Driskel embracing role as more vocal leader
Published: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 4:49 p.m.
HOOVER, Ala. — He was Florida’s quiet quarterback last season, an unassuming young first-year starter almost reluctant to take ownership of the offense. His focus was more on his role, on doing his job. He seemed more comfortable letting others lead.
A year later, Jeff Driskel is taking a different view of his role at Florida.
This is his offense now. His team.
The quiet quarterback has emerged as the Gators’ vocal leader heading into the 2013 season.
The new Driskel was revealed at SEC Media Days on Tuesday.
“I’ve seen a lot of maturity and growth in him,” senior offensive guard Jon Halapio said. “Everyone feels the same about Driskel. He’s being a real leader right now.
“He’s really become a leader, the overall leader on offense. We need that leadership from the quarterback. He’s done a good job.”
Driskel said Tuesday he never felt comfortable being a leader last season. He was young, inexperienced and did not win the starting job in a close battle with fellow true sophomore Jacoby Brissett until after the first game.
Brissett is gone now after transferring to N.C. State. So is the quiet Driskel.
He’s clearly the quarterback now. Clearly the leader on offense.
“You can say stuff you weren’t going to say before,” Driskel said. “You can be a little bit more direct with some guys. There’s no question who the quarterback is now. It helps a lot.
“I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes or cross any boundaries last season. This year is a lot smoother. It’s a great feeling. Just knowing you’re the guy and everyone else knows you’re the guy goes a long way.”
Driskel is no longer just hanging out with a few friends on the team. He’s mixing with everyone. He’s organizing offseason practices among the players. He’s taking command. Taking ownership.
“Year 2 in the system, Jeff Driskel, it’s his football team,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s a guy that attacked the offseason the way you’re supposed to as far as his mental preparation and watching film. He understands what we’re doing offensively much better than a year ago.
“You see the leadership taking over on our team. Jeff is a hard worker. He earns the respect of his teammates because of how he handles himself. He’s a great leader. He’s a great athlete. He’s a guy that has tremendous arm talent.
“Jeff is extremely bright. He’ll learn from those situations (looking at tape from last season). That’s part of the growing process of a young quarterback.”
Driskel grew up some in his first year as the starter, quarterbacking the Gators to 11 victories in a turnaround season in Muschamp’s second year. There’s room to grow even more this season, he said.
The next step — and it is a crucial one for UF’s hopes in 2013 — is for Driskel to become more proficient in the downfield passing game, something that was missing for most of last season.
“I need to work on being a little more accurate down the field,” he said. “I was pretty accurate for short and intermediate passes, but we didn’t hit too many big plays down the field. I need to hit some more this year.”
Some are wondering if that’s possible given the fact the Gators seem to have so few proven playmakers at the receiver positions.
When that was brought up Tuesday, the former quiet quarterback opened up.
“I think we’ve got a ton of talent at the skill positions,” Driskel said. “Those guys have put in a lot of work. They’ve been hearing it more than anyone, that they’re not good. They’re tired of it.
“I’m tired of it as well. We’ve put in the work and we’re ready to show it off. We all know we need to hit more pass plays. The only way to get better is to work at it. That’s what the summer is for. That’s what we’ve been doing.
“I definitely think we can (step up). You don’t really know until the season, but I think we’re definitely capable of stepping up.”
Another important goal for Driskel is to stay healthy in 2013. With no proven players behind him, the Gators need their quarterback (and new offensive leader) to stay in the lineup.
“That’s real important,” Halapio said. “We have to keep him healthy.”
Driskel said that does not necessarily mean fewer designed quarterback runs.
“It’s just being a little more smart with it,” he said. “Get the first down and go ahead and slide or go out of bounds. But running is part of my game. I’m not going to cut out the running part of my game.”
Driskel is going to run. He’s going to lead.
“We have a lot of confidence in him,” Halapio said. “Really, you watch him work all day and all night. He’s either in the film room or on the field working on his passing game or working with us, running with us.
“He’s just a real good football player and team leader.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.