- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The two-week time frame that Florida coach Will Muschamp said quarterback Jeff Driskel could be out after undergoing an appendectomy might seem ambitious, but football players have returned from the surgery in that period before.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger underwent an appendectomy just before the 2006 season began and missed only one game. He had surgery on Sept. 3, four days before the Steelers' season opener on a Thursday night, and played in the second game of the season on Sept. 18. Former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel played 11 days after having his appendix removed in 2010.
Driskel's situation is different because he'll only be missing the first two weeks of preseason practices instead of games, so there's no need for him to rush back to the field. He is already entrenched as the starter and is in his second season under offensive coordinator Brent Pease, so he's completely familiar with the offense.
Muschamp said the 6-foot-4, 237-pound Driskel has improved his footwork, comfort in the pocket, and ability to recognize the need to change pass protection schemes. Those were the three areas in which Driskel needed the most improvement after his first season as the Gators' starter. He's been able to get better in those areas because he has essentially gotten twice the practice time and reps because he is no longer splitting reps while competing with Jacoby Brissett for the starting job.
However, missing two weeks will set him and the offense back a bit. The issue will be the chemistry he needs to develop with the receivers, especially four of the five incoming freshmen. Demarcus Robinson enrolled in January and participated in spring practice. The Gators' passing offense ranked 114th nationally last season, and getting better receiver play is the biggest key to the unit's improvement in 2013.
Redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg will likely split the first-team reps. Driskel's surgery highlights just how important it is for him to stay healthy this season. Murphy and Mornhinweg struggled during spring practice and neither is really an adequate option to replace Driskel should he be out for any significant length of time during the season.
The Gators do have four other quarterbacks on the roster: walk-ons Ryan McGriff, Jacob Guy and Chris Wilkes and incoming freshman Max Staver. UF is planning on redshirting Staver. Wilkes is intriguing because he's a 23-year-old former professional baseball player who chose to sign with the San Diego Padres after signing with Ole Miss in 2008. He enrolled in May and has little experience in the offense, but he at least has appeared in pressure-packed environments.
If Driskel is able to return after two weeks, which would roughly be Aug. 14, he would still have 18 days to prepare for Florida's season opener against Toledo on Aug. 31.
21hGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough