Gators' QB battle gets the spotlight

Published Apr. 6, 2012 10:11 a.m. ET

Florida coach Will Muschamp has made one point perfectly clear.

The time for his players to produce is this spring. Muschamp says no positions are set in stone, and he doesn't want any of his players resting on their accomplishments from last season.

"You've got to be productive right now, or in August, we're looking for somebody else to be productive," Muschamp said.

Florida began that process in March. While there have been numerous early injuries to the defensive line. Muschamp has been otherwise pleased with the energy and effort in spring drills.

"There were some good things on both sides of the ball," Muschamp said following UF's first spring scrimmage. "I'm pleased we were able to run the ball pretty effectively. I thought offensively we did a nice job of getting some movement up front. We did a nice job executing in a red-zone period.

"Again, that's give and take because the defense didn't stop the run very well. At times, we didn't play as well up front (on defense) as I thought we should. We were not as productive at the linebacker positions as I would like to be."

The focus this spring has centered around the quarterback competition between rising true sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. Both saw time last season as true freshmen when starting quarterback John Brantley went down for two games with a knee injury. Brissett passed for 206 yards and 2 TDs last season. Driskel passed for 148 yards and 0 TDs.

Muschamp said Brissett and Driskel have remained neck-and-neck this spring.

"Nobody really distanced themselves as far as the quarterback position," Muschamp said. "I thought both guys played well and did some good things, but there is no separation. We'll continue to split reps with all three. (Third-string QB) Tyler Murphy did some nice things as well."


-First-year Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease has been pleased with what he's had to work with so far on the UF offense. "They're encouraged, they're buying in," Pease said. "We've all got to buy in more and trust each other and we've got to develop some fundamentals and ball security and physicality. We're all buying in."

-Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said he's been pleased with how his side of the ball has performed this spring. Quinn said he's noticing less thinking and more reacting in defense, a product of players becoming more comfortable with the scheme going into his second season. "We have a number of players back," Quinn said. "For the first meeting, boom, the recall, the communication, the trust, the knowledge of how to work (was there). Even in the first practice."

Who will win the quarterback competition between rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel? Who will replace Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey as the primary ballcarriers in UF's pro-style offense?

RB Mike Gillislee -- With Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey both gone, Gillislee is taking advantage of his opportunity to seal the number one job at tailback. He's currently on the top of the depth chart at tailback, but is being pushed by sophomore Mack Brown and converted receiver-turned-RB Omarius Hines.

WR Quinton Dunbar -- The redshirt sophomore is starting to get a better grasp of UF's offense after an up-and-down redshirt freshman season. "He's starting to play the game fast," Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "He's not thinking so much."

DE Ronald Powell -- Powell had a team-high six sacks last season, but coaches have been impressed with his playmaking ability this spring. The rising junior was the consensus top recruit in the Class of 2010. "I think it was one of those things in the offseason where he really had a bunch of focus," Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "He came in and said, ?I'm going to work really hard at it.' The offseason went that way.

CB Jaylen Watkins -- Listed second on the depth chart at one cornerback position, Watkins came up with a pair of interceptions in an early scrimmage.


