GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It all starts with the signal-caller.
No one on the football field touches that ball as much as the quarterback. Therefore, as QBs go, so goes the offense. And as the Florida Gators have found out the hard way in recent seasons, strong defense and special teams alone cannot win games consistently.
The quarterback position has been a sore spot since the departure of Tim Tebow, who was quickly cast in a bronze statue outside the stadium after a legendary career. It's hard to follow that act, and the Gators have seen a lot of poor production since 2009.
With that, quarterback is first up in our week-long series of the Gators' top positions that have room to improve.
Battling for No. 1: Junior Jeff Driskel is a survivor. In 2012, he fought for the starting job with Jacoby Brissett, who then transferred to NC State. And last season, Driskel fought injury, suffering a broken leg early enough to result in a medical redshirt. Florida coach Will Muschamp has declared all starting positions open after a 4-8 season, but this is one job that is expected to be decided early and with little drama.
Driskel runs well and is a very good athlete for his size (6-foot-4, 239 pounds), but hasn't shown a good feel for the passing game despite a strong arm. Whether it's accuracy, reading defenses, pocket presence or decision-making when the pocket collapses, Driskel has plenty of room to improve. Florida's great hope is that new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who has an excellent track record working with QBs, will be able to strike a balance in creating an offense around Driskel's strengths while developing him as a passer.
Gators fans can expect plenty of running, as usual, so Driskel will be handing off and keeping the ball on zone-reads. But the true test of offensive progress in 2014 will be how much improvement Roper can coax out of Driskel in the passing game.
Strength in numbers: When Tyler Murphy graduated and transferred to Boston College, Florida lost an experienced and athletic backup who fit the offense Roper is likely to build. Skyler Mornhinweg, who will be a third-year sophomore this fall, started the last three games of the 2013 season under difficult circumstances. But because Mornhinweg did not display a strong arm and is better suited for a pro-style offense, Muschamp and the Gators turned to the recruiting trail to search for depth at the position. Florida's backup quarterback in 2014 is expected to be one of two true freshmen.
New on the scene: As the No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback prospect in the country, Will Grier was one of the headliners in Florida's 2014 class. Expectations are high, and because he is already on campus and will compete this spring, Grier has a good chance to grab that No. 2 spot. But shortly after he was hired, Roper made sure to recruit another prospect. The Gators were able to flip another highly regarded dual-threat prospect, Treon Harris, from Florida State on national signing day last week. Like Grier, Harris is an exciting athlete who truly can threaten a defense with his arm or legs. The battle to be Driskel's backup should be a fascinating tilt this fall.