NCF Nation: Will Grier

State of the team: Florida

December, 5, 2014
Dec 5
11:52
AM ET
Florida hasn't exactly been the titan of college football that we were used to seeing in the not-so-distant past, and the better part of the past four years hasn't been great for the Gators. The firing of Will Muschamp, who went 10-13 in his last two seasons, brings new order to Gainesville. That order starts with former Colorado State coach Jim McElwain, who will be working with a lot more than Muschamp first started with:

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Rob Foldy/Getty ImagesQuarterback Jeff Driskel's future is uncertain as Florida brings in a new coaching staff.
Offense: The Gators have lacked any sort of substantial production at the quarterback spot, but could return as many as three quarterbacks with collegiate experience in Treon Harris, Skyler Mornhinweg and Jeff Driskel. Driskel is an interesting piece to the puzzle, because with an extra year of eligibility, he could transfer or pursue a Major League Baseball career. There is also redshirt freshman Will Grier, who arrived at Florida as the No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school, according to ESPN's RecruitingNation. With Matt Jones declaring for the NFL draft and Mack Brown graduating, Florida returns junior-to-be Kelvin Taylor and sophomores-to-be Brandon Powell and Adam Lane. Taylor improved drastically from his freshman season, rushing for 565 yards and six touchdowns. Powell made an impact at both running back and as a receiver, and Lane should see an increased role at running back. Receiver needs a lot of development. Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (team-high 47 catches for 774 yards and seven touchdowns) is Florida's best offensive weapon, but he has to be more consistent, and he needs help. Youngsters Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson have potential, but neither made much of an impact this season. Florida will lose senior Quinton Dunbar, the Gators second-most productive receiver, and will have to see vast improvement from freshmen C.J. Worton, Ryan Sousa and Alvin Bailey. The offensive line takes a big hit, losing seniors Trenton Brown, Max Garcia and Chaz Green, and junior Tyler Moore, who declared for the NFL draft. Junior D.J. Humphries is also contemplating an early move to the NFL. Guys like Roderick Johnson, David Sharpe and Trip Thurman return with adequate experience from this season, but Florida's depth is lacking.

Defense: Florida's secondary returns the most talent for McElwain's staff to work with. The Gators only lose senior safety Jabari Gorman, but return a solid contingent of cover cornerbacks in Vernon Hargreaves III, Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson. Sophomore Keanu Neal returns as the Gators' top safety, and freshman Duke Dawson can play safety and cornerback. Marcus Maye and Brian Poole, who improved greatly this season, return to the nickel spot. Expect to see more from redshirt freshmen Marcell Harris, a special teams beast, and Nick Washington. Also, true freshman J.C. Jackson returns from a season-ending shoulder injury. The Gators lose seniors Neiron Ball and Michael Taylor, but could return senior-to-be Antonio Morrison, who is coming off his best season with the Gators and is considering a jump to the NFL. Florida returns good depth, starting with sophomores Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone. Redshirt freshman Matt Rolin could also have a bigger impact on the defense next fall. The defensive line will lose the defense's best player in end Dante Fowler Jr., along with starting nose tackle Darious Cummings, but could return junior tackle Jonathan Bullard, who is also flirting with the NFL. Ends Alex McCalister and Bryan Cox Jr. have the potential for bright futures, as do young tackles Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie.

Special teams: The Gators went back and forth with their kickers, but lose senior Francisco Velez, who hit 12 of 14 field goals this fall. That means sophomore Austin Hardin (7 of 10), who finished the season as the starter, will have all eyes on him. Incredibly efficient punter Kyle Christy will be gone, but Johnny Townsend returns after starting ahead of Christy in 2013. Finding a return man to replace Andre Debose won't be easy. He had four kickoff returns for touchdowns and one punt return for a touchdown in his career.

Fan base: Gator Nation isn't happy. There was a toxic atmosphere within the fan base for the past couple of seasons because the product on the field just wasn't adequate. Is this fan base excited about McElwain's hire? That is to be determined, but fans have to be happy about the prospect of having some sort of real offensive pulse going forward. Obviously, fans want wins, and the Gators didn't deliver enough of those during Muschamp's tenure. These fans also want a competent offense, and that was clear when there wasn't a ton of buzz around the program during an 11-win 2012 season that featured a run-heavy, defensive Florida team.

