Gators, McElwain must give Feleipe Franks the keys to the offense
No, Jim McElwain isn’t going to play all three quarterbacks Saturday when the Florida Gators play Michigan.
And to be perfectly frank (pun intended), there’s only one on his roster that should see time in the Gators’ biggest season opener in 30 years. It’s time to see what former 4-star prospect Feleipe Franks can do with this offense.
I will be the first to admit I wasn’t exactly crazy about Franks coming out of high school, and going into last season I felt like Kyle Trask might even gain the upper hand. Franks came into the program with the reputation of being a big kid (roughly 6-7) with a big arm, but his accuracy was somewhere in between bad and non-existent.
To Franks’ credit, however, he didn’t get down on himself after struggling during the 2016 spring practice and especially the spring game. Instead he got to work and by the end of the season there were suggestions that McElwain might burn his redshirt and play him. That’s a credit to the Gators coaching staff for building confidence in the kid and Franks, himself, for not letting one embarrassing night define his career.
McElwain did the smart thing and held off on burning the redshirt last year. Now he needs to do the smart thing again and give Franks the keys to the car.
McElwain has yet to start a quarterback that he recruited and developed from scratch. Will Grier was recruited by the Muschamp administration. Treon Harris was as well and started several games in 2014 before McElwain arrived. Austin Appleby (Purdue) and Luke Del Rio (Alabama, Oregon State) were graduate transfers.
Franks, who flipped to Florida from LSU a few weeks before he enrolled during the 2016 spring semester, has put himself in position to be that guy and finally give some credibility to the reputation McElwain has as a guy that can develop quarterbacks and field explosive offenses. Such a move would not hurt with future recruits either.
The three-headed quarterback race includes Franks, Del Rio, who started six games in 2016, and Malik Zaire, a transfer from Notre Dame.
Franks is probably the best system fit for McElwain. He has the build and makeup of a traditional drop-back passer. He has the arm strength to make all the throws and as long as his accuracy has improved from last year he should be able to move the offense. Franks isn’t a runner, but he’s not a statue either, he should be very effective on play-action and rollout passes.
As with any young quarterback there will be questions about ball protection and taking bad sacks, but that’s part of the growing process. With Jordan Scarlett leading a solid group of running backs in the backfield and an above average offensive line, Franks should have plenty of help in the running game to help him move the chains and get comfortable.
Del Rio looked good in his first three starts, then he got hurt and missed three games. When he returned to the lineup he looked uncomfortable and unsure of himself in the pocket. He threw six interceptions in his final three starts, Florida finished 2-1 in those games because of some great efforts on defense, but after a poor game at Arkansas, McElwain benched Del Rio and went back to Appleby for the rest of the season.
Two big questions with Del Rio reared their ugly head during the second part of his tenure last year. Can he play up to the speed of the better defenses in the SEC and can he protect the football better?
Zaire didn’t make it Florida until August and is an intriguing prospect because he showed some promise for the Fighting Irish at the end of the 2014 season. He got hurt one and half games into the 2015 season and never started again, missing the remainder of the 2015 season and playing garbage time in 2016 behind DeShone Kizer.
Opinions are split on whether Zaire, a good runner with a spotty record as a passer, is the right fit for what McElwain wants to do on offense. Tim Tebow thinks he should be the guy (through all kinds of weather, left-handed QBs stick together). Others, like Tom Luginbill and Gary Danielson, disagree.
Much of the Gator Twitterverse seemed to overestimate Zaire’s “experience” in college football when the reality is he’s had three starts and thrown fewer than 100 passes in four years. Outside of a couple of possessions against Texas last season, Zaire hasn’t played significant time against a starting defense in nearly two years. Sitting on a bench for two years doesn’t equal experience to me unless Brian Kelly screaming in your ear three hours on a Saturday counts as experience.
Zaire might work in certain situations, but there would have to be many adjustments made to the offense for him to be the full-time starter.
That leads me back to Franks.
If Franks gets the nod and can perform under the pressure of a tough opener it would put the Gators in a real position to be a dark horse contender for a Playoff spot.
Franks isn’t a temporary Band-aid; he’s a young kid who has the potential to be a star. The type of star that Florida needs to evolve from being Alabama’s sacrificial lamb in the SEC Championship Game into a legitimate challenge to the Crimson Tide’s dominance.