Quarterback Competition Breeds Special Bond

The battle at quarterback this spring might not look like most people imagine when the two are off the field. In the quarterback meeting room, Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel sit side-by-side. They watch film, grow together and try to improve the other. While the quarterbacks insist they're rooting for each other as spring practices start in Gainesville, the competition is still high.

"We go on walks on the weekend," Florida quarterback Jacoby Brissett joked about his relationship with Jeff Driskel.

The competition on the field hasn't kept the two from having fun. As Driskel sat at a podium in the visitor's locker room on Thursday afternoon, Brissett was sitting in the back of the room. He waved when Driskel sat down, only to see Driskel smirk, shake his head and look the other way as Brissett tried to jokingly break his concentration from the interview to come.

When they step on the spring practice field, the joking is over. The two players are working to earn the starting quarterback job once the season starts in the fall.

"We all know it's a competition," Brissett said. "That's what we came to Florida for—the competition. Football has it's place for football and outside has its place for outside."

On paper, Brissett might look like he has the edge. He was thrown into the fire as a freshman last season, with his first start coming on the road at No. 1 LSU. He finished the season 18-39 while throwing for 206 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. He played in eight games compared to the five that Driskel played in.

Driskel ended the year 16-34 for 148 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He's the more likely to tuck the ball and run with it, while Brissett knows the type of quarterback he is.

"I can tell you right now he's faster than me," Brissett said with a smile. "It's not about being faster. It's about knowing when to run and when not to run.

"I'd rather stand in the pocket and throw the ball and let somebody else get hit. I just feel like I stand in the pocket and be calm."

The competition could also benefit the team. Last season, it was understood that John Brantley would quarterback the team as it went into the year. While uncertainty can give the team two quarterbacks and not provide one central voice of leadership, Driskel thinks it can improve the team.

"It's going to make us a ton better," Driskel said of the competition. "We're both going to be doing what we can each day in the film room and on the field. It'll be good for the team as well.

When Driskel got to Gainesville, it looked like he would win the job after Brantley left. He was named the backup quarterback early into fall practice because he already had a solid grip on the offense. Driskel skipped his final semester of high school to enroll early at Florida and make the adjustment sooner.

That knowledge helped him win the backup job.

When he was called on, Driskel sputtered. Brantley was knocked out of the Alabama game before halftime and the freshman was thrown into the fire. Driskel finished the game 2-6 for 14 yards and 18 rushing yards. Those stats might actually make it sound better than it was.

"I want to say I was calm, but I'd be lying," Driskel said. "I was a little nervous. It was a big stage and I should've been more prepared. I won't be unprepared this year.

"Being the quarterback at Florida, you can't be nervous. You've got to be prepared. By being prepared, you're going to just play and not think."

He felt better as the season went on, even saying he felt the best during the Auburn game, despite missing a few throws.

For Brissett, his big moment came in Baton Rouge.

The playbook was drastically reduced for the first time on the field in his college career. He went 8-14 for 94 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The one touchdown, and 65 of his total yards, came on a long throw to Andre Debose.

"It was a great experience to get that under my belt," Brissett said. "I wasn't (nervous). Throughout practice, I just put myself through situations in my head like it was a real game."

The biggest thing Brissett tried to show his teammates in that start was his leadership. He wanted to command the huddle and prove that he was capable of handling the reigns as the quarterback.

"As a quarterback, that's the biggest role you have to play on the field," Brissett said. "That's my biggest focus—becoming that leader that we needed last year throughout the hard times."

The most notable change for the two was at offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. After Charlie Weis left for Kansas, Will Muschamp hired Brent Pease away from Boise State to hold the same titles.

Brissett said the difference is that Pease "is big on shifts and motions" before the snap.

Off the field, the two quarterbacks have already seen a difference.

"He's going to work around us," Driskel said. "He knows his personnel, and he's going to do what best suits us. He's very personal and willing to work with us and put in the extra time.

"Coach Weis is more of an old school guy. He has his way, and that's what we had to do. We had to do exactly what he said. There's nothing wrong with that. Pease just seems a little bit more flexible."

The two young quarterbacks will have their jobs made easier by the returning wide receiver. Deonte Thompson (21 rec., 264 yds., 1 TD) is the only wide receiver or tight end that isn't returning. Even though it will be a different offensive coordinator, there is still plenty of confidence in what the returning skill players can do.

"I feel like it'll be a big breakout year for most of our skill players," Brissett said. "Pretty much most of our receivers will have a big chance to make big plays. It's a new scheme—kind of—but the same stuff."

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