GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With the start of spring practice a week away, Florida’s offense is like an unopened book on the shelf waiting to be explored.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel is coming off major leg surgery, the offensive line has a revamped look, a search for playmakers is about to launch, and first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is now calling the shots.
Beyond the changes in personnel and Roper’s arrival, head coach Will Muschamp said Tuesday the offense is a ”drastic change schematically.”
If Florida’s offense can produce a drastic change in results, the Gators could be in store for a big turnaround season after winning just four games last fall.
Since Roper was hired in late December and arrived the first week of January, the change in offensive coordinators has been the dominant theme of Florida’s offseason.
Roper’s versatile and productive offense at Duke usually featured two quarterbacks, a quick tempo and lots of yards. How it will look at UF remains a mystery but with the installation underway, Muschamp is pleased at the progress.
”I feel real comfortable with where we are from the opportunities we’ve had to meet with our players throughout these weeks,” Muschamp said. ”Kurt and I have talked extensively about our installation and what we need to do to be where we’re very productive and feeling good about ourselves leaving spring practice, and we need to do that.”
In two seasons under former offensive coordinator Brent Pease, Florida’s offense had mixed results. In 2012 with Driskel healthy and senior running back Mike Gillislee rushing for more than 1,000 yards, the Gators won 11 games and relied heavily on kicker Caleb Sturgis for points.
When Driskel got hurt last season, Tyler Murphy injected life into the offense briefly, but then Murphy got hurt and the Gators mostly tried to survive instead of thrive. The loss of Sturgis also proved more costly than expected as kicker Austin Hardin struggled and eventually was replaced.
Muschamp’s mission is simple heading into spring practice.
”We need to get things turned back around,” Muschamp said. ”That’s what we plan on. ”I know from the schematic standpoint, the guys are excited about what we’re doing. That’s good.
”You’ve got to have belief in what you’re doing. I feel like that was a huge issue for us last season. We lost belief and confidence in what we were doing. It affected our entire team from the offensive side of the ball.”
In retrospect, the loss of Driskel was a hurdle the Gators could not clear.
Murphy had initial success against Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas, but once he got hurt in a loss at LSU, the season unraveled as the Gators lost their final seven games.
Murphy opted to transfer after the season and the athletic Driskel is once again healthy for the start of spring practice. Freshman Will Grier enrolled in January after a record-setting prep career in North Carolina, offering Roper an intriguing prospect behind Driskel.
Muschamp illustrated Driskel’s importance to Florida’s success in 2012 compared to last season’s struggles without him. In reviewing game film from the last two seasons, Florida’s offense was much better with Driskel’s athleticism in the lineup, especially in the shotgun.
”In total-run situations (in 2012), you’re right at 5.8 (yards per carry) â¦ which is outstanding, the best I’ve ever been around,” Muschamp said. ”Then you look at runs from the gun, you’re looking at close to seven yards a carry, 6.8. Runs from under center you’re looking a little over four.
”So, obviously, the quarterback’s legs have a lot to do with the run game being so efficient in what we’re doing.”
In the passing game, Muschamp said the Gators completed around 60 percent of their passes from the shotgun, compared to 10 percent drop when under center.
The bottom line: ”I think he’s more comfortable in the gun,” Muschamp said of Driskel. ”A lot of the reason why we went to this was because of Jeff and as we move forward at the quarterback position.”
Muschamp provided updates on several injured players Tuesday, the most optimistic news concerning running back Matt Jones.
Jones suffered a radial meniscus tear in his knee and missed the final six games of his sophomore season.
”Matt Jones is progressing very well. He will be cleared for everything May 1,” Muschamp said. ”He will not go through spring. He will not go through non-contact. He will rehab there in the pit during practice, but extremely pleased with his progress and where he is.”
Muschamp said linebackers Matt Rolin (knee) and Alex Anzalone (shoulder) will likely be cleared May 1, and linebacker Jeremi Powell (knee) on June 1. All three suffered season-ending injuries a season ago, Rolin’s coming during fall camp.
Meanwhile, freshman running back Brandon Powell recently underwent foot surgery to repair a fracture from high school and is on pace to be cleared the latter part of spring practice according to Muschamp.
Defensive tackle Leon Orr (wrist) will not participate in spring practice. Orr fractured his wrist last season and the injury remains troublesome.
”It was a situation at the end of the season, he had about a month to go in the year and we felt like it would rehab itself,” Muschamp said. ”Going back and looking at it the first of February, we got a second opinion of whether to have surgery. He’ll miss spring and be cleared May 1 for everything but he would probably have been limited reps anyway with as many young guys as we need up front go help reps.”
Finally, freshman offensive lineman Nolan Kelleher (back) and tight end Colin Thompson (foot) have not been cleared for spring, and sixth-year senior receiver Andre Debose (knee) will be cleared for non-contact on March 28.