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A year after Hail Mary, Feleipe Franks still a work in progressions

Consistency continues eluding Florida's redshirt sophomore quarterback
 
Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) high-fives fans as he leaves the field after the Gators defeated Colorado State Saturday in Gainesville. [AP Photo/John Raoux]
Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) high-fives fans as he leaves the field after the Gators defeated Colorado State Saturday in Gainesville. [AP Photo/John Raoux]
Published Sept. 18, 2018

GAINESVILLE — The one-year anniversary came and went Sunday, with most of Gainesville seemingly oblivious.

Even now, in the sweet spot of another Florida-Tennessee game week, the 2017 Feleipe Franks-to-Tyrie Cleveland Hail Mary isn't so much revered as it is relegated to the subplot stack.

Even Franks says he hasn't dwelt on it. Coach Dan Mullen wonders why the contest came down to that when UF led the Vols by 10 with fewer than five minutes to go.

"I think that (play) is not even really on my mind," Franks said Monday.

Had it signaled the start of something more than the buyout proceedings for Butch Jones, perhaps Gator fans would be affording more reverence to that 63-yard heave that capped Florida's 26-20 triumph.

Maybe more Gator-centric web sites and talk-radio types would be re-visiting the play, and its principal characters, had Franks parlayed that SportsCenter snippet into a stretch of consistency and confidence.

Perhaps they will later in the week, as the latest installment of this series draws closer. But for now, the commemoration of Franks' most profound fling as a collegian seems to be whizzing through the fan base's collective consciousness like an SUV along I-75.

By contrast, Franks' career isn't whizzing along with similar aerodynamic efficiency.

"Feleipe's growing and learning on the field," Mullen said.

That hypnagogic spiral has been followed by some downward ones. Since then, Franks has been benched — and has re-gained the starting job — twice. He finished 2017 with eight touchdown passes and nine picks.

He was dazzling in the '18 opener against over-matched Charleston Southern (16-for-24, 219 yards, five TDs, no INTs), but it's the only game in his last six in which he has completed at least 60 percent of his throws. For the 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore, running and throwing never have been the issues.

Reading and reacting have.

All of which led to Mullen being asked Monday about Franks' cognitive development. More specifically, how can he get Franks to process information quicker?

"That's the trick. That's the No. 1 thing at quarterback play," Mullen said.

"When he calls a play, there's a lot going on. There's a lot of things that have to happen in about the 10 seconds between the time he calls the play and the ball snapped. And then there's another whole list of things that have to happen anywhere from 1.8 to 2.5 seconds before he throws it.

"So the more experience you have, the more comfort you have with those things."

And the simple fact is, Franks has all of three games' experience in the Mullen system.

Hence the reason Mullen stuck with him despite an abysmal start (0-for-6, INT) in Saturday's 48-10 win against Colorado State. As long as Franks remains receptive to tutelage and holds up to Mullen's intense scrutiny, the coach seems willing to bear with a missed read or muffed progression. For now.

"You can't assume, but you can anticipate what's going to happen before it happens," Mullen said. "That comes from a lot of experience, and learning and grinding and doing it over and over and over again."

Through such repetition, the hope is that Franks ultimately will see a play unfold in his mind before it occurs, based on formations and situations. Progressions will become second-nature.

"I think the biggest thing for a quarterback, or I can speak for me, is reps," Franks said.

"I think (that's) the main thing that's going to help a quarterback out. There's not enough reps you can get throughout a week, so there has to be mental reps that plays a part if you're getting mental reps at night time, things like that throughout the whole week."

In time, the figurative switch will flip. Mullen says he has seen it happen with previous quarterbacks, some of whom (Alex Smith, Dak Prescott) remain employed in the NFL.

"(Prescott) could do it by the back end of his career," said Mullen, who coached the Cowboys starter at Mississippi State.

"You could just see him, and he would just — boom. He'd hit the fifth read in the progression in just 1.2 seconds … 'cause he kind of knew what was going to happen before it happened, and Feleipe's still learning that."

It could be quite the learning curve, replete with fits and starts, ebbs and flows, hot stretches and hiccups.

With maybe an historic fling interspersed along the way.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.