Florida's spring practices didn't show all that much. But they showed enough for me to be sure — and by sure, I mean certain — of a few things.
Jeff Driskel is Florida's quarterback
I know, I know: You're worried about Driskel. You think he's too fragile/dumb/quiet/turnover-prone/erratic. You don't think he's very good, and don't think Florida can be very good with him. I think you'll be wrong about most — if not all — of that. But it's also not the point.
The point: For better or worse, Driskel is Florida's man at quarterback.
That was true entering the 2013 season, too, and even more so: Florida had to turn to untested and unheralded quarterbacks in 2013 after Driskel's broken leg against Tennessee. The Gators have a slightly-seasoned Skyler Mornhinweg and the talented freshman duo of Will Grier and Treon Harris to tap if Driskel gets hurt this fall. But Driskel was never getting benched for performance reasons last year, and he won't be benched for performance reasons this fall, because he's so far ahead of Mornhinweg athletically and so far ahead of Grier and Harris in his understanding of the offense.
He's the show, the player this Florida offense is built around, and Will Muschamp's ride-or-die choice as his signal-caller heading into his make-or-break fourth season in Gainesville. And he's the guy.
Be as concerned about Driskel as you want. But don't try to contort yourself into thinking he's not definitely Florida's No. 1 quarterback. He is.
Florida's offense will be the Fun 'n Run
Florida has one of the best rushing quarterbacks in college football, a stable of running backs who are both quick and powerful, a lot of different targets to throw to, and an offensive coordinator whose philosophy is all about speed and execution.
You remember Steve Spurrier's offense, lovingly dubbed the Fun 'n Gun? Kurt Roper's offense is destined to be the Fun 'n Run.
The brief reasons why:
Quarterbacks will run. We didn't see a ton of them on Saturday in the spring game, but I've seen a lot of zone read, read option, and inverted veer concepts in practice. I've seen Mornhinweg running them, too, and I've seen quarterbacks running sprint-outs and participating in drills meant to prep them to throw on the run. This offense is going to require mobility and athleticism from the quarterback, but it's also likely to showcase that mobility and athleticism.
Actually, everyone's gonna run. Two of the most exciting things from this Saturday: Demarcus Robinson motioning into the backfield on a zone read sweep that is likely to be nigh unstoppable if Driskel makes the right read, and everything Adam Lane — probably Florida's third-string running back — did on his redwood-sized legs. Those guys will be the bit players in this Florida run game, in all likelihood: The stars will be Driskel, owner of the best rushing day by a quarterback in Florida history; Kelvin Taylor, who appears quicker and faster than he did as a freshman; and Mack Brown, who seems as quick and fast as he's ever been.
There's more waiting in the wings: Thumper Matt Jones missed the spring almost entirely, but is on pace to be available this fall, and could be a perfect fit for the H-back role Roper has used; speedsters Mark Herndon and Brandon Powell missed the spring game and most of spring practice, respectively. Florida simplified its run game and has a lot of interesting pieces to use in it. That's a good recipe.
It's gonna be fun. Watching Florida's offense under Charlie Weis was an exercise in waiting for the right combination on a six-digit lock to fall into place and set up a 50-yard play-action bomb. Watching Florida's offense under Brent Pease was an exercise in waiting for the running game to either get traction, which it seldom did, and hoping that passes would flutter into the right hands on routes run to no man's land and/or short of the sticks.
Watching Florida's offense under Roper is likely to be an exercise in watching a guy smartly scheme to what his offense can do and what the other team's defense can't. I've seen enough well-designed stuff that gives even the best of the best on Florida's defense trouble — quick routes to the flats that stress Florida's pattern-matching coverages, routes run to the inside that have effectively boxed out Vernon Hargraves III at full bore, plays with two quick reads that are supposed to turn into scrambles — to think that Florida finally has an offense that can put defenses in check, and sometimes checkmate, over the course of a game. It's not going to be quite the same as the super-smart offenses Spurrier had in the '90s, if only because Spurrier was further ahead of the field than any coach can be now, but Florida's going to be able to outsmart defenses.
And if it's not fun, well, everyone's probably getting fired.
Florida's going to play faster
Florida ran 111 plays on Saturday. 111. One hundred and eleven. And, yes, that was between two teams — but it was also with running clocks, little of the hurry-up I've seen in scrimmage periods of practice, none of the stoppages of play that allow for offenses to rest up before revving up, and no real reason to play fast. Both offenses had run 30 plays by halftime; the 68 they had run by halftime combined was more than Florida ran in seven full games in 2013.
Roper's talked about wanting to create opportunities for players to make plays this spring, and his offense is clearly designed to get as many of those opportunities as possible with tempo as well as scheme. Duke ran 1,016 plays (over 14 games) in 2013, and finished 85th in time of possession; Florida ran 793 plays in 12 games, and finished third.
After two years of trying to grind down other teams with attrition, Florida's going to be about acceleration in 2014.
Florida's going to be faster
One thing that has struck me repeatedly the spring is how much faster individual players look. Taylor, who has impressed me time and again, is quicker and faster. Hargreaves has gotten even quicker. Dante Fowler, Jr. looks bigger, but also better-built, and has lost none of his speed. Driskel is lighter and nimbler. Antonio Morrison, who looked slow last season, now looks quick. Trenton Brown, who lumbered throughout 2013, is now trim enough to function as a pulling guard. Florida's safeties all run like corners.
Jeff Dillman and Florida's nutritionists were building bigger, stronger players in 2012 and 2013, and that worked out in 2012, as Florida mauled many opponents and wore them down late. But in 2013, when Florida played from behind in virtually every contest, the Gators struggled to come back on teams, and lacked the speed and conditioning necessary to install a tempo-based attack.
This year, it seems as though Florida has fully committed to being a spread and speed team — alterations that will be received with welcomes from some weary of Florida's approach under Muschamp, and cynicism from some wondering if these new-look Gators are a crock — and that is reflected in the players themselves.