GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jim McElwain was reminded Friday that one year ago to the day he named Luke Del Rio as the Gators’ starting quarterback for the 2016 opener.
“And I’m guessing three years ago today I named Garrett Grayson the starter, right? (At) Colorado State?” McElwain said, laughing.
No, there would be no such announcement on this afternoon from the Florida coach.
With the Gators’ much-anticipated season opener with Michigan 15 days away, the team’s three-man quarterback competition between graduate transfer newcomer Malik Zaire, redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and Del Rio remains ongoing, with no known timeline for a decision.
“I haven’t seen it affect how we’re going about our business at all. Obviously, we’ll get one out there and move forward,” McElwain said.
The Gators were set to hold their second preseason scrimmage Friday — closed to the media, as usual — where they presumably would continue rotating all three quarterbacks through the first team.
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McElwain said it is “tough to say” if there is a leader in the competition at this point.
“We’ll take a look at how they handle another opportunity where no [coaches are] on the field. It’s you executing the calls, handling the fastballs, getting guys in right formations, understanding your snap [counts], all those type of things,” he said. “I think it goes back to putting in as many game-type situations as possible.
“Here’s one great thing here — being able to go out and execute a practice scrimmage in The Swamp, it elevates these guys because it’s part of the reason they’re here. I always like to see the reaction as to how they elevate when they’re in a great environment.”
So this competition is really still that close then, eh?
“Sure. Yeah. It really is, and that’s a good thing,” McElwain said.
All three quarterback contenders met with reporters Friday morning for the first time since preseason media day.
Zaire talked about how he’s been involved in quarterback competitions every year since he arrived at Notre Dame, so this is nothing new to him.
McElwain noted that he liked how Zaire prepares and how he understands he’s competing more against himself than the other guys. That was Zaire’s refrain to many questions lobbed his way.
“At the end of the day I’m trying to be the best in the country. My focus is on beating everybody. So it’s not just the guys that are competing for this job, but it’s the guys in the whole SEC, it’s the guys in the whole country,” he said.
“This competition for me is just my internal competition with myself. … The team is first for me and I know I can put the team in the best position to win. I feel like I can do my job better than anybody else, but I feel like that’s how you should feel, especially when you’ve been doing stuff like this and you’re still fighting. Every day’s a fight to get better, and I focus on that.”
Franks, who topped the quarterback depth chart after spring practice, before Zaire arrived this summer, emphasized how much he’s grown over the last year, and how he is ready to take on the responsibility of the position.
And how he’s fed off the added competition since Zaire’s arrival.
“Man, I love it, to be honest with you. I’m the type of person, I love competition,” Franks said. “I say this all the time: I think it brings out the best player in a person and the best person in the person as well. Iron sharpens iron is what I’ve always been told. It’s going to bring out the best player in me, the best person in me.”
Del Rio, meanwhile, reiterated that it’s nice to feel healthy again after enduring significant injuries to his knee and both shoulders last season while trying to play through those limitations. He made six starts in which he totaled 8 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
He believes one of his strengths is the consistency he’s shown throughout camp.
“Last year I would have an off day here, an off day there. I thought I have been very consistent throughout camp. People know what to expect when I’m in,” he said.
He also knows the sentiment that is out there within a vocal segment of the fan base, that fans don’t want to see more of the same and are ready for a new leader on offense.
Bringing up Del Rio’s name in a headline or a tweet is a surefire way to evoke an aggressive response about the need for change. He understands, even if he knows that those fans don’t fully understand everything that contributed to his inconsistent season last fall.
“It’s frustrating when you’re completely healthy for [only] two games, but I get it,” Del Rio said. “They saw underthrown deep balls. I didn’t play well the last couple games. I also overthrew deep routes in the first two games. I understand fans remember the last thing that they saw and that’s kind of what sticks. I don’t blame them. It’s frustrating, but I don’t blame them.”
Del Rio has been through these competitions before and has learned how to manage them.
From the sound of it, he and the other quarterbacks are as uncertain about how this competition will end up as reporters and fans. So there’s no sense trying to interpret what this or that might indicate, he said.
“When I was younger, when I was a freshman or sophomore, I would think like that and it’s kind of a negative mindset,” Del Rio said. “You get so caught up in, ‘OK, I got six reps with the 1s. He got five. So does that mean I’m a little bit ahead?’ It’s just incidental. They really take the reps from all 18, 19 practices and whoever is the best, most consistent, performs, made the offense a well-oiled machine, that’s who’s going to start.”
McElwain underscored that point as well.
“I think the big thing is knowing that everything they do is graded, everything they do is critiqued,” he said. “You put down the hard numbers and where do they bear out and understand there is some human element as to how the people were around them during some of those.
“But, that’s a good thing about the way we practice. There’s not a lack of reps.”
Or a lack of suspense about how this is all going to turn out in the end.
There was no answer to be had Friday, and there’s no telling when a decision might come.
“At the end of the day you just got to trust that the coaches make the best decision for the team and you just kind of ride with it,” Zaire said. “I’ve been in this situation for the last five years and I know that having all these options at quarterback is not always the best thing for the team. And it would be nice, obviously, to be the guy. But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to continue to do whatever it takes to help this team be the best.
“And I think we’ve got the potential to go all the way. So just got to put your faith in coach that things are going to work out, and got to put your faith in God that things will work out for yourself.”
Said Del Rio: “I don’t know. I know this time last year, he named a guy. It’s up to him. I’m not really worried about it.”