Administrative support: Athletic director Jeremy Foley is one of the most loyal athletic directors out there. He stuck with Muschamp after an embarrassing 4-8 season for crying out loud. But he also knew exactly the direction his program needed to go in 2014, and it never went the right way. Foley isn't afraid to stand up for his coaches publicly, and he's always willing to work with his coaches to find ways to improve everything around them. He's one of the smartest athletic directors around, and Florida's athletic program isn't short for cash. The program has been incredibly successful under Foley's watch, and he will make sure his new coach is taken care of and put on the right path for success.

Recruiting: Florida's current recruiting class only holds nine players. Four are offensive linemen, who have to stay committed to the Gators going forward because of how thin that line will be in 2015. Two of those linemen -- Mike Horton and George Brown Jr. -- have visited other schools. The Gators also only have a couple of offensive skill players committed. Dual-threat quarterback Sheriron Jones is committed and will have to see if he works within McElwain's offense. McElwain has to snag some solid offensive talent to help the Gators in 2015, because Florida has somehow failed to sign elite offensive talent for years now. With Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris taking the SMU job, the Gators could get in on Clemson athlete commits Deon Cain and Ray Ray-Ray McCloud III, who have interest in Florida. Miami running back commit Dexter Williams has flirted with Florida before, and his family likes what Florida has to offer, so keep an eye on him. Uncommitted five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey is still high on the Gators, and Florida is still looking at receiver Antonio Callaway, who was a teammate of Treon Harris' at Booker T. Washington High. Defensive ends CeCe Jefferson and Byron Cowart are also high priorities for McElwain.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's not an easy time to be Jeff Driskel.

The noise in the system is reaching a crescendo after another dismal performance in a big game. The latest misstep was Saturday's 42-21 loss to No. 3 Alabama in which Driskel completed 32 percent of his passes (9 of 28) for 93 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

By now Driskel has seen or at least heard about Emmitt Smith's tweet calling for the junior QB to be benched.

Smith was just one voice in a chorus of former Gator players ready for a change at QB.

Heck, even Driskel's favorite target, sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, was caught expressing his displeasure in the form of a damning retweet:



Everyone it seems is ready for a new face at quarterback after three-plus seasons of Driskel at the controls. Even Driskel's most important supporter, coach Will Muschamp, admitted he thought about turning to true freshman backup Treon Harris during Saturday's rout.

"I did [consider a change], but Jeff gives us the best opportunity right now," Muschamp said after the game. "For us to win a football game like that, Jeff Driskel needs to play.

"As we move forward we need to play better at that position and a bunch of other positions, so we will evaluate that."

The Gators (2-1, 1-1 in the SEC) have nearly two weeks to evaluate before a critical game at Tennessee that could have a big impact on Muschamp's future as coach.

Before the season started, Muschamp said it was important to develop backups at the quarterback position. He was mostly referring to UF's two true freshmen recruits who were both among the top-10 prospects in the country last year.

Despite arriving on campus months after Will Grier, Harris won the No. 2 job in preseason camp and had a spectacular debut in Florida's season opener.

Still, this is a teenager who has thrown just two passes at the collegiate level.

After Florida's shaky triple-overtime win against Kentucky during which Driskel struggled mightily in leading the Gators to just three first-half points, Muschamp said he didn't think about putting in Harris.

He does, however, believe Harris has the ability to play this season.

"Absolutely," Muschamp said two days after the UK game. "And we have a plan every week for him in some situations to come in and play. Absolutely.”

It didn't happen against Alabama despite Driskel's ineffectiveness, and now the same noise on Twitter that has called for the starter to sit has led to a #FreeTreon hashtag.

One thing is certain -- it's gotten very difficult to defend Driskel, internally that is.

