Like weatherman Phil Connors, the Florida Gators will wake up to a familiar scene when spring practice begins on March 9. Florida will enter yet another spring practice without a returning starter at quarterback and more questions than answers at the most important position on the field.
This will be the second straight season the Gators go into spring without a defined starter at the position but Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier will have more options to choose from in 2016 than they did in 2015.
Luke Del Rio
The list of quarterbacks doesn’t include Treon Harris, who started the last eight games of the season for Florida. Harris didn’t exactly receive glowing remarks from Jim McElwain towards the end of the season and has reportedly worked out with skill position players in hopes of being able to get on the field in 2016.
At first glance, Florida doesn’t have a lot at this position. Del Rio played in just three games at Oregon State, completing 8-of-18 passes for 141 yards. However, Del Rio has experience in the system that Florida will run and he has coaches that believe in him.
Coming out of high school Del Rio had just three scholarship offers, one of those from McElwain and Colorado State. Instead, Del Rio decided to walk on at Alabama, where he spent a year redshirting and learning Doug Nussmeier’s (who was the offensive coordinator at the time) playbook. Del Rio had to spend 2015 on the sideline due to NCAA transfer rules but it was just another year for Del Rio to familiarize himself with the playbook and system.
The quarterback with the most experience would be former Purdue starter and graduate transfer Austin Appleby. Appleby lost the starting job last year at Purdue, playing in just five games. The biggest knock on Appleby is his 19 touchdowns to 19-interceptions mark, and McElwain has made it clear how much he values his quarterbacks, “throwing it to the guys in the same color jersey.”
Can McElwain and Nussmeier work with Appleby and make him a more efficient quarterback in order to truly challenge for the starting quarterback job or will Appleby simply be an emergency option come fall?
Behind the two veterans await two true freshmen that early enrolled. Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are both on campus, working out with receivers and going through workouts. Getting on campus early is invaluable for a quarterback. Both quarterbacks need time to develop and grow. They both have a lot of raw ability but need time to develop both physically and mentally, adjusting to the college game and getting used to a bigger, expanded playbook that will ask them to do much more than they’re used to doing from high school.
Del Rio has taken on a leadership role and is the favorite to win the starting job. McElwain has past success with quarterbacks who were simply efficient within the offense. That’s what he’s looking for in a quarterback. McElwain doesn’t need a quarterback to throw for 500 yards a game, he just needs a leader, someone who elevates the play of the 10 players around him and can manage the offense as it’s intended to be run.
Projected depth chart:
Luke Del Rio