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Jim McElwain's quarterback teaching put to the test

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Every single time Will Grier and Treon Harris walk from Florida's new, spiffy indoor practice facility, they pass three tributes to local quarterback lore -- statues of Heisman winners Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow.

The life-sized, bronze figures stand just outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, their shadows drenching the Swamp. All three won national championships (Spurrier as a coach), have piles of wins, and own school records and Hall-of-Fame credentials.

They stand as three giants of their times and as constant reminders of magnificent pasts still hovering over the inconsistencies and unknowns of the present.

"We don't feel pressure," Grier said. "We're two very focused people -- we're trying to make this team better."

That certainly may be the case, but the quarterback position has been a major disappointment in Gainesville since Tebow left in 2009. Florida hasn't had a quarterback throw for more than 2,100 yards A.T. (After Tebow) or more than 12 touchdowns in a season. Until 2010, a Florida quarterback threw for at least 16 touchdowns in 20 consecutive seasons. Since 2009, 36 SEC quarterbacks have hit that number in a season.

A position of power, esteem and pride has turned into one of mediocrity over the past five years and it's dragged the Gators down in the SEC and out of the national spotlight.

Enter coach Jim McElwain.

The quarterback whisperer, who tutored national champions Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron at Alabama before getting his hands on eventual record-breaker Garrett Grayson at Colorado State, now has the task of turning Grier or Harris into the next great -- or at least serviceable -- Florida quarterback.

"For the most part, we're starting to make some free throws and make some open layups," McElwain said of his quarterbacks. "Probably not great on 3-pointers yet, but right now at least we're stroking the ball a little decent."

For those new to McElwainisms, he's talking about short throws compared to deep ones. McElwain said Grier and Harris are dealing with tempo better and making the most of the short and intermediate throws, but the deep ones -- which, you know, give defenses the appearance of an actually passing threat -- are still coming as a struggle. Some of it has been on the quarterbacks and some has been on the receivers, who have had a case of the dropsies in fall camp.

Still, McElwain's biggest gripe with his quarterbacks thus far has been their overthinking at times. On the one hand, he's happy to see them showing that they're actually learning and paying attention to their mechanics, but sometimes that can leave them struggling to make the actual throws.

Stop thinking so much and just ... do.

"You want to be mechanically sound in everything you do, but there comes a time when you just need to -- I don't care how it looks -- get it to the right guy, complete the pass, move the team," McElwain said. "I see them both really working on the things we're coaching, but then there comes a time where 'Just get it to a guy.'"

That's one of the reasons why McElwain announced on Thursday he isn't naming a starter right now and will play both Grier and Harris in next week's opener against New Mexico State.

Harris, the squirrely, legs-first athlete who started six games last season will have to prove if he's more of a gamer than Grier, who was an outstanding high school prospect from North Carolina but missed all of last season with a back injury. Harris somewhat cut his teeth in SEC play last year, throwing for 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns, but needs a lot more polish on his passing. Grier is behind with the live reps, but he's more of a pure passer -- although he can move his feet.

Neither is physically imposing, but that's not what McElwain is looking for. He's looking for someone to take hold of this team and push it in the right direction. He doesn't need flash or monster stats, he needs a leader, someone people can rally around and play better because of.

Right now, McElwain hasn't found that guy yet, and while he isn't panicking, the sense of urgency is increasing.

"Here's the great thing about these two guys: They're willing, they're eager, they're hungry, they want," he said. "When it becomes hard is when there's a lack of interest or a push back or an uncertainty. The great thing about coaching these guys is they're hungry. They're starting to hold each other accountable.

"You have to keep pushing them, but there comes a point when your players have to go out there and do it."