GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida has gone through just three spring practices and only one in pads, so the Gators quarterback competition and the evaluation process therein has a long way to go.
But that being the spotlight storyline of the spring, as usual, it was worth getting coach Dan Mullen’s initial thoughts on what he’s seen from his four quarterbacks so far.
“They’re working hard at the installation. I like the work ethic they have. They have some arm talent. Watching those guys throw the ball, they definitely have some arm talent and ability to make a lot of different throws, which is fun to coach,” Mullen said. “You can put some more things in. You can do things, you can do it around their ability to throw the ball. Accuracy, though, is the most important thing. I’d rather take a very, very accurate quarterback over a guy that throws it 70-80 yards and just explaining that to them and understanding that.
“But I’ve been pleased with how they’ve picked things up within the offense, too. It’s going to take a lot of reps before they get comfortable. But I haven’t seen the confused looks out of any of them yet. But that’s through three days. We’ve got another installation tomorrow.”
The approach, he said, is to keep pushing new things until the coaches notice “that deer-in-the-headlight look and [they] say, ‘OK, my brain is now like maxed with all the stuff you’re throwing at me.’ ”
Redshirt sophomore incumbent Feleipe Franks has looked to be ahead of the other quarterbacks, which is not surprising given he’s the only one on the roster with any collegiate game experience.
Fellow redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask, who missed all of last season with a foot injury, has looked intriguing with his combination of size and arm strength. And redshirt freshman Jake Allen and freshman early enrollee Emory Jones are working third and fourth in the pecking order in drills.
Mullen was asked how far ahead Franks is at this point.
“I think just his comfort being on the field. You look at him, Kyle has a good understanding of the game as well, but you can see with Feleipe, just his experience, having been out there and playing and being in the huddle and being in there with pass rushers and having played a little bit more college football,” Mullen said.
Franks started eight games last season and played in all 11 during a rocky debut, completing 54.6 percent of his passes for 1,438 yards, 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
Franks and Trask competed for the starting job last spring, with Franks moving atop the depth chart leading into the spring game. Franks then beat out veterans Luke Del Rio and Malik Zaire to start the fall, but he lost the job twice (first to Del Rio and later to Zaire) only to take it back following injuries.
Franks has all the physical tools one could want in a quarterback and threw some highlight-reel deep completions last season, including, of course, the 63-yard strike to Tyrie Cleveland to beat Tennessee. He has to show he’s grown in his ability to read the field and show poise and comfort under pressure.
Trask also possesses a strong arm and has always been viewed as something of a project given that he was a backup on his Manvel (Texas) High School team behind D’Eriq King, who is now at Houston. But he’s had two years at Florida, albeit in different offensive systems.
“He’s got a live arm. Throws the ball really well. He’s got arm talent. Obviously his height helps just to be able to see. You have him and you have Feleipe, they’re two tall guys, so they can stand in the pocket and still see everything. You don’t have to create a lot of throwing lanes, they can throw over people and create lanes,” Mullen said of Trask.
“And watching him, I think he’s bought in to what we want to do. … The running aspect of the quarterback in our offense, I just want you to be a willing runner. If the defense gives you the opportunity to run, go run and go do it. He’s shown a decent bit of athleticism to be able to run the ball, too.”
Mullen has spent a lot of time around the quarterbacks in practice, along with QB coach Brian Johnson.
As far as introducing the new spread offense to the quarterbacks and rest of the unit, co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales said the coaches are just trying to get the base concepts established to the point that the players can understand them and play fast. They’ll keep adding as time goes along, even through the season.
“I don’t care who you are, you aren’t going to be a very good football player, basketball player, if you have to think about things. You’ve got to go out there and it’s got to be second nature,” Gonzales said. “… That’s kind of what we’ve been teaching the guys. So it will be a slow process as far as what we put in just to make sure the guys can learn and then we’ll go from that.”
Mullen reiterated that his approach is to keep pushing new things until he sees the players start to hit that aforementioned wall.
“And I haven’t seen that. I haven’t seen where there is just confusion. There’s times now it’s like, ‘OK, what happened?’ But to me, it goes into, ‘Hey, I understand the install of the day,’ but [Tuesday] you go back and we threw a couple of plays in from Day 1. And there wasn’t a questioning look and guys kind of shrugging their shoulders with no idea what to do, so you keep going until you hit that,” he said.
“And then you’re going to sit there and say, ‘OK, at this point, now we’ve got to be careful moving forward because we’ve got to make sure we know what we’ve done in the past.’ So that’s really it. … It’s not worth putting in the whole offense and really stressing everything. It’s taking little pieces of the offense from different parts so that we’ve kind of exposed them to everything. So at the end of spring we can look back and say, ‘This is what our quarterbacks do well’ and, ‘OK, these are the things we want to run offensively.’ “