Gators push toward answers as preseason camp passes halfway mark

The quarterback battle between Will Grier (left) and Treon Harris could go down to the wire.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The hours are long and on some days, clear-cut answers difficult to find.

That is the dilemma Florida head coach Jim McElwain and his staff have faced the first half of preseason camp.

McElwain took over a program that he knew had a rich history, a talented defense and an offense lacking superstars and much production in recent years.

Florida’s leading passer a season ago, Jeff Driskel, threw for 1,140 yards — the fewest by the Gators’ leader since Kyle Morris in 1989.

As camp has progressed into its third week, McElwain is starting to see signs of life from an offense that ranked 93rd in the country a season ago (367.6 yards per game).

He returned to the office Sunday night after Florida’s two-a-day practice optimistic at what transpired on a hot August day less than three weeks prior to the season opener Sept. 5 against New Mexico State.

"There was some real spark there," he said. "As good a back-to-back practices I’ve ever seen. The energy. The attention to detail. The guys really came out prepared."

Undoubtedly, a big factor in McElwain’s assessment was the performance of quarterbacks Will Grier and Treon Harris.

The Grier-Harris quarterback battle was a primary story line entering camp and nothing has changed.

"They’ve been splitting the reps with all the different groups,” McElwain said. "I think both of them have had good days. They’ve had an off day here and there."

Florida Gators news

McElwain spoke those words Monday, but they could have easily been spoken in the spring, too.

That is how muddled the picture at quarterback has been since Driskel opted to transfer to Louisiana Tech for a fresh start and McElwain inherited a roster that featured nine career starts at quarterback between Harris (six) and Skyler Mornhinweg (three). Mornhinweg transferred to Columbia over the summer.

However, McElwain also said this about the quarterbacks on Monday:

"I like where they’re at, both of them. I feel comfortable with both of them, and we’ll see after this. I haven’t put a deadline [on naming a starter]. I want to see them take ownership."

The next two weeks are crucial for the Gators as they try to fight through the dog days of preseason camp and be sharp for the opener.

They also have key questions that still must be answered. Let’s take a look at three key areas:

QUARTERBACKS

A redshirt freshman, Grier is touted as more of a traditional pocket passer who rewrote the prep record books in North Carolina. He spent last season watching as Driskel and Harris each started six games.

Harris is a dual-threat quarterback who threw for nine touchdowns and four interceptions in 2014, and flashed elusiveness as a runner when he escaped the pocket.

McElwain said Harris was impressive Sunday in directing Florida’s red-zone offense and that Grier shined in the two-minute drill.

This battle looks like it could come down to the wire and if remains even, don’t rule out both getting a look in the opener.

"That’s not a decision that either of us is going to make,” Grier said Monday. "We are controlling what we can control. We don’t feel pressure. We are two very focused people. We’re trying to make this team better."

LINEBACKERS

The Gators figure to run plenty of snaps on defense with only two linebackers on the field with one of the nation’s deepest secondaries.

Still, when you lose two starters from last season (Neiron Ball and Michael Taylor) and enter camp with your leading tackler (Antonio Morrison) recovering from a pair of offseason knee surgeries, there’s bound to be concerns.

Morrison’s quick rebound has lessoned some of those concerns. While not 100 percent, Morrison is well ahead of schedule and has been active in practice. While his availability for the opener remains uncertain, it’s clear that he intends to play sooner rather than later if his knee holds up.

Meanwhile, Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis are having solid camps and both appear improved from a season ago. The Gators also have Jeremi Powell, Daniel McMillian, Matt Rolin and freshman Rayshad Jackson to provide depth.

OFFENSIVE LINE

No other position group was as big a mystery when the Gators reported to camp.

The Gators finished spring with six scholarship linemen and a bunch of walk-ons trying to fill the holes. The Gators added six true freshmen over the summer and they are all getting reps, proving the door is wide open for playing time.

Graduate transfer Mason Halter, Trip Thurman, Cameron Dillard, Antonio Riles and David Sharpe have taken a majority of the reps with the first-team offense, but nothing is set in stone.

True freshman Martez Ivey can play either tackle spot or move inside. He is making strides. Fellow freshmen Brandon Sandifer, Tyler Jordan, Nick Buchanan, Fred Johnson and Richerd Desir-Jones are all getting looks.

Jordan has received positive reviews from his teammates at center, and Johnson has earned recognition for his work at tackle. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Travaris Dorsey remains in the mix. He has missed time due to an undisclosed leg injury.

Redshirt freshmen Andrew Mike and Kavaris Harkless are primarily working with the third team.

As the season approaches, offensive line coach Mike Summers will continue to test this group in his quest to build a solid eight-man rotation.