Saturday, December 16, 2017
Colleges

Florida Gators have questions to answer as spring practice opens

GAINESVILLE ­— Florida opens spring football camp today. The Gators are coming off a disappointing 7-6 season, and have tons of questions surrounding second-year coach Will Muschamp's program, and uncertainty at key positions —most notably quarterback. As the Gators prepare to begin their rebuilding effort, here are five keys for spring football success.

1. Find a starting quarterback

John Brantley is gone, and what returns are two sophomores with varying experience. Jeff Driskel was viewed as the heir apparent at fall camp last year, but an ankle injury the week leading into what would have been his first start (due to Brantley's injury) derailed him the rest of the season. Jacoby Brissett played in eight games and completed 18 passes, Driskel played in five with 16 completions. "Jeff and Jacoby will split reps and we'll name a starter when we're ready," Muschamp said. "Whether that's spring, summer, fall camp, I don't know. We want to name a starter, but we're going to do what we need to do to win games. If we have to play both guys, we'll play both guys." New offensive coordinator Brent Pease said he prefers to find one to emerge and take over.

2. Find an offensive identity

Florida has a new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach to help revamp an offense that ranked in the lower part of the SEC last season. Pease takes over for Charlie Weis, having directed a high-powered offense at Boise State. He said on Tuesday that a good portion of the spring will be spent on discovering just what type of players he has and what they are capable of doing. That, he said, will determine what kind of offense the Gators will have. Pease believes offenses are built on a foundation of five keys: a pounding run attack; an explosive passing game; creativity and creating stress points in the defense and what it has to adjust to; eliminating turnovers; and great quarterback play.

3. Find big-play receivers

For all the criticism of Brantley last season, most agreed part of the Gators' problem lack of a big-play receiver. That put stress on the running game and made the offense one-dimensional, a "critical'' issue according to Muschamp, who believes Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and Frankie Hammond can become that type of receiver.

4. Establish depth

The Gators were so thin on both lines last season due to injuries and lack of quality players that Muschamp said by the end of the year it was hard to run practice drills. The Gators have to develop more reliable players on the offensive line and expect improvement from several young players who saw significant playing time on defense.

5. Improve mental, physical toughness

The Gators were minus-12 in turnover margin last season, 113th in the nation. And they struggled late in games last season to get opponents off the field and get the offense the ball back. So Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn want a tougher team this season. "I think the off season program was the first step in that, and that's what you're trying to do," Quinn said.

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