Catching Up With: Driskel gets long-awaited chance with Bengals

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Cincinnati quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) reacts after scoring a touchdown in the second half against Cleveland last Sunday in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

CINCINNATI — Jeff Driskel headed directly from the practice field to the podium in the media room and headed for Andy Dalton’s usual seat. In countless ways, the third-year quarterback has entered a new frontier.

Until last Sunday, he’d never gotten into a game because of an injury. He’s practicing with the Bengals’ starting offense this week for the first time all season.

And on Sunday, he’ll make his first career start against the Broncos (5-6) at Paul Brown Stadium in a game the Bengals (5-6) need to win to maintain any hopes of reaching the playoffs.

“All right!” he said, settling into a chair behind the microphone.

He’s been waiting a long time for such a chance.

Driskel was hoping to lead the Florida Gators after Tim Tebow’s departure, but he broke his leg and wasn’t able to win the job. He transferred to Louisiana Tech for the 2015 season, threw for 4,033 yards and was drafted by San Francisco in the sixth round. The Bengals claimed him off waivers before the 2016 season.

They liked his arm, his mobility and how he responded in pressure situations, keeping him as the No. 3 behind Dalton and AJ McCarron. Last year, he broke his passing hand in the final preseason game and hurt his non-passing arm while playing the role of receiver during practice late in the season.

McCarron won a grievance and became a free agent after the season. Driskel competed with Matt Barkley for the backup job during training camp, getting it when Barkley hurt his left knee in the final preseason game.

Now, he’s got a chance to finish the season as the starter.

Dalton is out for the season with an injured right thumb, suffered during a 35-20 loss to Cleveland on Sunday. Driskel knows it’s an opportunity that could be a turning point in his career, even though he can’t think of it that way.

“We’re just kind of worried about this week,” he said Wednesday. “If you start to let your mind wander into the distance, you can’t narrow your focus on this week.”

His biggest challenge this week is not allowing the pressure to bother him.

“Just stay relaxed,” coach Marvin Lewis said.

He’ll have one advantage. Receiver A.J. Green returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday after missing the past three games with an injured toe on his right foot. Green said he expects to play on Sunday, barring a setback in practice during the week. Without Green, the offense has struggled in three straight losses.

“I’m just happy to be playing football again,” Green said. “These last four weeks have been tough.”

The biggest change in the offense will be Driskel’s ability to run. He threw his first NFL touchdown pass and ran for another against Cleveland, beating a safety to the end zone.

“He had a pretty good one on that touchdown run and he said, ‘Well, I wasn’t really running that fast,'” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said.

30 COMMENTS

    • Is this a referendum on coaching or lack thereof during Rick’s time at UF? The UF coaches at the time couldn’t win consistently with him, yet he’s in the NFL! Though recruiting is the life blood of a college program, stories like this and Mullen going 9-3 with basically the same team McYellowTeeth went 4-7 show the importance of coaching.

      • Interesting to note that the most recent former Gator QB’s having some success in the NFL , Cam Newton, Jacoby Brissett, and Driskel all finished their collegiate careers playing for other schools. Tyler Murphy even had a brief stint with the Steelers. Add to that the probability of Will Grier joining them next year and it gets really weird. Of course, by far the most successful former Gator QB has to be Jesse Palmer; not in the NFL, but as a TV star and ESPN analyst. And that guy Tebow is moving to AAA baseball this coming season, so all is not lost. Just an interesting tidbit.

        • Also, speaking of Grier, I read a recent article on him in SI and he was quoted saying that he was “encouraged to transfer from UF by the coaches”. I don’t know how true that is but it is certainly a different narrative than what has been out there since he left. No matter, as I think the future for Gator QB’s will be a bright one with Mullen in charge.

          • Gelco & Dan — Just my 2 cents, but I don’t know what to think or believe anymore (regarding former QBs finding success elsewhere). Probably a combination of factors, but I’ll say this: It feels like the fog has lifted and we’re coming out of the haze created by a very strange era of Gator football. At least we can see clearly now (to borrow a line from Johnny Nash) — and I don’t imagine we’ll be doing too much looking back once this Mullen train really gets moving. And that’s even accounting for a step backward every now and then.

          • Dan, a few points on the Grier debacle. Florida did not suspend him, it was mandated by the NCAA. He chose to leave the team at that point, he did not have to and in fact showed a lack of esprit de corps. When he came back to school months later and met with McElwain, he (and his diva father) wanted a guarantee he would be the starter after his four (or five?) game suspension was served the next season. McElwain then told him it would be a good idea if he looked at other schools. Love McElwain or hate him, he did mete out discipline.

