McElwain preparing for quarterback battle

Every starting position will be open when the Gators begin spring practice, but all eyes will be on the quarterbacks.

A new coaching staff brings a clean slate. That happens for players on both sides of the football when the Gators open practice in the spring, but there were even some glimpses of it in Florida’s Birmingham Bowl win over East Carolina. Adam Lane broke out while rushing for 109 yards and being named the game’s MVP. Ahmad Fulwood had an 86-yard touchdown catch, and other young, underused players showed their skillset.

The quarterback position was the interesting one. Treon Harris started the final six games of the season but completed less than 50 percent of his passes and missed open receivers in Birmingham. Jeff Driskel took over for Harris after an injury, but even after Harris was cleared, Driskel stayed in and finished his final game at Florida.

So what will happen when spring ball opens?

There are still plenty of questions. With Driskel playing his final season of eligibility at Louisiana Tech, Harris goes into the spring as the most experienced quarterback on the Florida roster with six games under his belt. Will Grier, who redshirted last season to add weight, will be thrown into the mix for the spring in what looks like a two-headed quarterback race. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said that they won’t hold anyone out from competing for the job, but Grier and Harris look like the two best bets heading into the spring.

“The great teams that I’ve been a part of all have competition at every position,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “If you don’t have competition or someone nipping at your heels, you don’t have somebody making you better every single day. The one thing I do know is that every day we wake up, we either get better or we get worse. We never stay the same.”

McElwain had a chance to watch the Gators practice in Gainesville before they left for Birmingham to play in the bowl game. Interim head coach D.J. Durkin, who has since become the defensive coordinator for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, admitted that players had some extra motivation knowing that their future head coach was standing on the sideline watching.

He won’t get an accurate feel until he gets on the practice field with the quarterbacks in the spring. McElwain and his staff will watch the film from last season and get an idea of what the players looked like last year, but that won’t play much into their mindset on who will start at any position next year.

“My eyes are wide open with every position on the team,” McElwain said. As I explained to them I don’t care about history right now. You’ve got an opportunity, blank slate.”

That slate will also be determined with what happens off the field. McElwain wants to spend time off the field with his quarterbacks, watching how they handle themselves as leaders in the meeting rooms and weight room. Leadership, as McElwain has mentioned since day one, is an important part of playing quarterback in his offense.

“I’ve got to see how these guys handle the team a little bit when we get going with the offseason things that we do from a leadership standpoint,” McElwain said.

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