GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators have a much different quarterback battle going on this spring compared to a year ago.
This one isn’t in the headlines. More like under the radar.
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The most discussed topic surrounding the Gators last spring and into fall camp was the quarterback battle between Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. Driskel eventually won the job, Florida finished 11-2, and Brissett decided to transfer to N.C. State.
Driskel is firmly entrenched as the starter heading into Will Muschamp’s third season. Behind Driskel on the depth chart are redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg.
Their career numbers: 0 completions, 0 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions. You need to have attempted a pass before and neither Murphy nor Mornhinweg have in a Florida jersey.
That is why when asked before spring practice started Muschamp said he was not real comfortable at the quarterback position behind Driskel. Meanwhile, Muschamp said Tuesday that Driskel is passing the test.
“I think [Monday] Jeff made some really nice throws,’’ Muschamp said. “I’m very pleased with where we are in the throwing game.”
So, let’s go back to the backups. Murphy is second on the depth chart and Mornhinweg third.
The more experienced of the two, Murphy has appeared in three games during his career and moved up the depth chart when Brissett opted to transfer. A dual-threat quarterback from Wethersfield, Conn., the 6-foot-2, 206-pound Murphy’s urgency level is on high alert this spring.
“Coach is always telling me and I’m always telling myself that I’m one play away,’’ Murphy said Tuesday. “You just gotta prepare every day and keep progressing and just know that if something does happen where I have to step up, there are no excuses for not leading this team to big things.”
Murphy played well in the spring game two years ago but remained on the bench that fall when starter John Brantley suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss time. Instead, former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis turned to Brissett and Driskel to play in Brantley’s absence.
When Brent Pease arrived to take over the offense in 2012, Murphy remained on the sideline behind Driskel and Brissett. His most pivotal role has been serving as quarterback on the Gators’ scout team for much of his time at UF.
Murphy’s knowledge of Pease’s system has improved to where he confident if something happened to Driskel that he could lead the team.
“I feel a lot more comfortable with everything,’’ Murphy said. “I’m kind of one of the old guys now. I’ve kind of taken on a coaching role in a way, helping a lot of the younger guys. I’m just trying to find a way to help contribute and just enjoy it.
“Both guys in front of me were really good quarterbacks and they both pushed me and helped me progress. It was really just an eye opener. I kept getting better from it and learning.”
Mornhinweg signed with the Gators late as part of the 2012 recruiting class and redshirted his first season on campus. The son of New York Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, Skyler threw for more than 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns his senior season at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, where his father worked for the Eagles before going to New York this past offseason.
Mornhinweg grew up around the game and said he has focused on improving his footwork and getting stronger in the weight room this spring.
He is also trying to provide Murphy a challenge for the job of backup quarterback.
“I’m just out there trying to get better every day. It’s going really well,’’ Mornhinweg said. “We’re just both going out there and competing and trying to get better every day. It’s a good competition.”
Pease is also making a difference. A year ago he spent much of his first spring trying working with Driskel and Brissett as they battled for the starter’s job. This year he has more attention for Murphy and Mornhinweg.
“He’s been great getting us in the film room and on the white board,’’ Mornhinweg said. “He’s a great teacher and we’ve been learning a lot. He coaches a great offense. He makes it as complicated for the defenses as possible and as simple for us as possible.”
Both players said they see a more confident and improved Driskel ahead of them. That bodes well for the Gators next season.
For now, Murphy and Mornhinweg are working to be ready if needed.
“Everybody loves the backup, you know,’’ Murphy said.