GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It only took 6 minutes and 30 seconds into his first Florida media day appearance for new quarterback Malik Zaire to be asked about Gators great Tim Tebow.
“Yeah, kind of. I’ve heard a little bit about him,” Zaire said with a laugh. “He lives in Arizona. I ran into him a couple times – just being able to talk to him and just pick up on things from him. He’s done so much for football and for college football and for the University of Florida that you only hope to do similar if not some of the same stuff. That’s a great guy to lean on and learn something from.”
In this case, the two QBs have at least one significant trait in common already.
If Zaire wins the job in August, he’d be Florida’s first left-handed starting quarterback since Tebow’s Heisman Trophy-winning, national-championship-collecting run in Gainesville that ended in 2009.
Zaire didn’t want to let comparisons go too far, but he feels a kinship with any left-handed quarterback.
“I mean, Tebow is his own guy. … But I think there’s something about left-handers that there’s not a lot of us, so if anything we stick together,” Zaire said. “If anything, I’m one and the same with Tebow because we’re left-handed. Because there’s not a lot of us, we have to do a little bit more to show that we belong, too, in the whole quarterback world.”
The more practical questions about Zaire’s left-handedness relate to the nuances and differences that poses on the field.
From a coaching standpoint, Zaire has another former lefty quarterback he can relate to in Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
Nussmeier joked that he’s been coaching right-handed QBs for so long, he’s not sure what advantage there remains from his own personal background as it relates to his newest pupil.
“It’s interesting, being left-handed, playing left-handed, then you reverse everything to teach it right-handed and now you get a lefty,” Nussmeier said. “I think it’s almost more difficult now because now I’ve got to train myself to go backward. But it keeps you on your toes because every time you’re talking and you’re talking feet and eye placement and those kind of things, you’ve always got to flip it for both groups. Having Malik now as a lefty, it’ll be interesting.”
The other question is how does it affect the offensive line, with the quarterback’s blind side reversed if Zaire ends up being the guy? Would the Gators consider flipping their tackles, moving junior anchor Martez Ivey to the right side?
Florida coach Jim McElwain said that’s a factor he’s considered in the past when working with left-handed QBs, but in the Gators’ case, he doesn’t feel that will be necessary.
“Martez Ivey at left, Jawaan Taylor at right. I feel pretty good about it. But that’s a great question,” he said.
Said Nussmeier: “I think that’s something you talk about. I don’t think it’s necessarily etched in stone. Now a lot of teams will play actually strong and weak players in the college game. You see them play an open-end tackle and a closed-end tackle. You don’t see it quite as much. It used to be a bigger thing, but teams will do that. It may be something we would consider.”
If Zaire can fulfill the hype and optimism that surrounded his transfer, the Gators will be happy to deal with adjustments that may be needed.