Gators open spring with faster pace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida opened spring practice on Wednesday, and one thing was apparent from the moment the Gators took the field. They do everything fast now.

Calling plays, snapping the ball, substituting personnel ... they even warmed up quickly.

Compared to the last couple of seasons of dysfunctional offense, Wednesday's practice operated at warp speed. Coaches hollered, players scrambled and a couple hundred fans watched intently.

It's obvious there will be a learning curve, as Florida introduces a new offense.

"They realize they're nowhere close to where we want to be, but certainly understand the urgency you've got to play with," head coach Will Muschamp said afterward. "You know you've got to get lined up, and they understand the advantage of aligning quickly and getting themselves in the right spots and the disadvantage it can create on defense.

"Our kids talk. ... the defensive kids talk about how difficult it can be and how stressful it can be under some circumstances when they do align fast and get aligned quickly. So we'll continue to improve and get better. Typical first day."

Muschamp called the installation of the offense, led by new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, the top priority of the spring. Roper was animated and authoritative on his first day of practice at Florida.

"[He's] just a really good teacher, very fundamental in his approach," Muschamp said, "more than anything just a very positive guy."

If Roper has his own top priority within the challenge of installing his offense, it's to improve Florida's quarterbacks.

That starts with Jeff Driskel. The fourth-year junior, who missed most of last season with a broken bone in his lower right leg, showed no signs of physical limitation on Wednesday. He looked comfortable, threw the ball with gusto and even showed the same quickness running the ball as he had prior to the injury.

"That's the first time I've seen him throw since the Tennessee game," Muschamp said. "I felt like he's always had pretty good zip on the ball. ...

"He's a tough guy. He's got the respect of his teammates and the staff. We're just excited to get him back in a situation I think he'll be much more apt to feel comfortable."

That situation is a shotgun offense that will feature more zone-read option and spread formations. At first blush, it appeared to not only suit Florida's players better, but it also resulted in more completed passes -- a notorious sore spot in recent seasons.

While Muschamp warned not to get caught up in specifics like personnel groups and usage -- "We're just trying to teach concepts and teach the offense right now" -- he is also emphasizing a balance for his coaching staff this spring.

"You can't get away from fundamentals and technique," he said. "It's no different on defense, and I've done it a bunch. You go into a situation, and you feel like you've got to get the installation, you've got to get the terminology, got to prepare yourself for the season, prepare yourself for opponents, and then all of sudden you find yourself getting away from fundamentals of techniques of blocking and tackling and doing just the base things you need to do to be successful.

"You want to kind of have the theory of throwing it all on the wall, see what sticks. ... see who can handle the mental journey through spring as you install, but not get away from techniques and fundamentals of playing good football. And that's something each day, Kurt and I will sit down and just say, 'OK, where are we? How do you feel where we are as far as the installation?' And he's done it, too. This isn't his first rodeo."

For some Gators, however, a rodeo might have felt like less of a foreign experience than Wednesday's uptempo practice.

"We never huddled," Muschamp said. "We don't ever huddle on defense anyway. You could see some fatigue at the end of practice. When we got in that move-the-ball period, the execution on both sides really fell off. The communication really fell off. The focus, there were more busted assignments.

"That's what happens when you get tired. You know, fatigue makes cowards of us all. Certainly I saw a lot of fatigue out there late in the day, which is expected. Kids were excited and a little anxious."

Extra points: Muschamp said Driskel (broken leg) and defensive back Nick Washington (shoulder surgery) were granted medical hardship waivers by the NCAA on Tuesday, giving Driskel two more seasons of eligibility and Washington four. Muschamp also said offensive lineman Octavius Jackson was given a medical exemption by the NCAA after a chronic shoulder injury ended his career. ... Senior fullback Gideon Ajagbe missed practice with a hamstring injury. Muschamp said he hopes he'll return for Saturday's practice. ... Sophomore safety Keanu Neal reinjured a nagging hamstring injury and missed part of practice. ... Former Gator and current Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper made a brief appearance. ... USC Trojans wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who is from Tampa, Fla., stopped by during his spring break. ... Florida's next open practice is Friday at 4:15 p.m. ET.