Things go as expected in Gators’ preseason practice opener

Feleipe Franks
Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks throws Thursday during the first day of preseason football practice for the Gators at the Indoor Practice Facility on campus. [Brad McClenny/Staff Photographer]

The first shots — well, make that the first passes — were fired in Florida’s much-anticipated quarterback battle Thursday with the opening of preseason camp, and there apparently was no ground gained or lost.
Here’s the news (if you can call it that): Redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks took the first snaps with the No. 1 offense (which was expected), Malik Zaire and Luke Del Rio also took turns with the first-team offense (which was expected) and all the quarterbacks did some positive things after a little bit of a shaky start (which probably was expected).
All this, according to Jim McElwain.
Overall, it seemed like a positive first day in the quarterback competition.
“Liked the way all the quarterbacks threw,” McElwain said. “It was a little shaky to begin with. You could tell some of the nerves, and yet as the practice wore on I thought we were very accurate in where we were going with the football. There were some big plays made on the outside, so we’ve just got to continue that.”
McElwain said it should have been no surprise that Franks took the first snaps with the No. 1 offense. It should have been anticipated based on his body of work in the spring.
“That he got reps on the first little bit, he deserves it,” McElwain said. “He was the guy that came out of spring obviously (No.) 1. Luke took some ones today based on the drill, Malik took some as well in the red area of the skel piece. Just the way the rotation was. Now those will flip as the situations change so they’re all getting a bunch of reps at it.”
The dual-threat Zaire made a favorable first impression — as did the true freshmen class, especially the six defensive backs, some of whom will be counted on to play this season.
“(Zaire) does really have some good feet. He’s got some real good pocket awareness,” McElwain said. “When it did break down, or I shouldn’t say as much break down as when the defense was not in their pass rush lanes, he actually made them pay a little bit.”
The freshmen also caught McElwain’s attention — and left him feeling good about how he and his staff have recruited.
“With that younger group, we did pretty darned good in recruiting, guys,” he said. “I really feel without naming guys that it was really a good-looking crew. I like the way that they hustled. I liked the way that they didn’t get affected by the chaos that’s created in our practice plan.
“Seeing those guys for the first time it is a little bit like Christmas. No, I didn’t get a lump of coal in my stocking, either.”
The freshmen DBs stood out, McElwain said.
“If I were to kind of single out a group, those defensive backs look like they belong,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of camp left, but as far as walking off the bus, those guys are going to be OK. Now we’ve got to teach them what to do and get them comfortable in everything that we throw at them.”
The Gators had split practices Thursday, with most of the freshmen taking the field first, followed by the veterans later in the afternoon.
The older guys seemed to light up the Indoor Practice Facility with their high energy and enthusiasm.
“I thought the vets came back with a purpose,” McElwain said. “I kind of felt that (energy), too. I think probably a little bit has to do with the fact that the expectations of them, obviously, are pretty low from the standpoint of the outside world. And yet, that’s OK. I think that they feel like they have something to maybe prove.
“That first year everybody was new still. I’m not sure they knew what to expect. And I think last year was still part of that learning curve as we went. Now those guys are really truly veterans even though they’re, what, second-year guys. And I thought it was pretty good.”
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