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Finding a QB at Florida is a slow process

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – When it comes to restoring relevancy to Florida’s program, new coach Jim McElwain understands that finding a guy to throw the ball is pretty high on his to-do list in Year 1.

But if Gators fans are looking for a resolution at the quarterback spot anytime soon, don’t hold your breath. As much as Florida fans would like some sort of stability and hope at a position that has wreaked of mediocrity for years, McElwain, who has now officially crossed the halfway point of spring practice in Gainesville, wants it even more.

However, he understands that he has to be incredibly patient with this process, and while patience isn’t exactly a strong suit for Gator Nation, an expiration date can't be put on this battle just yet.

“We’ve got a lot yet to discover,” McElwain said of Florida’s quarterback battle. “It’ll happen, in time.”

The main contenders are sophomore Treon Harris, who started Florida’s final six games last season (1,019 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions), and redshirt freshman Will Grier, who took last season to get over a back injury and add some bulk. And hanging around is third-year walk-on Jacob Guy, who has taken full advantage of his spring reps, especially when Harris missed practice last week due to a death in the family.

What McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have seen from each: Each has shown flashes, they’ve improved in some areas, they’ve taken to coaching, but they’re all miles away from where they need to be in order to lead this team.

For now, that’s OK because time isn’t necessarily a factor during the install portion of the year. Of course, McElwain and Nussmeier would love for someone – or all of them – to have it all click over the final week and a half of spring practice, but that’s not a reality. These youngsters are still just trying to master the basics in a more pro-style approach.

While neither coach knows exactly what the offense will look like come fall, there’s a pencil-drawn outline that consists of more under-center snaps (something Grier and Harris had never done until the spring), more single-back looks and a somewhat more spread out passing game.

Getting to that point starts with finding comfort at quarterback.

“A lot of what we’re asking them to do, they either haven’t done before or have very limited background in,” Nussmeier said. “You have to rep those things and they have to understand that the only way they’ll improve at them is to continue to rep and rep and rep. You can’t take enough drops and you can’t work enough at getting your feet and your eyes at the right place in the right time in a certain progression.”

Nussmeier said he doesn’t want to get caught up in results right now. He wants to put his quarterbacks in certain situations and see how they react. He wants physical awareness from these guys. He wants them taking hundreds of exchanges under center with two 300-pound behemoths smash into each other inches in front of them.

He wants them to succeed as much as they can but learn and absorb even more when they fail. That’s where detailed – and brutally honest – film sessions come into play. And there’s where in-practice transformations are hopefully born.

What these quarterbacks do with their failures between now and the end of spring practice on April 11 will go a long way toward shaping how they progress this fall. But what if the concern outweighs the growth? Would Florida’s staff be open to thinking outside the current roster – remember, Florida didn’t sign a quarterback in its 2015 recruiting class – to bring in a graduate transfer for the fall? When you’re in the situation Florida is, you have to stay open-minded.

“We’re always looking, and yet those guys have to find you sometimes when they see the situation,” McElwain said. “For us, our focus is on the players we have here. That’s been our main focus.”

There have been bright spots. Grier’s quick release and heavy passing background have shown through at times, while Harris’ athleticism makes him a threat when the coaches can channel that and utilize his creativity.

“Shoot, we can honestly win with both of them,” safety Keanu Neal said. “That’s up to the coaches, I don’t exactly know what they’re going to do, but they have a hard decision. They’re both really good athletes.”

Don’t rule Guy out. He has zero experience, yes, but was a practice squad stud last season, has a quick release, and is a big and powerful natural passer. His imposing 6-foot-5, 224-pound helps him fill out Tim Tebow’s old No. 15 well.

This is an incredibly important race for the Gators, but it’s too early in the process to know what’s going to happen. Finding the right guy to run the right system is a priority, but Florida needs substance. That’s what coaches are looking for and trying to develop this spring.

“Over time, somebody’s going to separate from the group,” Nussmeier said.