The ink has dried and the 2014 Florida Gators recruiting class is in the books. Overall, the Gators answered many of their needs and produced a recruiting class that most saw unattainable after a 4-8 season.
On the offensive side of the ball, Florida signed a slew of offensive linemen, two underrated wide receivers, a shifty running back, and two quarterbacks – both ranked, according to Rivals.com, as the second and third best dual-threat quarterbacks in the 2014 class.
The signing of quarterbacks Will Grier and Treon Harris immediately caused Florida fans to draw a parallel of just three seasons ago when the Gators signed Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett in Will Muschamp’s first season at the helm.
Florida fans, obviously, remember the Driskel/Brissett battle that seemingly happened both on and off the field, which led to finger pointing in a lack of development in both players, a lack of preparation by both quarterbacks, and, apparently, a split locker room. The end result was Brissett transferring after his second season, which inevitably left the Gators lacking a strong suitable back-up after Driskel was injured a few games into the 2013 season.
The signing of Driskel and Brissett in the same year had a ripple effect in recruiting in the following years, as top-flight prospects did not see a chance of playing time in the near future – forcing the Gators to settle for lower ranked quarterbacks such as Skyler Mornhinweg and Max Staver in the next two years (Max Staver his since transferred).
The battle between Driskel and Brissett was handled poorly. Driskel (Rivals.com number one ranked pro-style quarterback) committed to the Florida Gators when Urban Meyer was still the head coach and enrolled early. However, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis secured the commitment of Brissett (Rivals.com number three ranked dual threat quarterback). Jeff Driskel was more raw coming in than Brissett was, but was considered more athletic and was second on the depth chart behind John Brantley, filling in for him when he was injured against Alabama. When Driskel also went down against Alabama, Brissett became the starter against LSU, only to see Driskel take over after a miserable first half for both himself and the offense against Auburn.
Brantley returned to the helm after the Auburn loss and Brissett moved into the back-up role, playing sparingly for the rest of the year. In the spring and summer leading up to the 2012 season, Brissett and Driskel battled back and forth for the starter’s job. Head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Brent Pease wouldn’t commit to a starter, not even until the first snap of the first game. Instead of putting one on the field, both started the game although Brissett started at quarterback.
After game one, Driskel settled in as the starter, but Brissett still played in six games – burning his redshirt in a game against Kentucky, in which he didn’t throw the ball. Ultimately, the Gators would need Brissett to play in the Jacksonville State game after Driskel could not play. Many Gators fans wondered why Brissett was played, instead of being given a redshirt giving a year of separation.
Ending the tale in spectacular fashion, the Gators lost Driskel in game three of the 2013 season. They could have really used Brissett, who was instead redshirting at North Carolina State, one of the reasons the Gators hobbled to a 4-8 record.
Fast-forward to 2014 and the Gators find themselves in a similar situation, signing Will Grier and Treon Harris in the same class. While everyone hopes Driskel makes it through an entire year healthy, the fact remains that he’s been injured in his three previous seasons. But if Driskel does go down — and you have to prepare for that possibility — what happens?
Will it be Grier or Harris?
Will Grier committed to the Gators in December of 2012 and as been widely revered as a quarterback savior for the Gators, putting up audacious numbers in high school, while being named the Parade Magazine National Player of the Year.
Treon Harris, a player who was committed to Florida State for most of the 2013 year, also put up big numbers against much better South Florida competition, helping Miami’s Booker T Washington to the mythical High School National Championship. Harris won the MaxPreps National Player of the Year award.
Now, while on paper these two situations look similar, I will argue that the situation will be handled very differently and securing both quarterbacks is in the Gators best long-term interest.
The answer to this argument lies in a few things, but begins with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Roper enters his first season with the Florida Gators and is bringing a spread offense that relies on two quarterbacks, not just one like most programs.
In the graph below, you will see that over the past two seasons, Kurt Roper relied heavily on a two-quarterback system.
Since Duke had two reliable quarterbacks, Kurt Roper relied on quarterbacks Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone to perform both rushing and passing functions.
Not only did both quarterbacks play, they both were able to garner very respectable numbers. In 2013, Boone passed for 2,260 yards and rushed for 214, while Connette passed for 1,212 yards and rushed for 337 yards. Ultimately, both Boone and Connette had individually higher total offensive yards than any Gator did in 2013. In 2012, much of the same, Boone passed for 3,113 yards, while Connette threw for 531 yards and rushed for 82 yards – which was a total of 1,377 total offensive yards more than Driskel and Brissett in 2012.
While at Duke, Boone was the starter but, Connette still had a heavy responsibility. In 2013, Boone played in 288 plays, while Connette played in 246. Ergo, I see a situation that allows both Treon Harris and Will Grier to exist in the same offense, which is quite different than Brent Pease’s offense that only used one quarterback at almost all costs.
Moreover, the two-quarterback signing may work because Will Grier is willing to wait.
Grier has publically stated that he has a desire to redshirt – a good choice. Grier needs to add weight to his skinny frame, while also, needing some time to adapt to a much quicker game than the high school competition he played against. Grier has all of the intangibles, but needs time to adjust to SEC football.
Harris is a great athlete that has a physical stature that may allow him to play in some packages this year, perhaps replacing Driskel on designed runs to help protect the starting quarterbacks body. Harris is more physically ready to play and playing as a freshman is very likely.
After Driskel graduates, not only should there be separation in the years of eligibility left, it allows Harris to garner game time experience, while not worrying about Grier being right on his tale, giving him adequate practice snaps – should the scenario work out.
After Grier is able to adjust to the speed and add some weight, he will be eased into the offense, while Harris already has some game experience.
Why is that a good thing? The biggest issue between Driskel and Brissett was the lack of separation between the two and the desire to give both the opportunity to succeed without worrying about the other quarterback. But, it never quite worked out that way. Between injuries, poor play, and poor handling, both quarterbacks struggled and both always felt the other was looking over their shoulder.
Skillset wise both players are similar, but different. Both are dual-threat, both are elusive and both have good arms, however, Grier has a better arm, is more accurate, and has more prototypical size; whereas, Harris is a better runner, is more game ready, and has played against better competition, giving him an immediate leg-up.
In the end, we do not know exactly how the situation will play out. The statistics show that when available Roper likes to utilize two quarterbacks, even if they have similar skillsets. Florida needs to hope that Harris is ready to contribute right away and Grier is ready to become game ready during a redshirt season.
The best-case scenario, of course, would be for the first time in his career Jeff Driskel is able to stay healthy. Although he has not been perfect, Driskel has proven in his career that he is a capable quarterback that can lead the Gators to double digit wins. He will likely excel in Roper’s spread option offense, which allows him to make more plays with his feet, rather than just thru the air in a drop-back playbook. However, instead of Driskel taking the brunt of hits running the option, the Gators can also count on Harris to provide a change of pace and keep opponents on their toes – because unlike most dual-threat quarterbacks Driskel and Harris can move the ball on the ground and thru the air. Finally, in the meantime, Grier can improve his body and come in ready to compete in 2015.