He's last among SEC starters in QB rating (111.1) as well as yards per attempt (5.5). His work on third downs this season is particularly telling. He's completing 42 percent of his passes (13 of 31). On eight third-down passes in Saturday's loss, he completed more passes to Alabama (two interceptions) than Florida (one).

"I didn't get it done," he said afterward.

He's as frustrated as any of his teammates, but Driskel is in a leadership position. All eyes are on him and he knows there's still a long season ahead.

"We're not going to hang our heads and we're going to continue to work to improve," he said "...Going into the bye week, we're going to have to shore some things up."

It starts at quarterback.

Florida freshman QB has memorable debut

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
4:00
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida played nine true freshmen in its season-opening 65-0 rout against Eastern Michigan last weekend.

[+] EnlargeTreon Harris
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SportswireIn his first game for Florida, freshman QB Treon Harris threw two completions -- both touchdowns -- for 148 yards.
Duke Dawson, one of four fresh-faced defensive backs to see action, became the first true freshman in school history to return an interception for a score in his first game. Running back Brandon Powell had a 12-yard TD among his three rushes for 24 yards.

But the debut that everyone is still buzzing about belonged to quarterback Treon Harris.

His first two passes were long touchdowns for 70 and 78 yards, respectively. Harris' final line was 2-for-2 for 148 yards and two TDs. He finished with a 1,051.6 quarterback rating.

"He made two huge plays for us and showed a lot of confidence in what he was doing," coach Will Muschamp said. "That's something that really appealed to us in his process. He's been a guy that's able to make plays."

Harris was a highly regarded prospect coming out of Booker T. Washington High School in Miami. He was rated the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the nation but didn't arrive at UF until late June. Yet he made a strong enough impression in preseason camp to win a tightly contested competition for the backup quarterback job behind starter Jeff Driskel.

Harris jumped up the depth chart past fellow true freshman and ESPN 300 prospect Will Grier as well as third-year sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg, who started three games in 2013.

It helped Harris came to Florida with the aura of a big-time winner. He earned his reputation after quarterbacking his high school team to two consecutive unbeaten seasons, capped with state championship wins. His final team was ranked No. 1 in all seven national high school football polls.

By the time he set foot on UF's campus, many of his teammates were already well aware of Harris.

"We all knew Treon was probably one of the best quarterbacks in Florida," sophomore receiver Ahmad Fulwood said. "Everybody was kind of anxious to see what he could be."

Flash forward to Harris' spectacular debut, and it's no wonder Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper feels good about helping to get Harris, who had been committed to Florida State, to change his mind on signing day and instead go with the Gators.

"You just turn on his tape and he's a playmaker and then you just see how much his team won," Roper said. "That's always an impressive thing for a quarterback, for your team to win. Those are the things that I saw, that jumped out at us and made it important to recruit him.

"I think that's what happened in the first game, he just made some plays."

It helps Muschamp went into this season determined to develop his backup QB more than in past seasons. When Driskel was lost for the season in 2013, the Gators' playbook shrank considerably as the team struggled under backup quarterback Tyler Murphy and his backup Mornhinweg.

"I told Kurt (on Saturday) the guy needs to play," Muschamp said. "We don't need to sit on the ball. We need to take some shots, and we did that and he hit on it. ...He needs more and more of those reps and more and more of those opportunities to go in and play the game."

Harris won everyone's praise after the season opener, including that of Driskel, who called it "a huge confidence builder" and "an awesome, awesome first game."

Driskel, himself a heralded recruit who played as a true freshman, also had some perspective to share with Harris.

"You know," Driskel said, "his first two passes were touchdowns. My first one was an interception. So thanks for showing me up."

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Grier knows the deal. He has been hearing from Gator fans for months, knows how excited they are about his future and is flattered by the attention.

Some have even called him a savior.

"Yeah, I see that all the time," Grier said. He's rated the No. 3 quarterback prospect in the nation and is one of the most anticipated recruits in Florida's top-10 class. He gets it.

"When a program is down a little bit, they're looking for anything to put their hope into. It's just something that I hear, and it's great. I thank you for your support, that kind of thing. But I've got a long ways to go. So we'll see."

