The Mysterious Case of Jeff Driskel

Posted at 8:32 am on 02/29/2016 by Buddy Martin
In all my many moons of observing Florida football, I thought Jeff Driskel was the most promising Gator quarterback I’d ever seen who couldn’t, or didn’t, make it to his potential.

At 6-4, 235-pound, fast, quick, highly elusive and gifted with one of the best arms ever to don the Gator orange and blue, Driskel was one of the nation’s hottest quarterback prospects. At Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Fla. he drove defenses batty, passing for 4,844 yards and 36 touchdowns and running for a bunch more.

Ray Charles could have picked Driskel out of the lineup.

Physically, Driskel was even more talented than The Great One, but lacking in Tim Tebow’s mental toughness. That presumption was recently confirmed former assistant coach at Florida during the Urban Meyer regime.

Meyer’s staff was so ga-ga for Driskel to take over the spread/option offense that one coach told me, “If the only player we signed was Driskel it would still be an excellent class.” And by the way,  Driskel was also a solid citizen and likable young man who never did anything to embarrass his team or school.

“We were going to start him as a freshman,” said the former Meyer aide. Of course, after the coaching change and the ushering in of the Charlie Weis NFL approach that didn’t work, the passing of offensive coordinators through Gainesville looked like the Macy’s Thanksgiving  Day Parade. Then came Brent Pease. Then Kurt Roper.

Let’s not blame it all on the coaches, because Driskel’s inability to perform must rest somewhat at his own feet. When you see a confused, befuddled quarterback with shattered confidence, however, that’s a coach problem.

I had forgotten just how impressive Driskel was as a thrower and runner until I recently uploaded some highlight game footage of him during his recent season at Louisiana Tech. He was heaving lasers deep downfield and eluding tacklers like a running back.

While watching Driskel under game conditions, I noticed something missing: No more happy feet or holding on to the ball too long  —  just standing tall in the pocket and delivering deep strikes. Which is why his numbers at LaTech were so fat: More than 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns.

No wonder the pro scouts drooled over Driskel at the recent Senior Bowl as his stock soared. And at the NFL Combine, they drooled a lot more Saturday after Driskel smoked the quarterbacks in the 40-yard dash with a 4.56 clocking.

Where has THAT Jeff Driskel been? Apparently not under the tutelage of his former Florida offensive coordinators and head coach.

As a Gator, Driskel enjoyed only one decent season. Despite being handcuffed by Will Muschamp’s ultra-conservative philosophy, he led the Gators to an 11-2 record in 2012 and a Sugar Bowl berth.

After breaking his ankle against Tennessee in his third game of 2013, Driskel disappeared into mothballs only to return and find out his job was being given to Treon Harris.

Sailing along at 6-0 last season, Florida lost its quarterback when Will Grier was flagged for substance abuse and it was left for Harris to pick up the pieces. As hard as Harris tried, his lack of arm strength and inability to read coverages or find receivers cost the Gators against LSU and Florida State. They limped into Atlanta to play Alabama for the SEC title and were crushed.

Perhaps Driskel could have flourished in the Jim McElwain/Doug Nussmeir style of offense last season. And then Grier would never have had the starting job to abdicate to begin with.

Driskel says he could have done just as well at Florida as he did at LaTech.

"I believe I could’ve," Driskel told a writer from Yahoo sports. 

As for his problems at Florida?

"I don’t think it was a matter of competition, I think it was a matter of me playing well and throwing it to the right guy. With certain looks, if you go back and watch the tape when we played an SEC team — Mississippi State — I was very productive that game. So I think it goes back to me progressing as a quarterback rather than the level of competition I was playing.”

“Progressing” being the operative word. Another way of saying that is “player development.” When somebody hands you a guy with A-plus talent, you should  be able to produce better than a C- minus result.

OK, you’re wondering who the guy was that coached up Driskel at LaTech? Tony Petersen, the former Marshall quarterback, who has since left Bob Davey’s staff for Scottie Montgomery’s East Carolina staff.

When all the results are in, I expect Driskel will have his day in the NFL, where he can thumb his nose at all those critics who only made him tougher for the challenge at hand. I, for one, will be rooting for him. 

My, my — what might have been during the 2015 season at Florida with Jeff Driskel?

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