GAINESVILLE — Florida’s Feleipe Franks fired a bomb down the left sideline to Trevon Grimes late in Thursday’s practice.
When Grimes, somehow, came down with it over defensive back C.J. Henderson, Franks started jawing with the bravado that comes from being a returning starting quarterback for a top-10 team.
“I was just talking noise,” Franks said.
The noise with and around Franks is different now than it was a year ago.
Last March, he was a few months removed from hitting an all-time low during his rough redshirt freshman season. He was fighting to regain the starting job he repeatedly lost the year before, and he was learning a new system under new coach and quarterback guru Dan Mullen.
But if you heard the rumblings from the fans at Thursday’s open practice, you know the noise is still there. He didn’t shush it out by bringing his finger to his lips in the comeback win over South Carolina, and he didn’t silence it all by leading the Gators to 10 wins and the Peach Bowl.
UF’s undisputed starter still seems like a question mark on a team trying to build its way toward a championship.
“It’s been unique,” Franks said of his Florida tenure. “It hasn’t been like a lot of people’s — like, it hasn’t been straight success. Mine has been kind of bumpy, but ultimately that’s what makes me who I am.”
There are reasons to be optimistic about the Gators’ future with the player Franks has become. The 31 touchdowns he accounted for were the seventh most in program history. His touchdown-interception ratio (24-6) was one of the 20 best in the nation, and only two returning starters in the country improved their passing efficiency more than Franks (up 30.1 points).
Mullen was impressed by the toughness he showed down the stretch, and Franks accomplished his coach’s chief goal by getting better at the routine, unspectacular plays.
And all of that was in Mullen’s first season, when Franks was still learning the offense.
Although he was unquestionably better last year than he was in 2017, he still only ranked No. 76 nationally in completion percentage (58.4). He completed less than 45 percent of his passes against Kentucky, LSU and Missouri.
Critics can point not to the throws Franks made but the ones he didn’t because he missed an open receiver or held onto the ball too long. Even after his enormous jump in passing efficiency, he still only ranked 41st in the country. That’s not bad, but when you play at a school that produced three Heisman Trophy winners at quarterback, you’re not expected to rank one notch below Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur.
Franks expects better, too.
Aside from the immediate aftermath of his disappointing 2017 season, Franks has never lacked confidence. With a breakout 2018 behind him and a second spring under Mullen just beginning, his belief in himself has grown.
“I just always try to build my confidence up, I mean, from year to year, from week to week,” Franks said.
The biggest reason he’s confident comes with the familiarity of Year 2 under Mullen. His receivers are unchanged. He understands the coaches and schemes better, which should lead to quicker decisions.
“If you’re a quicker decision-maker and know where you want to go with the ball, you’ve got a chance to be more accurate,” Mullen said. “Now you’re making good decisions with good accuracy, you can become a pretty good quarterback.”
And if Franks can grow beyond being a pretty good quarterback, the noise around him might finally start to subside.
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.