GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida will run through its first preseason scrimmage Friday night, but the Gators’ quarterback competition won’t be the focus this time.
Coach Jim McElwain said this first scrimmage will be structured around getting a closer look at the team’s freshmen and young players looking to earn roles for the fall.
“It’s something we talk about with the young guys, this is their opportunity to make the team,” McElwain said Friday morning. “Be it on special teams, which they will be stressed against the 1s, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where they and how they compete to go get a job. That’s to me the big stress on this first scrimmage is see those guys who are ready, willing, able, all that kind of stuff.
“And more than that, their first opportunity to play in The Swamp. Even in a sterile environment, there’s something pretty special about that. And to see those guys even kind of perk up when they come out of that tunnel for the first time ever playing in The Swamp, I’m excited to see the environment, how they handle that piece of it.”
That doesn’t mean the quarterbacks will be out of the spotlight, though.
McElwain is hoping to run 90-110 plays in the scrimmage — which is not open to fans or media — and said the aim will be to get Malik Zaire, Feleipe Franks and Luke Del Rio an equal share of snaps.
But they might not be operating with the usual full complement of veteran playmakers as the emphasis will be on evaluating the younger players.
“The three of them will roll in the move-the-field stuff kind of at the same pace, or same rep count. Some of that is the team’s got to move when you’re in there,” McElwain said. “So a guy with less rep count means he didn’t move the team. So I think when you look at it from that standpoint, that kind of shows you what’s going on. As you know, it’s how does the team really elevate themselves around you? Also, how do you move a team that maybe isn’t as equipped to roll against whoever they’re going against. … I’m looking forward to putting them in stressful situations.”
Florida has had limited windows of practice open to the media to this point of camp, meaning that quarterback competition has mostly taken place behind closed doors.
Zaire, the graduate transfer from Notre Dame, has been with the first-team offense in the 1s vs. 1s “fastball” period at the start of practice the last two times reporters were allowed in to watch (Monday and Thursday).
But neither McElwain nor any of the quarterbacks’ teammates have indicated any separation in the competition between the newcomer, the redshirt freshman Franks or Del Rio, the Gators’ 2016 starter.
McElwain said the closeness of the competition has actually been even a little bit more than he was expecting, and he commented that Franks’ confidence level is “way higher than it was.”
“I think with Malik coming in it’s really elevated both Feleipe and Luke. I see a real drive to get those reps. Really more than anything what I’ve seen is the singular importance of each rep no matter what the drill is,” he said. “Those guys are competing at everything, whether it’s routes on air to end-of-game and two-minute. It’s been really good.”
Linebacker Vosean Joseph also gave an encouraging progress report on the QBs from the defense’s perspective.
“Man, the quarterback battle is crazy. I don’t know who’s going to start. Everybody out there is throwing touchdowns left and right, rolling out of the pocket … They’re doing all types of crazy stuff at practice,” he said. “All the quarterbacks are looking nice. I don’t really know who’s going to play.”
McElwain reiterated that he does not have a set timeline in mind for making a decision at that spot, but he does hope to learn at least something about the contenders Friday night.
“There should be some answers, I think, and yet I don’t know that,” he said.
As for the scrimmage, players who will not take part Friday night are redshirt junior tight end C’yontai Lewis, freshman defensive tackle Elijah Conliffe, freshman offensive tackle Kadeem Telfort, redshirt freshmen defensive backs C.J. McWilliams and Quincy Lenton, redshirt sophomore linebacker Kylan Johnson and redshirt senior defensive end Jordan Sherit.
Sherit (knee) has been going through individual drills and should return to full team drills next week. McWilliams and Lenton have been out all week with hamstring injuries and Johnson has been out all week with an undisclosed injury.
McElwain did not provide any further details on the other injuries, though he reiterated that none are serious.