- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida QB Jeff Driskel had better make some significant improvements during the offseason, because the Gators’ offense will be in a world of trouble if he doesn’t.
Or if he gets hurt.
Jacoby Brissett’s decision to transfer leaves Florida with zero experience behind Driskel. Tyler Murphy, who will be a redshirt junior next season, has appeared in three games in his career in a mop-up role and has never thrown a pass. Skyler Mornhinweg will be a redshirt freshman in 2013.
The other quarterback on the roster is expected to be Max Staver, a 6-foot-6, 238-pound four-star recruit from Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy who has pledged to sign with Florida next month.
That means the Gators have virtually no options if Driskel doesn’t get better after his first season as a starter. The 6-4, 237-pound junior-to-be was solid in 2012, completing 63.7 percent of his passes for 1,646 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. But he struggled with holding on to the ball too long, staring down his receivers and making progressions.
Those are things with which nearly every young quarterback struggles, so it shouldn’t be alarming that Driskel did. Plus, he didn’t get a ton of help. The offensive line was inconsistent in pass protection, and the receivers -- other than TE Jordan Reed (team-high 45 catches), who announced he’s leaving early for the NFL -- are below-average.
The line should be significantly better in 2013 thanks to the addition of transfers Tyler Moore (Nebraska), Max Garcia (Maryland) and Trenton Brown (Georgia Military College) and the development of heralded freshman D.J. Humphries. But there are even more questions about the receivers now that Reed isn’t returning.
The Gators have only two receivers who have caught more than eight passes in their careers. WR Solomon Patton, who will be a senior next season, has eight career receptions in 31 games, and WR Andre Debose has 26 catches in 31 games. WR Quinton Dunbar, who will be a redshirt senior in 2013, has 50 catches for 599 yards and six touchdowns in 26 games.
The four tight ends on the roster have a combined four catches for 17 yards and one touchdown. UF also has four receivers committed to sign in February.
That puts a lot of pressure on Driskel in 2013. He has to make quicker decisions and quicker and better reads, and he must get rid of the football sooner. That means a lot of time in the summer in the film room and throwing with the receivers. It should help in spring practice that Driskel won’t be splitting reps 50-50 the way he did last year with Brissett, so he’ll get more work.
It will be the offense’s second season in coordinator Brent Pease’s system, and the hope is that there will be the same kind of improvement that the defense experienced in its second season under coordinator Dan Quinn.
Just as important as Driskel’s development is his ability to stay healthy. He was banged up with a shoulder injury in August and missed a game with a sprained ankle. Brissett at least gave the Gators a somewhat experienced backup. If Driskel were to go down for anything more than a drive or two next season, the Gators’ season would be in jeopardy.
The Gators were 114th nationally in passing in 2012. That number might be a pipe dream if Driskel doesn't improve significantly or gets hurt.