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Is Malik Zaire pulling ahead in Florida QB race? It sure looks like it

Malik Zaire
TIM CASEY/FLORIDA ATHLETICS

The past two days have boded well for Malik Zaire to win the starting quarterback job for Florida.

At Wednesday’s media day, Gators coach Jim McElwain called the competition between Zaire and redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks “even” and didn’t put a timetable on deciding who will start when the Gators open the season against Michigan on September 2 in Arlington, Texas. McElwain finally was able to see Zaire in a practice when Florida opened camp on Thursday, and was pleased by the mobility Zaire displayed.

That all favors Zaire, who arrived in Gainesville in July as a graduate transfer from Notre Dame.

“He does really have some good feet,” McElwain said. “He has some good pocket awareness. When the defense was not in their pass rush lanes, he actually made them pay a little bit.”

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Zaire started three games in his career at Notre Dame before suffering a season-ending broken ankle in the second game of the 2015 season. He never regained the starting job from DeShone Kizer, who was picked in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft by Cleveland.

Zaire was the Music City Bowl MVP in 2014, leading Notre Dame to a win over LSU. He was 12-of-15 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown, and also ran 22 times for 96 yards and a score against the Tigers.

Zaire has never thrown an interception in college.

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McElwain commented on Zaire’s process of fitting in with the Gators at media day.

“All indications, he is a great teammate,” McElwain said. “He’s done a great job of getting along with guys, introducing himself, bringing a certain energy and understanding of what it takes. He’s obviously on a mission. He’s here to help us win a bunch of games.”

Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier echoed McElwain’s comments, saying Zaire’s “instant energy” was the biggest thing that stood out.

“He’s a guy that can command a room,” Nussmeier said. “He has presence. I think the team has gravitated towards that and getting to know him. He’s a great personality to get to know.”

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Nussmeier also said Zaire didn’t wait to get to Gainesville before the learning process started.

“Through the recruiting process, the phone would ring: ‘Hey, I’m watching the replay of this game and that play and those type of things,’ ” Nussmeier said. “He’s been around a lot of football and he loves football.”

(You can email Hays Carlyon at email hidden; JavaScript is required and follow him on Twitter @HaysCarlyon)

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