Malik Zaire is what the Gators want, but what they need is for Feleipe Franks to win the starting QB job

Barring a last-minute snag with the university’s academic guidelines, Malik Zaire will begin taking practice snaps with Florida this summer.

He’s got one season of eligibility left as a graduate transfer from Notre Dame, which means that Jim McElwain has about six months to ride this train before the Gators resume their mysterious game of “Pick a quarterback, any quarterback.”

In this Sept. 5, 2015, file photo, former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire looks to a pass against Texas, in South Bend, Ind. The Southeastern Conference tweaked its graduate transfer policy Friday, June 2, 2017, making changes that would allow former Notre Dame quarterback Zaire to land at Florida. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this picture, of course, unless you are Feleipe Franks, the top 2016 recruit who has yet to play a game at Florida.

The Gators, who have been stuck in the primordial ooze offensively, gain a dual-threat passer who was the MVP of a bowl win over LSU in 2014. Zaire earned that Music City Bowl start by taking the job from Everett Golson, another eventual grad-student transfer from Notre Dame who chose Florida State among many options for his final year of eligibility and immediately earned Jimbo Fisher’s trust as the Seminoles’ starter in 2015.

McElwain clearly is in win-now mode this year, just like every year. He’ll go with Zaire if he appears to be better than Franks or Luke Del Rio, who was barely adequate as a starter last year and is coming off surgery on his throwing shoulder.

To imagine, however, that Zaire will transform the Gators from two-time SEC East champions to national title contenders is fairly silly. That kind of transformation takes time, and time is what you don’t get with graduate transfers.

Far better, whenever possible, to develop a quarterback within the system with two or three years of good production in sight, the way McElwain did with Garrett Grayson in his first head coaching stop at Colorado State.

On top of that, Florida is just three months removed from the 2017 season opener against Michigan. If Zaire is the starter, McElwain will be banking on immediate spotlight production from a quarterback who couldn’t win the starting job on Notre Dame’s 4-8 team last year and because of injuries, academics and spotty play threw just six touchdown passes in three seasons with the Irish.

If that really does turn out to be the best option, then Franks isn’t much of an option at all, whether it’s this year or any other. There is more than quarterback depth in question here. The position is all about dynamics, too, and a plan for showing future recruits that they won’t be drawn in just to be pushed to the back of the treadmill.

Here is what Bobby Bowden said when Jimbo was working on bringing Golson to FSU, and remember that Golson got Notre Dame all the way to the BCS national championship game earlier in his career.

“If you’re bringing him in, you’re showing no confidence in your other quarterbacks,” said Bobby, who in fairness often toggled back and forth between a couple of passers during his great FSU coaching career.

It’s a tough call, and not one that McElwain has to make right away, but there isn’t much room for rumination. Michigan is coming off a 10-win season that included a double-overtime loss to Ohio State, one of last year’s College Football Playoff teams.

Golson’s season-opening start at FSU came against Texas State of the Sun Belt Conference.

[Will Trubisky, another lightly-used college QB, match Tannehill’s numbers?]

[A Marlins sale prior to All-Star Game seems too neat and tidy to be true]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces at Detroit]

The best scenario here is for Zaire to push Franks hard, eliciting greater focus and stronger leadership from the kid, but for Franks to win the starting job outright and keep it.

Nobody owes anybody anything in a case like this, but it sure would be nice to see McElwain partner up with a quarterback for a serious stretch and see how far they can go together. It’s the only area where the coach has failed to make consistent progress at Florida, and it’s the missing link for any SEC boss who wants to challenge Alabama for the league championship.

 

 

Will Mitch Trubisky, a lightly used college QB, be able to match Ryan Tannehill’s numbers from a similar start?

Jarvis Landry was talking the other day at OTA’s about Ryan Tannehill, the Miami Dolphins quarterback who has been rehabbing an ACL injury since last season without surgery.

The quotes were casual, the tone relaxed, the scare apparently over.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill at Dolphins training facility in Davie, Florida on May 31, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

“It hasn’t slowed him down,” Landry said when asked specificially about the large brace on Tannehill’s left knee. “His recovery process has been tremendous…We’ve been throwing together and now he’s just trying to find the rhythm, along with the timing, now that we’ve got the defensive line out there and the DB’s. He’s still competing like ‘17’ .”

