GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Speaking after Florida’s first practice in full pads Monday, coach Jim McElwain emphasized the competitiveness of the Gators’ quarterback competition, that the top contenders are aggressively jockeying for that starting job.
That’s not to say it’s been a flawless competition by any means.
“Each one of them has done some good things, each one of them some learning things,” McElwain said. “I think the big thing right now is going back and re-looking at the situations, even like today, the series starters at the beginning of practice. Not the fastball period, but just the series starters and the importance of what it takes to get off to a fast start. I thought some of the guys handled it and others didn’t.”
Newcomer Malik Zaire led the first-team offense in the fastball period at the start of practice Monday. After an opening handoff, he overthrew Josh Hammond down the right sideline and then faked right and rolled left before uncorking another incomplete pass.
Each of the Gators’ quarterback contenders has taken a turn leading the first-team offense during the fastball periods open to the media so far, with redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks taking the reins on Day 1 Thursday and redshirt junior Luke Del Rio rolling with the top unit to start practice Friday. (The Gators’ weekend practices were closed to reporters.)
For what it’s worth, Zaire and Franks were on one side of the field with a walk-on quarterback for the early individual drills while Del Rio, redshirt freshman Kyle Trask and true freshman Jake Allen worked with the other group.
The fastball period aside, Zaire has looked consistently sharp in the throwing drills.
That’s all reporters get to see, though.
“First thing, I think, just technically the guys have learned how to get their cleats in the ground and get the ball out. That to me has been good to see,” McElwain said of his quarterbacks. “I think our depth at receiver has helped them as far as their trust, when you’re in the different drills they feel good about letting the ball go and somebody coming up and making a play for them. So that’s been good.
“This is good, man, because there’s like some guys fighting for this starting job. I mean, not just, ‘Now it’s kind of mine.’ You know what I mean? There’s a true competition and that’s a good thing.”
- Left tackle Martez Ivey was held out of practice Monday with an undisclosed injury. “He just had some swelling,” McElwain said. He did not answer a question about how many practices Ivey has missed, but later added, “There’s a pretty good chance he’ll be playing tomorrow.”
- Other injury notes: Defensive backs Quincy Lenton and C.J. McWilliams are slowed by hamstring injuries. Linebacker Kylan Johnson was held out Monday because “he was a little sore.” Defensive tackle Khairi Clark was “sicker than a dog this morning.” … “So really nothing major has happened at all other than normal things that happened at camp,” McElwain said.
- With Ivey out, freshman Kadeem Telfort got more opportunity at tackle, and on the other side Fred Johnson worked at both guard at tackle, McElwain said. In the fastball period, though, Jawaan Taylor moved to left tackle while Tyler Jordan manned right tackle.
- McElwain talked about the progress Telfort has made since arriving as an early enrollee. “Physically, he’s done a great job. I think one thing I’ve seen him do is really learn to trust, number one. And number two, learn to talk to the guy next to him. And it’s really seemed to elevate his game as far as knowing what the look is and now knowing what the assignment is. That’s good to see.”
- Sophomore Chauncey Gardner Jr. continued to work at safety. McElwain had said at media day that Gardner would stay at cornerback to open camp. He reiterated Monday that Gardner was moving around because of available bodies and that the secondary is fluid. “I think one of the things you guys get caught up on a little bit is the four best DBs are going to be on the field and five in some cases. If we do get certain personnel groups, you’re going to be in dime so it’s going to be six of them. So the key right now is finding out what those young guys can do and not overload them. Let’s keep them at a spot right now and move from there.”
- In the meantime, senior Joseph Putu has been getting a chance to show he’s ready for a bigger role at cornerback. Putu was not a factor on the defense last season after joining the Gators as a junior college transfer. “You can see that year of learning, in his case. And obviously him being new to the game relatively, not having played as much as a bunch of other guys have on our team. He’s done a really good job of studying what he needs to do and competing out there.”