Curious eyes will be on Gainesville, Fla., when the Gators open spring practice on March 19 and most of them will be focused under center.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel will battle with true freshman early enrollee Will Grier to win back his job after a broken leg suffered against Tennessee on Sept. 21 ended his junior season. The 6'4", 237-pounder from Oviedo, Fla., is recovering well and expected to be cleared before head coach Will Muschamp opens camp.
"He is doing very well," Muschamp told Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel earlier this month.
He has started some jogging, and he's doing very well. We moved (spring practice) back to March 19th, which I think gave him another 10 days maybe. He would have been cleared before the previous date, but we felt like just to give him another week.
|Jeff Driskel Stats by Season|
Make no mistake, it's Driskel's job to lose. In what's a critical year for Muschamp, it's a stretch to think that he'd place his job and livelihood in the hands of the true freshman Grier.
So what does Driskel have to work on this spring in order to dig Florida's offense out of its rut?
Get Comfortable With the Offense in a Hurry
New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was brought to Gainesville to turn around an offense that has been woefully inadequate ever since Muschamp was hired prior to the 2011 season.
Charlie Weis failed up to a head coaching job in his first and only season as the Gators' offensive coordinator in 2011 and Brent Pease took the Gators down even further in his two seasons.
Muschamp scraped the pro-style offense in favor of Roper's scheme that puts an emphasis on tempo and getting the ball in the hands of playmakers in space. That's needed because, according to CFBMatrix.com, the Gators finished dead last in FBS in plays per minute in 2013 with 2.16.
Florida wasn't supposed to be fast anyway, but Driskel's injury thrust Tyler Murphy and then Skyler Mornhinweg into the lineup, which forced Pease and Muschamp to protect the offense even more than they had planned.
Things are different now. Roper is a flexible offensive coordinator who adjusts his no-huddle scheme based on the talent around him, which should mean more spread option since one of the strengths of Driskel's game is his ability to create with his legs.
Driskel's natural ability should allow him to hit the ground running with the new offense. If he does, it will go a long way towards stabilizing the Gator offense as it makes its transition.
Stretch the Field
Accuracy isn't really much of an issue for Driskel. In fact, he's completed 62.9 percent of his passes (214-of-340) during his first three seasons with the Gators. However, the number that jumps out is 6.68 yards per attempt for his career.
That won't cut it.
Not only did opposing defenses creep up in the box because of Florida's run-first mentality, but there has been no vertical threat ever since Muschamp arrived. That's not just Driskel's fault. It falls on scheme and a remarkable lack of receiving talent too.
But with Muschamp's job on the line, those can't be used as excuses anymore.
Driskel needs to find a connection with at least one—and ideally more than one—receiver who he knows can take the top off of a defense and keep defensive coordinators honest.
It doesn't matter if it's Quinton Dunbar, Ahmad Fulwood, Demarcus Robinson or any other receiver on the roster. There's talent there, and Driskel needs to help the potential of the receivers transform into production this spring so that Roper can fine-tune things during fall camp.
Ignore the Noise
It's unfair, but Driskel has become an unofficial punching bag for Gator Nation. That goes along with the territory of being a starting quarterback in the SEC, and it takes a lot to block out the noise and focus on what's important—evolving as a quarterback.
With Grier—a 4-star pro-style prospect from Davidson, N.C., who has similar athleticism to Driskel—in house this spring, there will be pressure on the incumbent from a guy who instantly ups competition at quarterback.
Driskel just needs to ignore that.
Grier—or possibly Treon Harris, who will enroll this summer—may be the quarterback of the future, but Driskel is the quarterback of the present. He needs to allow Grier to push him, but not be distracted by the fact that he, like most backup quarterbacks, is the most popular man on campus.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com and all college statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.