That little bit of shorthand sounds good in this context. A player has to establish himself with teammates before they simply say his jersey number and everybody immediately understands what that designation entails. The trust. The track record. The recognizable picture of rising strength.

Tannehill is not a perfect quarterback, but after five seasons of watching him work it really is time to accept his leadership in full.

Landry, a top receiver and an outspoken pro, has done that. It’s one more demonstration of how fortunate the Dolphins are to have the quarterback position settled, and how uncommon that is around the league.

Look at Chicago. I liked the Bears’ choice of Mitch Trubisky at the No. 2 overall spot in April’s draft. He’s a big kid with lots of potential. There is no guarantee, however, that Trubisky will begin his rookie season as a starter, the way Tannehill did in Miami, or that Trubisky will match Tannehill’s progress five years out.

The Bears have tried to protect against disaster, signing veterans Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez, but Sanchez injured a knee during OTA’s this week and is out until training camp. You never know what’s coming, even in light drills. You never know when a rookie quarterback will be pushed harder than he can stand.

The Los Angeles Rams went all in with Jared Goff last year, taking the California quarterback first overall in the 2016 NFL draft. He played a lot in college and should have been ready, but Goff’s first start didn’t come until 10 games into a losing season, and his first win as a starter hasn’t come yet. New Rams coach Sean McVay won’t even say without hesitation that Goff is his No. 1 quarterback this summer.

The examples go on and on, but for now let’s focus on Tannehill and Trubisky. Both were lightly used as starting quarterbacks in college. Both were risky picks, high and hopeful, by their teams.

Would Chicago be happy with seven wins in Trubisky’s rookie season, and a doubling of his touchdown passes in Year Two? Seems like a yes, and that’s what Tannehill did in Miami.

Would the Bears get fed up with Trubisky and his 13 college starts if they failed to make the playoffs for a handful of years? It was that way with Tannehill, who started 19 games at quarterback for Texas A&M, but the Dolphins changed coaches without changing quarterbacks, and Tannehill wound up being one of the main reasons that Adam Gase, a highly coveted candidate, chose Miami over other offers.

[Warriors in six games, and this time LeBron won’t be able to stop it] 

[Only a NASCAR nut would drive an SUV at 230 mph]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces in Detroit]

Nothing is ever certain, especially with Tannehill suffering the first big injury of his career last December, but Miami seems to have a good answer at quarterback. The Bears and Rams are still seeking a comfortable foothold at the position. Same goes for the Broncos with Trevor Siemian, the Jaguars with Blake Bortles, the Browns with Brock Osweiler and company, and the Bills with Tyrod Taylor, who took a $10 million paycut to stay with the team under new coach Sean McDermott.

If any of those guys could play like “17” right now, could be counted upon by teammates like “17” is in Miami, they would take it and run.

Of course, Tannehill will have to show he can move like before once June moves on to the exhibition games of August and the real thing in September. For now, Miami has no doubts about who will and who should play quarterback.

That’s a real luxury, and it is Gase’s to enjoy in a way that half the league’s coaches cannot.

A Marlins sale prior to All-Star Game is just too neat and tidy to feel true any more

The All-Star Game at Marlins Park is sneaking up fast now, with barely more than five weeks to go before the annual exhibition between National League and American League stars, plus the Home Run Derby and all the rest, brings baseball’s spotlight to Miami.

How sweet it would be to have a new ownership announcement for Jeffrey Loria’s franchise by then but I’m losing hope with each new headline on the topic.

 

2016 Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaking at a rally in Summerville, S.C. Former Florida Gov. Bush is no longer interested in buying the Miami Marlins and has ended his pursuit of the team, a person close to the negotiations said Tuesday, May 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Jeb Bush has dropped his name from the potential ownership group featuring Derek Jeter. That supposedly would breathe new life into the bid led by Tagg Romney, the son of former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, but his group reportedly is growing frustrated with the process and might step away.

Already a group led by the family of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, has come and gone as a potential Marlins buyer. Politics ultimately got in the way. Hey, it’s 2017. What else would get in the way?

So it would be a real surprise now to get this clog unstuck in time for the July 9 All-Star Legends & Celebrities Softball game, or the July 10 Home Run Derby or the July 11 All-Star game.

Major League Baseball has too much to study with the financials of the bidding groups, and Loria won’t rush through negotiations. There is a lot at stake for him here and, characteristically, he will want it all to go his way.

