The Florida staff was reluctant to let Jeff Driskel run with the ball too much a year ago. His penchant for running hard and taking the hit was something they regularly cringed over, so they held him back.
The problem with that scenario is that it is part of Driskel’s game. He has a big time arm, but before Florida he was always in an offense that also relied on his feet to make things happen. His ability to run with the ball should not be overlooked and if a defense was, this is the year they want to make them pay for it.
“That’s part of our offense,” Driskel told the Florida media about running the ball himself. “We have some designed runs, and obviously, I’m going to have to take off at some points. I’m going to have to be smart with it, not take as many hits, get out of bounds when I can and slide when need be. I’m still going to be running the ball, just need to be smart about it.”
Of course being a year older and wiser and knowing the offense like the back of his hand now gives him more confidence in what he is doing and everything else going on around him.
“I’ve got more media in me, so I’m not as nervous talking to you guys,” he said. “I know what I’m doing. I’ve been here before. I’m excited for the season.”
He also understands that confidence can’t turn into foolishness and that he has to use his head when it comes to not taking a direct hit and risk his own and team goals in the process.
“I’ve never been one to slide,” he said. “Ever since I was growing up, I’ve been physical and more physical than most quarterbacks. They’re bigger and stronger than they used to be, and I’ve got to know that. Just be smart and get down because that’s what is best for the team.
“It’s tough to practice it because you don’t get hit in practice as a quarterback. The coaches just beat it into me that you’ve got to get down and you’ve got to get out of bounds. It’s huge for us and for the team. I’m going to do that if I can.
“I slid a couple of times in camp just to put it on film that I can do it. But you just kind of have to do it. It’s kind of hard to simulate it. We don’t really practice it, but I did do it a couple of times in camp.”
His confidence of being on the same page with everyone and knowing when to run also means he has a better grasp of the passing game. Florida looks to improve dramatically from being the 114th ranked passing offense in the nation a year ago.
Driskel is a lot more confident in his ability to help make that happen.
“A ton more,” he said in reference to confidence in the passing game. “Another year in the offense, know the routes and the receivers better. Also, the receivers know what they’re doing a lot better. It’s everyone working together, not just one person. Just being comfortable.”
The addition of a freshman class of talented receivers has also bolstered the confidence in the passing game. Demarcus Robinson enrolled in January after completing high school early. Robinson should have a big say in things this year in the passing game. But, Driskel guards against too much too fast.
“Any young guy, there’s going to be a learning curve. Luckily, he was here in the spring, so he got some extra plays that he wouldn’t have got if he enrolled just for summer classes. It’s tough… it’s tough for any freshman. He’s working hard. He’s going to have to be a guy who makes some big plays for us this year.”
Driskel has noticed just how far Robinson has come since the end of spring drills. A great amount of time spent together in the offseason has helped.
“Night and day difference,” he said of the Georgia native. “Once you’ve been in it and done it before, you’re going to be a lot more comfortable. He knows what he’s doing a lot better. He has put in his time. He looks at his playbook a lot. He’s a guy we’ll have to rely on this year.”
“I was with him a lot, staying around him and trying to teach him the offense as much as I can. Not just run the route how it’s drawn up in the playbook but run it based on the coverage. It’s not just like it’s drawn up every time. We’re trying to teach him how to run routes with different looks.”
Florida really needs the passing game to step up. Not only did the Gators lose their first 1,000-yard rusher in the last ten years when Mike Gillislee moved on to the NFL, the projected starter in Matt Jones is out of the first game as well. The Gators are also down two starting linemen with right guard Jon Halapio being out at least two games and the news Monday that right tackle Chaz Green would be out the entire season due to injury.
Driskel still believes the running game will be the identity of the offense.
“We’ve got a lot of depth on the offensive line and at the running back position,” he said. “We want to run the ball early and set the tempo for the year. I think we’ll be fine.”
With Jones out at least the starter, Florida will start junior Mack Brown in his place. Driskel likes what he knows about Brown.
“He’s not a young guy,” Driskel said of Brown. “This is his (fourth) year in the program. He’s a redshirt junior. He’s gotten some reps. I’m excited to see him play. He hasn’t gotten too many chances to run it in the game, but I’m excited for him to have a great game.”
Behind Brown is a hand full of guys with zero experience carrying the ball in college. Former walk-on Mark Herndon, former safety Valdez Showers, and true freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane make up the rest of the unit.
“We’re confident in all the guys we’ll put out there. If we weren’t confident, Coach Muschamp wouldn’t put them out there. We’re excited to see those guys in action. They’ve done great in camp.”
He is excited to see them play Saturday against Toledo.
“Definitely excited,” he said. “We’re always going to get guys that are going to make plays. Sometimes when you’re in practice, when it’s thud tempo, you don’t really know if they’re going to go down or make somebody miss so I’m really excited to see them live because when it’s live it’s a lot of different than when it’s thud tempo or tag somebody off. That’s what I’m really excited to see.”