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June 10, 2014
Holt: Quarterback becoming a major strength
PARTING THOUGHTS: MUST READ, IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE 2013 SEASON, PLAYERS & TEAM
Looking for reasons to believe real change is taking place inside Florida's football headquarters? I'll give you four names: Jeff Driskel, Will Grier, Treon Harris, Sheriron Jones.
Three of the above will be in UF uniforms this fall. Barring a decommitment or the kind of monstrous 2014 by Driskel that would lead him to declare early for the NFL Draft, all four will be on the roster in 2015. It wasn't long ago, the Gators would have killed for that kind of widespread athleticism and playmaking ability at wide receiver. Now they have it at the most important position on the field.
Will Muschamp and his coaching staff will be in the trust-building business this fall, but until the on-field product truly changes, that mission is stalled. Over the next three months, fans and higher-ups will speculate on how Florida's offense will fare under new coordinator Kurt Roper. But if you're looking for a cause for optimism, the most concrete proof is the evolving identity of what it means to play quarterback in Gainesville.
Spring camp was a peek of Driskel in an offense that is supposed to better fit his style. In reality, it was a fairly limited trailer of things to come. There was noticeable rust after months sidelined by injury and the quarterback-run aspect of the playbook was limited for obvious reasons.
Jones' commitment on Sunday, combined with the Gators' two most recent quarterback signings, shows just how big utilizing mobile quarterbacks will factor into Florida's plans as long as Roper is at the helm.
Proof was already there if one took a glance at Roper's Duke tenure. Blue Devils quarterbacks rushed for at least 10 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. While splitting time at quarterback, Brandon Connette rushed for 31 touchdowns during his four years in Durham, N.C.
Florida quarterbacks have rushed for 11 touchdowns in the post-Tim Tebow era; 22 if you count the run-game production of Trey Burton during his time as a Gator.
No unwarranted offense to Connette, but the idea of having Harris or Jones hold similar responsibilities is like building sand castles with a crane for Roper. The talent increase Roper is working with as coordinator at a major college football program for the first time is staggering.
Quarterback depth is critical and few teams understand that better than the Gators after losing their starter to injury in two out of Muschamp's three seasons as coach. Assuming his pledge sticks, Jones will become the third consecutive elite - Rivals250 or better - quarterback the Gators have signed after delving into three-star land the two prior cycles.
The past three years, Florida has sat on the sidelines and watched as electric, exciting offenses dominate the identity of college football. The Gators have instead stuck to a throwback model at their best and entirely lacked an identity at their worst.
It's time for that to end and nothing symbolizes it better than four players who were at one time top-10 dual-threat quarterback prospects nationally. Muschamp and Roper are currently receiving little more than cautious optimism and maybe rightfully so.
Then again, maybe it's time to start believing.