Whether Malik Zaire starts, comes off the bench or doesn’t play at all, he’s going to go down as a Jim McElwain success story at Florida.
He hasn’t taken a snap in a game yet, but Zaire has already turned out to be an invaluable addition for the Gators. His presence — in the quarterback room and on the practice field — has elevated the play of the other quarterbacks.
Several players stressed that to members of the media earlier this week, saying there has been a noticeable change in redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and junior Luke Del Rio in terms of demeanor, approach and confidence. Wide receiver Brandon Powell said Franks is a different person and quarterback than he was a year ago, a guy who appears capable of handling the starting role now.
“I mean, competition brings out the best in everybody, so yes,” junior offensive tackle Martez Ivey said, when asked if Zaire has elevated the play of the other QBs.
Zaire, Franks and Del Rio are locked in a tight competition for the starting role that is still too close to call. I have a feeling Franks is going to win the job, but I’m also hearing really good things about Zaire and Del Rio. Zaire brings another dimension to the offense with his ability to make plays, while Del Rio knows the offense and where to go with the ball as well as offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. I doubt McElwain is going to name a starter much earlier than the start of game week.
Even when McElwain names his starter, I would not be surprised to see him play two quarterbacks early in the season like he did with Will Grier and Treon Harris in 2015. This is a competition that will be ongoing throughout the season. That’s a good thing.
Some shy away from competition. It’s obvious that Franks and Del Rio have not. They have welcomed it, welcomed the challenge of the graduate transfer from Notre Dame.
When the whole Zaire thing was going down earlier this summer, a lot of people were asking me why McElwain wanted to bring him here when he had two young quarterbacks (Franks and Kyle Trask) he was trying to develop.
Here’s why he did it: Zaire’s presence has made the other quarterbacks (and the quarterback position) better.