    • I agree, 76. I don’t think any QB would’ve had a chance in that offense. It was supposed to be (at least I thought it was) patterned after the Bama offense at that time: strong running game opening up the play action passing game. Yet, the rare early down pass was usually run from a formation that tipped the defense that a pass was coming, and play action was utilized sparingly, despite the fact that TV announcers in their pre-game commentary would claim that “play action is Florida’s bread and butter”. Driskel usually only got to throw the ball on 3rd and long when everyone in the stadium knew a pass was coming. I think Bama ran more play action passes in one drive against ND in the NC game than UF ran in the entire Sugar Bow game that same season.

  1. It seemed odd reading this article. He “was hoping to lead the gators, but broke his leg and wasn’t able to win the job”. Not exactly the way any Gator fan remembers his time here, but most of us wish him well now. I agree that he and Brissett were totally wasted in their Gator time.

        • Gelco, appreciate your feedback on the Grier transfer. Yes, I know that the 1 year suspension was NCAA mandated and not UF, and have read enough stories about him (and his Dad) seeking /demanding a guarantee that he would have the starter job back the following season when his suspension was up, so there has to be some level of truth to that. If so, Mac actually did the right thing by saying “no dice”. I was just pointing out that in the SI interview, Grier was painting a slightly different picture. In the end, his decision to head to a Big 12 school in the “NO D Allowed” league turned out to be the best for him.

  2. This is where coaching what you have to their abilities instead of some system you want to run wasted their time here. Mullen adjusts the scheme to the skills of the players at the level they are capable of. Muschamp wanted a down hill program we were not set for and tried to force it on players not ready or built for that type of game. Mac well he …. I am not sure what he did.

  3. The good news is several gator qbs have lengthy NFL careers which helps recruiting. And it’s a safe bet Imo that Franks will have a multi year NFL career. The brand is fine. I thought CDM would have done well with driskel but you can’t undo that.
    The issue in this list decade wasn’t talent…just leadership in the locker room. I’m hopeful that is changing.
    Most of all good luck to driskel. He earned it imo.

    • I think you’re right, mveal. CDM probably could’ve made Driskel into a very good SEC QB. I waver at times in my assessment of Mullen’s handling of QB’s, primarily because I wish he didn’t like to run the QB so much. But then, I’m not the one making the big bucks, so I’ll leave the coaching to him, and I’ll concentrate on writing comments here with you guys. Wish Driskel all the best, as well.

    • Mullen’s spread offense would have been the perfect fit for Driskel’s talent. He certainly was more than a willing runner. As someone else said he was a winning runner. He could have put up Tebow like numbers in a spread offense. Maybe he didn’t have the intangibles, but he had better arm talent. He is another unfortunate example of a square peg in a round hole of a OC who doesn’t maximize talent. At least he had that one year run to the Sugar Bowl.

  4. Driskel was lambasted on every site where Gator fans could post an anonymous opinion. He was characterized as dumb, too lazy to prepare for games, and lacking the football IQ to read defenses. Sound familiar? It’s the way Feleipe Franks has been deprecated on those same sites. The primary challenges Driskel couldn’t overcome while at Florida were poor coaching (Brent Pease, anyone?), scheme, and a young head coach who had a Ray Goff and Vince Dooley offensive philosophy. It’s all part of the saga of eight lost years for Florida football.

    Dan Mullen arrived with the experience in and knowledge of building a successful program. Our fog is lifting because of this man’s clear vision, confidence and drive.

    Best wishes to Jeff for a long, thriving NFL career as a starting quarterback and thank God for Scott Stricklin’s wisdom in bringing Mullen our way.

  5. Hopefully, the UF Administration has learned a lesson from their self imposed period of football tribulation. UF didn’t learn a thing from Bama, who led the way of hiring several cheap, sub par coaches. They final wised up, got off their wallet and hired the best coach, PERIOD. Our period of sub par coaches and resultant damnation to our football program covered a similar period of time. I believe Dan Mullen has the whole program management skills to hire good help (like Saban) and not waste QB talent and win Championships. Glade Driskel is having his chance and that the others “came out on the other side of UF” and found success.

  6. I don’t think there’s enough “it” in the whole world for any QB to have had success in that situation given what I consider to be one dimensional play calling that didn’t fully execute the offensive scheme. Whether that’s on Pease and Roper, or Muschamp, I guess we’ll never know.

  7. I love that Jeff Driskel is getting this opportunity. From the day he came to UF, I thought he was a special dual threat talent that only needed his passing skills honed just a bit. I will never forget the Kentucky game where he scored on a long TD run and blew past a UK cornerback (who had an angle on him) like he was standing still; and I said to myself, “that may be the fastest QB Florida has ever had”, and that’s saying a lot, when you think of past option QBs like Don Gaffney and Terry LeCount. It was terrible to see him get hurt, and his skills were under-utilized in Will Muschamp’s offense. He passing blossomed at LA Tech, and I hope like heck he can make the most of this opportunity at Cincy. Andy Dalton has been an overpaid underachiever for years, I would love to see JD put him on the bench and possibly the trading block. Good luck 6. Pulling for ya.