Muschamp likes direction of offense
Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 6:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 7:27 p.m.
Many of the 20,000-plus fans who showed up Saturday at The Swamp for Florida's final spring practice probably left two hours later still wondering (and probably worrying) about the downfield passing game.
It simply wasn't there.
But that doesn't mean it won't be there in the fall. That's the message coach Will Muschamp and quarterback Jeff Driskel delivered after the practice.
“I think it will be a lot better (in the fall),” Driskel said. “We have more guys that can stretch the field. We have good team speed at the receiver position. Our line is blocking a lot better, and the quarterbacks are doing a better job knowing when we have the opportunity to launch the ball.
“It's kind of everything working together and running the ball well to set up those plays.”
Those plays weren't there in the passing game Saturday.
Like so many aspects of the Gators' overall game this spring, UF was severely limited in the downfield passing game Saturday by the lack of healthy wide receivers.
Quinton Dunbar was limited. Solomon Patton also was in a non-contact jersey. True freshman Demarcus Robinson was limping around on a sprained ankle. Latroy Pittman was out after injuring himself in practice earlier in the week.
It all added up to this: no downfield passing game, something the Gators struggled to establish throughout the 2012 season.
Muschamp did not seem concerned based on what happened in Saturday's practice.
“Well, I think we cover pretty well on defense, and that is something that we take a lot of pride in, eliminating the vertical throw down the field, which we've done pretty well for two years,” he said. “We'll go back and look at it.
“I think there were some factors that we can look at and understand why some things happened. I told (offensive coordinator) Brent (Pease) that I wanted to make sure that we got the young backs some carries as well. There were some things we were trying to focus on as opposed to that (the downfield passing game).”
During the scrimmage phases of the practice, Driskel looked downfield on occasion, but never threw the ball more than 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage until the Gators went into the one-minute, hurry-up drill at the end of practice.
For the day, Driskel completed only nine of 21 passes for 70 yards.
UF's only two offensive touchdowns came on a 3-yard run by walk-on tailback Mark Herndon and a 7-yard TD run by true freshman tailback Kelvin Taylor, the son of former Gator great Fred Taylor.
Driskel said the injuries at wideout were a factor in how Saturday's scrimmage played out.
“You have to move guys around to positions they're not comfortable with,” Driskel said. “When you're not as comfortable, you can't play fast. And when you can't play as fast, obviously, you're not going to be as effective.
“But I think (the receivers) did a good job of kind of rolling with it, and played in spots they kind of haven't been in, kind of learning on the run.”
Despite the lack of a downfield passing game Saturday, the consensus seems to be that Driskel made considerable progress over the course of the spring and the passing game should be more productive in the fall, with a full complement of receivers and offensive linemen (the Gators had only six offensive linemen available Saturday).
“I've been very pleased with Jeff's progress through the spring,” Muschamp said. “Again, command of the offense in what we're doing. We've just got to continue to improve around him. I think we've made some good steps.
“We've got to continue to do that. We've got to get more consistent at the receiver position. We've just got to continue to produce there.”
Driskel said the elements will be in place for that to happen.
“I feel as an offense, we had a good spring, got better in areas we needed to,” he said. “Our receivers did a good job of knowing spacing and how their routes work together. We did a good job protecting.
“We didn't have too many offensive linemen throughout the spring, but they did a great job of competing and battling. We got the ball off pretty quick. We knew when we had time and didn't. We got a lot better in those areas.”
Driskel said he's much more comfortable in the offense than he was last spring (and last season), when he was competing for the starting role with Jacoby Brissett.
“It just settles you down (knowing you're the guy),” he said. “You're not worried about making a mistake. You can go out and play. When you are watching film, when you are in meetings with your coach, you can ask questions and ask them to explain it and not be scared that they think you don't understand it.
“There are a lot of things that help out a lot. It's just more of a comfort level more than anything.”
Driskel said there were times last season when he was tentative.
“Definitely,” he said. “That, and obviously, now I'm more experienced. Those things working together, it's hard to play as fast as you'd like to, and you need to.”
Driskel said he will spend the summer working with his receivers and leading the offense.
“Just continue what we did during spring,” he said. “Get good timing in the passing game. Get guys to get good separation and good spacing. Their route spacing is going to be critical for us.
“We are just going to have to stay together and keep doing what we did this spring, keep building and move forward into camp.
“On offense, always, the quarterback's got to be the guy to be the leader. Everybody looks up to the quarterback, so I guess I'll be the leader for the summer.”
Muschamp said the offense is heading in a positive direction.
“I think we're going to have some natural improvements offensively,” he said. “We're a year older, a year in the system. We're going to be better up front. It starts there.
“We're going to be talented at the running back position. We'll be improved at the receiver position. And I think Jeff is going to be better.
“But we're going to do what we've got to do to win football games. If it means we're going to run it 25 times at the end of the game to beat LSU, then that's what we're going to do.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.