GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida football coach Jim McElwain said he was looking at the Gators’ first scrimmage Friday as “moving day” in regard to some of the team’s key position battles, and ultimately he’d like to have answers by the second scrimmage next Friday.
Of course, none of those competitions has garnered more attention than the one at quarterback between redshirt-sophomore Luke Del Rio and graduate transfer Austin Appleby.
“I think it’s been pretty good. I’m hoping today’s scrimmage, and whether it is or isn’t — this is just a hope — that at a lot of the positions it’s kind of, I like to refer to it as moving day,” McElwain said when asked directly about the quarterbacks. “In other words, some guys decide to move (up the depth chart), or some guys decide to move (down the depth chart). And we’ll find out. I don’t have the crystal ball. I’m hoping that something (becomes clear) today and if it doesn’t, that’s fine, we’ll keep going the way that we are going and come up with it.”
The team’s second scrimmage, scheduled for Aug. 19, puts the Gators 15 days out from their season-opener against Massachusetts.
McElwain suggested earlier in camp that he wouldn’t necessarily be concerned if the quarterback position was still unsettled heading into the season, as it was last year, but on Friday his words expressed confidence that the coaches might indeed have a decision within the next week or so.
“I look into the next scrimmage, the next big scrimmage, which will be next Friday. We want it to be determined after that for sure, especially going in because (then) you are starting game prep,” he said. “And if those positions aren’t clear, we’ll put a plan together to make sure we get game time situations at all of the spots as we go forward.”
McElwain and both quarterbacks met with reporters before the scrimmage Friday and the team had no further media availability planned until next week.
Del Rio called it a “friendly competition” and said both quarterbacks have performed well throughout camp.
He deflected questions about how close the competition is to McElwain, but he also reiterated his confidence in his ability to win the job.
“Yeah, I feel confident in my ability. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could play, and start,” Del Rio said. “I didn’t come here to sit on the bench. I’m confident in my ability to lead this team, but it’s up to the coaches who starts.”
Del Rio said his greatest asset in the competition is his experience in the offense, including last year as he sat out following his transfer from Oregon State, and his freshman season at Alabama where Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was then serving in the same role for the Crimson Tide.
But he’s only attempted 18 career passes during his college career, all in 2014 at Oregon State. Appleby appeared in 17 games and made 11 starts at Purdue the last three years while passing for 2,777 career yards, 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
The coaches labeled Del Rio the leader coming out of the spring, and comments from teammates this month have praised the grasp he has on the offense. So if Appleby is going to turn the tables in the competition he would likely need a very strong showing in the scrimmages.
“I think every day is pivotal,” Appleby said to that end. “You just go out there and try to be the best that you can be. I don’t think that one day, one play, one practice is going to determine anything. I think it’s about a body of work. If you come in here and you be the same guy every day, you put your eyes and your feet in the right place, you have the right process and control the things you can control and trust your preparation everything takes care of itself. This is absolutely a big day for us and we’re excited.”
Del Rio, meanwhile, spoke of the “rich tradition” of Florida quarterbacks while saying he understood the expectations Gators fans have for the position, even after some inconsistent quarterback play in recent years.
“I kind of understand where the fans are coming from,” Del Rio said. “I’ve been around football for a long time, so you can tell when fans get frustrated. But every situation that they’ve had has been unique, I think. It’s not like every quarterback has done well or hasn’t done well for the same reason. Like I said before, it’s a unique situation. I think whether it’s me or Austin, they’re getting a good quarterback.”
Ryan Young is a Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.