- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It’s easily evident to those not inside the Florida locker room every day that Jeff Driskel has changed.
He’s still focused and driven, but he comes across as much more confident and definitely more relaxed, which was obvious when he hammed it up with a significantly shorter member of the media just before doing a video shoot.
That’s an indication that Driskel is much more at ease with who he is and more comfortable and confident in his knowledge and abilities as the Gators’ starting quarterback.
Driskel knows the offense completely now that he’s in his second season under offensive coordinator Brent Pease. He knows where his receivers are supposed to be (even if they don’t), knows his pre-snap reads and adjustments, and feels much more comfortable in the pocket. His fundamentals are better, too.
He should be a better player in 2013, someone capable of putting the team on his shoulders and winning a game instead of being a caretaker whose main directive was to not turn the ball over.
“It’s his football team,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “[Driskel] attacked the offseason the way you’re supposed to as far as his mental preparation, watching film. He understands what we’re doing offensively much better than a year ago, which is expected.”
The main reason for Driskel’s improvement is that he’s no longer fighting for the job. He’s not competing with Jacoby Brissett, who left for N.C. State after the season ended, or worried that a couple of poor drives or games would get him benched.
The biggest benefit of that situation is that he’s essentially getting twice as many practice reps, twice as much time in the film room, and twice as much individual work with Pease. He’s taking all of the first-team snaps instead of sharing them. He’s breaking down every play in the film room. He’s explaining every protection and adjustment and getting nearly all of the feedback.
That showed during the spring, Muschamp said.
“When the game slows down a little bit, you get a little more mental quickness of where to take the ball down the field, first progression read to the second, and understanding where the pressure may come from,” Muschamp said. “That’s part of the growing process of a young quarterback.”
Driskel said he’s gaining a much better rapport with the receivers, which was something that he wasn’t able to do last season because there was always some awkwardness between the quarterbacks and receivers because of the competition between Driskel and Brissett.
“When there’s a competition, you know, some guys are going to -- not be on one side or the other -- but there’s not the as close of a bond because no one wants to step on anyone’s toes and no one wants to get on someone’s bad side,” Driskel said. “When there’s one set quarterback I think everyone responds well to it and everyone kind of is looking at the same person and getting on the same page with one person instead of doing it with two.”
Driskel still has a lot on which to improve, specifically mastering the pass protections and knowing which adjustments to make and when and getting rid of the ball quicker to avoid sacks.
But he appears to be on his way to becoming the kind of quarterback he was projected to be when he came out of Oviedo (Fla.) Hagerty High School in 2011 -- which should keep the Gators in contention for an Eastern Division title.