- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Sometimes, Jeff Driskel had no idea what had happened.
He was trying to be studious last season and watch extra film on his own to become better at pre-snap reads and pass-protection adjustments, but he found confusion instead of clarity. That’s when he’d call offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
"At times I didn’t really know what I was looking at or what I should be looking at," Driskel said. "There were times where I was confused as to why this guy came free on a pressure or why I should have gone to another guy rather than this guy."
That shouldn't have been a surprise, considering Driskel was in his first season as Florida’s starting quarterback. Plus, he got only half of the reps in the spring and August practices because of the competition with Jacoby Brissett that stretched into the first week of the season. Confusion was expected.
Not this season. Not knowing the protection adjustments, where to go with the ball, or recognizing a blitz will be unacceptable mistakes for Driskel. The 6-foot-4, 237-pound junior knows he can’t make them this season, or Florida’s offense won’t be any better than the unit that ranked No. 103 nationally in 2012.
"I just think I’m a lot more comfortable," Driskel said. "I know where to throw the ball and I know where to throw the ball in certain situations and we’re a lot better at timing. I’m getting the ball out before they’re breaking rather than waiting for them to break to throw the ball. That’s a big difference in catching the ball and getting tackled or catching the ball and turning it up field.
"I feel like I have [gotten much better]. I’m excited for the first game to really show it off."
Florida’s season depends on Driskel’s transition from a player whose main role was to take care of the ball and not put the Gators in bad situations into a quarterback who can win games. Driskel threw for 1,646 yards -- the fewest by a Florida starter since Kyle Morris threw for 1,098 yards in 1989 -- and 12 touchdowns last season, and the passing offense was No. 114 nationally. Four of the six teams that ranked below the Gators run the option.
With running back Matt Jones’ return from a viral infection still uncertain, Driskel has to be able to put the offense on his shoulders, and Pease said he has seen encouraging signs. Part of that is because Driskel’s the clear-cut starter and has been in the offensive system for a year.
"He’s comfortable with that and he knows the expectations," Pease said. "Some bullets have flown at him before. I think he’s probably a little more comfortable not having the situation of the controversy, so to speak."
Pease said Driskel is more at ease in the pocket and has done a good job of recognizing blitzes and changing protections, which were two of his biggest issues last season. But perhaps the biggest leap Driskel has made is in his leadership. If a player is more comfortable with his role and confident that he knows everything he needs to know, he’s naturally going to play better.
"Just hearing [Driskel] in the weight room stepping up and saying things to teammates and making teammates accountable, making himself more accountable to the situation of what the goals for this team are," Pease said. "It’s to win the SEC. He’s not afraid to step up and say something. He’s demonstrated that. I think when you get a kid who becomes vocalized in a good way and demonstrates that and talks to his teammates and challenges and encourages them, you know he’s taken the next step because he’s earned some respect."
Driskel knows he’ll earn even more if the passing offense produces significantly more than the 146.3 yards per game it did last season. It should improve, now that he knows what he’s watching on film, he said.
"We’re going to have to throw the ball more and we’ll have to be more efficient throwing the ball," Driskel said. "We’re going to have to hit more big plays. We can’t run the ball 50 times a game like we did last year at points.
"We’re still going to run the ball effectively and we have an offensive line that loves running the ball and we have explosive backs. That’s still going to be a big part of our game, but we do have to make more plays throwing the ball, which I think we’ll do."