GAINESVILLE — Florida will begin preparations for the 2013 football season this afternoon without its starters at quarterback, right and left guard, middle linebacker and running back.
One day after having his appendix removed, quarterback Jeff Driskel was well enough to attend Thursday's media day. But he likely will not be able to practice for two weeks.
Right guard and St. Petersburg Catholic alum Jon Halapio was there, too, but will be limited in practice by an injured pectoral muscle. Left guard Max Garcia is awaiting clearance from a recurring back injury. Running back Matt Jones (Armwood High) is undergoing treatment for a viral infection that will keep him out indefinitely. And linebacker Antonio Morrison is serving a disciplinary suspension and isn't allowed to practice until later in the month.
For coach Will Muschamp, the absences present a chance to immediately handle the adversity that inevitably comes during a long season and give other players a chance to prove themselves.
"I think training camp is developing your roster as much as anything, especially young players," Muschamp said. "It's not going to be pretty early with a lot of them."
Although, frustrated, Driskel said he won't force his return and risk more harm.
"We're lucky we found it early and we acted on it and handled that before it got bad," Driskel said. "It's definitely frustrating, but injuries happen. It's part of life. Right now, I'm starting to feel a little bit better already, so we'll see.
"The recovery time, they say, it varies for everybody. We're not going to rush anything, but I don't think I'll miss too much."
Redshirt junior Tyler Murphy will take over in Driskel's absence. Redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg and freshman Max Staver also could get some reps.
"I've got to take advantage of these reps because at any time my number could be called," Murphy said. "And there's no room for this team to take a step back."
The Gators hope other players take advantage of an opportunity.
"It's a downer just because it happened to those guys, but it's a great opportunity for the younger guys to step up," said Halapio, who said he doesn't need surgery and his limited reps are only precautionary. "It's a great example for the young guys that anybody could be called upon at any time. Man up, man down is what Coach Muschamp is always preaching."
Muschamp admitted being without his starting quarterback isn't the ideal way to kick off a season.
"I don't think it's ever good for you that your starter is not taking the reps at any position, certainly the quarterback position," he said. "But you always look at it from a glass half full … from the standpoint of what great reps those guys will get. We need to distance ourselves a little bit to be clear of who that backup is going to be.
"I challenged the football team in a meeting (Thursday). It's time for somebody to respond. When you sign at the University of Florida, you have a huge expectation level to compete for championships. So regardless of the situation, that's what we expect."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]