2012 OUTLOOK: Florida is looking to continue its transformation to become a more physical team in its second season under head coach Will Muschamp. The Gators finished 7-6 last season but the silver lining came in a 24-17 Gator Bowl-win over Ohio State. Muschamp has tried to upgrade both lines of scrimmage with a solid incoming 2012 recruiting class, but it will take time. Most of UF's offensive lineman were used to blocking for the spread-option offense and had issues drive blocking in an I-formation offense. The Gators will be going with a new starting quarterback -- either true sophomore Jacoby Brissett or true sophomore Jeff Driskel -- and that's always dicey. Expect Florida to improve a little, but not much in the rough-and-tumble Southeastern Conference. Reaching 9-10 wins would be a nice accomplishment.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Florida is looking to develop playmakers and continue to develop continuity. First-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease, formerly of Boise State, takes over to replace Charlie Weis, who left to take the head coaching job at Kansas. Pease, a former backup QB with the Houston Oilers, mentored Kellen Moore at Boise and will look to provide a similar touch with whomever wins the quarterback competition between Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. WR Andre Debose emerged as UF's top deep threat last season but has been slowed this spring by nagging injuries. Florida coach Will Muschamp wants to develop a physical running game and has options, beginning with senior tailback Mike Gillislee. Converted receiver Omarius Hines and redshirt freshman Mack Brown also have been impressive this spring, and Muschamp said the Gators intend to use FBs Hunter Joyer and Trey Burton in one-back sets. UF's offensive line could receive a boost if senior OT Xavier Nixon plays to his potential. Nixon is up to 309 pounds after struggling to maintain weight (as low as 250 pounds) while dealing with assorted injuries last season.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Florida's defensive line has been banged up this spring, but has the potential to be the strength of the defense when fully healthy. DT Omar Hunter and DE Ronald Powell have been healthy and impressive in spring drills. DT Sharrif Floyd is playing inside for now but is versatile enough to move to DE. If Floyd plays inside, the Gators could move Dominique Easley to DE. Easley is out of spring drills while recovering from knee surgery. Linebacker is where the Gators have the most experience with seniors Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins. LB Michael Taylor has stepped in for injured LB Lerentee McCray this spring and has made some plays. The secondary will remain a major question mark if CB Marcus Roberson isn't cleared for contact in August. Roberson is UF's best cover corner and an essential part of the defense. S De'Ante Saunders emerged during his true freshman season and junior SS Matt Elam remains the best player in UF's secondary. The Gators will be looking to cut down on pass interference penalties, a big reason why they were the most penalized team in the SEC last season.

SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Caleb Sturgis is back for his senior season after a breakout junior year. Sturgis, a Groza Award finalist, made 22 of 26 field goals last season, including a career-long 55-yarder. P Kyle Christy needs to develop more consistency after an up-and-down freshman season. Florida is strong in the return game with junior KR Andre Debose, who already holds the school record with three career kickoffs returned for TDs. WR Solomon Patton also figures to factor into special teams for his ability both in the return game and to block kicks from the gunner position.


WR Latroy Pittman --The incoming freshman 2012 early enrollee has made an impression early in spring drills. At 6-0, 201 pounds, Pittman has shown the ability to play physical and make plays. In a recent scrimmage, Pittman caught a TD pass and made a nice third-down conversion on a screen pass.

LB Antonio Morrison -- The incoming freshman 2012 early enrollee has looked strong early in one-on-one drills. He's shown the ability to play fast and aggressive.


-WR Solomon Patton suffered a groin injury early in spring drills and is out for two weeks.

-TE A.C. Leonard, who was suspended indefinitely from the UF team following an arrest for simple domestic battery in February, was back practicing with the team on March 28. Florida coach Will Muschamp said that Leonard has been cleared to return to practice only and still has conditions to meet to rejoin the team.

-DT Dominique Easley is out for spring drills following offseason knee surgery to repair a torn ACL.

-DE Earl Okine suffered a back injury early in spring drills and is out for the rest of spring.

-OLB/LB Lerentee McCray is out for the spring with a shoulder injury.

-DE Kedric Johnson is out from the spring with a shoulder injury.

-CB Jeremy Brown is out for the spring with a knee injury.

-LB Neiron Ball is out for the spring with a vascular condition.

-OL Cole Gilliam is out for the spring with a shoulder injury.

-OL Tommy Jordan is out for the spring with a shoulder injury.

-OL Ian Silberman underwent shoulder surgery in early March and is out for the spring.

-CB Marcus Roberson (neck) hasn't been cleared for contact this spring but is doing everything else, including seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 non-contact drills. Florida coach Will Muschamp is hopeful that Roberson will be cleared by August.

-Senior Nick Alajaijian has switched positions from OL to DT.

-Trey Burton has settled in at FB after playing multiple positions (HB, FB, QB, TE, WR) last season.

-Senior Omarius Hines has switched from TE/WR to RB.

-OG James Wilson has been granted a sixth year of eligibility and is slated to start at LG.


"We need to play a little better and coach them a little better." -- Florida coach Will Muschamp, on his philosophy entering his second season at UF after going 7-6 his first season.