Feleipe Franks is THE guy, sort of for the Gators

By the time the Orange and Blue game was played on a chilly Friday night at The Swamp before an estimated crowd of 48,000, all the heavy lifting had already been done. It’s not like this facsimile of a football game actually decided who will and who won’t play for the Florida Gators in the fall.

If you really want to know the truth, nearly every position that was up for grabs heading into spring practice a month ago will still be up for grabs when the Gators reconvene for fall practice to prep for the September 2 season opener with Michigan at Jerry’s World in Arlington, Texas. What happened in the spring helped some, hurt some others and served as measuring stick for nearly everyone on the roster. There is more work to be done and the guys who work the hardest in the summer are going to distance themselves in August to earn their places on the field.

Especially at quarterback.

For the moment, at least, Feleipe Franks is the guy. From all reports we’ve gotten during the past month, he has been the #1 guy and from what we saw Friday, he will head into the offseason with the firmest grip on the position. He was 8-14 for 119 yards and a TD in the Orange and Blue game. The 16-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callawaywas somewhat of a joke since it was against a Blue secondary made up of walkons who (a) didn’t know their assignments well and (b) weren’t good enough athletes to challenge Callaway.

Forget that throw and focus only on a 46-yard bomb he threw to Josh Hammond on the fourth play of the game. We haven’t seen too many throws like that in the last few years. It was on time, laser accurate and spiraling without a hint of a wobble. Hammond caught it in stride and was knocked out of bounds at the Blue 18 yard line.

That is the kind of throw you need to win games in the Southeastern Conference which will once again see a bunch of its talented corners and safeties get their tickets punched so they can play for pay when the NFL drafts in May. In the SEC you better be able to throw the ball into tight windows and you better be able to go deep. As we’ve learned the last few years at UF, if you can’t make the deep throws and stretch a defense, your offense is going to see a lot of 8-man fronts.

If Franks can make those kind of throws consistently in the fall, you can forget about the 8-man fronts and you’ll see safeties playing 20 yards back instead of so close they can reach out and touch someone on the line of scrimmage. If he can make those throws consistently then Florida’s offense no doubt should finish in the top 100 nationally.

Now that’s a concept.

Franks had a throw he would take back if only he could. With a pass rush staring him in the face, he tried to sidearm the ball out into the flat. That’s the kind of throw Franks likely could get away with at Wakulla County High School. In the SEC it’s the kind of throw that results in six points for the other team.

Other than that throw it was a good enough performance for Franks. If you watched the game, then there is no doubt in your mind he’s the #1 guy. After the game, head ball coach Jim McElwain gave what is probably as close as he will come to a ringing endorsement.

“I think he’s ahead,” McElwain said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

It’s tricky when Mac says something like that. He injected the word “think” in there and then he said “no doubt.” Which one is it: That Mac thinks Franks is ahead of the other quarterbacks or there is “no doubt” that he is the guy moving forward?

With Mac you never know for sure, which is probably why he offered up this qualifier: “We’ll find out over the summer. Still got phase four, five and six to go. So, we’re halfway there.”

In other words, McElwain has seen enough to believe he’s got his quarterback for the next 3-4 years but only if Ball Park Franks continues to learn on the job and make improvement his motto for his very existence on the football field. Think back for a moment to last year’s spring game. Franks was – how to say this nicely? – terrible. Just calling him terrible would be kind, but a year makes a difference and Franks is certainly light years ahead of where he was.

“There is a tremendous difference in my confidence from last year to this year,” Franks said Friday night.

That’s an understatement.

Now it’s on to those next three phases – four, five and six McElwain called them which is coach speak for Summer A, Summer B and August. In other words, Franks has to prove in those three phases that he’s matured enough and is ready to take on Southeastern Conference defenses. For the most part, he’ll have to do it on his own since contact with coaches is extremely limited until August and since this isn’t like basketball where 10 guys can go shirts and skins five games a day, seven days a week to get better. There won’t be any pass rushers coming at Franks with fangs bared and foam dripping from the corners of their mouths in the hot summer months and even in August when the quarterbacks will wear non-contact jerseys. What happens when he takes that first big hit from a pass rusher intent on knocking him into next week? What happens when he throws that first pick or fumbles the ball? Can he put a bad play in the back of his mind and simply move on? Or does he dwell on it? How will he handle success? Just as many quarterbacks are spoiled by success as are crushed by failure. Those things we won’t know for awhile and can’t know from the summer months.

What Franks has to do between now and the Michigan game is develop timing with receivers, watch a ton of film and grow comfortable with all the mental preparation it will take to be a decent starting QB in the SEC. This part of his development is all about self-motivation. If he’s the type that wakes up and views  each day as an opportunity to get better, then Florida might have found its quarterback.

We won’t know for sure, however, until the pads go on and the games really count if Franks is the quarterback the Gator Nation has been begging for since that Tebow guy hung his orange and blue jersey on a locker room hook and walked away. So for at least until the Michigan game kicks off in September, dwell on that 46-yard pass to Josh Hammond. If Franks can do that consistently then he is the quarterback version of Moses ready to lead Florida’s enslaved offense into the promised land.

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