The Florida Gators held their first spring practice Wednesday to officially begin the 2014 college football season. That's right: You can finally replace those nightmares with happy thoughts about the future.
While there wasn’t a ton going on, and it was the first practice of many to come, there were a few interesting tidbits to take from the opening action.
It’s All About the Offense
Although pretty much nothing went right for Florida last season, a lot of its struggles were due to an offense that couldn’t get out of its own way. With a new offensive coordinator in Kurt Roper and a fresh start for the players, this spring is dedicated to the offense. Get the offense comfortable, and the defense will do all of the adjusting, according to head coach Will Muschamp, per Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports (subscription required):
"The No. 1 priority, and (defensive coordinator) D.J. (Durkin) understands that and our defensive players understand it, is the installation of the offense."
The first practice included an up-tempo style that had both sides of the ball absolutely gassed. It’s going to take a while for players to adjust to the new style of play, which is something Muschamp understands, according to the report.
The execution on both sides really fell off. The communication really fell off. The focus. There was more busted assignments. That's what happens when you get tired. Fatigue makes cowards of us all. And certainly I saw a lot of fatigue out there late in the day which is expected.
Even Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun commented on the speed of the offense:
Practice tempo very quick for Roper's offense. No standing around, no wasted time— Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) March 19, 2014
This is great news for both sides, as the spread offense is a much better fit for quarterback Jeff Driskel, and practicing against this style of play will get the defense better prepared for what they’ll face throughout the regular season.
Speaking of the offense, everybody wants to know what’s up with Driskel. Is he healthy? Will he be better than he was a year ago? Can somebody please just throw a touchdown pass?
Well, Driskel appears to be fully removed from last year’s injury and is participating throughout the spring. However, he won’t participate in any contact.
Muschamp said Driskel is full go, although he will not participate in any contact this spring.— Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) March 19, 2014
I wonder what that means as far as the spring game is concerned.
As for his performance, he was better than true freshman Will Grier, which is to be expected.
.@TylerCorns Driskel, by a fair bit. Grier has misfired a few times, is working with the 2s and 3s.— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) March 19, 2014
However, Goldkamp (subscription required) provides what he saw from Florida’s projected starting quarterback:
Quarterback Jeff Driskel looked fairly sharp early on, displaying good zip on the ball and a fairly tight spiral. He executed the two-minute drill effectively early in the practice. But as practice wore on, Driskel started to miss some throws and finished the day with a rather lackluster performance.
During 11-on-11 and pass-skeleton work, he overthrew a handful of targets. Most concerning was that he didn't give his receivers a chance on several deep balls. He was also bailed on out one deep ball that got away from him and should have been picked off, but Demarcus Robinson saved him on with a nice jump catch. Driskel also had an issue with one mesh point with Kelvin Taylor, resulting in a fumble recovery for the defense.
Overall, it was a solid but unspectacular first day with plenty of rust.
Plenty of rust is expected from a quarterback who hasn’t seen any real action since mid-September. The coaching staff will take all of the positives it can get from Day 1 and build on those moving forward.
Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III stole the show on Day 1, as Alligator Army summed his day up perfectly:
Vernon Hargreaves blankets Quinton Dunbar in a 1-on-1. Walks back to the line saying "That's PI. That's PI, too." And it was ... on Dunbar.— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) March 19, 2014
Yes, SEC receivers will need more than luck to create separation against the sophomore defensive back.
Speaking of defensive backs, Nick Washington and Driskel are allowed to stick around for another season.
#Gators QB Jeff Driskel and DB Nick Washington both received medical hardships yesterday, both gain an extra year.— Cody Jones (@CJonesScout) March 19, 2014
You can click here to see Muschamp’s 15-minute press conference regarding spring practice.
The Gators will take the field March 21 for Day 2 and March 22 for Day 3. Both practices will be open to the public. Click here to view the schedule.