Spring Look: At Florida

GAINESVILLE - The Gators' offense won't appear much different to the naked eye as far as formations under new coach Ron Zook. In the spring game, QB Rex Grossman operated out of the shotgun often. There were three wide receivers spread across the line of scrimmage. There were no-huddle plays. They ran reverses and double reverses. Hmmm, is Steve Spurrier really gone?

GAINESVILLE – Freshly showered, Rex Grossman walked out of the locker room and dropped his Gatorade, watching it splash all over the legs of the Florida Gators' new head coach.

"There's our quarterback," Ron Zook said. "He's got a case of the fumbles...but at least it's after the game."

Grossman chuckled nervously, apologized and picked up the now half-empty bottle before sneaking away to meet the media.I couldn't help but think of the response had he spilled his drink all over the legs of the former coach.

Yep, Ding Dong, the witch isn't dead -- it just moved to the nation's capital. Things are new and different in Gainesville.

Steve Spurrier was somewhere up north, probably lining up a putt on a D.C.-area golf course or deciding how many points he will lay on the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. While the Seminoles were playing the Garnet-and-Gold game, this new era of Florida football gave birth April 6 without him.

The Orange-and-Blue game was played in front of a school-record crowd of 39,500. (It must be noted that most of the UF assistant coaches -- from such places as Middle Tennessee and Louisiana-Lafayette -- didn't coach in front of that many people during the 2001 season.)

A new football coach received the loudest cheers of the day as he spent the day pacing back and forth like an expectant father, running from one sideline to the other and glancing at his play sheet as if it held the secret to a happy life. A new offense was revealed. The Gators entered the field whooping and chanting, apparently a new ritual they will continue this fall. And Grossman again showed why he will be a Heisman Trophy candidate next fall.

That's nothing new.

And the one man who most will determine the level of Florida's success in 2002 wore the No. 8 jersey and fired accurate passes with ease as if he was winning stuffed animals at the county fair. Grossman may have dropped his Gatorade after the game, but he didn't drop the ball for the Gators when he chose to return – minus Spurrier -- instead of heading off to the NFL.

"I am not looking back on my decision at all," he said. "I made it and I am happy with it."

GROSSMAN THE KEY

Zook and the rest of Gatorland should get down on their knees and thank God every night that he chose to stay in school. Otherwise, this new era would begin with either Jeff Creveling or Ingle Martin at quarterback. They are as green as Kermit the Frog. Remember, UF's two top receivers left early for the NFL. And with a schedule that includes Miami, the SEC East, and the annual season-ender with the Seminoles, that may have led to a very ugly transition of head coaches.

Don't even want to think about that," Zook said the other day of the possibility Grossman could have gone to the NFL. "I got enough to worry about."

Whether Grossman picks up where he left off as the Heisman Trophy runner-up: 65.6 percent completion rate, 3,896 yards passing and 34 touchdowns, it's up to him. At times, he showed frustration with learning a new offense after three years under Spurrier's "Fun'n'Gun, which he admits he knew "like the back of my hand."

"It really was second nature to me," he said. "This offense is similar in that we will pass quite a bit, but the average fan can't tell the difference. I can."

True, the Gators' offense won't appear much different to the naked eye as far as formations. In the spring game, Grossman operated out of the shotgun often. There were three wide receivers spread across the line of scrimmage. There were no-huddle plays. They ran reverses and double reverses.

New offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher, who directed Marshall's high-flying offense in recent seasons, is plenty qualified. He limited his display to the basics on April 6, given that the early-season opponents (UAB, Aug. 31 and Miami, Sept. 7) will have no film of the new Gators for which to prepare.

"Yeah, you can say that's why we did that," Zaunbrecher admitted. "The offense didn't do as much – on purpose."

But performance is what counts this fall, and without Spurrier's genius, ballplays and ability to dissect a defense on film and on Saturdays, you never know what the dropoff will be. If any.

"Coach Spurrier was one of a kind," Grossman said, making the grandest understatement of his 21-year-old life. "He was hilarious to watch."

For all but defensive coordinators who opposed him. Then again, Spurrier's weaknesses -- the common abandonment of the running game, the ensuing lack of patience and subsequent panic in crucial close games (i.e., the loss to Tennessee last season – have departed The Swamp for the nation's capital with him.

"I am satisfied that we'll be a great offense next (season)," Grossman said. "I have full confidence that we can accomplish all of the goals I have set for myself."

Those don't include the Heisman Trophy, by the way.

"The SEC Championship, going undefeated and a chance to play for the national championship," Grossman said.

After six seasons in the NFL, Zook has seen some pretty good quarterbacks. He knows how to compare Grossman, and what to compare him to.

"I was with the Chiefs when Warren Moon was there. He was my age and he still was working on getting better," Zook said. "So Rex can never stop learning. I saw he was frustrated this spring (learning the offense) and I liked that. He needs to understand he will learn a new offense when he goes to the NFL.

"But he is pretty good right now."

Grossman is good enough and experienced enough to make Zook an instant hero in Gainesville, should the Gators adjust to the new system and survive the brutal schedule.But remember, it's not at all as if they can't lose with Grossman.

It's just that they wouldn't win much without him.


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