Offensive changes bring spring optimism

Florida coach Will Muschamp took the podium on Tuesday to preview spring practice with an optimistic voice. After a miserable 4-8 campaign in the fall, the road to redemption begins on March 19 when the Gators open the spring. All eyes are focused on first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who will be installing Florida's new up-tempo offense.

The Florida head coach believes his team's personnel is built for a quick transition on offense. The Gators were prepared to implement a quicker tempo with the offense last season until Jeff Driskel went down with a broken fibula against Tennessee and was lost for the remainder of the season.

However, this spring will be the first start in what Muschamp referred to as a "drastic change schematically" on the offensive side of the ball.

"I feel real comfortable with where we are from the opportunities we've had to meet with our players throughout these weeks," Will Muschamp said. "Kurt and I have talked extensively about our installation and what we need to do to be where we're very productive and feeling good about ourselves leaving spring practice, and we need to do that."

The new scheme will utilize athleticism of the quarterback position, which makes it even more important for Driskel to be healthy. That's one reason why Florida moved the start of spring practice back one week later than usual. Healing wounds was the ultimate priority.

Driskel's athleticism will be an important part of what Florida does with the ball, using his legs to move the pocket, throw on the run and have designed quarterback runs.

The Florida coaches went through the statistics of last season's putrid offensive production and found some positives to work with. Muschamp said the Gators ran for 6.8 yards per carry from the shotgun while "just a little over four (yards per carry)" from under center. Through the air, Florida completed 60 percent of its passes from the shotgun while just 50 percent of passes from under center.

"More explosive plays in the run game and in the passing game from the gun," Muschamp said. "More production, more yards per attempt to incompletion in all situations. Obviously, we're more comfortable in the gun situations. That's why you hire Kurt Roper to come in here, his development at the quarterback position, attention to detail, and he's very positive with the kids."

The NCAA allows two hours per week for the Florida coaches to meet with players and talk about football, and the offensive conversations are the most important ones at this point. The players are excited to see what Roper wants to do on the field and have been working hard to learn the playbooks before the start of spring practices.

"Very good positive response from our players," Muschamp said. "They're excited about where we are right now. I know from the schematic standpoint, the guys are excited about what we're doing. That's good. You've got to have belief in what you're doing.

"I feel like that was a huge issue for us last season. We lost belief and confidence in what we were doing. It affected our entire team from the offensive side of the ball. I'm excited about that."

INJURY REPORT: Running back Matt Jones (knee) is progressing "very well" and will be cleared for everything on May 1, but he will not go through spring practice. He will rehab during practice, and the coaching staff remains happy with his progress.

Defensive tackle Leon Orr (fractured wrist) will miss the spring. The injury happened at the end of the season and was expected to rehab itself. There was a second opinion in early February that decided to get surgery. He'll be cleared for everything on May 1, but Muschamp pointed out on Tuesday that he likely wouldn't have taken many reps this spring, allowing the younger players to see most time improving.

Wide receiver Andre Debose (ACL) will be cleared for non-contact work on March 28. He has been participating in the offseason program and progressing very well.

Linebacker Matt Rolin (ACL) will be cleared on May 1. Linebacker Alex Anzalone (shoulder) should be cleared May 1 and the coaches are "very comfortable" with his rehab. Linebacker Jeremi Powell (ACL) should be cleared on June 1.

Freshman running back Brandon Powell was dealing with a pre-existing injury with his foot from high school that turned out to be a small fracture. He had surgery to put a pin in it and will be cleared for non-contact work during the second half of spring ball. The coaches are excited about his potential impact once he gets healthy.

"To that point in January, he had done an outstanding job in our conditioning drills," Muschamp said. "Great change of direction and speed. We're really excited about. He's one of the guys we're really excited about. It's unfortunate that something like that happened from high school."

Freshman offensive lineman Nolan Kelleher had a back issue while coming to college and hasn't been cleared for spring football. Muschamp was unsure when he would be cleared, and he will get a second opinion this week.

Tight end Colin Thompson (foot) hasn't been cleared for spring. The last opinion from doctors said that Thompson needed to "shut it down completely" and have another opinion when spring football comes to an end. He is out for the spring.

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