GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain didn’t wait for the question, dealing a preemptive update — or non-update — to anyone hoping he might be ready to name a starting quarterback.
With the Gators’ much-anticipated season opener against Michigan just a week and a half away, McElwain said Wednesday that he still has not made a decision at the most high-profile position.
“From the quarterback standpoint, you’re going to see a bunch of them in there playing. I mean the three guys have done a really good job. I’m not naming a starter right now,” he said. “I think there’s some things that they all bring to the table that are really good. Now the key to us is putting them in those positions, you know, that play to their strengths. Will all of them play? I don’t know yet. Will a couple of them play? I don’t know yet. I know we will have somebody at the position.”
Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, graduate transfer newcomer Malik Zaire and 2016 starter Luke Del Rio have rotated turns with the first-team offense this preseason, and after nearly three weeks of practices there still is not enough separation to know who will be leading the offense on Sept. 2 in Arlington, Texas.
Asked if it was concerning to him at all that he doesn’t have more clarity at quarterback, McElwain said, “No, not at all. Because I like the way they’re playing.”
“Don’t read into this that we’re not happy with where they’re at,” he said. “It’s really more so the competition has really brought out some good things. It’s going to be developing through that. Ultimately the guy the team moves with the best, the guys that create positive plays on third down and get the ball in the end zone, that’s kind of where we’re at.”
He sidestepped a question about whether splitting reps between three quarterbacks this late in the preseason is an obstacle of any kind.
Asked what more he hopes to possibly learn about his QBs at this point, he offered an even broader lack of clarity.
“Like I said, I think they’re all going to play,” he said. “So, you know, we’ve got a lot more work against each other. We’ll see how some things kind of work out, especially in the option game and some of those type of things. And see kind of where that fits for some of those guys.”
Zaire didn’t join the Gators until this summer and has had to get up to speed quickly with the offense, but he’s the guy that brings the added dynamic of making plays on the ground as well as through the air.
Franks, meanwhile, has looked impressive in the portions of practice open to the media while rising to the challenge of addition of Zaire to the roster. The redshirt freshman topped the depth chart coming out of the spring and has been looking to prove he’s still the best option with his 6-foot-6 frame and cannon arm.
And Del Rio has looked healthy and renewed after having surgery on both of his shoulders and also playing through a significant knee injury last fall while making six up-and-down starts with 8 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
Meeting with reporters last Friday, all three quarterbacks indicated they don’t know where the competition stands.
Zaire, meanwhile, had the most candid comments about delayed decision.
“Obviously if you have a bunch of quarterbacks, you have none. So obviously we want that distinct person to be known, but at the end of the day you just gotta focus on what it’s gonna take for you to be the best you can be,” he said.
So the wait continues, and the thought of three quarterbacks playing will leave not only the position but many within the fanbase unsettled about the situation.
McElwain was asked plainly if there was any element of gamesmanship or mind games for Michigan involved in the delayed decision.
“Absolutely definitively not doing that. There are no mind games,” McElwain said, laughing. “I know what you’ve got to write. Write what you’ve got to do, I’ve told you the answer. But definitively that is a true statement. I love it.”