I’m as aware as the next guy that there’s a huge distinction between one’s performance during practice and performance on Saturdays, but Will Grier’s performance to this point has been really impressive. Simply put, I cannot wait to see how he does less than two weeks from now on September 5th against New Mexico State. And I know I’m not alone there.
But we as Gator fans have become pretty accustomed to the feeling of disappointment after a prized quarterback recruit flops under the pressure of the SEC in recent years.
First, it was highly touted Ocala native John Brantley with some big shoes to fill after Tim Tebow. Brantley, who broke Tebow’s high school record for passing touchdowns (99), would not surpass the big man at the college level… by a long shot. Brantley’s career in Gainesville was mediocre at best; he totaled 30 touchdowns against 18 interceptions, which was a large part of why Florida finished 8-5 (2010) and 7-6 (2011) in his two seasons.
Then a new young five star stud was supposed to bring the Gators back to national prominence, a guy named Jeff Driskel from Hagerty High School in Oviedo. The result of Driskel’s career reads a lot like Brantley’s: he broke one of Tebow’s records (rushing yards in a game by a QB, done against Vanderbilt in 2012) to generate hype, and then largely disappointed following that moment, eventually transferring to Louisiana Tech after succumbing to Treon Harris.
Two highly touted QB recruits. Two busts.
Now that Florida has had a near complete revamp of their coaching staff, which now includes a head coach in Jim McElwain who is known for his development of quarterback talent, another young top rated QB recruit is about to take the reins once again for the Gators. Will Grier from Davidson Day School in North Carolina becomes the third quarterback to arrive in Gainesville with sky high expectations based on an outstanding high school career since the departure of Tim Tebow. Unlike Brantley and Driskel, though, there’s reason to hope Grier will validate said sky high expectations with his play.
The quarterback battle between Treon Harris and Will Grier has been going on since spring ball, but as of late, Grier has seemingly pulled away from Harris. In fact, some say he’s just about claimed his place as the starting quarterback with his play (even though McElwain claims he hasn’t decided the starter). Grier held a slight lead following spring practice, but really started separating himself from Harris as fall practice began. Harris missed a few practices in the spring due to a family emergency, so Will Grier was given a head start on the incumbent Harris and has only pulled away since then.
From the parts of fall practice we have been able to view, it is quite obvious that Grier has been the better quarterback. One of the most notable things about Grier’s performance during these last couple weeks has been his football IQ. It’s apparent by the way he maneuvers around the pocket, along with his ability and willingness to settle for the checkdown option. After watching Driskel, who seemed to only have the ability to stare down a single receiver and telegraph his passes (which were very inaccurate, creating another problem in of itself), it would be refreshing if we actually get to see a quarterback who knows how to go through his progressions. I’d love to see a quarterback take a shorter gain instead of another loss after a sack. Not every play has to be a touchdown.
Then, when he does select his receiver, he’s been putting the ball right where it needs to go, another indication that he may actually be as talented as we so dearly want to believe. There are none of those wild overthrows ten feet above the receiver’s head, or bullets thrown way behind receivers that we saw from Driskel or Brantley (or even Jacoby Brissett, for that matter.) He’s got a very accurate arm, and he’s been showing it off in practice on a consistent basis.
As fall practice winds down and the season approaches, it does seem as if everything has gone Grier’s way so far. Yes, I realize that John Brantley and Jeff Driskel had the same things said about them. And so it’s hard for me to hail him as the next Gator great before he’s even taken a college snap. In fact, it’s impossible to do just yet after the last two prized quarterback recruits to come through the Swamp ended up disappointing.
So without being able to rely heavily on Grier to dominate immediately, what I’m left to do instead is hope and pray that the Willy Goat is going to bring us back to the promised land. And based on the way he’s played in both spring and fall practices, I can’t help but feel good about his chances to do so.