By MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Jim McElwain hasn’t settled on a starting quarterback. He hasn’t even pared down the three-man competition.
McElwain said Wednesday that fourth-year junior Luke Del Rio, redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and graduate transfer Malik Zaire will play this season, maybe even in next week’s season opener against No. 11 Michigan.
“You’re going to see a bunch of them in there playing,” McElwain said. “The three guys have done a really good job. I think there’s some things that they all bring to the table that are really good. Now the key to us is putting them in those positions, you know, that play to their strengths.
“Will all play? I don’t know yet. Will a couple of them play? I don’t know yet. I know we will have somebody at the position.”
McElwain insisted he’s not playing games with the Wolverines or trying to gain a game-planning advantage. He simply suggested that none of the three has become a clear-cut choice for the 17th-ranked Gators.
“Ultimately the guy that the team moves with the best,” he said. “The guys that create positive plays on third down and get the ball in the end zone. That’s kind of where we’re at.”
Del Rio, a college journeyman and the son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, started six games last season before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury in a loss at Arkansas in November. He had offseason surgery on both shoulders and missed all of spring practice. He got back in the mix last month and wants to prove doubters wrong.
“My arm is 100 percent healthy,” he said last week. “I found it pretty ridiculous that fans are saying I had a noodle arm when I was throwing the ball 80 yards in the first game. So they have the memory of a goldfish I guess.
“I’ve never had like a ridiculous arm like Feleipe has a ridiculous arm. But I’ve always had a pretty adequate arm. I’ve been able to make every throw on time. It’s the first time in my life I’ve heard, ‘You don’t have a strong arm.’ So whatever.”
Franks has been the penciled-in starter for months, maybe even a year. A four-star recruit with prototypical size (6-foot-6, 238 pounds) and arm strength, he sat out last year while learning the offense and bulking up. He certainly looks the part now, but the Gators may not really want to rely on Franks to make his first career start away from home and in front of 100,000 fans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Gators added Zaire to the mix in June, a pretty clear indication that McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier weren’t completely satisfied with their quarterback situation.
The Notre Dame graduate missed most of the 2015 season because of a broken ankle and lost his starting job to DeShone Kizer in the 2016 season opener. Zaire threw for 816 yards and six touchdowns in three seasons in South Bend, Indiana.
Zaire could be relegated to option and zone-read plays with the Gators. For now, though, he remains in an unsettled situation.
“Obviously it’s not ideal,” Zaire said. “I don’t think anybody in the quarterback room wants that. But at the end of the day, you just got to do what coach wants. I feel like coach should be confident enough to stick with a guy and be able to roll with that guy because that’s best for the team. When you have all these quarterbacks, you still have none at the end of the day.
“Being decisive, just like how quarterbacks have to be on the field, is (what’s) most important for this team’s success. … I just leave it up to those coaches to make the great decisions that they do. That’s why they get paid the big bucks. I just play my game and know I’ll be ready when my number’s called.”
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