GAINESVILLE — Florida concludes its 15th and final practice of the spring football season today with the annual Orange and Blue game, and coach Will Muschamp expects fans to see a vastly improved group of players but, overall, a team that remains a work in progress.
What has developed over the past three weeks, the Gators said, is an improving offensive line, players making a serious run at filling the hole left by the departure of running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, and defensive players who have a better understanding of the scheme and what is expected of them.
"Last spring ball everything was new to us," linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. "We were thinking, we were trying to figure out how to play in the 3-4 defense. Now it was just like three months ago we were playing in the Swamp and going full speed with it. So I think that we're all able to play faster, we're not thinking so much and now we're able to work on the little things and just tighten some things up. We've got some new guys, and we're trying to help them come along. It definitely helps having one year under our belt."
What fans won't see is an exact replica of the offense. Because no matter what happens in today's game, the Gators will spend the next four months with this lingering question: "Who's the starting quarterback?"
"We will go into fall camp (still undecided)," Muschamp said of the competition between sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. "Both guys are guys we can win with. That's the bottom line. And that's good for us. Both guys are competing at a high level, in my opinion. They both have done outstanding things throughout the spring, I'm very pleased with their progress — just managing our football team, getting in and out of the huddle, taking a command of the offense. And both of them are working extremely hard off the field. They are always in the building watching film and doing things you've got to do to be successful."
But they have yet to separate themselves, which is what new offensive coordinator Brent Pease said he was hoping for.
And while Mike Gillislee is the likely starting running back, several others are still vying for time, including Omarius Hines, who has moved over from receiver, another position that has serious question marks.
But unlike last year, depth has allowed the Gators to have what Muschamp termed a more successful spring, complete with increased competition, the development of a more physical defense and the rebuilding of an offensive line under a new coach who will try to get more out of this veteran group.
"We've had a lot more contact, a lot more working on good fundamentals and those sort of things," Muschamp said. "We've been able to because of our numbers. … I think competition at positions helps. When you've got some depth and you've got some guys, and you've got a guy that knows somebody can take his position, that's the best motivator there is, competition. So obviously with better depth, that's helped us. That's been the No. 1 motivating factor."
For those still battling for jobs, even an outstanding afternoon today won't automatically secure the position. After all, Muschamp said, it's just one of 15 practices. But can players help themselves? Without a doubt.
"Sure it does (help), in the long run of winning the job," he said. "But it's not going to be D-day either, to say this guy had one good day compared to the other 14 days of competing."