Concerning questions still linger for Florida exiting spring

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Florida’s spring practice ceased Saturday with the Orange and Blue glorified open practice. Because of so many injuries, fans and coaches didn’t get to see a full scrimmage slate, as the offense and defense went at it for 60 minutes with a running clock. And if you were watching on TV, it was even worse with SunSports’ coverage.

Florida’s defense was top five in the country in 2012, and we can assume, with the loss of several impact players, that the defensive unit likely won’t be that good in 2013. Gone are Matt Elam, Josh Shaw, Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins, Sharrif Floyd, Lerentee McCray and Omar Hunter, and gone with them are two first-round picks and even more experience.

So, the offense must make greater strides than what was seen throughout 2012. And to be honest, the spring scrimmage wasn’t too promising from an offensive standpoint. Of course, the Gators had five offensive linemen injured, and fatigue could have played a factor in overall production, and it’s even tougher to project from a ‘spring scrimmage’ format, too. (We’re talking about practice?)

Florida won ugly in 2012, and if the passing game doesn’t improve this summer and through fall camp, they will have to learn how to win even uglier. Is that possible?

Here are some concerning questions exiting spring leading into fall camp:

Jeff Driskel’s development: Jeff Driskel is now considered a veteran in the SEC as the second-year returning starter. I’m not here to knock Driskel’s development or lack thereof, because last season was a culmination of a first-year starter, a weak offensive line (at times) and a receiving corps that created zero separation. But he looks like the same player in just the few snaps we saw Saturday. He was locking on one receiver for most of the scrimmage, delayed throws to the boundary that could easily be picks and didn’t recognize or pick up blitzes well, and if the primary option was covered, Driskel took off running. It looked like much of the same blueprint as the ‘12 offense. Will Muschamp and Brent Pease could afford to insulate Driskel’s passing game in 2012 because the running attack was so potent and the defense was so nasty. I still feel good about the running game, but not the passing game, knowing it has to improve.

If you take away Driskel’s legs, Florida loses at least two more games last season. So, what he may lack in a downfield passing game, he does help offset with his speed. That’s good, but at some point good teams will take that away, and in order to win championships, great teams stand in the way.

The biggest concern about Driskel is whether or not he’s a gamer. Some guys look the part and pass the eye test, but they can’t turn it on during games. I’m not sure the sample size is large enough for us to accurately judge Driskel yet, nor did the players around him help out with that process last season. But improving the vertical passing game is imperative if the Gators are going to compete for an SEC Championship.

Will Muschamp, though, says he’s comfortable with Driskel’s development and the evolution of the vertical passing game, via GatorSports.

“I think we’re much more efficient,” he said. “We’ve made some vertical plays down the field against some cornerbacks that can cover. So, that’s been pleasing to see.

“Jeff (Driskel) has been very accurate with the football. I’ve been pleased with the progress. I’m very pleased with where we are in the throwing game.”

Wide Receiver concerns: An upgrade in the receiving corps will help out an underdeveloped Driskel. Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard or Percy Harvin aren’t walking through that door. So, Florida has to develop what they have. Quinton Dunbar didn’t participate Saturday because of an injury, and early enrollee DeMarcus Robinson had a bum ankle but still made one highlight play of the day on a diving catch on a fade route in drills. Corner Loucheiz Purifoy will play some receiver, too. Aside from Dunbar’s 36 catches in 2012, Trey Burton is the leading returner with just 18 catches, and he will play a bigger role in the passing game this year. An underachieving receiving corps continually brings me back to Andre Debose. It’s now or never time for Debose, and based on coaches’ questions and comments throughout spring, it seems it’s the same ‘effort’ issues with Debose. Much like Robinson, incoming freshman Ahmad Fullwood looks like the real deal, and he’ll see the field early.

The one run-after-catch threat the Gators possessed in ‘12 was tight end Jordan Reed. Now, Clay Burton, Kent Taylor and Colin Thompson have to emerge to replace him, and only Taylor possesses similar ability to Reed.

Field Goal kicking: Shrug off special teams and field goal kickers all you want, but Caleb Sturgis was a weapon for the Gators last season. And Florida’s formula to win commands top special teams units.

Sturgis made 24 of 28 field goals and led the conference making 85.7 percent of his kicks. Sturgis missed just two field goals in October, November and December and was clutch in big games. Florida scored touchdowns just 52 percent of the time in the red zone, putting pressure on the field goal unit to produce points. Freshman Austin Hardin can boom the ball, but until he’s put in game situations, replacing Sturgis is a bigger deal than what most think, especially for a team with a low margin for error like Florida.

Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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  • I think everyone came away from the O&B Game disappointed. WRs can’t get open, Driskel hasn’t shown improvement. Florida better have another physical running game to wear opponents down, or it will be an 8 or 9-win season at best. It’s bad when the defense replaces tons of starters, and the one concerning unit is the offense who returns multiple starters.