Fall Sports

Looking For a Leader: Florida’s Quarterback Competition

Photo via The Associated Press

As a college football fan, the start of fall camp always conjures up feelings quite similar to a young child eagerly anticipating Christmas morning. Such excitement at the possibilities. Yes, this time of year has all of college football’s fans wondering, “What’s under the tree for me this year?”

If you’re a Florida Gators fan, there’s one gift that you have likely wished for every year for the last nine years. It is the one thing that can take all of the other gifts and elevate them into something magical. The quarterback! Over that time we’ve always been, “just a QB away!” Will this year be the year that we finally receive that gift?

As camp opened last week, all eyes focused on the quarterback competition once again. This year, it features the much maligned Feleipe Franks, underdog Kyle Trask, and true freshman Emory Jones. Each with their own unique strengths and glaring weaknesses.

Last season, Franks started 8 games and played in all 11 but through injuries and complete ineptitude, this was almost by default. Trask was recovering from season ending surgery from an injury sustained in fall camp. Jones was still in high school this time last year.

With the first week of fall practice in the books, we still don’t know who will be QB1 for the upcoming season. But with all of the unknown, let’s examine what we do know so far.

Franks is the current front runner but that doesn’t really mean much at this point. He has a cannon for an arm and great size but he struggles with the short to medium range throws and often stares down his receivers. He seems to have turned a corner in the leadership and preparation part of the job, often being the first on the field and last to leave, as well as spending hours upon hours in film study.

Trask is a guy who – if he earns the starting job and succeeds – could have a 30 for 30 one day. He was the backup to D’Eriq King in high school and has never taken a collegiate snap. The receivers consistently praise his passes for their timing and placement. Head coach Dan Mullen called one of his reps last week, “The best play of fall camp.” It was a 6 yard checkdown to his running back. Still, his lack of experience shows at times.

Jones was Mullen’s first QB commitment as the head coach of the Gators and he is the prototypical Mullen QB. He has good size, speed, a strong arm, and is a powerful runner but is still a bit erratic in the passing game and needs to learn how to play the collegiate game.

All three quarterbacks have had excellent days in practice so far. All three have looked like a lost cause at times. This is a competition that will rage on over the next few weeks and the coaching staff will be looking for a leader to step up.

“I’m seeing flashes here and there, but it’s really about consistency of performance,” Mullen said in a press conference earlier this week. “I mean, to be a big-time quarterback, I don’t think they even think they’d know how hard that is. They should understand it by hopefully next summer. I was hoping maybe just one of them it would really click, but I didn’t see that happen. But that doesn’t shock me.”

Mullen has had a long and successful career in which he has turned many quarterbacks into great players. His ability to develop players at the position is cause for great optimism and hope.

Quarterbacks coach, Brian Johnson understands what Mullen requires of the position and how to accomplish it. “Our expectations of that room are extremely, extremely high,” he said. “First and foremost, you have to understand that playing that position, you are held to a higher standard than everybody. Everyone is going to look at you and you’re gonna set the standard for what is acceptable in the program. Our guys have to do a great job of continuing to develop. It takes time, but they’ve got to continually take steps in the right direction.”

The bar is being set high by Mullen and Johnson and they are holding their quarterbacks accountable to that level of expectation. After being one of the last two on the field to begin practice, last week, Trask and Jones received an ear full about being leaders and what that means. They’ve been beating the team out of the locker room everyday since.

There is a potential for all three to play in the season opener but Mullen says that he would like to have made a decision before then. With live scrimmages scheduled for Monday and next Sunday, rest assured, the coaching staff will be looking for a leader.

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