One thing will be on everyone's mind during Florida's Friday night spring game, and that's the quarterbacks.
Sure, the Gators are looking to replace a wealth of talent at linebacker, in the secondary and along the defensive line, but who are we kidding? Fans, coaches, teammates and the media want to see what redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask can do with the majority of the reps in Friday's final spring practice.
Florida's quarterback position has been a black hole for statistics for the better part of the past decade, and if the Gators are going to take the necessary steps in the direction of becoming true SEC contenders under coach Jim McElwain, a quarterback has to step up.
Florida has to find a quarterback who can truly take hold of that position for the present and the future. Right now, it appears coaches think Franks or Trask can be that guy, with Franks taking a lead in the spring battle. “We should know a lot [about the quarterbacks during the spring game]," McElwain told reporters earlier this week. "I think it’s starting to sort itself out, and the natural question is, ‘Well, what’s sorting itself out?’ You’ll find out."
This game also serves as a chance at redemption for Franks. A year ago, the four-star early enrollee didn't exactly pass his spring game test. Admittedly, Franks said he was confused for most of last year's spring practices. The game was moving too fast for him, and he wasn't used to the meetings and watching film.
He was a kid who should have still been in high school, and his head was spinning. This was evident during a spring game in which he threw three interceptions. He rushed throws, couldn't figure out what Florida's defense was doing, and frankly (no pun intended), really didn't look like he knew what he was doing.
This spring, Franks has done a complete 180. He's leading the quarterback race, and he's looking good while doing it. He's had his hiccups here and there, with passes sailing past receivers and some troubling interceptions. But Franks is more comfortable with the offense. He's learning how to prepare better for practice, and most importantly, he's learning from his mistakes. He also has the kind of confidence you want in your quarterback. The former ESPN 300 member might have gotten off to a rough start, but a lot has changed for good in a year.
“It’s not just competing to be the quarterback at the University of Florida; I want to bring the swag back to Florida," Franks told ESPN in March. "I want to be the guy that the whole country is talking about. I have that in myself, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make everybody to realize that.”
It's one thing to do all that in shorts and non-contact jerseys, but his teammates are seeing a much more polished guy under center.
“Feleipe’s doing great," rising sophomore receiver Tyrie Cleveland told reporters this week. "This year, he knows the system better, he’s slowing down, making his reads better and not forcing anything. … [He’s] making those plays, making those reads, making those throws."
Now, this isn't to say that Trask is out of it. Trask might be a little behind going into the spring game, but he has a chance to make up some ground. For one, the kid can really spin the ball, which everyone saw in his superb spring-game showing last year. While Franks might have the stronger right arm, it's not like Trask has a noodle. Trask might throw an even prettier ball, and some around the program think he has more control.
However, he's struggled in tight situations, and he hasn't become the vocal guy you need at quarterback. As Franks has elevated his game in the past few practices, Trask hasn't done enough to stay with him. But a lot is on the line on Friday, as it will be over the summer and during fall camp.
Friday's spring game won't end the battle, but it will go a long way for one of these players. McElwain hopes it will give both guys momentum going into the true offseason.
“We have a body of work, plus what we do over the summer and into fall camp," McElwain said. "There again, it’s another opportunity, and that’s the way it’s got to be approached. I will say I’m excited how they’re playing. It’s been good; we’ve been able to stretch it really good.”