University of Florida

Finding right QB key for Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain

Jim McElwain is introduced as the new head football coach at the University of Florida during a press conference Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
Jim McElwain is introduced as the new head football coach at the University of Florida during a press conference Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. TNS

Imagine if Peter Pan had never even met Wendy.

Welcome to Florida’s quarterback conundrum.

UF has been chasing Tim Tebow’s shadow for the past six years, desperate to find its next great quarterback.

The wait continues, as the Gators open spring practice Monday and are no closer to knowing who their next Sunshine State signal-caller will be.

The looming battle between sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier will last into the summer, as new coach Jim McElwain will not rush in naming a starting quarterback.

“We’re not putting a timeline on the starting quarterback,” McElwain said. “We’ve done it a lot of different ways a lot of places we’ve been and been successful doing it. When it’s time, we’ll name one.”

During a 30-minute news conference Tuesday, McElwain never even uttered either player’s name. Instead, the longtime offensive guru spoke in general terms on what he wants from the position and the uncertainties facing a rather unknown group.

“I want a guy who learns how to throw it to our jersey, our colored jersey is probably the most important thing,” he said, half-jokingly. “[A guy who] understands the importance of taking care of the football and affecting the people around him in a positive way is really what we’re looking forward.”

Florida has just three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, but the competition is clearly a two-man race between Harris and Grier.

While Harris, a former standout at Miami Booker T. Washington, sparked a listless offense last season, Grier, the nation’s No. 2 quarterback recruit in 2014, enters the competition as the odds-on favorite.

Grier has never taken a collegiate snap, but the 6-2 athletic North Carolina native has a lively arm, quick release and fits into McElwain’s preferred offensive system.

Last season, Harris proved himself a promising playmaker, starting Florida’s final six games (4-2 record). He finished the season with nine touchdowns, four interceptions and three scores as a runner.

Still, Harris wasn’t a polished passer, struggling with accuracy issues (just 49 percent) and learning the playbook. He also never has taken a snap under center (dating back to high school) and could stand as a square peg for a round hole in Florida’s new offensive scheme.

McElwain has an extensive track record tutoring quarterbacks, but he’s concerned about a unit low on experience and exposure.

“You want me to tell you what I’m really nervous about?” McElwain said. “I have nightmares about the inability to get out of a huddle, OK, because some of these guys have never huddled.

“Taking a snap from center, that’s a novel concept. And routes on air. I just hope we complete one. That’s what I’m excited about that first day of practice.”

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