With the graduation of Austin Appleby and the injury to junior Luke Del Rio, Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are front and center with the quarterback competition this spring at Florida.
We are just two days into spring, but early returns from their teammates have been good about both quarterbacks.
“They have pretty much the same experience besides Luke Del Rio and I want to see how Luke looks when he comes back in full effect, but for the most part Trask and Feleipe are looking pretty good,” junior running back Jordan Scarlett said after the first practice.
"They both were trying to compete,” said senior receiver Brandon Powell. “They were both trying to make plays. That's what you want to see out of your quarterbacks… we'll see how it progresses."
Powell is a big part of an offense that returns a huge nucleus of the production from a year ago. It is an offense that is seeking to be much more productive than it has been and that starts with the quarterback position. They need a signal caller that isn’t afraid to make something happen and the expectation is that at least one of these two guys is going to have to take control in the fall.
"Before the spring, we talked to both of them and just told them to compete,” Powell said. “Just let the ball fly. Don't even think about it. Just let it fly. (We) saw that today. They were making plays. That's what we want to see."
Unofficially, Franks has been the leader in the clubhouse to start the spring. When the 2016 season ended, and with Luke Del Rio on the shelf with his injury, Franks was going to be the guy that was called in to play if something happened to starter Appleby.
Franks has more of a soft touch on his passes and with that he has an easy-to-catch deep ball. Powell sees that in the young man.
“You know I think he throws a good deep ball,” Powell said of Franks. “He makes you run for it. That’s all I see out there running routes.”
The accuracy paid off in the first fastball period of the spring when Franks moved the offense from midfield and hit Tyrie Cleveland on a midrange shot for a touchdown.
"We always just tell the young quarterbacks to just throw the ball,” Powell said. “That's it. We have athletes that make plays. That's what he did. He threw the ball and one of our athletes made a play."
One of the things that Franks had to work on was throwing the ball up carelessly. He arrived on campus a year ago and was behind. He played in the spring game and threw three interceptions, including two that went for touchdowns in the opposite direction. He ended the spring game driving the offense the length of a field for a touchdown.
Scarlett says that Franks has done a great job of understanding this weakness and working on it.
“From when he first got here, he didn't want to take care of the ball as much, he didn't realize college football is a lot faster,” the Gators leading rusher said. “But now he's making smarter decisions with the football and I like it."
Trask throws more of a dart. He can make those across the field throws on a rope that sometimes have to be made in tight windows. His physical tools are up there with anyone. His teammates would like to see a more from him in terms of sounding off when he needs to.
"Trask, he's a very patient thrower and he's got a good arm,” Scarlett said. “I just think that he needs to bring on a more leadership role and get more vocal like Feleipe and then he'll be good."
Both have grown tremendously from a year ago when they arrived as true freshmen in January. Both competed with the older guys to try and get on the field, but they had so much to learn. The process has helped them to a point where the teammates are really starting to believe.
“Tempo,” was the answer when junior starting left tackle Martez Ivey was asked what has been the biggest learning curve the two young arms have faced. “Definitely the tempo of the game and just the knowledge. But they’ve got it down. I don’t worry about that, but they’ve got to get their first-game jitters out, and after that there’s no ceiling for them. The sky’s the limit.”
Like his teammates, Ivey isn’t ready to pick between the two, but believes both can throw with the best of them.
“Incredible arms,” Ivey said. “I don’t know who has the best one, that’s tough. I don’t know. But like I said when I’m on that line it don’t matter who’s back there. I trust them. I’m going to give my all for them. I’ll sell out for them because I know they know what they’re doing. They know their reads. They know their (hot reads) and I know they’re going get the ball there.”
Powell knows Franks and Trask are much farther ahead than they were, even since the season ended.
"You can tell they both studied the playbook. They both took time out of their days to get better and practice throwing. They knew where to go with the ball fast. That was a good thing to see today. I hope they can keep it up for the rest of spring."
"They have shown more confidence. You know they aren't nervous back there like they were last year around this time. You hope they build on that as the spring keeps going."
The defensive guys are seeing the progression as well. Senior corner Duke Dawson has been around a while and played a lot of football for the Gators and at a high level. He also understands that an offense that has grown up in the last couple of years is full of guys that can help.
“You see Feleipe and Trask both making good decisions, making reads, making checks,” Dawson said. “Just understanding what they have to do. Having everyone come together around those guys and be positive with them, because those guys are going to be great.”
So who will it be? That is what spring and fall practices are for.
"Just like everyone else on the team, you have to compete,” Powell said. “No job is safe. Just like everyone else on the team -- receivers, linemen, quarterbacks -- you just have to compete. Whoever wins the job, wins the job."