JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As Florida coach Jim McElwain’s spring speaking tour continued Tuesday, so too did the questions about the Gators’ quarterback situation.
McElwain said the fans he addresses at these events are as inquisitive about the position as the media.
“They want to know about, in this case now, Feleipe Franks. Really no different than the media, right?” McElwain said before addressing the Gator Club of Jacksonville inside the city’s main public library.
“Guys, I genuinely enjoy people. These things, I don’t look at them as a pain in the rear or anything. It’s fun because this is the backbone and these are our people, this is part of the fabric of the University of Florida. And their excitement about the Gators is great … and they’re very knowledgeable fans. They’re very knowledgable people about where we are, where we were when we took over, the things that we’re doing and have done so far and really the excitement of the momentum moving forward is really good.”
Once the games start in the fall, that momentum hinges largely on the team’s quarterback play.
So, of course, the usual question about Malik Zaire came up Tuesday as the former Notre Dame quarterback is reportedly nearing a decision on where he’ll play in 2017. Whether Florida is a mutual fit or not remains moot unless the SEC amends its rule that currently prohibits the Gators from taking a graduate transfer this year, based on the academic performance of past grad transfers.
“I just know he’s a heck of a player, but there’s nothing really we can do about it until the SEC makes a change on the rule if they do, and that won’t occur until June whatever, SEC meetings whenever those are that are coming up in a couple weeks, I guess,” McElwain said.
Meanwhile, McElwain said redshirt freshman Kyle Trask is still not throwing “100 percent” yet after his return from a minor knee surgery, but that is not a concern with fall camp still two and a half months away.
He reiterated that he’s “really excited” about freshman dual-threat quarterback Kadarius Toney, who will likely have some specialty packages in the playbook to get the ball in his hands.
McElwain said it “will be interesting to see” how redshirt junior Luke Del Rio continues to progress after having surgeries on both of his shoulders.
And he further praised Franks after the redshirt freshman moved atop the quarterback depth chart during the spring.
“I was really happy with the group. I thought Feleipe did a really good job throughout the 15 opportunities this spring. I think he established himself in that room a little bit,” McElwain said.
While it’s clear that Franks is the guy at this moment, the big questions about the position remain whether Zaire will end up in Gainesville and just how Del Rio fits into the coaches’ plans moving forward.
Del Rio, who started his collegiate career at Alabama and then Oregon State before transferring a second time to Florida, opened 2016 as the Gators’ No. 1 quarterback and went on to make 6 starts while being derailed by multiple injuries along the way.
The timetable for when he can resume throwing remains unknown, as does his place on the depth chart if he is healthy.
“You know, there’s another check-up kind of coming. He’s ahead of schedule, I can tell you that, from what the normal piece was. A lot of that is going to be up to him and what he’s able to handle,” McElwain said. “And yet we brought him back too early. I’ve said that. And we shouldn’t have played him in that Arkansas game. So I’m going to make sure it’s 100 percent because he’ll want to get in there and push it maybe too early.”
McElwain was asked if it’s wrong to count Del Rio out as a contender for the job?
“Yeah, I think for sure. When you take a look when he was healthy and the numbers he put up in the first three or four games, whatever it was — very efficient, touchdown passes to interception ratio was really good, our production in the red area was really good. So he’s a guy that obviously knows what he’s doing,” he said.
That’s all McElwain could be expected to say at this point. It would be unfair to Del Rio to say otherwise, and while Franks is the guy at this moment, he too has plenty to prove still.
Whether it’s Zaire, potentially, or Del Rio or another challenger, the coaches want Franks to continue competing for that spot atop the depth chart.
The rest of the questions will be answered along the way.
“Feleipe is the guy right now and we’ll see from there, but at the same time whoever gives us the best opportunity to win a game is going to be the quarterback,” McElwain said.