Florida Gators QB race a “true competition”

Malik Zaire or Feleipe Franks? Feleipe Franks or Malik Zaire?

You can’t walk far in Gainesville without being asked or hearing the talk about who will be the Florida Gators starting quarterback when they kick off the season September 2 against Michigan.

Don’t forget about Luke Del Rio who, as Jim McElwain points out, was 5-1 as a starter while playing through multiple injuries last season.

Del Rio was named the staring quarterback early on in fall camp prior to the 2016 season. In 2015 the battle between Will Grier and Treon Harris wasn’t much of a battle. Despite the coaching staff never naming Grier the starter, it was clearly his job. After six practices the Gators haven’t named a starting quarterback and, that’s ok, according to McElwain.

“This is good man because there’s some guys fighting for the starting job,” McElwain said Monday. “I mean not just, ‘now it’s kind of mine.’ There’s a true competition and that’s a good thing.”

Zaire, a graduate transfer, certainly didn’t come to with intentions of watching from the sidelines. He wasn’t promised anything by the coaching staff, however.

“We’ve never said, ‘yes you’re starting.’ If somebody’s wooed by that, I don’t know how any coach could tell someone that,” said McElwain. “You don’t know. You just don’t know.”

Promised nothing, Zaire is still at Florida and he’s competing for the starting job. He opened camp with the first team offense. Then, Franks did that in the second open practice and Del Rio the third. The portions of practice that are open to the media are limited an undoubtedly orchestrated with the knowledge that when the media is there what is shown will be reported.

The quarterbacks have looked shaky at times, with McElwain acknowledging that fact publically.

“The quarterback rotation, guys have been getting a bunch of reps,” he said. “Each one of them has done some good things, each one of them some learning things.”

If the Gators have learned anything over the last two seasons it’s that the health or availability of your starting quarterback is anything but guaranteed. Florida floundered after Grier was suspended and the offense didn’t look the same in 2016 after the first five games when Del Rio’s injuries worsened.

That makes fall camp so important, not just for whichever player wins the job but for the backup as well.

“When we decide who our quarterback is, obviously we’re going to put the best set of plays that fit that quarterback in the game plan, and those are the type of things that when you have different guys,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said at Media Day. “It’s building that library, so to say, so for example, because you may have a guy that’s a starter and a backup that does something different, now all of a sudden the starter is out and the backup is in. Well, maybe the plays that the starter ran don’t fit the backup as well, so now you have to have another set of plays.”

The Gators would like to come have someone emerge and take the role as starter as soon as possible. In a perfect world they would have a starter named already and be building the offense around him. Alabama is doing that, so is Florida State. Maybe the Gators won’t have a starter named this week or even next. They will have one by September 2, and right now they’re hoping that the competition will be getting not only the starter ready but his backup ready, just in case.

Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC