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A pain-free Jeff Driskel is glad to be healthy and back on the field.

Friday August 9, 2013Driskel Sharp in Return, Focused on Trip to Atlanta

A pain-free Jeff Driskel is glad to be healthy and back on the field.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators starting quarterback Jeff Driskel started his day Thursday with a doctor’s visit.

Nine days after an emergency appendectomy sidelined Driskel right before fall camp opened, Driskel received the diagnosis he wanted. Meanwhile, Florida coach Will Muschamp received the Driskel he sought at Thursday night’s practice.

“He took our offense down and [kicker Austin Hardin] hit a game-winning field goal,’’ Muschamp said of a one-minute offense drill Driskel directed. “He was very accurate with the ball. For me, standing behind the offense, he just had great command in what we were doing and directing traffic.”

Driskel’s return to the huddle provided the offense with a jolt of fresh energy after fifth-year senior receiver Andre Debose was lost for the season due to a knee injury on Tuesday.

The 6-foot-4, 239-pound Driskel proved to be a fast healer. About 14 hours after his first practice of the season, Driskel sat in front of a group of reporters Friday and felt no pain where his appendix once called home.

"It was tough, but it's better than it happening during the middle of the season," Driskel said. "I didn't miss too much. I missed six days and I feel like I didn't miss a beat, so it wasn't that big of a deal. As soon as they were willing to test me, I was ready to go.

“I thought I threw the ball really well and I thought we had a good day offensively. Everything felt good in my stomach. I wasn’t limited at all.”

Entering his second season as the Gators’ starter, Driskel isn’t concerned about any rust that may have accumulated from missing the first six practices. He attended each practice, went to meetings and offered backup Tyler Murphy and the rest of the quarterbacks pointers if he saw something he could help with.

In his first season as the starter, Driskel completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was the team's second-leading rusher, finishing with 413 yards and four scores. He also broke the school record for rushing yards in a game with 177 against Vanderbilt.

Muschamp, who projected Driskel to miss perhaps two weeks when the appendectomy was announced July 30, is thankful he returned early – even more so after watching Driskel lead the offense Thursday.

Driskel won’t be able to practice in full pads and helmets until his fifth practice due to NCAA acclimation rules.

“I though he looked very good, very sharp,’’ Muschamp said. “Our guys know this is Jeff’s team and have a lot of confidence in him. Certainly you felt the command out there.”

After winning a quarterback battle with fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett during fall camp last year, Driskel led the Gators to an 11-2 record and established himself as one of the game’s up-and-coming players. Brissett opted to transfer to N.C. State after the season.

Driskel spent much of his offseason focused on developing his leadership skills and said Friday he understands his role if the Gators are going to win the SEC East and play in the SEC Championship Game.

“If we have good quarterback play, that usually means that you are going to have a good team,’’ he said. “Whatever I can do to make this team win, I’m all about. I feel like I have [improved]. I’m excited for the first game, to show it off.

“I think I’m a lot more comfortable. I know where to throw the ball in certain situations.  And we’re a lot better in timing. I’m getting the ball out before [receivers] are breaking rather than waiting for them to break to throw the ball.”

The next step for Driskel is to continue through the NCAA’s acclimation process until he can wear full pads. He can practice in a helmet and shorts Friday, in shells over the weekend (helmet and shoulder pads), and then full pads early next week.

When asked about the Gators potentially making it to Atlanta, Driskel was optimistic Friday.

“I think we have a really good team,’’ he said. “We were so close last year. We could taste it. We really want to get there this year.”

Muschamp later said “talk is cheap” and that for the Gators to make it to Atlanta, they will have to earn the trip on the field.

Still, their chances improve drastically with Driskel leading the way – with or without an appendix.

“I definitely didn’t like standing there,’’ Driskel said. “If I do happen to go down during the season, they [first-team offense] know they can count on Tyler. I think it was a good thing for the team in all.”


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