GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The biggest question mark the Gators faced entering spring practice a year ago was who would start at quarterback.
A year later that question is near the bottom of head coach Will Muschamp’s concerns.
Junior Jeff Driskel is the starter.
“I certainly think that’s a strength of our team,’’ Muschamp said recently.
Driskel and Jacoby Brissett waged a tight battle through spring practice and into fall camp last season. And while both played a half in the season opener against Bowling Green, Driskel’s grip on the job was never in serious jeopardy the rest of the season.
The prospect of serving as Driskel’s backup for another season led to Brissett deciding to transfer to N.C. State following the Sugar Bowl.
In 12 games a season ago – he missed a victory over Jacksonville State due to an ankle injury – Driskel completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns. Perhaps most importantly Driskel threw only five interceptions in the first season under offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
Muschamp is confident Driskel’s second season as the starter can be more productive than his first. The Gators didn’t ask Driskel to do too much a year ago other than to manage the game efficiently, make plays with his legs when the opportunity arose, and avoid disastrous mistakes.
Other than for losses to Georgia and Louisville, Driskel did his job well.
He added 431 yards rushing and set the school’s single-game rushing record for a quarterback when he rushed for 177 yards in a victory at Vanderbilt.
The Gators’ concern is if Driskel gets hurt.
With Brissett out of the equation, redshirt junior Tyler Murphy is second on the depth chart followed by redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg. Neither Murphy nor Mornhinweg have thrown a pass in their careers.
“I don’t have a very high comfort level obviously,’’ Muschamp said of the prospects behind Driskel. “Those guys haven’t played a lot but they are going to get opportunities this spring to continue to develop within what we do.”
Once fall camp starts, true freshman Max Staver joins the mix. Staver (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) signed with the Gators out of Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy.
The depth at running back following the departure of senior Mike Gillislee is not as worrisome for Muschamp. Gillislee became the first Florida back to rush for 1,000 yards in eight years and took a lot of pressure off Driskel.
Sophomore Matt Jones (52 carries, 275 yards, 3 touchdowns) is atop the depth chart at tailback to start fall camp, followed by redshirt junior Mack Brown and true freshman Kelvin Taylor.
Jones (6-foot-2, 226 pounds) is the kind of big physical back Muschamp prefers and improved significantly as last season wore on, rushing for a season-high 81 yards and a 32-yard touchdown in Florida’s win at Florida State in the regular-season finale.
Taylor (5-10, 215) joins the program after a record-setting career at Belle Glade Glades Day. Taylor is the son of former UF All-American Fred Taylor and graduated high school early to enroll this spring.
“He’s doing an outstanding job for us in the weight room and doing an outstanding job for us academically,’’ Muschamp said.
Junior Hunter Joyer returns as the starting fullback. Joyer only had two carries last season but is a dependable blocker and can catch the ball out of the backfield on occasion.
And don’t forget about senior Trey Burton, who is expected to continue to fill a multifaceted role. Burton can play halfback, fullback, slot receiver and quarterback out of the wildcat formation.
A consistent contributor for three seasons, Burton had 190 yards rushing last season, including one of the biggest plays of Florida’s season, an 80-yard touchdown run in a win at Tennessee.