Whether planned or not, redshirt freshman Will Grier ran out and took the first snap of the Jim McElwain era on Monday when the Florida Gators kicked off spring practice. McElwain said he didn’t know who took the first snap, center Cam Dillard joked that “it felt like Will’s hand.”
Naturally, in the Twitter world that we live in today, there were overreactions about who took the first snap, was it planned and what does it all mean, filled the next 48 hours.
So McElwain did what any good football coach would do: Treon Harris took the first snap on Tuesday with the “first team” offensive line. The Gators only have seven healthy offensive linemen, so even crowning one particular group of five the “first team” is silly.
The two quarterbacks are at the center of Gator Nation this spring and will continue to be all offseason. Florida has been searching for a reliable quarterback since Tim Tebow left and everyone is hoping it will be Grier or Harris that steps into that role. Yes, there is a quarterback competition, but there are competitions at every position on the field this spring.
“That don’t mean nothing, that’s anywhere, everywhere,” Harris said of the competition at his position. “Everyone has to compete for a spot. Me and Will, we just going out there everyday, just getting better, getting each other better.”
Harris has a leg up. He came in and led a game-winning drive against Tennessee and started six games last year as a true freshman for the Gators. He’s played in Neyland Stadium, Doak Campbell Stadium and won games both in The Swamp and on the road. He has the experience that Grier doesn’t have and can’t replicate.
While he does have the experiences of playing that Grier doesn’t, they are both in the same boat with a new coaching staff. McElwain and the new staff have wiped the slate clean. Every player on the roster is getting a fresh start. What you did last year doesn’t matter; it got a coaching staff fired. What matters is now. What you do in these practices, how you work out and study in the film room matters.
“When [the new staff] came in we all talked and communicated, everybody seemed like they would get along, we just had to build that relationship to have that trust,” Harris said. “We don’t know each other so we’re gaining our trust now.”
Further leveling the playing field is the new offense that McElwain is installing. Both Harris and Grier played exclusively out of the shotgun in high school; Harris guessed it had been six years since he worked under center in a game. Both quarterbacks are having to re-learn and refine their footwork, something that is taking time.
“We pretty much were under center the first practice,” McElwain said. “So today we tried to in the script we tried to be about 33 percent each, whether we were in gun, pistol or under. But [we] continue to work under because these guys haven’t done it a lot, and so learning how to pressure with the bottom hand and riding the center.”
It’s going to be a long road, both quarterbacks know it, they know what is at stake and they know the pressure that comes along with both competing to be the starting quarterback at the University of Florida as well as the pressure of actually being the starting quarterback.
Right now, they can’t focus on that. Years ago, Jeff Driskel admitted that when he and Jacoby Brissett were in the same situation that both of them felt the pressure of not wanting to make a mistake. It affected their confidence and performance.
“I think me and Treon are just out there playing ball,” Grier said. “We’re both out there playing ball helping each other get better and working to get better every day.”
That’s good. Keep it friendly, but only one man can win the starting role this season.
Work on that footwork and learn how to drop back from under center before you get dropped out of the competition.