GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida football coach Jim McElwain had said earlier this week that the Gators’ quarterback competition was “sorting itself out.”
He wouldn’t specify in which way, saying only, “You’ll find out.”
And, indeed, it’s starting to look pretty clear that redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks has seized his opportunity this spring while showcasing his development and making a strong impression on teammates and coaches.
Florida only allows reporters to watch the first few short periods of practice, which mostly involves individual drills, so it’s hard to glean a full perspective on Franks’ performance this spring. But each day the Gators open practice with their “fastball” period, in which the first-team offense goes against the first-team defense for a handful of scripted plays.
Leading the 1s, Franks threw 2 touchdown passes during fastball on Monday and may have been even more impressive Wednesday.
He opened with a perfect pass down the seam to Antonio Callaway, beating Chauncey Gardner Jr.’s coverage on the play for a clear path to the end zone. Then, moments later, Franks threw on the run to his left, dropping in a beautiful touchdown pass to Callaway in the back corner.
After that practice session, a couple of Florida’s offensive players spoke about Franks’ development from last season and what he’s shown this spring.
“Feleipe’s doing great. This year, he knows the system better, he’s slowing down, making his reads better and not forcing anything,” sophomore wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland said. “… (He’s) making those plays, making those reads, making those throws. Kyle is doing a great job also. It’s a tight competition.”
Franks and fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Trask have been competing this spring, while veteran quarterback Luke Del Rio recovers from a pair of shoulder procedures. Even if Del Rio was healthy, the young quarterbacks would be getting a long look this spring with the starting job wide open, but his absence has meant even more snaps for those two.
Franks, a 4-star recruit out of Crawfordville, Fla., came in with the higher profile than Trask, a 3-star recruit from Manvel, Texas, and he finished last season higher on the depth chart, moving up to the backup role when Del Rio went down.
Standing 6-foot-6 with a strong arm, Franks’ physical tools are obvious.
“That’s a receiver’s dream to have a quarterback that can throw the ball like that,” Cleveland said.
It was everything else the second-year signal caller had to prove this spring.
McElwain had said Monday he felt good about the progress he’s seen from the quarterbacks in general, and the comments from Franks’ teammates continue to be encouraging as well.
“Feleipe’s very calm in the huddle. He’s like really maturing a lot. He’s just really running the offense well. He’s doing really good,” sophomore right tackle Jawaan Taylor said Wednesday. “I see a difference. I feel like he’s … he’s actually more relaxed now. He was a little uppity, just like you know, just college football from high school is a big transition, but he’s gotten better.”
Cleveland, meanwhile, said he and Franks first made a connection at The Opening recruiting showcase as high school players. In addition to offseason work the players organized on their own to build a rhythm in that passing game, he said he comes out of the spring having a good connection with Franks.
“My chemistry with him is high,” Cleveland said.
Again, there’s only so much to be learned from the limited open practice sessions and the comments from teammates.
Franks — and Trask — will have the opportunity to really show their progress Friday night during Florida’s spring game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, with live fans and a national television audience watching.
Along with McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who will ultimately decide which quarterback gives the Gators the best chance for success in the fall.
There’s no timeline for that official decision, but, in the meantime, there seems to be plenty of reason for optimism at the position.