GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The story of the summer around Florida football once again has been the quarterback battle.
It looked like redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks had the edge on winning the job after a strong spring camp, but the addition of Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire added another layer to Jim McElwain’s quarterback room heading into fall camp. McElwain has not named a starting quarterback and probably won’t until closer to the season opener against Michigan on Sept. 2.
Whoever wins the job will be the 10th quarterback to start a game for the Florida Gators since Tim Tebow’s final year in 2009 and the fifth in three years under McElwain. Whoever wins the job will be responsible for leading a Florida offense that ranked last in the SEC and 116th nationally out of 128 teams in total yards in 2016. And whoever wins the job will have to win it from his teammates and prove he is capable of handling the starting duties.
“For the first time, our room is really good,” McElwain said last week at the 2017 SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. “We’ve got talent. We’ve got guys that are going to be able to compete against each other, learn from each other, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Here is a closer look at Florida’s quarterbacks heading into fall camp:
Graduate transfer Malik Zaire
Zaire looks to be the front-runner for the starting job. The 6-foot, 225-pound quarterback has experience playing in college and showed spurts of potential at Notre Dame — notably in the Music City Bowl win over LSU to close out the 2014 season and the 2015 season opener against Texas (313 passing yards, 3 touchdowns). Zaire is a mobile quarterback, which could help open Florida’s run game.
The main question surrounding Zaire: Can he learn the playbook and build a rapport with his teammates quick enough to become the starting quarterback by the season opener? He’ll have about a month of training camp to determine that.
Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks
After splitting first-team reps early, Franks took a stronghold on the starting quarterback job in the second half of spring practices. Now a second quarterback battle will begin with Zaire. Franks’ biggest advantages are his arm strength and playbook knowledge.
The 6-foot-6, 219-pound gunslinger can drop a dart deep down the sideline with ease. Also, Franks is going into his second year of McElwain’s system and is getting ready for his second fall camp. However, he hasn’t taken a snap in a live college game outside of spring scrimmages, and his accuracy still needs improvement.
Redshirt junior Luke Del Rio
Luke Del Rio opened the 2016 season as Florida’s starting quarterback and started six games, but a pair of injuries — first his left knee and then his non-throwing shoulder — kept him out of action on two different occasions. Del Rio threw for 1,358 yards on a 56.7 percent completion rate with 8 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
He sat out spring camp after having surgery on both of his shoulders but is expected to be full-go once fall camp begins. Even with that, though, he likely will only see the field in 2017 in emergency situations.
Freshman Kadarius Toney
Kadarius Toney will not be the starting quarterback, but he still can make an impact with his speed and versatility. McElwain likely will have a few tricks up his sleeve to incorporate Toney into his offense.
The true freshman is nimble on his feet and has the potential to give the Gators the occasional spark and wrinkle to the script that has been non-existent for some time now.
Redshirt freshman Kyle Trask
For now, Kyle Trask seems to be the odd man out in this quarterback room. He failed to beat out Franks and was relegated to second-team duties by the end of spring. Now, with Zaire on the roster and Del Rio healthy, Trask likely will hold the clipboard for a second season.
Trask has some positives, notably his accuracy when given time to throw. His arm strength is average, and his confidence might have been rattled after Franks began to pull away in the quarterback battle.