Summer jobs for the Gators
Published: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 11:39 p.m.
College football coaches across the country usually conclude the spring with basically the same message to their players: The next four months will play a critical role in what happens on the field in the fall.
This is the time of year when the players are pretty much on their own. The only coaches they can spend significant time with are those on the strength and conditioning staff.
So, what happens between now and the start of camp in August is largely up to the players.
With that in mind, we offer five things the Florida Gators need to do this summer if they hope to be title contenders in the fall:
1. Time for Driskel to lead — In his first year as the starting quarterback in 2012, Jeff Driskel showed that he has all the physical tools to be a successful player. He's big, he's fast, he's got a strong arm, he can make plays on the run. What he hasn't really shown yet is great leadership skills. Maybe that's because he often was looking over his shoulder last season at No. 2 guy Jacoby Brissett. Now that Brissett is gone, this is clearly Driskel's team, and he needs to lead it. Players on both sides of the ball look for the quarterback to lead. Driskel should make that a summer priority. He can start by organizing those players-only practices and making sure his teammates show up every day and do what they have to do to get better. He needs to feel comfortable in the role of team leader by the time the Gators open camp in August.
2. Big Nasties need to get, and stay, healthy — The Gators had so few healthy linemen that they had to cancel the spring game and have a typical practice on the final day of drills. In the fall, if they're short of linemen, they won't be able to ask the other team if they can just hold a practice on Saturday instead of a game. At the moment, UF has only 10 scholarship offensive linemen on the roster. Of those, four were injured during the spring. The scholarship number will look better in the fall with the addition of five linemen in the 2013 recruiting class. But the reality is four of the five are freshmen likely not to make much of a contribution this season. That means the guys on the current roster have to get themselves healthy this summer and stay that way through camp. This line has a chance to be good, maybe considerably better than last year's, but it has to stay healthy and intact for that to happen.
3. Remember the Sugar Bowl — The Gators found their offseason motivation a year ago from their coach, Will Muschamp, who called them soft after the season-ending loss to Florida State and challenged them to get stronger and tougher over the summer. That seemed to work out fine. The Gators toughened themselves — physically and mentally — and it showed in the fourth quarter of games last season. Now that being a tough football team is a natural part of the mindset, the Gators need something else to drive them in the weight room and conditioning drills. How about this: remembering the embarrassing spanking they took from Louisville and former UF defensive coordinator Charlie Strong in New Orleans to start the year. The faster, stronger, more talented team didn't win that game. The more determined and more motivated one did. The Cardinals administered a painful lesson on what can happen when one team is mentally locked in and focused and the other is not. That should be something for the Gators to think about this summer when they're grinding away in the weight room and on the practice field.
4. Receivers need to step up — Yes, it sounds like a broken record, but it's true: The Gators still haven't found a dynamic receiver (wide receiver or tight end) who can produce game-changing plays like Percy Harvin did during the championship years. One did not emerge in the spring, although there were some promising candidates, including Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose, Latroy Pittman, Kent Taylor and true freshman wideout Demarcus Robinson. For the offense to find the balance that was missing last season, one (or more) of the receivers is going to have to elevate his game this summer and show Driskel he has a playmaker he can rely on in the passing game. Muschamp made improving the passing game a priority in the spring. It should be an even bigger one this summer.
5. Get in the film room, stay out of trouble — Gainesville is usually very laid back in the summer. There are fewer students and everyone seems a little bit more relaxed. It tends to create a party mood for many. The Gators need to stay out of that trap, and avoid going downtown (or to midtown) and hitting the clubs, especially late at night, or any night. If the players are serious about their upcoming season, they need to take a serious, mature approach to their summer. That means burning up a lot of their free time (and energy) in the film room studying tape instead of doing the underage drinking thing (and the smoking thing) and doing things that make you feel stupid (and could end you up jail) the next day.