GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A year ago Florida coach Jim McElwain watched Feleipe Franks throw 3 interceptions within his first 4 passes during his Gators spring game debut.
McElwain referred back to that forgettable performance Friday night as a contrast to what he and Florida fans had just witnessed from the quarterback in the team’s 2017 Orange & Blue Debut.
“Completed a lot of passes, didn’t he?” McElwain joked of Franks’ 2016 spring struggles. “… Just depends on how you count it, right? He threw it to a Gator — three times I think.”
That McElwain was in a playful mood about the biggest question mark on his offense is a good indication of how he feels about the position, and he indeed left no doubt about how he views that spot at this point.
Franks took the majority of snaps with the first-team offense Friday night, completing 8-of-14 passes for 119 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions while going against the second-team defense. Fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Trask, who had been competing with Franks this spring, worked primarily with the second-team offense, only getting his chance with the 1s in the third quarter after Franks was finished.
Overall, Trask ended up 6-of-15 for 66 yards, 0 touchdowns and 1 interception, though to be fair there wasn’t much opportunity for success behind the backup offensive line. He was 2-for-2 for 35 yards in his limited work with the 1s.
The bottom line, though, is the Gators seem to have found their quarterback — at least for the moment. And that quarterback has found his confidence and poise.
“I hope you guys saw what I saw,” McElwain said. “Those quarterbacks were very comfortable. They didn’t look antsy. You could see them actually setting their feet and pulling the ball through in the pocket, and that’s good. I mean those are all good things to see. So no, I think we’re going to be all right.”
WATCH: Gators QB Feleipe Franks talks spring game
Posted by Florida Gators Insiders on Friday, April 7, 2017
It’s not any sort of surprise that Franks emerged from the spring atop the quarterback depth chart.
He came in with a higher recruiting profile than Trask and had ascended to the backup spot last season when veteran Luke Del Rio was sidelined. No, the surprise is how clear the separation seems to be, with McElwain choosing not to rotate the two young quarterbacks with the first-team offense at all in the first half Friday night.
“I think he’s ahead. There’s no doubt about it,” McElwain said.
That’s all the commitment he was willing to state at this time, but that’s to be expected. Pressed further if he now views Franks as the Gators’ starting quarterback for the fall, he wouldn’t take it there.
“We’ll find out over the summer. Still got phase four, five and six (of the offseason) to go. So we’re halfway there,” he said.
Del Rio, who has been sidelined all spring recovering from a pair of shoulder procedures, hasn’t been written off by the coaching staff after starting six games last year in an injury-marred season. And if the Gators end up getting clearance to take on a graduate transfer, that quarterback picture could always change.
But Franks at least gives the Gators that potential for the star quarterback they’ve been missing for so long. The guy who could take the reins of the offense for several seasons and elevate the unit’s potential with his big-play ability.
A year after throwing those 3 quick interceptions, Franks opened the spring game 3-for-3, including a beautiful 46-yard throw to Josh Hammond down the right sideline. That set the Gators’ first-team offense up for a game-opening scoring drive as Jordan Scarlett rushed for the final 18 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
“Obviously a confidence booster,” Franks said of that deep completion. “I think a big role in the quarterback position is just having the confidence. And I think for me personally I think that was a confidence booster.”
Not just for Franks personally, but for the coaching staff and a fan base pinning its hopes that he can be the guy everybody hopes he can.
Franks wasn’t perfect. He sailed a couple throws high and didn’t notice running back Lamical Perine wide open on a wheel route that likely would have gone for a touchdown.
But he kept the offense moving for the most part, including a 21-yard pass over the middle to Brandon Powell to set up a short field goal on his third drive and a 16-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway in the front left corner of the end zone to cap his fourth and final full series. The first-team offense came up empty on only one of those four series with Franks as quarterback — albeit, again, against the second-team defense.
McElwain was also quick to note the execution wasn’t flawless.
WATCH: Jim McElwain post-game press conference
Posted by Florida Gators Insiders on Friday, April 7, 2017
“Down in the red zone, we missed, what, three of them that were touchdowns if you just hit the guy between the numbers on the chest. It was pretty obvious,” he said, offering his usual blunt quarterback critique. “We’ve got to produce down there. Would’ve liked to seen him hit those, but other than that, he did all right.”
McElwain also admitted the playbook was predictably vanilla so as to not tip the Gators’ hand before their marquee season-opening showdown with Michigan.
Given that and the 1s vs. 2s format, there wasn’t a full evaluation to be made. Only encouraging signs to be taken from the proceedings.
And that is good enough for now.
Franks, meanwhile, let his play make his statement for him. He had nothing bold or notable to say afterward, deferring to the collective effort, the coaches’ work in developing all the quarterbacks, etc.
But yes, he could acknowledge, he’s come a long way in the last year.
“I mean, obviously, a big difference. So I mean, there’s not much to say about that,” he said. “It’s just a big difference how I felt last year at the spring game compared to today. And like I said before, Coach Mac and Coach Nuss (offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier) did a great job preparing the quarterbacks throughout a whole year, and Luke (Del Rio) and Austin (Appleby) as well, preparing us for a whole year to come out here and have the spring game that the quarterbacks did today. So I think they did a great job. The main point, we had a good game.”