It's easy to understand the buzz. Grier is 6-foot-2, 186 pounds with a live arm, advanced footwork and a truckload of accolades and accomplishments.

The two-time Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year finished his career at Davidson Day School with 14,565 yards passing, 2,955 yards rushing and 226 touchdowns in three years of varsity play. He made headlines in 2012 when his 837-yard game set a national record for single-game passing yardage.

Will Grier
Miller Safrit/ESPNWill Grier is rated the No. 3 quarterback prospect in the nation after an outstanding high school career.
The success didn't get to Grier, though. He's a calm, mature, level-headed 18-year-old.

He's excited about the future, too. Grier is enrolled in his first college semester, 17 credits. He wants to major in business and minor in communications, but it's more like a dual-major with football. Grier is taking a crash course with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.

The moment UF lost No. 2 quarterback Tyler Murphy to transfer, Grier became most likely to back up Jeff Driskel this fall.

It's a situation his father and high school coach, Chad Grier, hopes will go according to script.

"The perfect scenario would be for [Will] to be able to go play behind an All-American, a Heisman candidate, an NFL prospect," Chad said. "He could learn from a guy that's having success at that level and watch his practice habits and off-field habits and get a feel for playing in the SEC in general.

"On a much smaller scale, when I went to college I was in a similar situation. I played behind a guy who was an NFL prospect and an All-American candidate. It was ideal. He taught me a lot. It was great to have him take me under his wing and get me prepared for what was going to happen. Unfortunately he ended up getting hurt and I had to play as a true freshman."

Will has always had a lot to learn from his dad, the coach and former player. Now that he's preparing to play the same position in college, Will can turn to Chad for even more advice.

Chad started his career at Division I-AA Richmond, backing up Bob Bleier in the mid-80s. Then he transferred to East Carolina, where eventually he was Jeff Blake's backup.

"I was the most popular guy in Greenville," Chad said. "Jeff struggled a little bit [in 1990]. He was hurt a little bit. So, man, every time he threw a bad ball I could hear 'em screaming for me. They'd chant my name. That's because I wasn't the guy. If you're the guy doing well, they're going to love you. If you're the guy not doing well, they're going to love your backup.

"So that may be what [Will is] getting into. I don't know Jeff Driskel from Adam's house cat, but I see a big, good-looking kid that's got a big arm and can run. I think he came with a lot of expectations. And I hope he gets healthy, and I hope he has a tremendous year. But if he doesn't they're going to start calling for Will, and I'd hate for that to happen to Driskel. Because the very same thing, it could be Will one day.

"When you're the backup, you're the next guy. Until you get out there and face live bullets, everybody thinks you're the greatest thing ever."

Undoubtedly, there is pressure on Will Grier. He comes to Florida with high hopes and a good chance that he'll be one injury away from taking over at quarterback.

As a dad, as a coach and as a former player, Chad knows exactly what Will is getting into. He says backup quarterback is the toughest position in football.

"If you're the backup running back, the backup safety, the backup linebacker, backup anything else, you're going to play," Chad said. "You may not be in the program as a starter, but you're going to play. If you're the backup quarterback you have to be ready to play. The next play you might be the guy for the rest of the game, the rest of the year.

"But it's very hard when you're hyper-competitive to prepare yourself for that and be all excited, ready to go, and then game day comes and goes and you never break a sweat."

As an ECU Pirate, that pretty much summed up Chad's career.

"I've got one record that still stands from East Carolina," he said, "and that's the most consecutive quarters wearing a baseball hat."

His own fond memories aside, Chad believes Will has the right mindset for his first year at UF.

"If they want him to redshirt, he'll redshirt," he said. "He's ready to go run the scout team. … He's champing at the bit to get into it."

But one thing Chad can't advise Will on is the hype his son has heard, seen and felt before even taking a snap.

"I've heard it," Will said. "Especially nowadays with social media stuff. But I think overall, they're fans. That's what they're supposed to do. I don't expect anything less. You know, it's something I acknowledge, and I want to show my appreciation for their support and that type of thing. But I just don't get too much into it.

"They'll be excited until I throw my first interception."

