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Thursday, March 13, 2014
UF spring predictions: QB talent on display

By Jeff Barlis

Editor’s note: This is Part 4 of our weeklong series predicting what's ahead for Florida this spring.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The post-Tim Tebow era wasn't supposed to be such a rocky road, but that's exactly what has happened with the quarterback position at Florida.

The Gators recruited Cam Newton, John Brantley and Jeff Driskel -- all among the top prospects in the nation. But since Tebow's last hurrah in 2009, UF has a 30-21 record (17-15 in the SEC).

Kurt Roper intends to right the ship.

Jeff Driskel
The Gators hope to get QB Jeff Driskel back on track this season.
The new offensive coordinator had great success at Duke with his uptempo spread offense and will begin installing a version of it at Florida this spring. Roper said he'll customize the offense to suit the strengths of his quarterbacks.

"I think it's all about learning your offense is what it gets down to," Roper said. "I'll repeat this a bunch. Our whole philosophy will be based on what the quarterback position is able to do."

It starts with Driskel, a fourth-year junior coming off a broken leg that cost him most of the 2013 season. He led Florida to an 11-win season the previous year and had a lot of success with zone-read options and shotgun formation.

Head coach Will Muschamp, who called Roper's plans for the offense a "drastic change schematically," said he recently reviewed the Gators' performance under Driskel the last two seasons.

"You look at all runs from 2012," he said. "We averaged right at 5.8, close to six yards a carry, which is outstanding -- the best I’ve ever been around. But then you look at runs from the gun, you’re looking at close to seven yards a carry, 6.8. Runs from under center you’re looking at a little over four. So obviously the quarterback’s legs have a lot to do with the run game being so efficient in what we’re doing. Then you look at the passing game. From the gun, over 60 percent for completion percentage, under 50 percent from under center. …

"So that’s why you hire Kurt Roper to come in here, his development at the quarterback position, attention to detail and very positive with the kids and has had a very good, positive response from our players. They’re excited about where we are right now."

Muschamp would love a return to Florida's offensive success in 2012 when the running game averaged more than 188 yards a game to rank 39th in the nation. Driskel operated the zone-read very well with tailback Mike Gillislee, who became the Gators' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004. Driskel wasn't asked to pass a whole lot and finished second on the team in rushing with 413 yards.

This spring is all about getting Driskel back on track.

Florida pushed back the start of practice to March 19 to give him another week to rehab and strengthen his leg. Good health will bring confidence, and once he develops some chemistry this spring with sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor, Driskel's confidence should be fully rehabilitated.

But the Gators cannot repeat the mistakes of last season by neglecting to fully prepare a backup. So many of Florida's plans for the offense were scrapped when Driskel was injured, and he has missed at least one game in each of his first three seasons.

That's why true freshman Will Grier is so important. Not only is he a top prospect and UF's quarterback of the future, but his participation in spring practice as an early enrollee will give the Gators some piece of mind at their most important position.

Grier's skill set is a lot like Driskel's, so the offense won't change.

"I think he has a great mindset," said Roper, who worked with Grier a couple of years ago at Duke's summer camp. "I think he has a great quarterback demeanor, and then I tell you what, he was accurate. He can throw it. He has a fast arm."

Florida will open eight practice sessions to fans this spring, and all eyes will be on Driskel and Grier. As Roper finds their strengths and installs his offense, Gator fans ought to be treated to something they've seen precious little of in recent years -- dynamic, effective quarterbacks.