Jordan McPherson/SEC Country
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier talks with quarterback Malik Zaire during practice.

Florida players give first impressions of new QB Malik Zaire at practice

Ryan Young

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida linebacker Kylan Johnson said practices are a little different this preseason camp with new quarterback Malik Zaire in the mix.

After coach Jim McElwain commented that Zaire’s mobility made the defense pay for missing their lanes on the opening day of camp, several other Gators gave their first impressions of the graduate transfer QB from Notre Dame.

“He throws the ball pretty well. He does have some speed. The defense has to work with the quarterback keepers and stuff he brings for the offense, so it’s just a new look for us, what we haven’t really saw in practice in the past year,” Johnson said Friday afternoon, a few hours before the team’s evening practice.

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While that makes work tougher for the defensive players, the Florida offensive linemen are the beneficiaries.

“It takes some pressure off us,” left tackle Martez Ivey said. “We can do a lot more stuff than just throw the ball. We can read (option) now, we can have a little option game in there. It makes us more dynamic on the ground.”

Added center T.J. McCoy: “Great impression. I feel like he did a couple of great things in the run game. We had a read-option and he took it to the house (Thursday). He looked good. He made a couple of completions. So it’s going to be a great competition among the quarterbacks.”

A competition mostly being contested out of the media spotlight.

Florida has opened practice for the initial “fastball” series and the first two periods of individual drills the first two days of camp, but there are only so many observations or opinions one can draw while watching quarterbacks throw routine sideline passes and crossing routes with no defenders.

After redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks opened the first day of camp running the first-team offense in the fastball period, redshirt junior Luke Del Rio worked with the first-teamers in the initial series Friday.

But again, there’s nothing to read into that. McElwain has said he will rotate the QBs so they all get ample opportunities in every scenario.

Overall, from what has been open to the media, Zaire has shown a quick release with good accuracy and timing. He has a tendency to throw to the high end of his target and sometimes a little too high, but for the most part he’s looked sharp.

The drills that McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will ultimately judge the quarterback contenders on, though, are the full team drills that most closely simulate game conditions. Those aren’t open to the media, so the coaches and players will continue to be asked for their take until this quarterback competition draws to a close.

For now, the questions mostly center on Zaire as he’s the newcomer, the guy everybody is seeing go through practices here for the first time.

“He seemed pretty calm, and he understands the offense,” Ivey said. “And he’s out there just trying to get better, competing for a spot. He’s out there doing his job and also having fun with it at the same time.”

Some other quick notes from practice …

  • James Robinson, the 4-star wide receiver from Lakeland, Fla., has finally joined the program after a hold-up with his NCAA eligibility. He joined the Gators during the middle of practice Friday evening.
  • Slot receiver Dre Massey is no longer wearing a brace on his knee, looking fully recovered from the torn ACL that ended his season in the first game last fall.
  • Kadarius Toney, who got work at quarterback in the spring, continues to work as a receiver, as expected. The Gators want to find a way to get his speed on the field.
  • Sophomore running back Lamical Perine got his chance to work with the first-team offense during the fastball period. As much as Jordan Scarlett has earned the lead back role, Perine has earned his share of touches as well.
  • Freshman safety Shawn Davis posted a video from the opening practice Thursday of him snagging an interception in the end zone.