Here we are at the end of the spring and Florida coach Dan Mullen has not officially named a starting quarterback yet. And he’s not going to anytime soon, if ever.
But he already knows, the players already know, everyone already knows who it is. Whether the season started today or in three weeks or in 133 days (Aug. 24), junior Feleipe Franks is going to be the starting quarterback for the Gators.
After closing out the 2018 season on a confidence-building roll, Franks has solidified his hold on the position — and on this team — with a strong spring.
Mullen declared before the start of drills that there would be an open competition at quarterback, just like at every other position on the team. At the time, Franks said he welcomed the competition, knowing it would only make him and the other quarterbacks better.
That’s apparently what’s happened.
Franks has improved, for sure, according to quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson.
“He’s had a tremendous spring,” Johnson said. “Unbelievable work ethic and he has a great competitive spirit about him. He’s just starting to understand every aspect of the game and using everything he has in his tool bag to elevate his play, to elevate the play of others around him and put us in a position to go win games.
“He’s grown in every aspect, both on and off the field, and it’s shown in his preparation and how he attacks, just his comfort level in the system. He’s getting to the point of understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing. He’s starting to put himself in the position to elevate others as well.”
Franks is still developing under Mullen and Johnson. This spring, the focus has been on improving his accuracy and tightening his throwing motion. The two go hand in hand, Johnson said, and Franks has made progress with both.
“The mechanical stuff, obviously, you only get 15 days out here with him with a ball, so there’s only so much mechanical stuff you can try to work on,” Johnson said. At the same time the fact that he understands and knows where to go with the football helps him get the ball out quicker, which in turn is allowing him to put guys in positions to make plays and be more accurate with the ball.
“(His accuracy) has really improved. A lot of that has to do with him understanding where people need to be, having that clock in his head and understanding the timing of the play and how it all fits together.
Then realizing that this game is just a series of 22 people fitting together and how it fits.”
In his first season under Mullen and Johnson, Franks showed steady improvement from game to game. Then, over the last four games last season, Franks seemed to take a quantum leap in his development.
In victories over South Carolina, Idaho, Florida State and Michigan, Franks combined to complete 63 of 90 passes for 862 yards and eight touchdowns, with zero interceptions.
He clearly has become comfortable in Mullen’s offense, and that comfort level appears to have only grown this spring.
“I’ve been more comfortable in everything I’ve been doing, whether it be watching film or up there (in the coaches’ office) just trying to learn from Coach Johnson and Coach Mullen,” Franks said. “Or even just out here on the field, being a leader, being more comfortable making throws, just knowing the offense and being just comfortable all around.
“Your comfort level comes with time and experience. I feel totally comfortable in what I’m doing, just making reads and stuff like that.”
His strong finish last season seemed to start with his legs. He became not only a willing runner, but a physical and aggressive one in those final four games, which seemed to improve his overall play.
In those four games, Franks rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns. In the 41-15 win over Michigan, he rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown.
“He understands (running can make him better overall). Absolutely,” Johnson said. “He made that very evident toward the end of the year. The understanding that he’s using everything he has to get the most out of his potential.
“As an offense, what you want to do is make defenses have to prepare and defend every aspect and every player and every player’s strengths. What we want to do is highlight that and put him in a position to be successful.”
Franks will be in a non-contact jersey for Saturday’s spring game, along with the other quarterbacks, so the running aspect of his game likely will not be on display. But the other aspects, the improved aspects, should be visible to all today in The Swamp.
“He has great physical tools,” Johnson said. “Unbelievable physical tools in terms of his ability and athletic ability, ability to throw the football, to do what he wants with the ball in terms of being able to drive it and throw it with touch. He has a ton of arm talent. That obviously helps.
“And then he’s just such a competitive kid by nature. He has an unbelievable edge about him, a competitive nature that he wants to go out there and be the best, to compete at a high level each and every week. I’ve been proud of him, of how he’s handled everything.
Obviously, we’ve still got some work to do, but he’s definitely moving in the right direction.”
What: Orange & Blue Game
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Tickets: Free admission
TV: SEC Network Alternate Channel at 1 p.m.
Radio: 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM, AM-850
Today’s game questions
1. Will quarterback Feleipe Franks’ strong spring be reflected in his play?
2. Who plays better, Kyle Trask or redshirt freshman Emory Jones?
3. How big of a factor will all the inexperience among the offensive linemen be?
4. Will any of the early enrollees stand out?
5. Can the offenses generate some explosive plays against defenses that likely will be limited in the number of blitzes and stunts?
Click back Monday for Robbie Andreu’s answers