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Palmer poised, set to make noise

 
Published Aug. 31, 2000|Updated Sept. 27, 2005

Quarterback says he has the experience and talent to lead the Gators.

Jesse Palmer wanted everyone to understand. Asked to state his case for being Florida's starting quarterback this season, he sat up straight and spoke distinctly.

To him, it was clear.

"I feel like I'm the best player, simple as that," Palmer said. "I'm the best quarterback, the best player to lead this football team. I've been here three years and I have the experience."

With Palmer, clarity is key.

After three unsettling seasons, everything in Palmer's past that once was garbled finally is clear: his decisions operating the Fun "n' Gun offense, his role in the locker room and his rat-a-tat-tat Canadian accent in the huddle. And though the prospect still makes some people nervous, one more thing is clear as No. 9 Florida prepares to open the season Saturday against Ball State. Palmer, unquestionably, is the starter.

"Jesse is our quarterback," coach Steve Spurrier said. "Barring something unforeseen, he's got a chance to be our quarterback the whole year. He's the best prepared. He's the best we have, definitely."

A competition among Palmer, redshirt freshman Rex Grossman and true freshman Brock Berlin was anticipated for this fall but did not develop. Palmer won the job convincingly in preseason drills.

"Passing ability is probably about the fourth quality you look for in a quarterback," Spurrier said. "Decisionmaking, competitiveness, toughness, smarts _ all those kick in ahead of ability to throw the ball. Jesse is a good, hard worker and he's got the talent. He just needs to experience playing well to give him a lot of confidence."

Like the Fun "n' Gun offense, the word that best describes Palmer the past three seasons is inconsistent. His only sustained success came as a sophomore in 1998, when he started the first six games and ranked third nationally with a pass-efficiency rating of 173.87 on 73-for-123 passing for 1,246 yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Spurrier had just chosen Palmer over Doug Johnson when Palmer suffered a season-ending injury, a broken clavicle against LSU. He barely was heard from again until the end of 1999, when Spurrier, dissatisfied with Johnson, yanked Palmer off the bench. The results were unimpressive: three starts, two losses and an offensive meltdown in a 34-7 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game.

But Palmer's teammates still believe.

"I've always had confidence in Jesse," Earnest Graham said. "He knows everything that's going on around him and he's cut out some of the mistakes he's made in the past. He looks great."

This season, Palmer _ 6 feet 2, 225 pounds _ no longer is a foil to Johnson, now a member of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. Finally, Palmer can play with the assurance the job belongs to him.

"Jesse has waited, like all the quarterbacks under Spurrier," offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker said. "And I think he's going to be ready. As long as he doesn't get to stuttering in the huddle, he'll be all right."

Born in Nepean, Ontario, Palmer has a rapid-fire speech pattern. He began seeing a speech therapist in his freshman season, when it became clear there was a communication problem between he and many of the Gators.

"When he first got here he had to learn how to say, "Hut, hut,' because in Canada its, "Hoot, hoot,' " Spurrier said. "He speaks pretty clearly now, but there are still times the line coach comes over and says the guys can't understand him in the huddle.

"I don't know what to do about that except tell him to speak more clearly. I've never had that happen before, but that's part of playing quarterback. You have to communicate. Everybody has to understand you and you have to tell everybody what to do."

Wide receiver Alex Willis, who along with Palmer organized player-only workout sessions during the summer, said Palmer's dialect no longer is a problem.

"We have worked on that and he's taking his time calling out the plays clearly now," Willis said. "He's really taking charge of what's going on, being the leader he's supposed to be. I feel he's very confident in himself this year. He knows it's his time to make plays and he's put his work in."

With just one chance left to accomplish his goals, Palmer, 21, has left nothing to chance.

"I really feel at peace," Palmer said. "I think I can bring something to this team that we haven't had in the past three years, and that's consistency on offense. I've studied hard. I feel confident in my leadership ability. I know I've got the backing of my teammates. I feel really clear."

Any more questions?

Jesse Palmer

HT./WT.: 6-2; 225.

HOMETOWN: Nepean, Ontario.

NOTES: Has played in 17 regular-season games, plus the 1998 Citrus Bowl and 1999 Orange Bowl. Has thrown for 2,102 yards, 20 touchdowns, 13 interceptions. Voted by teammates as one of five co-captains this season. Named to 1998 and 1999 SEC Academic Honor Roll. Father Bill was a linebacker for the CFL's Ottawa Rough Riders. Family moved to Orlando after his freshman season at UF. Pursuing majors in marketing and political science.

TONIGHT: NO. 5 MIAMI VS. McNEESE STATE

WHEN/WHERE: 7:30; Orange Bowl, Miami.

COACHES: Miami _ Butch Davis (40-19, sixth season). McNeese State _ Tommy Tate (first season).