Thanks to his dad, whenever that happens Will should be well prepared for what comes next.

Muschamp, Gators must make changes

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
11:30
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Want to know the current state of Florida's football program? Take a look at the tape of Florida's home loss to Vanderbilt.

You don't have to look at what's happening on the field. It certainly paints a bleak, unpleasant picture of what this team isn't capable of, but the real eye-opener is in the stands. There were too many empty seats to count and too many boo birds out to ignore.

Even coach Will Muschamp, who keeps his head so buried in football that he usually only notices fans after the final whistle, couldn't help but hear all the chirping after a 34-17 loss to the Commodores.

Right now, it isn't great to be a Florida Gator, and it's clear that if changes aren't made this program could become a laughingstock in the same conference it once sat atop.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesWill Muschamp says he'll evaluate his coaching staff in the offseason.
What sort of change needs to be made? Ask your typical Gators fan and the hammer drops: The head coach, who is finishing out his third season in Gainesville, needs to go. But after a season in which injuries ravaged this squad, is that really the right move? Is that really an option?

From the sound of things, it doesn't look like athletic director Jeremy Foley is ready to pull the plug on Muschamp, who is 22-13 in three years. For one, losing six starters to season-ending injuries, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, defensive tackle Dominique Easley and running back Matt Jones, is something Muschamp couldn't control. The handful of injuries this team has suffered isn't on him. He'll get a pass for that, so talk of Muschamp leaving now is premature.

The change has to come from Muschamp and in his vision for the future. This is the same coach who guided Florida to 11 wins and a BCS bowl game last year, but it's also the same coach who has two four-game losing streaks in three years, the longest such streaks since 1988.

With the Gators losing at home to Vanderbilt for the first time since 1945 (ending their 24-game winning streak against the Commodores) and in jeopardy of missing out on a bowl game for the first time in 22 years (the second-longest streak in the nation), it's clear Muschamp has to reevaluate everything.

He has to find a quarterback, an offensive identity, a tougher offensive line, some playmakers and some discipline. That comes with recruiting, development and coaching. Right now, all three areas have to improve.

Muschamp said on Saturday and again on Monday that he plans to evaluate his coaching staff in the offseason. Expect changes, but would Muschamp be willing to change his offensive philosophy? The offense hasn't made the appropriate strides since coordinator Brent Pease was hired in 2011. It's stale, and it regressed this year. Yes, injuries have been a major factor, and the offensive line has been atrocious, but adjustments haven't been made at critical moments.

This team lacks elite offensive talent and a clear identity. Would Muschamp be willing to go in a more offensive-friendly direction in order to inject some excitement into this team and fan base? Would he be willing to compromise his defense for more points?

Fans certainly hope so.

Muschamp also has to keep this recruiting class together. This might be the most important area going forward because it's simply mind-boggling that the University of Florida is so devoid of offensive talent, despite being in a state that grows those players like it grows oranges. Yes, Urban Meyer left the offensive cupboard bare when he departed, but Muschamp has had some big misses on that side of the ball. Losing out on receivers Stefon Diggs and Nelson Agholor in the 2012 class proved to be debilitating. There just isn't a top-flight receiver on Florida's roster, but the Gators have a commitment from the nation's No. 2 receiver, Ermon Lane. Keeping him is a must.

Florida's class ranks 10th nationally. The Gators have 15 pledges, but the trifecta of Lane, running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback Will Grier (all ESPN 300 members) must make it to Gainesville. They've all said the right things and insist they're all strongly committed to Florida, but this is recruiting. Muschamp has to make sure those three sign because they could hold his future in their hands.

The injuries will vanish in 2014, but the tension with the fan base won't. You'll be able to cut it with a machete, but it can't leak into the locker room. It's an uncomfortable relationship right now between Muschamp and Gator Nation, and you can bet there will be plenty more empty seats next year until the wins return.

It's hard to keep a powerful program like this down for long, but Florida is in bad shape. Muschamp will likely get one more year to right the ship, but you have to think it's Atlanta or bust for him next year.

He deserves more time, but his clock is certainly ticking.

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