Makes you wonder what all was discussed before Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, then just three weeks into the job, announced that the Marlins would be All-Star hosts.

The bones of that deal surely were knitted together under former commissioner Bud Selig, who had a system of rewarding franchises with new stadiums to show off. Manfred surely is interested in a fresh start in Miami, for the good of baseball, for the good of the community’s trust in the game. If Loria gave any hints that he might be looking to sell soon, perhaps even making the 2017 All-Star game his final big moment as owner, that wouldn’t have hurt the bid and probably would have helped.

“It was time for baseball to recognized and pay back South Florida for what they did in building this stadium,” Manfred said on Feb. 13, 2016, the day MLB officially awarded the All-Star Game to Miami.

Fair enough, but when MLB took the 2000 All-Star Game away from Miami and awarded it to Atlanta instead, it was a punishment for the World Series fire sale of former Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga and the ongoing uncertainty about the franchise’s future. South Florida fans were farther down the list of priorities.

Here is what Loria said on the day of the All-Star announcement more than two years ago. He patted himself on the back. He sold once more the idea that nobody understands his motivations or appreciates the sacrifices he makes.

“It’s baseball’s recognition that you’re doing good things,” Loria said. “They awarded it to us. We didn’t go and buy it.

“You don’t get to the top unless you have ups and downs. You have to take the criticism and take the good with the bad. I’m still here, and I’m still here, and I’m still here because I believed in what we were doing along the way. We changed a lot of things. I took a lot of criticism for what I called pushing the reset button, but if I didn’t push that damn reset button, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Well, I’m still here believing that Loria will pass on his team to another owner at a huge profit when he is good and ready. The change won’t be as easy as everyone wants it to be, and it won’t be swift.

[Predicting Warriors in six games, and not even LeBron can stop it]

[Who but a NASCAR driver would push an SUV up to 230 mph?]

[LeBron’s NBA greatness was predicted on the day he left high school]

Meanwhile, let the criticism come. Loria has something that other people want. It’s a heady feeling, and one that will only grow stronger in the weeks growing up to the All-Star Game.

It’s sneaking up fast now, and the notion of some new owner taking the bows during All-Star weekend just doesn’t seem to be in the cards any more.

 

 

Warriors in six games, and this time LeBron won’t be able to stop it

Nobody much cares to hear about it now, but I correctly predicted that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win the 2016 NBA Finals.

Not precisely, mind you, since my guess was Cleveland in six games over Golden State and not seven, as it turned out to be. Still, with LeBron James climbing out of a 3-1 hole in the series, the whole thing is fairly amazing. The Cavs winning, of course, and me actually being right for a change.

 

Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant prepares to shoot during practice on Wednesday in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors face the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, June 1. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

So with Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals upon us, let’s take another stab at it.

The pick is not so exotic this time. In fact, my call of Golden State in six games falls right in line with many others in the business.

Kevin Durant is the reason. He’s good to go for 30 points or more any night, and the Warriors were pretty great before he joined them last summer.

Russell Westbrook will get the 2017 MVP award later this month but until that happens it is fair to say that Golden State has all the MVP winners since LeBron’s last trophy in 2013  – Durant in 2014 and Steph Curry the last two years. That’s just too much firepower to overcome, though LeBron will bust a gut trying.

Add in the Warriors’ home-court advantage and the feeling gets stronger.

Could LeBron win a Game 7 at Oracle Arena? He did last year. Doing it twice in two years is asking too much of anyone, however, even with a teammate like Kyrie Irving, whose three-pointer in the final minute won the deciding game last June.

As for looking at the regular-season series between the Cavs and Warriors, a 1-1 split, there’s no much to glean from there. Last year Golden State won both regular-season matchups but it didn’t mean a thing in the Finals, when Cleveland’s aggressive defense limited Curry to 22.6 points per game and a severe loss of confidence.

Durant is the answer to that problem in these Finals. He also is deadly from any range and will sting the Cavs often enough to get Curry more open shots.

[LeBron was predicted to be this great the day he left high school]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces in Detroit]

If any of this turns out to be wrong, we’ll try it again next year with the same two teams. The Warriors and Cavs are going to be an NBA Finals thing for a while longer. The only way that changes is if LeBron begins to fade noticeably and if somebody else in the East grows up. Not all that likely in either case.

The best news of all is that all the major players are healthy for this series. If that holds true, there should be enough electricity here to make up for an ultimately meaningless postseason so far.