After missing two starts with the shoulder issue, he returned against Missouri, Georgia and Arkansas and was less than impressive each time.
To be fair, it’s not like his backup, the since-departed Austin Appleby, was much better. Del Rio was obviously banged up, though.
“My arm is 100-percent healthy,” Del Rio said last week. “I found it pretty ridiculous that fans are saying I had a noodle arm when I was throwing the ball 80 yards in the first game. So they have the memory of a goldfish, I guess. I’ve never had like a ridiculous arm like Feleipe has a ridiculous arm, but I’ve always had a pretty adequate arm. I’ve been able to make every throw on time. It’s the first time in my life I’ve heard, ‘You don’t have a strong arm.’ So, whatever.”
McElwain swears he’s not engaging in any gamesmanship with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. He genuinely doesn’t know who he wants taking snaps. Simply speaking, neither Del Rio, Franks nor Zaire has separated himself as QB1.
If McElwain can’t decide on a starter and opts to go with some sort of three-man rotation, then he’s likely to cater the scheme to each player’s individual abilities. Zaire, for example, is the top athlete of the trio and ideally suited for read-option calls. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry as a Golden Domer and scored twice on the ground.
On the other hand, UF becomes a bit predictable offensively that way. It would be foolish for Del Rio to run any read-option stuff.
“Obviously, it’s not ideal,” Zaire said. “I don’t think anybody in the quarterback room wants that. But at the end of the day, you just got to do what Coach wants. I feel like Coach should be confident enough to stick with a guy and be able to roll with that guy because that’s best for the team. When you have all these quarterbacks, you still have none at the end of the day.”
Not only does McElwain seem frustrated, but so do his QBs. If you’re a part of Gator Nation, then you should be, too.