Quarterbacks Should Have Help

There is no doubt that a lot of the 2012 season is hanging on the shoulders of how well the quarterbacks play at Florida. A trio of sophomores will be asked to figure it all out in time to start the season and mesh with a solid defense and special teams to form a complete team. The guys on their side of the ball should be able to help them a lot more than a year ago.

Nobody seems to be downplaying the significance of the quarterback play in 2012, not even the head coach. There will be pressure, and they will do what they can to alleviate some of that pressure, but whoever wins the quarterback battle and even the ones that don't are going to be expected to perform.

According to Florida head coach Will Muschamp, sophomores Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett, who are competing right now for the starting nod, have the tools to do just to perform at a high level.

Brissett started at #1 LSU.

"I think both of those guys have the intangibles you want at the position," Muschamp said of the two formerly high rated high school quarterbacks. "I see the things in the early stages that you want to have at the position."

The 2011 season was not supposed to be their year, but unfortunately for both of them, they were pressed into duty with injuries to starter John Brantley and then an injury to Driskel himself. As painful as it was, Muschamp believes the time spent on the field will pay dividends in 2012.

"Unfortunately they played for us this year, fortunately they played for us this year," he said realizing the dichotomy of the issue contrasted against both seasons. "It isn't an indictment on either young man. I think they are going to be really great players.

"It is different than any other position. Putting them in that position in a new offense and having guys around them that weren't even sure what was going on."

Muschamp says the cast around the quarterbacks should really be able to help the quarterbacks, compared to the inexperience and youth from a season ago.

"We really had a young football team. A year ago we had four offensive linemen working out on pro day and two of them were just starting in the NFL. There was a lot of moving parts and newness last year.

"Our offensive line is all back. We have tried to keep as much terminology as we can. Our tight ends and receivers are all back except for Deonte Thompson. Our backs have played, they aren't all back but they have played. (The quarterback) is kind of the new position and everyone else has been in the arena in the SEC."

Florida will be replacing its best two skill players from a year ago with the departure of running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. In their place, Mike Gillislee will be asked to step up, and Muschamp knows they will have to do a few different things to get him going.

Gillislee will get his chance.
"With Chris and Jeff they were a different style, it was more of a stretch and outside running –game," Muschamp said because of the stature and out right speed the duo possessed. "We still had some inside runs we worked on just so we wouldn't be so predictable."

The head coach knows that one mistake made was to not get Gillislee involved in the offense earlier in the year.

"We tried to get Mike involved in some games, (it was hard) especially with the first year of everything changing, and then having an inside and outside running game that fit what we were doing with the other guys. If we were further along with what we were doing, we would have done that.

"He was injured and out for a considerable amount of time. It is tough to continue to build on that. Earlier in the year we should've, could've, would've gotten him more involved. I do agree (with that).

Expect a different running game this year, but these guys also have to learn all the facets of their job on the field.

"You tailor around the things they do best," Muschamp said. "Guys we have coming in are bigger backs that run the ball north and south and get downhill. They need turns and reps. It's not just about carrying the ball… blocking, it's about doing a lot of things right. That is where those guys need to take the next step. It's not just about running the ball downhill."

The Gators have one All-SEC player returning on the team. Kicker Caleb Sturgis earned post season honors after going 22 of 26 on field goals with a long of 55 yards and by making all 31 extra point attempts. A history of back problems, the team doctors and trainers helped get him through the season. Muschamp knows they still have to watch him.

Sturgis had a come back year in 2011.

"We have identified some things he needs to work on… (like) field goals from the right hash," Muschamp said when asked if Sturgis would basically take the spring off to further heal his back. "Every player can improve and get better, no one is too good. He is obviously a guy that we don't want to over-kick. We did a good job this season, but still had a little bit of a hiccup, so we need to do a better job this season."

Sturgis may or may not kick off this year, regardless there has been a rule change that the staff is busy preparing for.

In a move to curtail injuries during kick returns, the NCAA rules committee voted to move the kickoff to the 35-yard line (currently set at the 30-yard line), and to require that kicking team players must be no further than five yards from the 35 at the kick. The rule is intended to limit the running start kicking teams have during the play.

The kicker (pun intended) is that the committee also voted to move the touchback distance on free kicks to the 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line to encourage more touchbacks. Something else they believe will help with the injury situation.

Muschamp said they have been really tinkering with the numbers to figure out what they want to do.

"We had 18% of our kickoffs that were touchbacks," he said. "We felt like kicking off from the 35 there would have been another 22 kicks in the end zone… we would have been up to 47%.

"Now the ball is being spotted on a touchback at the 25 (yard line). Do you try and put a little more hang on it and try and put it on the one or two yard line and try and pin it with our team speed? Those are things we are talking about with the staff right now."

Muschamp doesn't necessarily agree with the rules committee on the change.

"The collisions happen 40 yards down the field, he said with a quizzical tone. "So if you take off from five (less) yards, it doesn't even matter."

This is still a team with very few seniors and so finding leaders is going to be tough. There are only 13 seniors in the group. Muschamp says a few of those are starting to take things on themselves, but he believes his junior class is the one that will do most of the leading for this 2012 team.

"There have been some guys that need to step up and some that have stepped up," he said. "Up front you have Matt Patchan and Xavier Nixon, they are two guys that need to step forward for us. Frankie Hammond is a guy at the receiver position. Mike Gillislee is not a vocal guy, but will work hard and show up with his lunch pail every day. He is that kind of player for us.

"I think we will draw a lot from our junior class. From a play making stand point first of all and from leadership. Sharrif Floyd, Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley were all pretty much freshmen last year. They didn't play a whole lot the year (before). This year they played the duration of an SEC season for the first time. The jump from that initial season needs to be considerable."

The Gators got a boost when offensive guard James Wilson was granted a sixth year of eligibility. Wilson scarcely played because of injured knees, but played very well in the Gators' bowl game to end the season in 2011. The staff hopes he keeps up the great play. There is no plan to take it easy on Wilson this spring because of the knees, at a position that just doesn't have a lot of depth.

"I have a next man theory," Muschamp said. "If someone goes down we have to go to the next man. I hate to be cold hearted, it's not just James, I am talking about every player on our football team. That is why you recruit and have numbers, especially on the line of scrimmage."

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