Offensive positives outweigh the negatives

As spring drills wind down, the Florida Gators should be able to look back and say they got some positive things done. At the top of the things needed to accomplish was to create an offense out of the shambles from a year ago. Without knowing exactly where they are at just yet, there seems to be some movement in a positive direction on offense.

I can't sit here and tell you that I believe that Jeff Driskel will come out and be the top quarterback in the SEC next year. I can't even tell you that I know he will be at least middle-of-the-road. What I do know is that the Florida staff truly believes he can be a top quarterback in the conference and from the onset of the season in 2014.

I have been burned here a few times, so I won't make any kind of early call on how well Jeff Driskel will fare this season. But, I can say that the fast pace of practice and his ability to get through it with pretty good fortune and rhythm should bode well for next year. The simplicity of the offense should fit into Driskel's roundhouse well.

There are two things I will question until I see it. They aren't ever live tackling on him. That is understandable given the injury he suffered. However, I have maintained that they also do the same thing in the fall and at the end of the day it is hard for a quarterback to go from never being hit, to getting hit hard in a football game. The other thing for Driskel is going to be that deep fade pass. From what we saw this spring, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper relies heavy on the short and quick passing game (slants, drags, flares, hitches, etc.), but he also likes the deep fade pass and that long touch pass has never been a Driskel special. To me it is the biggest thing for him to work on to make the offense potent.

There is no doubt that freshman quarterback Will Grier will be the second guy. Whether the staff is ready to say that right now doesn't really matter. Grier isn't as decisive as Driskel is right now, but the ball whops from his hand pretty quickly when he does throw it. He also throws that deep fade pass better than any of the three and has hit more deep balls than anyone this spring. He sees the deep field overall better. Again, he isn't live in tackling drills, so it is hard to see how he will do in live action… to be continued in that department.

I like a lot about what we saw from the running backs. I talked about this earlier, but the big thing missing was that home run threat. I guess the one caveat to that is that they really didn't tackle much so it is hard to see if these guys were going to bust some long runs, but the point is they are still missing that guy that gets to the edge and out runs everyone for a 40-50+ yard touchdown.

Still, the times we watched Kelvin Taylor, we saw the things we needed to see even with a change in the offense. Taylor has that patience to wait in the hole on a shotgun snap and with his vision get to the line of scrimmage and beyond with a little skip and take off. Taylor can also sucker the defenders inside and then jet to the edge and beyond.

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Mark Herndon seemed to be the next guy in most of the rotations, thrown in with a little bit of Mack Brown. He will miss the spring game due to injury, but he appeared to be the second guy. Mack Brown looked to have lost some weight to get more streamlined and quicker. He didn't stand out a lot, but was in on some nice plays that we saw. I am not sure if he is getting passed at this point.

Adam Lane is a different kind of runner than the rest. A straight ahead bull dozer with some speed, Lane ran hard in traffic and can carry a defender or two. WE didn't see as much of him as we did with Taylor and Herndon.

The fullbacks have all but become H-backs or tight ends in this offense. To that end, Hunter Joyer was lined up in the slot a lot and was surprisingly successful over the middle in the passing game. He and Tevin Westbrook look like the top targets there for the time being with the caveat that Gideon Ajagbe showed real signs and missed a lot of time with injury, so he may also be one to watch. Freshman DeAndre Goolsby was more physical than I figured he will be and he should garner some playing time as a freshman.

If I had to pick the position that showed the most success from a year ago it is wide receiver. Again hesitant because we have been there before, the Gators really need numbers at receiver and appear to be heading that direction.

The best play maker of the bunch is sophomore Demarcus Robinson. They like to get Robinson the ball in the short field and let him do something with it after he catches it. Muschamp in the last two weeks or so mentioned a top six of Robinson, Quinton Dunbar, Ahmad Fulwood, Chris Thompson, Valdez Showers, and Latroy Pittman. He feels really confident in those six.

From what we saw, Dunbar is the mid-range possession guy, we saw what he can do last year and that he is capable of making the tough catch. Dunbar does have surprising speed as well, but he is a good target in the mid-range.

They love running the crossing patterns with Fulwood (big target) and Thompson (fastest receiver). Both have made several big plays on the year.

Showers offers good speed and size in the slot, but the guy I think we really keep forgetting about is Pittman, from nearby Citra North Marion. A year ago at this time Pittman emerged as the starter at one of the receiver spots coming out of spring. He got himself in trouble in the summer and was suspended to start the season. He is a very reliable receiver and he is built strong and plays the position tough. He can make the very difficult catch when called upon.

With those six, there are still two names we haven't mentioned who I believe will play important roles this year. Senior Andre Debose is expected to make a full recovery but is still in a non-contact jersey after recovering from ACL surgery. He has been running around at 100% and looks great. In the private scrimmage on Saturday, it won't get much play, but red-shirt freshman Alvin Bailey may have had the best scrimmage of any player.

It appears they are looking at maybe eight receivers ready to participate at the first game, compared to really three a year ago, not to mention all the competition involved making them better. That is a huge change for the better.

The offensive line may still be the biggest concern, and the concern comes in two forms. The starting unit looks to be a strong one and one that can physically play with anyone, but they have had issues with bad snaps from the center position. Again, I thought Muschamp was a little worked up over this more than he should but have heard the snapping in Saturday's scrimmage was pretty rough. I personally saw a decline in bad snaps in the open practices but they are definitely still there.

The other issue is that the second unit is just not ready. Muschamp has mentioned this and they really need 8-9 total ready up front. A year ago they played too many games with injured players after several players were already down with injuries, they know they have to get to eight or nine by the start of the season.

Max Garcia is what you are looking for at the center position, but if he isn't able to fix his issues with snapping the ball, he will end up starting elsewhere on the line. I think the Gators have three strong tackle prospects in D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green, and Trenton Brown. I do believe Brown could be a big asset at guard as well, but having three strong players there is big.

Tyler Moore and Trip Thurman are positive players, I tend to like Thurman more at this point, but others watching like Moore. That would be the starting unit and this is where the worry begins.

Trenton Brown is the sixth guy and already mentioned, getting to eight or none may require Cameron Dillard playing center, which could be a viable option. Right now a big culprit on the second unit is injuries again. The guy they would really like to get in the mix has been out almost all spring. Roderick Johnson has a lot of promise, but missed last season due to injury and is missing valuable time now. A natural tackle, they moved him to guard to try and get him on the field sooner. He could challenge for a starting spot, if he can get healthy.

Two guys that aren't ready now that could be that way in the fall are true freshman Kavaris Harkless at left tackle and Antonio Riles who was moved in the last week to guard from defensive tackle. Both have showed a lot of promise, but aren't ready just yet. Junior College transfer Drew Sarvary is a little behind.

It just doesn't add up to the number of quality players right now. That can be fixed with a healthy Rod Johnson and a Harkless or Riles to really step up. But, those things have to happen first.

Right now a thin line is getting gassed in practice as well. That is a positive thing for the rest of the offense, but a sign that there aren't enough linemen to make it work.

Tomorrow we will look at Florida's defense this spring.

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