Jim McElwain may have said that there’s no separation between the candidates vying for the Gators’ starting quarterback job. But the eyes tell a different story.
Luke Del Rio has, by all accounts, been the front runner for the job ever since the offseason began on January 2nd. Players and coaches alike have gushed about the various things he does that makes him stand out. So: what exactly are those things?
The first thing most coaches look for in a quarterback is how they’ll be able to lead their team, and Del Rio can certainly check that off. His teammates won’t waste any time telling you how hard he works, how much time he puts in, and how grounded he is. Dismiss all that as a prerequisite for a transfer QB if you want, but the fact that he was able to win them all over enough to rave about him like that so quickly speaks volumes in itself. The best leaders lead by example, and Del Rio does.
McElwain, of course, recruited Del Rio to Alabama. He left before Del Rio got there, but remembered all this about him from his time recruiting him. On the flip side, Del Rio has made some noticeable improvements with the physical components of being a quarterback.
Del Rio never had the biggest arm, and never will, but the brain that comes with it is very intelligent. You can translate that statement as such: Del Rio won’t win the Heisman, but he could win a ring. He doesn’t have to put up Heisman type numbers in order for Florida to succeed; he just has to make smart decisions and make one or two big plays a game, a la Greg McElroy in 2009 at Alabama. Del Rio knows he’s equipped with a tremendous defense and doesn’t have to throw for 400 yards a game in order to win. And the way he’s played in practice so far reflects that understanding.
Coaches have developed an appreciation for the way Del Rio selects his receiver. He goes through his progressions extremely quickly and isn’t afraid to dump it off to his check down option. He’s also made strides in the types of ball he throws in different situations, recognizing when to throw a laser, when to lob one, and when to make an intermediate type of throw. And on top of all that, he’s pretty accurate, often fitting balls into small windows and hitting his receivers right in stride.
This, of course, is all due in part to him being at Florida an extra year as a redshirt and getting quite a head start on the playbook. Then again, Treon Harris struggled mightily with never could do this very well in his two years at Florida. So if nothing else, Florida is getting a major upgrade in the intelligence and decision making departments if Del Rio continues to impress and eventually wins the job.
Which logic says he’ll do.
Feleipe Franks throws the ball much harder than Del Rio, but is very inaccurate at times and often doesn’t make good decisions. Don’t get me wrong, this kid’s potential is through the roof and could someday be a hero. It’s just that he’s young, and he isn’t starting material right now. The other candidate in the mix is Austin Appleby, but he hasn’t done a whole lot to impress, either. His biggest problem at Purdue was turning the ball over, and, well, spring practices are reflecting that.
So McElwain can play any sort of mind game with the media that he likes, but he isn’t fooling me, and he shouldn’t fool you. Barring an injury, Luke Del Rio will be the guy for Florida this fall.