Matt Cashore /

One man’s thoughts on Malik Zaire’s role with Gators

There was a long wait, but the inevitable happened last week when the SEC changed the grad-transfer rule and Notre dame grad transfer Malik Zaire then made it clear he was headed to Florida to play football next year. Most everybody expected that to happen, but what isn’t exactly clear is the role that Zaire will play in 2017.

We all know that head coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier are willing to play transfer quarterbacks. Both guys that played every snap at the position in 2016 were transfers and one (Austin Appleby) that was a grad-transfer that arrived in January before the season.

One difference here is the fact that Zaire won’t arrive at Florida until later this month. Appleby had almost seven months advance on the situation compared to Zaire.

While Luke Del Rio started the season a year ago as a transfer, he was in Gainesville and going to practices a full year and a half before the first football game he started. There was nobody else on the roster with anywhere near that amount of time on campus.

Now the Gators have three quarterbacks on campus with at least a year and a half on campus… Del Rio, and redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. That is a lot of experience, even if non-game experience, that has to be factored in when we look at the way the position is going to

This is a big part in why I believe that Zaire will mainly be a compliment to one of the redshirt freshmen that end up running the offense as the starter.

Right now the guy in the front of the pack is Franks. When Del Rio went down with injury last season and Appleby was the starter, Franks was the one that was told to be ready in case something went wrong with Appleby. While that never happened, Franks remained in front and is now with Appleby off to the NFL and Del Rio on the mend from double shoulder and knee injuries.

But, as any coach will say, the job is still open in terms of the competition.

"Feleipe is the guy right now and we'll see from there,” McElwain said earlier this summer. “At the same time whoever gives us the best opportunity to win a game is going to be the quarterback."

Trask is right there in the battle, and now so will be Zaire. While I believe that Franks has all the time in the system that practice afford and that is a big deal I also believe that Zaire will be given the chance to compete for it. So it isn’t totally a lock at this point.

There is also this other thing that is going on with the offense.

While McElwain won’t come out and say it specifically, they are looking add a dimension to the offense that a guy like Zaire can bring to the table. A quarterback that can not only hurt you with his arm, but provide some balance to the offense with his ability to run the ball and make things happen with his feet.

You want proof?

Well Zaire is one thing. How about freshman Kadarius Toney who despite being labeled an athlete when arriving at Florida, has remained at the quarterback position? Toney off of his athletic ability in the spring, was one of the stars of the extended practice session and remained at the position throughout.

He won’t likely be in the mix to start at the position, but Toney is certainly a candidate to line up behind center during the year.

The other big hint is the quarterbacks that the Gators are pursuing on the recruiting trail. The latest group of top targets at the position included Joe Milton (committed to Michigan), Jarren Williams (committed to Kentucky), Emory Jones (Ohio State), and Justin Fields (currently uncommitted). Fields early on emerged as the front runner because he has more of a pro-style arm, but all four would be classified as dual threat.

McElwain deflected the question when asked saying they are pursuing these four guys because they just happen to be the best quarterbacks out there.

"No, I don't know whether it's that as much as there's more now, just based on the crop that's out there,” he said when pressed on their pushing for an athletic quarterback in the 2018 class. “You see more of that.”

Then just as quick, McElwain made the case for getting a guy in there that can make a difference with his legs.

“The ability to really take some pressure off the offensive line when a guy can kind of get out of the way a little bit and isn't a sitting duck back there

In terms of Toney and his play during the spring, McElwain shed more light on the subject.

“Obviously he's a guy that can move around and he really forces those pass rushers to stay in their pass rush lanes otherwise you're going to be able to hurt them with your feet a little bit,” he said.

There is definitely a movement to go this direction at the position moving forward and Franks and Trask, along with Del Rio wouldn’t fit the style, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the best possibility for winning right now.

And that is where Zaire kind of moves this along. He will come in. He will compete for the starting job. If he doesn’t get it, I believe he will provide that change p that the offense is looking for and be a guy with maturity and a little experience that they don’t otherwise have on the roster. 

Fightin Gators Top Stories