Originally created 12/30/00

QB shuffle a way of life with Gators



NEW ORLEANS -- Brock Berlin is coming home. Jesse Palmer is checking out.

Back in September, both Florida quarterbacks had reason to believe they might be the starter if and when the Gators made the Sugar Bowl.

But this is Steve Spurrier's team. Things change quickly and no quarterback can ever be sure of what the future holds. The current plan is for the third quarterback in this mix, Rex Grossman, to start when the No. 7 Gators play No. 2 Miami next Tuesday.

It means Palmer's bold preseason prediction - that the Gators would be "my team" from beginning to end this year - won't come true in this, his senior season. Neither will Berlin's goal of mastering the Florida offense and returning to his home state to lead the Gators in the Sugar Bowl as a freshman.

"It would have been a dream to be able to play in here this year, but it didn't work out," said Berlin, who starred for Evangel Christian High in Shreveport. "So, maybe another time."

Or maybe not.

Like most quarterbacks who come to Florida, Berlin had great credentials: All-American in about every national publication imaginable; best offensive player in the country in other magazines. In the preseason, Spurrier was comparing him to Danny Wuerffel, about the greatest compliment a Florida quarterback can receive.

Then, practice began. Palmer shined and Grossman kept moving up the ladder. Berlin played a little early in the season, but got shuffled to the bottom of the depth chart as the rigors of the Southeastern Conference ensued.

"It's been a frustrating year, knowing I'm not able to redshirt after finding out I wouldn't be able to play," Berlin said. "It has been a big learning experience."

From the sideline, Berlin has learned both the Florida offense and the way things go for Gators quarterbacks.

For part of the season, Palmer and Grossman shared time in a rotation created out of necessity, injuries and Spurrier's typical frustrations.

Then Grossman took over for the SEC title game. Like Berlin, Palmer found himself out of the mix. He was an effective emergency substitute, but by no means was he No. 1. He's convinced there may never be another of those at Florida, at least not in the sense Wuerffel was when he won the Heisman Trophy in 1996.

"I think as long as he's here, Florida is always going to have a bunch of real good athletes coming in and playing the position," Palmer said of Spurrier. "I personally don't see his style changing, because he's winning with it."

From the opposite sideline, Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey can smile and empathize. Dorsey got thrown into the lineup late last season when Kenny Kelly was injured. He prospered with experience, but the leadup to the Gator Bowl was confusing.

Coach Butch Davis couldn't decide who to play. They split reps in practice and both played, although neither quarterback stole the headlines.

With Kelly gone, Dorsey has become the undisputed starter. He has clearly prospered, completing 58 percent of his passes and throwing 25 touchdowns against just five interceptions.

"I could see it being difficult for guys who have come out of programs where sometimes they're the best in the state, best in the country, then all of the sudden, you're in a quarterback controversy," Dorsey said. "But they wouldn't be in that situation if they weren't some of the best quarterbacks in the country."

That's precisely the situation Berlin is in. As the season has worn on, speculation has grown that he might consider transferring, knowing that he and Grossman are on the same timetable for graduation.

"That's not real," Berlin said. "I've been so busy trying to learn this year that I haven't had time to think about it."

Spurrier has promised an open competition between Berlin and Grossman come next spring.

"If I deserve to start, then I should beat him out in the spring," Grossman said.

If not, his chances won't be vanquished. As Palmer has learned over four sometimes-fabulous, sometimes-frustrating seasons, nothing is forever when it comes to Florida, Spurrier and quarterbacks.

"I really don't have any advice for them," Palmer said. "I think they already pretty much have a good idea of how it is. I just say, stay focused, go out, do the best you can, let it loose and try to have a good time."