Sunday, April 22, 2018
Colleges

All Florida Gator eyes focus on quarterback battle: Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel?

GAINESVILLE — The television cameras and still photographers were set up around the placard with Jeff Driskel's name long before he arrived at Florida's annual media day on Thursday.

Across the room, quarterback Jacoby Brissett had a large audience of his own and admitted he was a little surprised by the attention "and all the lights on me."

Both should probably get used to the attention, particularly during the next month, because anyone interested in Florida football is interested in Brissett and Driskel.

If things go as planned, coach Will Muschamp will name one of those sophomores the starting quarterback prior to the Gators' opener on Sept. 1.

"We have a quarterback battle going," Muschamp said. "Both guys are talented, both are qualified for the position. If you saw our spring game, you saw what I saw for 14 practices: two guys that are very even in their competition. They're even going into fall camp."

Teammates say that's no understatement. After a summer filled with individual, player-initiated workouts, there's no one willing — or perhaps able — to say which quarterback is best suited to lead this team.

"Honestly, they are that close," junior running back Trey Burton said. "You might think everybody is just saying that, they don't want to say which one, but they are really that close. I wouldn't want to be the coaches having to make that decision."

The competition could last most of fall camp. Muschamp said he plans to name a starter by the opener, but he won't rule out playing both.

For now, the two insist they welcome the competition.

"It's great for both of us being able to compete, not only against yourself but another quarterback," Brissett said. "That's what is going to set us apart from other quarterbacks in this league, hopefully."

"I've just got to go out and play," Driskel said. "Just go out and have fun and make the team better. There's always been competition from the time we got here. Two talented guys are always going to compete against each other, always try to get better. It's been good for the whole team."

At 6 feet 4, 232 pounds, Driskel is the more mobile of the two and also has a strong arm, passing for 4,844 yards in high school. He was recruited by former coach Urban Meyer and was expected to thrive in the spread offense.

Now with his second offensive coordinator in two years, Driskel said he feels comfortable in the new system being implemented by Brent Pease.

"Every offense is similar, football plays are football plays," Driskel said. "I'm very comfortable. There's always stuff to learn, but I feel like I have a little bit better understanding than I did going into the spring."

Brissett, 6-3, 229, was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the nation coming out of Palm Beach Dwyer High. Though he came to UF to play for former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, he said both he and Driskel fit well in Pease's system.

"Both of use can win a national championship with this offense," Brissett said. " It just depends on how we play and how players play around us. When I've got the ball in my hands, I'm comfortable. Hopefully that's a winning situation."

Muschamp believes the similarities between the players have helped them, and the team, adapt more quickly.

"Both guys have a similar skill set, so it's not like there's one offense we run with one and one with another," he said. "And there's a possibility you could see both in the game at the same time. Both have handled the competition well. It's been good for our football team."

One could argue that Driskel and Brissett have competed for the starting job since last fall.

Driskel, the Maxwell Football Club national high school player of the year and the Gatorade Florida player of the year, was rated the No. 1 quarterback in the nation by Scout.com and Rivals.com out of Oviedo Hagerty High. He enrolled early in January 2011 and was supposed to be the heir apparent to then-starter John Brantley.

But then Muschamp hired former NFL and Notre Dame coach Weis, and one day after Weis arrived, he headed to West Palm Beach and convinced Brissett to become a Gator.

Driskel played in the opener against Florida Atlantic. Brantley, after an early season injury, was expected to start against then-No. 1 LSU, but an ankle injury opened the door for Brissett. Driskel eventually played in five games last season (16-of-34 for 148 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions); Brissett in eight (18-of-39 for 206 yards, two touchdowns, four interceptions).

Whatever happens this season, the two expect their bond to remain intact.

"We're close friends, and we're not going to let anything get in the way of that," Driskel said. "You have to be professional about it. I'm going out there to win the job, that's what we're both trying to do, and we'll have to go from there."

"There are things he does better than me, things I do better than him," Brissett added. "It's never just one quarterback at any university because if one quarterback gets hurt, another has to step up and fill that role. There's no (fighting) here. There's no need. We're both adults, we both want to better this team and we know whichever one is the starting quarterback, there's no need to argue about things we can't control."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

Florida's quarterback derby at a glance

Candidates Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel got some playing experience last season:

   
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