When Florida finally reopens the gates to the Sanders Practice Field this weekend (for two days only folks), there’s little doubt that most eyes will be centered on the Gators’ starting quarterback.
With Jacoby Brissett off to North Carolina State, the reigns of the Florida football team rest firmly in quarterback Jeff Driskel’s hands.
The junior-to-be finished last season with 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns thrown, but Driskel’s head coach and coordinator both acknowledged the strides that need to be made soon by their one — and only — starting QB.
“Jeff’s really attacked the offseason from a mental standpoint as far as film is concerned and studying what he can do to be a better quarterback,” Will Muschamp said on Tuesday.
“I think within saying that, year two in the system the game slows down a little bit … The passing game concepts vs. middle field and vs. split safety, where to take the ball … That’ll slow down for him in his second year.”
It was pointed out by Muschamp that Driskel will have the added bonus of not splitting reps during this spring period, while also working almost exclusively with first-team pass-catchers.
Muschamp spoke at length about the improvements the Florida offense needs to make, citing red-zone efficiency and third downs as examples of areas the team will look to shore up during the spring.
Although Brissett’s transfer gives Driskel breathing room, the Gators in turn lose their only other experienced quarterback heading into the spring. Florida’s backup QB’s — Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg — have not been thrust into critical game situations up to this point.
If Florida’s first game was tomorrow, and Driskel went down with an injury, the Gators would be ill-prepared to win a football game — a fact not lost on Muschamp.
“There’s no question we’ve got to be able to have some answers,” Muschamp said. “Jeff’s a guy that’s got to do a better job at protecting himself, and Brent and I have to talked to him about that.
“Tyler’s a guy that’s now going into his fourth year … he needs to be able step forward and be a dependable guy that we want to put in a ball game … I got a lot of confidence, he just hasn’t done it.”
Added Pease: “[Murphy and Mornhinweg are] going to get good reps and we’ll see who can compete. If they can’t, we have a young guy coming in, (class of 2013 signee) Max Staver, and we’ll have to assess the situation after the spring.”
Pease said the Gators need to be a better throwing team this season, and that fact undoubtedly falls on Driskel to lead the charge.
“A lot of it is based around understanding the protections a lot better and when he has to get rid of the ball and where he has to see his reads,” Pease said. “Just seeing the field better as a quarterback and seeing what the coverages are doing and trying to get the balls to the guys and schemes defensively how they’re trying to attack him and confuse him.”
Pease agreed with Muschamp that taking all of the reps on the first-team as opposed to just half of them will be beneficial for Driskel.
“Something I found out going back, there’s something both of them really, him and Jacoby, when they’re in there competing, maybe weren’t as honest as always they said they were, ‘Hey, I got this. I know this.’ There’s a little bit more after we went back and assessed and I kind of re-asked some questions and there was some, ‘Coach what do you mean by that?’
“Think they maybe hid some things a little bit … Now it’s time for them to go out and react a lot faster.”
Driskel will not only see changes in personnel at his own position, but looking around, he will see a number of differences at other positions as well. The Gators lose dependable stalwarts Mike Gillislee and Jordan Reed from the offense, forcing Driskel to find replacements for his once upon a time safety nets.
“I think that’s something we’ve got to work through, because now we’ve got to create those situations where we’ve got to find that guy for him,” Pease said.
“We’ve got to put people in positions where he does have that guy he can rely on … we’ll take those nice little five-yard throws and let them run with it afterwards.”