Florida football’s quest to find a star quarterback enters Year 9 with another battle ongoing

By Adam Silverstein
August 5, 2018
Florida football’s quest to find a star quarterback enters Year 9 with another battle ongoing

Image Credit: Twitter / GatorsFB

Eleven players have started at quarterback for the Florida Gators since the departure of Tim Tebow following the 2009 season. Some have flashed, most have been flattened.

And while Florida football has experienced myriad problems over the near-decade since Tebow and Urban Meyer roamed the sidelines, its inability to find a true leader and playmaker at the most important position on the field has been a common thread throughout.

Enter the Gators’ third head coach in the last eight seasons and yet another offseason without a sure-fire starter ready to take the helm in the season opener. Dan Mullen surely has the option to play both signal callers, especially in Week 1, but it sure would be nice if he knew before then.

Just ask him.

“I don’t have the timetable, because if I give myself a specific timetable, I don’t know when we’re going to be ready to make that decision. I hope it’s a clear-cut decision that we know this person is going to give us the best opportunity to win games and lead our program into the future,” he said Thursday as Florida opened fall camp. “… I hope it defines itself for us during training camp, and the team, everyone knows this is the guy that’s going to help us win.”

Whether those following the Gators can actually expect that to happen is another thing altogether.

Redshirt sophomore Feleipe Franks might as well be considered the incumbent. The 6-foot-5, 227-pounder started the majority of games for UF last year but averaged a paltry 6.3 yards per completion, tossing nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. It was clear that Franks was seeing starting snaps a season earlier than he actually should have been playing, as even upon his recruitment to Florida, it was expected that he would need at least two years of seasoning.

Still, Franks had his moments in 2017. He hooked up with sophomore Tyrie Cleveland for a spectacular 63-yard Hail Mary touchdown to beat rival Tennessee and converted a third-and-12 backed up near his own end zone with a mind-boggling 79-yard run against Texas A&M.

In other words, he had a penchant for spectacular plays in 2017. Those will not win him the Gators’ starting job in 2018.

“I’ll tell you the advice — I talked to Dak Prescott between his junior and senior year [at Mississippi State] — we had a big talk about making non-spectacular plays. We know you have the ability to make spectacular plays. Can you make the non-spectacular play?” Mullen explained. “… Where a young quarterback thinks a spectacular play is I can throw the ball 75 yards in the air for a touchdown. That’s a spectacular play, too. An 80-yard run is a spectacular play, too. But learning how to make the non-spectacular plays and making them every single snap with consistency is really a huge trait for a quarterback.”

Mullen continued: “Does Feleipe have the skill set to do it? Absolutely, because he can make spectacular plays. Can he make non-spectacular plays on a consistent basis is going to be a big growing curve for him moving forward.”

Redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask has yet to see a single snap for Florida, but the big-armed former three-star prospect made an impression on Mullen during the program’s first practice on Friday. While Mullen is hoping Franks can learn to make so-called non-spectacular plays with more consistency, he saw a glimpse of Trask flashing that knowledge and ability in what would may have appeared to spectators to be a run-of-the-mill play.

“I saw some really good things [from the quarterbacks]. The best play of the day I saw was probably Trask. [The secondary] doubled an out cut, and he checked it down for 6 yards,” Mullen shared. “… [The bombs] aren’t the best plays. That’s starting to show grasp, the little things of managing every aspect of the game. That’s the mental side of things I really want them to pick up. … They don’t have to make the big play to win the job. The most consistent guy is going to win the job.”

Mullen, who praised Florida as a whole for its positive attitude and effort on Day 1, made it clear that this job is a competition between Franks and Trask. The pair are getting equal reps with the ones and twos in practice, while Mullen is also making sure freshman Emory Jones gets a sufficient amount of snaps. Mullen said he has seen improvements in toughness and leadership from his redshirt sophomores, and he was told they were out in front of team workouts and player-run practices all summer long.

In terms of what each brings to the table, Mullen praised Franks’ entire skill set, big play ability, athleticism and strong arm. He believes Trask is “very conscientious” doing what the coaches ask and loves both his overall size in the pocket and the fact that he’s a better runner than most give him credit for being.

“There’s a benefit to size at the quarterback position and why people like it because it’s just easier to see with things. So he does a great job of standing tall in the pocket and seeing what’s going on to distribute the ball. He’s got a bunch of arm talent in that he can make throws at different angles on different levels and be accurate with it,” Mullen said of the 6-foot-5, 239-pounder.

“… He’s not Michael Vick back there running around, but he’s a very willing runner, and he runs physical as a big guy. I think that he’s more than capable to do everything we need him to do and be really successful at it. Those are the things that he brings to the table. As a runner, sometimes you look and say, ‘Boy, is he a great runner?’ No, I’ve always said you have to be a willing runner. The one thing he does is he’s willing and he’s physical about his style of running when we’ve done it.”

Mullen made it clear that it will be those non-spectacular plays that determine who ultimately will line up behind center in the opener. He want to see who between Franks and Trask is the best at checking down, running their progressions, managing the game and moving onto the next play no matter the scenario.

“Good starting quarterbacks are not afraid to make mistakes. They throw a bad pass, they’re not going to dwell on it,” Trask said. “To be a good quarterback in a big-time program, you have to throw the ball without being afraid to mess up. You have to be able to throw and, if it’s a bad throw, you know what, next play. You can’t control what happened in the past.”

Franks and Trask both spoke this week about the offseason work they were able to put in with the Gators’ loaded receiving corps. Both players say they believe the offense has already made a big leap from a season ago, and the first day of camp was more productive because everyone was on the same page with that offseason work translating to the field.

Sophomore wide receiver Daquon Green believes Franks and Trask are more competitive and more confident than they were a year ago. “You can tell in their gameplay. They’re understanding it better … and there’s better communication between the quarterbacks, receivers and the rest of the offense,” he said. Redshirt senior WR Dre Massey agreed, noting both are playing “at a high level right now” and that the offense will work well with either at the helm.

No matter the outcome, it will be all for naught if the winner does not perform to the level Florida and Mullen need to reverse the fortunes of an offense that has been stuck in neutral for nearly a decade.

Good thing for the Gators they have three more weeks to figure it out.


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