By Mike Brandes – OnlyGators.com Contributor
A season-ending injury suffered against Tennessee during the third week of the 2013 season robbed Florida Gators redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel of football, and it has become quite obvious this spring that he is intent on making the most of his fourth year in the program.
Driskel is by all accounts adjusting nicely to the new up-tempo spread scheme offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is installing. He believes it is a much better fit not just for himself but the rest of the offensive playmakers as well.
“There are a lot of guys who can make plays in space, and this offense creates space. We’ve made some big plays against our defense, which is exciting,” he said. “When you turn on the film and you see a bunch of guys making big plays from last year at Duke, it just gets guys really excited for the offense.
“I think we’ve done a good job for only having 12 practices.”
Driskel feels a lot more comfortable in the new system, which focuses on quick reads, easy progressions and fast decisions.
“You’re working on less than three seconds, really about 2.8. It doesn’t matter what route concept we’re trying to throw, we’ve got to get the ball out,” Roper explains.
The fourth-year gunslinger no longer has the time to get into his own head and make a bad decision by forcing a ball that should otherwise be thrown away.
“Coach Roper’s big thing is get the ball out quick, so that’s always something I can hang my hat on is just get the ball out of my hands and move on to the next play,” he noted.
Roper has tried to ingrain that into Driskel’s head, ensuring his does not tie himself up in making a mistake or throwing the ball away but rather focusing on the next play and how he can move UF down the field.
“If you constantly beat them up [after making a mistake], I think you’re going to make them too cautious,” he said. “You got to go play this game with the intent on winning, is what Jeff has to do.
Complimenting his signal caller on his football IQ – “Jeff is capable of running really any offense” – Roper is also impressed with Driskel’s ability to handle his system in particular.
“I think his understanding of our offense has grown as the spring has gone on, but his experience playing this game over the last however many games he got before he got hurt, he’s been able to draw from that experience and use it to start understanding our offense,” he said.
Driskel will now have the opportunity to take off and run in a variety of situations including called running plays and as an option out of passing plays that break down early. In doing so, he will once again be able to utilize his tremendous athleticism.
“I expect to have some big plays, not going to force any quarterback runs; if they’re there, I’m going to take them and do what I can,” he explained. “A lot of them aren’t designed, they’re a lot of read plays. When I do decide that’s a good look to pull the ball and run, there are opportunities for big plays.”
He is also looking forward to operating more from the shotgun formation, from which he feels the offense can be less predictable than it has in years past where a majority of snaps were under center.
“It’s been awesome. … Now everything’s out of the gun, so it’s not a giveaway when we’re doing drop-back passes,” he said.
“I see the field really well in the gun as well as there’s an extra runner back there for the defense so they have different checks and different ways they have to play the shotgun formation rather than under center.”
The biggest drawback to Florida operating out of the shotgun is the fact that the team will have a new starter at center in the fall.
To this point, the Gators have been having major issues snapping the ball, as head coach Will Muschamp has pointed out throughout the spring.
“We need to get better snapping the ball. I think we will, it’s just going to take time,” Driskel admitted. “Max Garcia is the guy that’s been going with the ones right now. He hasn’t played center before, so I think he’s blocking really well. His snaps aren’t always perfect; they are getting better. … It’s just something we’re going to have to work on over the summer.”
Listing himself at 100 percent when practice began, Driskel has been working as much as he can to prepare for the upcoming season after coming off his injury and rehab. Roper was initially concerned with his ability to move in and out of the pocket but noted Thursday that his offensive leader “hasn’t shown any limp or favoring of the leg.”
While there has been rust, Driskel attributed that mostly to not being fully prepared to throw the ball on the move as much as he has been in the early going.
“I don’t really know if it was mechanics issues or just being rusty or what,” he said. “When I had to kind of move my feet, everything wasn’t in line. It was kind of working that back out and just getting back into the routine.
“I think I’m picking up the offense well. I’m kind of learning with everyone and ironing some things out, but I feel like it’s coming together pretty quickly.”
He is hoping to put the letdown of the 2013 season behind him. Like the rest of his teammates, he is working hard to prove the Gators are better than their embarrassing 4-8 record, the team’s first losing campaign since 1979, indicated.
“If you do the same thing constantly, you’re going to get the same result. Obviously we’ve got to do something better,” he said in an optimistic and up-beat tone. “I think we’re on the right track, and I don’t anticipate another year like that. … We definitely haven’t forgot[ten] that we went 4-8 last year.”
Driskel will have his first opportunity to prove that to Florida fans desperate to see some offense, any offense when he leads the Gators out of the tunnel on Saturday for the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
The spring game kicks off at 1:30 p.m. but will not air on television until 5 p.m. as a tape-delayed broadcast on Sun Sports.
OnlyGators.com will offer full, live coverage of the spring game all day on Saturday.