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Quarterback Shuffle A Way Of Life With Gators

Dec. 29, 2000

By EDDIE PELLS
AP Sports Writer

NEW ORLEANS – Brock Berlin is coming home. Jesse Palmer ischeckingout.

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

But this is Steve Spurrier’s team. Things change quickly and noquarterbackcan ever be sure of what the future holds. The current plan is for the thirdquarterback in this mix, Rex Grossman, to start when the No. 7 Gators playNo.2 Miami next Tuesday.

It means Palmer’s bold preseason prediction – that the Gators would be”myteam” from beginning to end this year – won’t come true in this, his seniorseason. Neither will Berlin’s goal of mastering the Florida offense andreturning to his home state to lead the Gators in the Sugar Bowl as afreshman.

“It would have been a dream to be able to play in here this year, butitdidn’t work out,” said Berlin, who starred for Evangel Christian High inShreveport. “So, maybe another time.”

Or maybe not.

Like most quarterbacks who come to Florida, Berlin had greatcredentials:All-American in about every national publication imaginable, best offensiveplayer in the country in other magazines. In the preseason, Spurrier wascomparing him to Danny Wuerffel, about the greatest compliment a Floridaquarterback can receive.

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

“It’s been a frustrating year, knowing I’m not able to redshirt afterfinding out I wouldn’t be able to play,” Berlin said. “It has been a biglearning experience.”

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

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

Then Grossman took over for the SEC title game. Like Berlin, Palmerfoundhimself out of the mix. He was an effective emergency substitute, but by nomeans was he No. 1. He’s convinced there may never be another of those atFlorida, at least not in the sense Wuerffel was when he won the HeismanTrophyin 1996.

“I think as long as he’s here, Florida is always going to have a bunchofreal good athletes coming in and playing the position,” Palmer said ofSpurrier. “I personally don’t see his style changing, because he’s winningwith it.”

From the opposite sideline, Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey can smile andempathize. Dorsey got thrown into the lineup late last season when KennyKellywas injured. He prospered with experience, but the leadup to the Gator Bowlwasconfusing.

Coach Butch Davis couldn’t decide who to play. They split reps inpracticeand both played, although neither quarterback stole the headlines.

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

“I could see it being difficult for guys who have come out of programswhere sometimes they’re the best in the state, best in the country, then allofthe sudden, you’re in a quarterback controversy,” Dorsey said. “But theywouldn’t be in that situation if they weren’t some of the best quarterbacksinthe 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 heandGrossman are on the same timetable for graduation.

“That’s not real,” Berlin said. “I’ve been so busy trying to learn thisyear that I haven’t had time to think about it.”

Spurrier has promised an open competition between Berlin and Grossmancomenext 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 overfoursometimes-fabulous, sometimes-frustrating seasons, nothing is forever whenitcomes to Florida, Spurrier and quarterbacks.

“I really don’t have any advice for them,” Palmer said. “I think theyalready pretty much have a good idea of how it is. I just say, stay focused,goout, do the best you can, let it loose and try to have a good time.”