Monday, March 3, 2014
Jeff Driskel ready to pick back up in 2014
By Edward Aschoff
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has every reason to be bitter.
From immediately being compared with all-everything stud Tim Tebow as the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect more than three years ago to now working with his third offensive coordinator, Driskel has been thrown around like a rag doll.
Now, Driskel is entering his fourth spring at Florida coming off a leg injury that ended his 2013 season.
But he doesn't have time to pity himself. He doesn't pout or whine. He's focused on taking on yet another playbook and righting a Florida ship that won just four games last season.
When the cast came off, it was immediately evident that Jeff Driskel had lost a lot of muscle in his right calf.
"I'm not upset I had to go through it. I'm not the first person to get injured," Driskel told ESPN.com last month. "I'm excited to get back, and I think that when I get back, I'll be right where I left off."
Just looking at Driskel, you can sense things are different. There's no anxiety in his eyes, and his shoulders are slumped. He jokes with a stadium staffer and giggles like a child. He leans back in a chair, legs propped on a desk with his vertical ankle scar visible to the world.
It's a mark that keeps Driskel, who will be a redshirt junior this fall, humble and hungry. It's a constant reminder of how much was taken away when Tennessee defensive lineman Marlon Walls awkwardly landed on Driskel's right leg, breaking his fibula in Florida's third game.
"You wouldn't imagine how much muscle you lose in six weeks in a cast," Driskel said with a laugh as he showed a reporter a picture of his puny right calf.
"It looked like all bone. The bone was sticking out of my skin, is what it looked like. And it was all flopping down here (points to where his calf muscle grew back)."
Driskel powered a one-legged scooter around campus and constructed a makeshift scooter ramp out of 10 computer mats just to get to the front door of his house, which had a pebble driveway.
Fixing a sandwich and taking a shower went from routine to grueling.
"I didn't know how hard it was to go to the kitchen when you can't walk," Driskel said. "It was tough. I had to plan out when I had to go to the bathroom and go to the kitchen. A lot of Netflix."
Driskel said he finished the hit FX show "Sons of Anarchy" in about three weeks, but left "Friday Night Lights" alone because, well, that "Texas forever" scene gets everyone.
When Driskel wasn't scooting or lounging in front of the tube, he was with teammates. He attended film sessions, even with no games to play. He couldn't be on the sideline because he was on crutches, so he made sure he advised backups Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg as much as he could during the week. He also attended every quarterback meeting, even though it wasn't a requirement.
When he finally got into a walking boot seven weeks after surgery, he started going through countless hours of rehab, which started with simply flexing his foot for various periods of time. He returned to the gym a month and a half after his cast came off.
"You wouldn't imagine how stiff you'd get staying in the same spot for six weeks," Driskel said.
"I did just about every calf exercise that you can imagine to get back to where it is now."
Coach Will Muschamp said Driskel is ahead of schedule and has been cleared for spring practice, which was pushed back so he would be 100 percent.
"You could tell after he got hurt that he was determined, he was ready to work," defensive end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. said. "Now, during the offseason, he's ready to work. You can tell, he's trying to get everybody together and have that bond with his receivers.
"I can tell he's taking another big step, and I think he's going to be fine."
But skepticism lurks. His three interceptions in three starts last season, especially two crippling ones in a bad loss to Miami, overshadow his 10 wins from 2012. He's thrown for more than 200 yards just three times in his career and has thrown for multiple touchdowns in a game only twice.
Driskel is aware of the negativity, but he copes by ignoring and concerning himself with only the people around him.
And those people have seen major strides being made. Muschamp points to the "nine explosive passes" he had against Miami (291 yards) and the comfort he showed running the offense last season.
There have been ugly parts to Driskel's career, but Muschamp has seen enough growth to know what he is capable of.
"Jeff's progressed well as a quarterback and we're going to do more things that fit him well and what he does," Muschamp said. "I'm excited about the year that he's going to have."
That excitement comes from knowing that Driskel will be running more of a spread offense with more no-huddle this fall under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. It fits Driskel's talents and will open up his running ability out of the shotgun, where Driskel said he has a more natural feel and can be more effective with his arm and legs.
More zone-read is coming, meaning the onus will be on Driskel to be more efficient. More runs and passes will go through him, and he welcomes that. He wants the pressure and he wants the responsibility.
"The quarterback is the most important person on the offense," he said. "Being asked to carry the ball more is something that is fun for me, that's what I've grown up doing. I can't wait to do it this fall.