Strengths: I think the strengths of this unit require a bit of relativity when talking about them. Not that it was all Treon Harris’ fault at the end of the year, but a better option was almost automatic to start 2016.
When talking about the quarterbacks we have to start with Del Rio. I will be honest and say I had a bunch of reservations going into the spring and really all last fall when people talked up Del Rio. After catching quite about of him this spring and under the lights in the spring game, my thoughts have changed tremendously.
From the outside, people will see walk-on quarterback winning the job. From the inside, we know he has a year of experience in the offense when without playing. He also has another year (from Alabama) when he was coached by offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier at Alabama. He also was a scholarship quarterback at Oregon State. So, Del Rio isn’t your typical first year walk-on quarterback.
The biggest asset Del Rio will bring is knowing the offense. That is 80% or more of the battle in a Jim McElwain attack. The fact that he can make most of, if not all, the throws makes him an almost ideal fit. His 10-11 for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game went a long way in making folks in Gator nation feel a lot better about the position.
The staff also brought in a veteran senior transfer in Appleby. Playing on a team devoid of talent, we don’t see the big time numbers and efficiency that you would like. But, Appleby provides a guy that has been at war in big time football and played on the big stage. He has a very good arm and he isn’t afraid to stick the ball in there if he has to. No way that Appleby sits idly by and doesn’t challenge for the job. He didn’t transfer to Florida to sit on the bench.
Florida also signed two freshmen in the 2016 class and both arrived in January after graduating from high school early. Feleipe Franks has a lot of the high school accolades including his status as an Army All-American, while Kyle Trask comes in way under the radar as a guy that didn’t even start for his high school team.
In Franks’ case, he struggled at times this spring as he was learning the offense. He’s got a strong arm and loves to throw the deep ball. A redshirt would do him well, but he too isn’t going to sit by and not try and challenge to get on the field.
Don’t let Trask’s role in high school fool you. The young man was playing behind a talented athlete that the coach liked to allow run or pass, it was the style of offense the coach at Manville, Texas went with. Trask has as good or better arm than anyone on campus. He is a prototype passer with elite size. He performed well this spring given it was his first few months on campus.
I think the biggest strength of the position is the competition itself. That just wasn’t there in 2015 and now there are four capable arms that McElwain and Nussmeier can go to if necessary.
Weaknesses: The glaring weakness is no experience in game action in this offense. All four quarterbacks weren’t around to play for Florida a year ago and so whoever is on the field will be doing it for the first time. With that in mind, you would think the older guys would be much better options this season.
Comparison to 2015: I think when most Gator fans look back at last year they see a tale of two quarterbacks. They see a struggling Treon Harris as opposed to a Will Grier that played extremely well. Well there is a little bit of a misnomer in the latter. Grier performed lights out in the latter part of the 4th quarter of the Tennessee game and the entire Ole Miss game. Before that, he was a pretty good game manager type who would throw for a high percentage but the Gators weren’t scoring points.
At minimum we should see that out of Del Rio. But, I think one of the major differences we will see is in the surrounding cast around the quarterback position. Every other position on offense should be improved in 2016 outside of maybe tight end. Even the tight ends on the field will be more physically talented. All of that help should really allow the quarterback to play better. We should see more big plays, maybe more efficiency, etc. It is a cumulative effect that McElwain talks a lot about when he talks about how his quarterbacks perform.