It’s been a long time since the Florida Gators went into fall practice with such a clouded picture at the most important position on the football field: quarterback.
It’s not that the Gators don’t have talent at the position; it’s just that they are so uncertain at to which of their talented players will get the starting nod. The two main candidates are sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. Both have great size for a quarterback — Brissett is 6-3, 229 pounds, while Driskel is 6-4, 232. There’s also redshirt sophomore Tyler Murphy in the mix.
Both played last season after an injury shortened the season of starter John Brantley, but neither was especially effective after being thrown into the starting lineup at midseason. Brissett, one of only five true freshmen to ever start a game for Florida, was 18-for-39 passing for 206 yards and two touchdown passes against four interceptions, with two rushing scores, while Driskel was 16-for-34 for 148 yards and two interceptions.
Florida second-year head coach Will Muschamp talked about the fall quarterback battle when he met with the media on Thursday.
“I told our team, we have got a lot of position battles and I said, ‘everyone wants to ask me about the quarterback position,’” Muschamp said. “‘I’ll be honest with you, I feel really good about that position because we have two players that are competing that are going to make each other better, our offense better and our team better.’”
Florida’s first fall practice begins today, although the Gators have more position battles than just at quarterback.
“The first two days are in helmets,” Muschamp said. “So for teaching purposes, I think it’s really good to get the kids out there and let them have an opportunity to be able to get turns and reps in the drills. We can slow it down a little bit at night for the younger guys especially; slow the teaching progression down for them a little bit which I think is really beneficial for them in the learning process.”
One thing the UF quarterback candidates will have going for them this season is the addition of new offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who is adept at coaching the QB position due to his playing days.
“I think that Brent is a guy that has played the position,” Muschamp said. “He’s experienced dropping back. He’s experienced those things that are critical for a player and the experience and the teaching of a player. I certainly think that helps. But he’s got a good demeanor and he works well with all of our players, not just the quarterbacks.
“But from a system standpoint, I mean, you know, again, we have tried to keep a lot of the terminology the same to keep some consistency,” Muschamp said. “You can’t call everything the same, because I want Brent to feel comfortable as well. That’s critical to me. I’ve done what he’s done, two different times; three different times, actually. But at the end of the day, I think that we need to continue working through some of the possible question marks we have offensively to solidify our identity offensively.”
The two quarterbacks are head-to-head on the depth chart and while Muschamp wants to name a starter as soon as possible, he’s not going to rush to judgment.
“If you saw our spring game, you saw what I saw for 14 practices. Two guys that are very even in their competition,” he said. “They’re even going into fall camp. They’ll get equal reps. I would like to name a starter before the season, but I’m not going to put a timetable on that. If we need to play both of them, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do what we need to do to win football games.”
Going into the first day of practice, the Gator players agree that the competition has been good for the team as a whole and the players have confidence in both quarterbacks.
“It’s hard to tell which one is the best, said senior linebacker Jon Bostic, who led the team in tackles a year ago (94). “It’s going to be a tough decision. They all bring something different to the table that you can really go along with. Jacoby has got the strong arm so you can throw it down field. You even have Tyler Murphy, who is ready to be an immediate manager. He just brings that mentality and the smarts with a lot of plays. He can recognize defenses right off the bat.
“You’ve also got Jeff, who can kill you with his feet. He is one those quarterbacks that can keep plays alive all day and really gets the coverages he wants because he can run,” said the linebacker.
With the Gators coming off a 7-6 season and a two-year record of 15-11, which according to Muschamp is very un-Florida like, it will be advantageous for the Gators to find the right man to run the offense as soon as possible. But don’t rule out the possibility of both QBs having a role in the offense.