GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Now that Feleipe Franks is reinstalled as Florida’s starting quarterback following Luke Del Rio’s season-ending injury, the scrutiny of the redshirt freshman has resumed in full.
From fans, from media and really anybody with a social media platform and an interest in Gators football.
The questions were flying Monday at coach Jim McElwain and Franks’ Florida teammates about the young QB’s perceived penchant for staring down his intended receiver, the pre-snap stuff that he doesn’t do as well as the veteran Del Rio, etc.
When it came his turn to answer those questions, redshirt freshman left guard Brett Heggie opted to add some perspective on his equally young teammate.
“Feleipe’s a talented kid. … He’s my age so a lot of pressure, but I think he handles it really well,” Heggie said. “His demeanor and everything about him, he handles it really well. And I think his talent and his preparation, how hard he works, he’s going to be just fine.”
Franks is just four games into his collegiate career. He’s made three starts and been yanked out of two of them. Last week he was the one coming off the bench to take over, after Del Rio injured his collarbone late in the second quarter. No, the aforementioned flaws in his game are not unusual for a first-year player.
Franks finished 10-of-14 passing for 185 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in No. 21 Florida’s 38-24 win over Vanderbilt. He provided an immediate spark with a 49-yard completion to Tyrie Cleveland that set a game-tying field goal in the final minute of the first half and he had some other nice passes on the team’s second-half touchdown drives.
But, yeah, he also threw two passes that could have been intercepted in the red zone and had other hiccups.
“I think just some more (comfort) with his progressions and where he’s got to go, moving the safeties with his eyes a little bit more. Things obviously we’re constantly working on,” McElwain said in giving his own evaluation.
“I don’t know whether it’s an issue. It is what it is. It’s something you’ve got to continue to work on. A lot of young quarterbacks sometimes stay on one side maybe too long or whatever that might be. And, yet, the big thing is being able to move people with your eyes is really the big piece.”
Franks is not being made available for interviews this week as Florida wants to minimize the pressure on its young quarterback leading into a pivotal game against LSU, a program to which Franks was committed for more than a year before flipping to the Gators.
So it was up to his coach and teammates to field the questions Monday.
“Again, I think that will just come with game reps. He does it in practice fine, but you kind of get in the game and kind of just forget what you were taught a little bit,” wide receiver Josh Hammond said of Franks staring down his targets. “I think he’ll be fine, just keep repping that, I think he’ll finally get it together. And when it does start clicking I think our offense, the sky’s the limit once he finally gets it all together and we’ll be able to score a lot of points.”
A main reason the coaches made the change to Del Rio late in the Kentucky game two weeks ago and then named him the starter heading into last week was for the command and comfort he brought to the line of scrimmage, the smoothness with which the offense operated with him at the helm.
Florida indeed looked more disjointed in the second half Saturday, but it didn’t affect the outcome. Either Franks or center T.J. McCoy were off on a snap that quashed a running play, the Gators drew back-to-back false start penalties on third-and-1 and later had an apparent miscommunication on a high snap close to the goal line that resulted in a loss of 2 yards.
Greg McElroy, a former Alabama quarterback when McElwain was the offensive coordinator there, was the color analyst for the ESPN broadcast and suggested that Franks’ cadence to his lineman had likely contributed to the consecutive false start penalties and that McCoy must have thought his QB was under center rather than in the shotgun on that high snap.
McElwain was asked specifically about those three plays Monday and said Franks was not to blame.
“No, it’s not his fault at all. It’s the guys around him,” he said.
Florida scored a touchdown nonetheless on that drive to take a two-touchdown lead.
Ultimately, Franks gave the Gators all they needed Saturday, but it stands to reason tougher opponents will further magnify whatever pre-snap issues exist.
Hammond hinted at that when asked what he thinks the next step is for Franks in his development.
“I think he’s fine. I think the biggest thing would probably just be taking on more of a leadership role in the huddle, just forcing guys to get on the ball fast and line up quicker so we that don’t take those unforced penalties or delay of games or the stupid penalties that we’ve had in the past that really have hurt us,” he said. “I think that’s just the little things that he’ll get with game experience and getting game reps that will excel in the future once he gets a lot more game snaps.”
McElwain was asked the same question.
“I think his command,” he said of what he improvement he wants to see from Franks. “I thought we played with a little bit more tempo when he was in there (than in previous games). We’ve got to continue to do that. You know, just keep growing with it and let’s just get a little bit better at all positions each week.”
Florida has seemingly done that since it’s woeful season-opening loss to Michigan.
The offensive line started to breakout in the fourth quarter two weeks ago against Kentucky and took the next step last Saturday, while the running backs took full advantage with their best game in totaling 218 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns.
It was just the second time that Florida had topped 450 offensive yards (467) in SEC play in McElwain’s three seasons.
So the signs of growth are there, but the Gators are still looking for stability at the quarterback spot after making an in-game switch in three of the first four games.
This last one was out of necessity with Del Rio’s injury, and the Gators in turn need Franks to keep developing and growing each week to form a more complete package with his big arm and the poise and savvy of the guy he now replaces.
“Feleipe has been growing ever since the first game till now. I feel like he’s going to get even better and better each week as the games go by,” right tackle Jawaan Taylor said. “The way he practices and the hard work he puts in, he’s just going to keep growing.”
And he has to for the Gators to reach their potential this fall.
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