GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks was set to get his audition for Florida’s starting quarterback job this spring, regardless.
But with the news Thursday that redshirt junior quarterback Luke Del Rio will miss spring practice after surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, the reps will be even more dedicated now to Franks and fellow untested second-year QB Kyle Trask.
That’s as a wide an opening for the 2017 starting job as Franks could hope for in trying to prove he’s up to the task.
Franks, a 6-foot-6 4-star recruit from Crawfordville, Fla., has been ahead of Trask on the depth chart, elevating to second string on the depth chart when Del Rio was injured Nov. 4 at Arkansas. He never got into a game, but the Gators’ fan base has rallied around his potential in hoping he could be the long-awaited, much-overdue next quarterback of the future for the program.
Neither Florida head coach Jim McElwain nor offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have revealed much about their own hopes for the position in 2017. Leading up to the Outback Bowl, Nussmeier emphasized Del Rio was still in the mix while also responding affirmatively that he feels Franks is ready to compete for the job.
But after a lackluster season from Del Rio (when healthy) — one that included 8 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in 6 starts — the opening was clearly there for Franks to compete for the job.
That opening would seem even wider now, but in reality, this probably doesn’t change anything.
Charting Franks’ footsteps
With or without a healthy and active Del Rio, Franks’ path to playing time rests squarely on his own abilities. He possess the greater upside, and if he can prove he’s ready for the job after spending a year in the system, learning the offense and refining his mechanics, there would be no reason to further delay his arrival.
If he stumbled through the spring and summer, looking erratic and giving the coaches concern about throwing him out there against Michigan on Sept. 2, then Del Rio was and remains a fine Plan B.
Franks still has to prove himself, prove that he’s ready to run the offense, make decisions at the line of scrimmage, adjust to SEC-caliber defenses and make the necessary throws.
If he doesn’t earn that trust from the coaching staff, Del Rio is still there with six career starts and a 320-yard, 4 touchdown performance against Kentucky on his resume.
After two years in the program, he doesn’t need a spring practice to know what he’s doing. But he may have needed one to convince the coaches he might still be the better option to open the season.
Ultimately, though, just as it was before this news, it comes down to Franks and his performance this spring.
The only difference is he’ll now have an almost exclusive share of the spotlight in March.
Everybody will know very soon just how ready he is for that starring role.