football Edit

Gators Football Spring Preview: Quarterbacks

Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio
Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio

March 9 marks the beginning of spring football for Florida as Jim McElwain enters his second season as UF’s head coach. As practices are soon approaching, Inside the Gators will take a position-by-position look at Florida's roster. Today, we begin with the Gators’ quarterbacks.

RETURNING:

Luke Del Rio (redshirt junior walk-on; 6-1, 216)

NEW ADDITIONS

Austin Appleby (graduate transfer walk-on; 6-4, 238)

Feleipe Franks (freshman early enrollee; 6-6, 214)

Kyle Trask (freshman early enrollee; 6-4, 230)

GONE:

Will Grier (transferred)

Treon Harris (still on roster but switching to wide receiver)

Josh Grady (graduated)

Jacob Guy (the walk-on is no longer listed on the official roster)

LAST YEAR: During the 2015 offseason, many perceived Grier as the favorite to beat out Harris for the starting job. Although the battle surprisingly made its way into the first few games of the season, with both signal-callers seeing action against New Mexico State and East Carolina, ultimately Grier won the starting gig. After a brilliant fourth-quarterback comeback against Tennessee led by Grier and then a virtuoso performance in a victory over Ole Miss - one where the redshirt freshman threw for 271 yards and four first-half touchdowns on 24-of-29 passing - Florida's offense looked the most promising it had been in years. The Gators had seemingly found their best quarterback since Tim Tebow - and that's not a stretch considering the amount of disappointment that position has brought to the UF fan base over the years.

Then, the bomb nobody expected dropped in October, when it was announced that Grier would be suspended for the next full year for failing an NCAA administered drug test for performance-enhancing drugs. Eventually in December, he lost his appeal and soon transferred. Meanwhile, Florida was left with Harris as its quarterback. Plugging the 5-foot-11 signal-caller into Jim McElwain's pro-style system proved to be a failure, as UF went 4-4 down the stretch after starting the year 6-0. Harris was inefficient, finishing just 50.6% passing on the year for 1,676 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions. Those numbers are actually pretty kind compared to the true eye test of how poorly Harris performed out there at times, as defenses shut down UF on play-action and forced Harris to make throws over the middle standing in the pocket - something he couldn't do.

KEY QUESTION: Who is the answer now at quarterback?

Considering Grier is no longer in town and Harris' pending move to wideout, Florida has essentially overhauled the quarterback position and made it an open race for the starting role. Del Rio returns, and the Oregon State transfer may be the early favorite to receive reps with the first-team offense based on familiarity with the playbook alone.

Now added to the mix are three new options who are all at least 6-foot-4: Appleby, Franks and Trask. Coming from Purdue, Appleby brings experience to the position and should be Del Rio's main challenger in the spring. Many consider Franks, a Rivals100 signal-caller, as the future at the position for the Gators, but he's still a bit raw as a pocket passer. A former two-star recruit and a high school backup, Trask is also viewed as a developmental prospect.

There's still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position with those future options, but UF's prospects at quarterback now certainly look brighter than when Harris was under center last season. It really couldn't get much worse at the time.

PLENTY TO PROVE: Del Rio has waited his turn, sitting out the year per NCAA rules while serving a key role on scout team. Plenty of Del Rio's teammates have praised him for his intelligence in the pocket reading defenses and anticipating throws - and the buzz was pretty high surrounding Del Rio during last summer's player-run practices. The public really hasn't seen much of Del Rio up to this point, in practices or in live-game action, so this spring will present him an opportunity to live up to some of the hype and solidify his standing as the favorite to win the job.

HE COULD SURPRISE: There's no denying Franks' tools. At 6-foot-6, Franks can see well over the offensive line while having a cannon of an arm to go along with it. However, the freshman still has plenty to work on, including his accuracy and delivering a quicker release. If Franks, an early enrollee, can show significant progress this spring and onward, maybe he works his way into consideration for playing time if Del Rio and/or Appleby happen to let down the coaching staff.

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR: How Appleby performs this spring. The turnover-prone signal-caller always had to look over his shoulder at Purdue in feared of being yanked, and that's what happened just three games into the 2015 season. As a pro-style quarterback, Appleby really didn't fit into what Purdue did on offense, so it'll be interesting to see now how his skills translate in McElwain's system. Appleby's strong arm, confidence and leadership skills are all positive attributes. One aspect that Appleby could have over Del Rio this spring is his mobility moving out of the pocket, which he displayed running the read-option while at Purdue. That could give him an edge down the road, especially if UF's offensive line doesn't progress significantly this year.

----

UP NEXT:

Running Backs

REDSHIRT REPORTS:

Jabari Zuniga

Luke Ancrum

Kalif Jackson

Brandon Sandifer

Nick Buchanan

2016 PARTING THOUGHTS:

Josh Grady Parting Thoughts: I | II | III

--In-depth look at Florida Football: Subscriber Q&A with Josh Grady I | II

Anthony Harrell Parting Thoughts: I | II