Much has been written about many of the mistakes junior quarterback Jeff Driskel made in 2012 as a first-year starter for the Florida Gators.
He missed open receivers at times and made incorrect reads on other occasions. But Driskel’s propensity for putting himself in dangerous situations making not-so-smart decisions with the football – failing to throw it away when rushed out of the pocket with no open receivers and not sliding to avoid massive hits that often left him shaken up – was the No. 1 thing the coaching staff wanted to fix in the offseason.
By all accounts – going on the words of head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease – Driskel has improved in those areas, mostly because his coaches have hammered into him the notion Florida’s quarterback depth is quite thin.
If Driskel gets knocked out of a game, the Gators have slim pickings behind him due to a combination of youth, lack of experience and – some would argue – talent.
“We’ve talked about it. Obviously we’re going to do what we have to do to win football games,” Muschamp said on Monday. “We have explored, number one, him taking care of himself and getting down in some situations. Again, he’s a valuable guy carrying the football. We’re going to do what we have to do to win games. … We emphasized [sliding and protecting himself] more to him than maybe he wanted us to.”
Added Pease, explaining how the Driskel practiced avoiding these situations: “You kind of protect him in practice but it’s got to be a communication deal. You trust what I’m hearing and I trust what you’re getting out of this. He understands it.
“You just do things visually to show him and practice little drills here [and there]. He’s a competitive kid and he’s probably going to go compete to get things right sometimes, so he’ll have to learn and understand to get your pads down. Because there are a couple of examples from last year where he got popped pretty good.”
Many of those big hits came after Driskel had already taken off out of the pocket and was running the ball downfield. He picked up four touchdowns on the ground and netted 408 yards rushing last season, actually gaining 711 yards with his legs but losing a staggering 303 due to sacks and failed runs. (NCAA statistics deduct lost yardage on sacks from a quarterback’s rushing total.)
Driskel knows is athleticism is one main reason why he won the starting quarterback job in 2012 and does not plan to stop running in 2013 but said he will be smarter about it.
“Yeah, that’s part of our offense. We have some designed runs. And obviously I’m going to have to take off at points. I’m just going to have to be smart with it, not take as many hits, get out of bounds when I can and slide if need be. I’m still going to be running the ball, just got to be smart about it,” he said.
“I’ve never really been one to slide. Ever since I’ve been growing up, I’ve been more physical than most quarterbacks. But [defenders] are bigger, faster and stronger than they used to be, so I really got to know that, just be smart and get down because that’s what’s best for the team.”
Driskel, a former baseball player who signed with the Boston Red Sox this summer after being selected with the team’s 29th round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, was actually asked by a media member on Monday if he knew how to slide or has practiced it, a question that would have made sense if someone had only seen him play football last season and knew nothing else about his career.
“I slid a couple times in camp just to put it on film that I can do it,” he said with a grin. “You just kind of got to do it. It’s hard to simulate. We don’t really practice it, but I did it a couple times in camp.”
The time for practice and simulation now over, all eyes will be on Driskel as Florida opens its season against Toledo on Saturday. And while fans, teammates and coaches all expect Driskel to be as explosive as he was at times in 2012, all parties involved are probably more hopeful that he is smarter with the football and remains healthy enough to start the other 11 regular season games.
Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press