Quarterback battle kicks into high gear

John Brantley is gone.

That simple sentence may make some of the fans who lamented the oft-criticized signal caller’s two-year reign at quarterback rejoice, but there’s no such enjoyment from Florida’s coaching staff.

The fans are excited about the future, but coach Will Muschamp knows what Brantley brought to the table was more than most give him credit for.

“It’s not an indictment on either young man,” Muschamp said about the poor play of then-freshmen quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel a year ago. “I think they’re going to be really good players, but playing as a freshman at that position is different.”

Now both quarterbacks have a year of experience under their belts. They’ll get their chance to duke it out this spring for the right to replace Brantley as Florida’s next starting quarterback.

Muschamp hasn’t put a timeline on making a decision and said the battle could last into the season if it takes that long for one to assert himself. Redshirt sophomore Tyler Murphy is also in the mix, but he currently trails the two former superstar recruits.

“Jeff and Jacoby will split reps, and we’ll name a starter when we’re ready,” Muschamp said. “Whether that’s spring, summer, fall camp, I don’t know.  We would like to declare a starter and move forward with it, but we’ll name that when it’s ready.”

After one day of spring practice, not much has changed in the quarterback battle. Both threw a couple balls around Wednesday, but there are still plenty of mistakes for them to clean up.

Muschamp mentioned a few blown routes, broken-down protections and misreads as some of the mistakes, but he also said “there were some nice throws.”

Though offensive coordinator Brent Pease hasn’t had much of a chance to see either quarterback yet, he’s confident each has what it takes to be the Gators’ starting quarterback.

“They’ve been consistent off season in workouts, and they’re two of the guys that can lead the team,” Pease said. “They’ve been grinding on film on their own because they can take that and use as much of that time as they’re willing to do.”

While both Muschamp and Pease would like to settle on one starter and not have to play both quarterbacks next fall, they’ll do whatever they feel is in the team’s best interests.

Muschamp has already indicated he’ll have some sort of quarterback package with Trey Burton, similar to what he ran last season. Since Driskel is a better runner than Brissett, there’s a chance both quarterbacks will play even if one is named the starter over the other.

“Brent does an outstanding job with the quarterbacks, and we will evaluate that, he and I, as far as what’s best for our football team,” he said. “We want to name a starter, but we’re going to do what we need to win games.  If we’ve got to play both guys, we’ll play both guys.”

Pease said he has played two quarterbacks before as an offensive coordinator, but he much prefers to settle on one guy.

What he’ll be looking for in the spring is which of the two quarterbacks is able to handle the tough situations he’ll throw at them the best. Much like Florida’s philosophy last season, the coaches plan to give the players more than they can swallow to see what they can cope with.

“In spring it’s a time to challenge everybody, so you’ve got to challenge your quarterbacks, see how much they can handle,” Pease said. “How much they can handle tells us how fast and how much more we can add and move along.”

Florida is set to open its practices to the public on Friday and Saturday, but fans should temper their expectations and keep Muschamp’s words in mind about the development the quarterback position requires.

Brissett and Driskel may make some good throws, but there’s an equally good chance there will be a few plays they leave plenty of doubt in the minds of the Florida faithful. That’s okay with Pease.

“There’s going to be mistakes, and I told the guys this,” he said. “You’re going to have guys trying to survive. These guys are going to be hoping they’re doing the right things. But eventually it’ll click. There’s got to be a patience level.”