GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The longer Florida’s quarterback competition extends, the more it sounds like coach Jim McElwain is not just playing coy with his plans for the position.
There is a legitimately tight contest between graduate transfer Malik Zaire, redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and 2016 starter Luke Del Rio.
Franks has made sure of that, responding to the offseason addition of Zaire with what has been by all accounts his best stretch of practice in his time with the program.
“Oh it’s a different Feleipe from last year,” receiver Brandon Powell said Tuesday. “He comes to practice with energy. Even on the bus he’s already talking about the plays he’s going to make, and then he gets on the field and it’s just a whole different dude. I’ve been liking the Feleipe I’ve been seeing this whole camp.”
Powell revealed that he and Franks connected for a touchdown completion of about 40 yards during the Gators’ first scrimmage Friday night.
As for the confidence and presence Franks has exuded this preseason, Powell reiterated it’s a stark difference from the guy he saw a year ago as a true freshman.
“Oh yeah. Last year you probably couldn’t hear a word from Feleipe. But now it’s like he never shuts up,” Powell joked. “That’s the same with Malik, too. Luke, all the quarterbacks. I love it, everybody comes to compete everyday.”
Powell is not the only one with that perspective on Franks either. Veteran left tackle Martez Ivey shared the same sentiments Tuesday morning.
“How should I put this? He’s more confident. He’s hard working now, more than he’s ever been since the competition came in with Malik Zaire,” Ivey said. “He’s just been working hard and he’s just a whole different Feleipe from last year. … I mean, competition brings out the better in everybody.”
Florida opened the first portion of practice to media again Tuesday. While Zaire was in with the first team during the opening 1s vs. 1s “fastball” period in both sessions open to reporters last week and Franks took the reins Monday, it was Del Rio leading the starters on Tuesday as the coaches continue to rotate all three.
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McElwain said all three performed “really well” with the first team during the scrimmage Friday night, while adding that Zaire also got the third-team offense moving, Del Rio excelled in the overtime period and Franks showed plus accuracy and arm strength.
Beyond the fastball period, reporters were allowed to watch the first period of individual drills Tuesday as usual.
While there have been times in camp that Zaire has looked sharper in these drills, Franks was a little crisper this time as the two worked on the same side of the field.
But that’s just a small window of one practice. Only the players and coaches who watch the full session day after day know what separation if any exists between the quarterbacks at this point.
And if there is any they aren’t revealing it.
“I mean, they’ve all been making the right throws. They’ve been looking good. It’s going to be a hard decision to decide who’s going to be the starting quarterback,” Powell said.
Said Ivey: “It’s a battle right now, so I don’t know. In my opinion, I don’t know who will be starting so I’ll leave it up to the coaches. … I knew we probably wouldn’t know until game week or leading up. I don’t know, it might be a game-time decision.”
It’s not just the media and fans who are eager to know how the competition is going to turn out— the players are just as curious.
Overall, though, there is genuine optimism for what the Gators might get from that position this fall. Whoever is taking the snaps.
“We always talk about it, but at the end of the day it’s not our choice,” Powell said. “I’m comfortable with all of them, so whoever coach chooses obviously he knows more than us so it will be the best fit for us.”