When Florida takes the field for its spring game Saturday, all eyes will be on Dan Mullen and the Gators quarterbacks.
Feleipe Franks will get a chance to move past his forgettable first season and start fresh with the new Florida coach. Emory Jones, the promising early enrollee who flipped his commitment from Ohio State to Florida shortly after Mullen was hired, will get his first showcase.
The thinking is that one of them will wind up with the starting job. After all, both were highly-touted recruits who came to Gainesville with big-time expectations. Franks was the U.S. Army All-American and Jones was the Under Armour All-American. Surely Mullen’s rebuilding of the quarterback position will start with his most talented options, right?
That’s why come Saturday, Franks and Jones will try and capitalize on a prime opportunity to prove that they deserve the starting job.
By the way, Kyle Trask will be on the field, too. And by day’s end, he could actually be the one who capitalizes on a prime opportunity.
Wait a minute. You mean that Trask — the guy who was a backup high school quarterback and has yet to play a snap — could put himself in position to win the starting job?
I’m not saying that he will, but the evidence shows that the job is there for the taking, even for him. Why?
Let’s start by squashing any of potential limitations or misconceptions out there about Trask. Some might say, how is a guy who couldn’t even start at his own high school going to start at a place like Florida? He happened to back up D’Eriq King, who was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the state of Texas and emerged late in 2017 as the starter at Houston.
To be honest, Trask would probably still back up King. But King isn’t at Florida. Franks and Jones are Trask’s competition.
High school accolades won’t win Franks or Jones the job. It won’t matter that Trask was the last-rated recruit in Florida’s 2016 class, or that Florida fans questioned why he even got a scholarship offer in the first place. People forget that Mullen’s biggest competition to land Nick Fitzgerald was Tennessee-Chattanooga (they don’t really forget that) and that Dak Prescott was a 3-star recruit, too.
Mullen wants a guy who can effectively run his system, and he couldn’t care less about what those rankings were.
Speaking of that system, Trask also has something else working in his favor. The 6-4, 238-pound signal-caller ran a spread offense with zone reads in high school. Sure, he might not be anywhere near as mobile as Fitzgerald, but having the ability to make those quick reads after the snap is huge. Florida has plenty of skill guys who can make plays. Getting the ball to them quickly is what this offense will be predicated on. Having the gunslinging arm doesn’t matter as much in Mullen’s offense.
That’s why I’m not sold on Franks. Well, there’s also the entire 2017 season.
Franks’ struggles in Florida’s first scrimmage — he reportedly threw 3 interceptions — prompted Mullen to say that he wants the rising redshirt sophomore to “improve his accuracy.” Trask, who was a 72 percent passer in high school (he still had 132 passing attempts as a backup), helped himself by throwing for 182 yards on 12-of-18 passing with 3 touchdowns and an interception in that same scrimmage.
That performance prompted this quote from Mullen.
“(Trask) has a live arm, throws the ball really well,” Mullen said via the Tampa Bay Times. “He’s got a lot of talent.”
Yes, Franks bounced back in the second scrimmage and there’s a chance that he performs well Saturday. But by no means has Franks distanced himself from Trask during spring camp.
As for Jones, I already outlined why I think Mullen would prefer not to start a true freshman. That’s not to say that Jones or that any freshman can’t start at a big-time program, but Mullen has a track record for being patient and developing his quarterbacks instead of using baptism by fire. So far, all signs point to that happening again. It’ll make no impact on Jones’ status as the perceived “quarterback of the future.”
The quarterback of the present is up for debate right now.
Last year, Trask didn’t get that opportunity. Because of his season-ending ankle injury before the 2017 opener, he had to watch from the sidelines while the Gators’ quarterback debacle helped derail the season.
Now that Trask is healthy, he’ll have a chance to really add something unique to this quarterback battle. His willingness to run the ball coupled with his accuracy on intermediate throws could present the best combination of skills for Mullen to develop. Saturday’s spring game won’t be the lone factor in deciding whether or not he gets this opportunity. We’ve got a few more months to decide that.
But for a guy who’s determined to prove that he finally deserves to be a starting quarterback, do you think Saturday is a pretty big opportunity for Trask?
There’s no question about that.