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It’s been clear in recent weeks that Feleipe Franks has gained separation on fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Trask in the quarterback battle, but after Friday night’s Orange & Blue Debut, Florida head coach Jim McElwain reiterated that Franks is ahead.
“There’s no doubt about it,” McElwain added. “His consistency, probably a little bit of his escapability believe it or not, which helps. He’s kind of a sneaky athlete. I thought that that was something that kind of helped him.”
Asked whether anything could change regarding the quarterback race, McElwain replied, “We’ll find out over the summer. Still got phase four, five and six to go. So, we’re halfway there.”
McElwain said he felt Franks, who finished 8-of-14 passing for 119 yards and a touchdown in one half of action on five drives, “played decent.” However, it was clear after Friday night’s spring game that Franks is the quarterback to beat for the starting job heading into the summer, even if watching him play simply against the second-team defense doesn't give us the greatest gauge.
Franks led the offense to a touchdown on the opening drive, tossing a 46-yard pass in play action down the right sideline to Joshua Hammond to set up a score on a run by Jordan Scarlett, despite throwing behind Hammond a play after his 46-yard grab.
Although Franks’ next two drives working with the first-team offense against the 2’s on defense ended in a punt and a field goal after missed opportunities in the red zone, he bounced back to close the half with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway.
“That's just a miscommunication on my part on the Scarlett throw, but that's why we have the summer to improve on,” Franks said of an overthrown ball in the flat to Jordan Scarlett in the second quarter.
“Obviously a confidence booster,” he added about the 46-yard pass to Hammond. “I think a big role in the quarterback position is just having the confidence. I think for me personally I think that was a confidence booster.”
Franks’ teammates were impressed with what he brought to the table Friday night.
“He did awesome,” sophomore cornerback Chauncey Gardner said. “Got the right reads, got the ball to the right guys, drove the ball down, converted on third down and made sure to keep the offense moving and keep them hot. So he did pretty good to me. I didn’t see any flaws. He improved from day 1 like everybody improved. You can see, as a team, we’re going up. We just leaning on him to keep going.”
Right tackle Fred Johnson added: "I think he grew. He grew. He came in last year, freshman, you don't know the playbook like that. But this year you see he really took it seriously and, like, everything he mess up on he don't try to make the same mistakes twice. You could see it really helped him out with assignments and stuff like that. So he's been good.”
While Franks looked calm and collected running the offense – especially compared to last year, when he threw three interceptions on his first four throws in the spring game – Trask didn’t have as smooth of a performance, going 6-of-15 passing for 66 yards and an interception on six drives. Granted, he faced the first-team defense for most of his time on the field Friday night, but Trask didn’t look nearly as settled in as Franks. However, he did leading a scoring drive with the first-team offense after throwing a pick to the first-team defense.
Regardless, Franks now exits the spring ahead in the battle – and it’s a challenge this offseason that Trask will be embracing.
"I think just keeping my head low and just keep grinding,” Trask said. “It's going to be a dogfight until the very end. So all I've got to do is keep working my tail off. … I think that whatever the coaches want to do. All I can do is control what I can control, so I'm just going to keep working and do what I can do."
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— Landon Watnick (@LandonWatnick) April 8, 2017