GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The full-throttled panic that raced across social media platforms has quieted since Jeff Driskel’s appendix became talk-radio fodder last week.
Driskel’s surgery was a success. In fact, Florida’s junior starting quarterback apparently rejoined his teammates at practice Thursday. The school posted a photo on its Twitter page of Driskel throwing passes.
While Driskel was sidelined, backup Tyler Murphy quietly took on the responsibilities that come with leading the first-team offense during the first week of fall camp.
There were more reps and more scrutiny than Murphy is used to. More questions on media day and more heads turned his way when he walked across campus.
That’s part of the gig. Murphy doesn’t seem to mind.
“I’m getting better. I’m making strides. I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job of running the offense, not perfect,” Murphy said this week. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. Jeff went 11-2 last year as the starting quarterback, so you’ve got to do a lot of stuff to beat out a quarterback that led the team to the Sugar Bowl.”
When news broke that Driskel, the only quarterback on the roster with a pass attempt, was going to miss the beginning of camp, worst-case scenarios started to flash across Twitter and the blogosphere. (Note: Receiver Trey Burton has 12 attempts from when he rotated to the position on occasion as a freshman and sophomore).
Murphy heard about all of them.
Without Driskel, the season was lost. Without Driskel, the offense was stuck in reverse. Without Driskel, the Gators might not complete a pass.
Without question, there were reasons for concern. No team wants to start camp with its starting quarterback unavailable at the last minute. Still, Florida coach Will Muschamp offered a reasonable timetable on Driskel’s return based on what he was told by doctors.
Based on those reports, Driskel would likely be back around the middle of camp and with time to prepare for the Aug. 31 season opener against Toledo.
So far, so good.
While Driskel had not practiced until Thursday, he was a constant presence at camp offering Murphy and the rest of the quarterbacks any tips he could provide. Muschamp recently said Murphy is the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback, and that redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg and true freshman Max Staver would battle for the third spot on the depth chart.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said he was pleased with the way Driskel remained involved during an important part of camp when the offense is being installed.
“(He’s) making himself more accountable to the situation of what really the goals for this team and the kids are,” Pease said Wednesday. “It’s to win the SEC. Not afraid to step up and say something. He’s demonstrated that.
“I think when you get a kid who becomes vocalized in a good way and demonstrates that and talks to his teammates and challenges and encourages them, you know he’s taken the next step because he’s earned some respect.”
So has Murphy.
A 6-foot-2, 208-pound redshirt junior, Murphy hasn’t been in position as a team leader since his senior season at Wethersfield (Conn.) High, where he accounted for 30 touchdowns, more than 1,100 yards rushing and 1,100 yards passing as a dual-threat quarterback, and won a state title in the triple jump.
Since he has been at Florida, Murphy has been buried behind John Brantley, Burton, Jordan Reed, Driskel and Jacoby Brissett on the depth chart.
When Brissett transferred to N.C. State in January, Murphy moved up to No. 2 and secured that position with a solid showing in spring practice.
In football parlance, Murphy is “one snap away.”
“I would be mad at him if he didn’t give it his all and try the real deal and take over,” said fifth-year senior Andre Debose, who suffered a season-ending knee injury at practice Tuesday. “That is what you are supposed to do in that opportunity.”
Murphy’s focus during Driskel’s absence was to prove he is capable if Driskel should go down. He is trying to earn the respect that Driskel had to this time last year in camp.
The day Murphy received the call about Driskel’s appendectomy, he immediately prepared for what was to come.
Or what might come. He reflected on when Brantley suffered an ankle injury in 2011 and Driskel and Brissett, neither with a pass attempt to their credit, had to face Alabama and LSU in back-to-back weeks.
The results were worthy of deletion from the season highlight package. Should a similar situation play out in 2013, Murphy hopes he can draw upon this experience.
“That’s definitely in the back of my head as a possibility,” Murphy said. “I’m just trying to be productive. But I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better, especially with the amount of reps I’ve been able to get.
“I definitely got to be sharp every day. I was able to really watch Jeff grow as a leader and take things from that.”