Florida has not had a consistent, productive and lasting quarterback since Tim Tebow left after the 2009 season. It’s been eight consecutive years of futile QB play, which has resulted in a long spell of offensive ineptitude.
It seems like forever.
So, is this finally the year that the trend will be reversed, and are Dan Mullen and Brian Johnson the coaches to do it?
Johnson, the new quarterbacks coach, seems confident the Gators will find a productive and consistent quarterback between now and September. He just doesn’t know who it’s going to be yet.
“Those guys are talented. They’re putting in the necessary work that it takes to perform at a high level of college football,” he said. “They have the desire to be a great unit and great individual players. They’ve done a good job so far of putting the work in and continually getting better each day.”
Johnson, of course, is talking about Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask, Jake Allen and true freshman and early enrollee Emory Jones.
He said he’s confident that one of those four will emerge as THE man at quarterback and play at the high level that’s been missing at the position.
“I am,” he said. “We don’t got nobody else coming through that door, so these are our guys and we’re going to get them ready to go out there and compete at a high level and hold them to the Gator standard. That’s what it’s all about.
“Those guys are eager and willing to learn, and as long as they continue to come out here with that attitude and get better and take steps in the right direction each and every day, we’ll be fine.”
It’s still early, only six practices into the spring, but the leading contender at this point appears to be Franks, last season’s starting quarterback, who experienced some highs but a lot more lows in 2017.
He’s been working mostly with the No. 1 offense this spring, appears to have a good early grasp of the system and has emerged as a leader on the field and in the strength and conditioning program.
“He’s done a good job,” Johnson said. “He’s handled the installs. He’s come in and studied it. He’s done a good job of coming in and taking it from the class to the grass and putting it on the field and is making some plays and getting everybody involved in the offense.
“That’s one of the things you’ve got to be able to do as the quarterback is take what we teach in the meeting rooms, come out here and apply it on the practice field and just be very demanding of yourself each and every rep.”
Like the previous coaching staff, Johnson and Mullen see the size, skill and potential in the redshirt sophomore.
His strong passing arm has been sticking out this spring, but so have other aspects of his game, including the ability to make things happen with his legs and athletic ability.
“He definitely has a fantastic arm,” Johnson said. “He has the ability to make every throw. He’s shown some ability to extend plays and makes some plays off schedule. There have been times I’ve seen him throw the ball 75 yards in the air and put it on the money, and just extending and escaping sacks and finding a way to keep plays alive and making plays down the field.
“Generally, you see guys that are his size with that height … he’s exceptionally athletic to be that long. He has all the physical tools required to play this position at a high level for a long time.”
Franks appears to be the leader for the starting role, but the competition among the four quarterbacks has only just begun.
Franks is being pushed hard by Trask, a redshirt sophomore with a big arm, and the two young quarterbacks, Jones and Allen, a redshirt freshman.
“Those guys, they all have flashed and shown some ability to make some big plays,” Johnson said. “They’re exceptional throwers of the football.”
Johnson said Trask made one of exceptional throws in Monday’s practice.
“He had one today where he threw off a play-action pass and it was a great read, he got to No. 3 in his progression and put it right on the guy in stride for a touchdown,” he said.
“Kyle’s done a great job with the reps that he’s had. He’s making plays. You definitely see the improvement in him from practice one to practice six.”
Jones, who is only 17 years old, is the only true dual-threat quarterback in the group. He’s struggled some with his accuracy, but Johnson said he has a considerable upside and is doing a good job competing with the others.
“He’s done some things that have flashed and shown why he was so coveted as a recruit,” Johnson said. “The biggest thing is just his confidence of coming in and knowing what to do and not being overwhelmed by the level of competition. He’s competed no matter what group he’s going with, whether it’s the ones, the twos or the threes.
“He’s known what to do. He’s been very, very eager in the meeting room as well. So I’m excited to watch his continued development.”
NOTE: Junior wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland missed practice again with a nagging hamstring injury. He’s day-to-day.