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Previewing Florida's positions: Jim McElwain means progress for quarterbacks

Spending extended time under Jim McElwain has helped signal-callers immensely in the past.

Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

We're previewing the 2016 Florida Gators roster on a position-by-position basis for the next two weeks. Up first, Eric takes a look at quarterback, where Jim McElwain has a history of improving his signal-callers.

It's hard to do too much analysis of Florida's quarterbacks heading into the 2016 season.

Luke Del Rio is the presumptive starter, and has played only sparingly in his college football career to date. Austin Appleby was a starter for stretches of his time at Purdue, and there's film of him, but it's not easy to extrapolate what balling out against Indiana State means in the SEC. Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are freshmen, and unknown quantities beyond a spring game and high school ball.

What we can do is look at trends and history.

I was interested to see how QBs progressed under Jim McElwain's tutelage, and so I looked up some numbers -- and I came away impressed.

Tom Brandstater Completions Attempts Completion % Yards YPA TDs INTs Passer Rating
Pre-McElwain: 2006 146 268 54.5 1490 5.6 13 14 106.7
Post-McElwain: 2007 211 337 62.6 2654 7.9 15 5 140.5
John Parker Wilson
Pre-McElwain: 2007 255 462 55.2 2864 6.2 18 12 114.6
Post-McElwain: 2008 187 323 57.9 2273 7.0 10 8 122.3
Greg McElroy
2009 198 325 60.9 2508 7.7 17 4 140.5
2010 222 313 70.9 2987 9.5 20 5 169.0
AJ McCarron
2011 219 328 66.8 2634 8 16 5 147.3
Garrett Grayson
2012 78 138 56.5 946 6.9 7 3 126.5
2013 297 478 62.1 3696 7.7 23 11 138.4
2014 270 420 64.3 4006 10.3 32 7 166.2
Treon Harris
Pre-McElwain: 2014 55 111 49.5 1019 9.2 9 4 146.2
Post-McElwain: 2015 119 235 50.6 1676 6.7 9 6 118.1

Some things I took away from examining the numbers were that Mac really likes to stretch the field vertically and that he puts great value in protecting the ball. The big YPA and low interception numbers are testament to that, and I think it's part of his offense by design, given how many QBs the trend seems to track with.

Treon Harris, unsurprisingly, seems to be the outlier here. (His numbers from 2014 are probably artificially high because of outliers like that first performance against Eastern Michigan, too.) He's also the only one of the five QBs in this analysis under 6'2", and the only one who was really McElwain's second choice at the position. Other than him, each quarterback got better under Jim McElwain, with all but John Parker Wilson getting significantly better.

In my opinion, it looks like Florida has a fairly competent coach of QBs at the helm.

Luke Del Rio performed at a high level this spring and looks poised to be named starter come fall. I'm looking forward to not having a week-to-week guessing game of who is starting and how many snaps they will get. It will be nice to go into the season with a QB who is "the guy," from a fan perspective, but I think it will help the team find consistency. Del Rio looks like someone who can provide some leadership and stability in the position that can help the offense in a big way.

Many had given up or expressed skepticism on Del Rio since he was unable to take control of the starting job at Oregon State, and is now a two-time transfer, having decamped Alabama for Corvallis. You have the right to be skeptical, of course. But we have yet to see him in a game environment.

And certain players bloom later than others, and some players need the right coach to help them reach their potential. Jake Rudock is someone who comes to mind. He was able to get a fresh start at a revitalized Michigan program, under a proven QB coach. He led his team to 10 wins and was more competent in Ann Arbor than he ever was at Iowa, even playing some of the best ball in the nation toward the end of last year.

Can Luke of the River be Florida's Rudock? I wouldn't go that far, but I can confidently say that Del Rio will be given the opportunity to do what all McElwain's quarterbacks have done: Get better.

To my eye, Austin Appleby and Kyle Trask look like good options at backup QB for Florida. I would think the staff would look to redshirt both Trask and Feleipe Franks so they can get used to the speed of the game in their first season at this level. Appleby looked comfortable running the offense at the spring game and would more than likely fill in if Del Rio were to miss time. Trask, though, could also see the field based on his upside alone, which may trump Appleby's experience.

For the first time since taking the job, I feel like McElwain can finally breathe. He's in a position now where the program is starting to look more like what he envisioned. With facility upgrades in motion and a few tweaks in the staff, he looks to build upon a strong 2015 campaign. He also has filled major depth needs that existed at various positions, most notably quarterback, and these are his guys, with all four of his presumptive quarterbacks (sorry, Treon?) brought in by his staff.

The SEC East is a lot of things, and none of them are good. (Like, not even remotely close to being good.) I think Florida has a team that can return to Atlanta if it gets good enough QB play. It's hard for me to look at those numbers from McElwain's history and not be just a little more optimistic about the season.

And, well, no other current SEC East coach has ever won the SEC East. So.