TAMPA – It’s getting toward the end of the tour, this run of Gator Gathering whistle-stops for Florida head coach Will Muschamp. He’s delivered the same speech numerous times, in his smiling, staccato-style delivery, always inviting more questions from the audience before finally steeling down to the task of signing autographs.
Will Muschamp maintains that Florida will try and recruit a quarterback every year (photo by Steve Johnson)
Before greeting a standing-room-only crowd of more than 250 Tuesday night in a joint meeting of the Pinellas County and Tampa Gator Clubs at the Wyndham Westshore in downtown Tampa, Muschamp chatted with the media for about 15 minutes and naturally, the discussion turned to the topic of quarterbacks.
It began with a mention of the depth chart and Muschamp fired off his standard reproach: “Guys who worry about depth charts, you don’t want ‘em. You hit it with ‘em one time, they ask a second time you go through it again, they ask a third time and you need to move on to the next guy. A guy who asks me about the depth chart, I don’t recruit very long.”
The lone exception to that rule is at quarterback, since multiple players are utilized at every other position anyway. Unless there’s an injury or an extenuating circumstance, by and large, only one guy takes the snaps at quarterback and if he’s a young player, recruiting the position can become a little dicey. Generally speaking, top-shelf quarterbacks don’t like to wait their turn for very long.
But that doesn’t mean Muschamp and his staff will alter their philosophy of trying to sign a quarterback in every recruiting class. Even with a pair of true sophomores on hand in Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel, the Gators signed Skyler Mornhinweg last February and are hotly pursuing others this year. In fact, star Mississippi prep quarterback Ryan Buchanan is expected on campus this weekend.
“I believe in signing a quarterback every year and that’s something we’re going to continue to do as we work through the process,” Muschamp said. “It’s the hardest position to evaluate, in my opinion. Recruiting is getting so early now, you can watch a young man on tape, you can watch him throw individually, but you’re so limited in your evaluation of really seeing a guy, and being able to get (him) in camp and work with a guy and see how he thinks, because it goes so much further than just throwing it.
“You’ve got to have the mental makeup to play in our league, the mental toughness and also be physically gifted enough to be successful in our league. So it’s a very difficult position to evaluate and then take the right guy.”
Thankfully Muschamp is not one of those guys who downplays the significance of the quarterback spot. It’s nauseating to hear coaches who say the position is no different than left guard (in terms of evaluating the depth chart) – yes it is. Simply put, it’s the most important position on the field.
“That position is different,” he said. “You’ve always got to have a quarterback. I always look at the NFL and who goes to the playoffs every year, generally the teams that have a quarterback. When you lose your quarterback or don’t have a quarterback, it’s hard to overcome that unless you’re so good at other positions it just doesn’t matter.
“Look at the NFL – how many first-round bust quarterbacks do you see, and they have unlimited evaluations. So to be able to put a finger on who we think is a guy (for us), you generally find out when you get him on campus and put him in those situations.”
Obviously the quarterback battle between Brissett and Driskel will hog the spotlight this fall and Muschamp knows how critical the performance under center will be to the success of the entire team this fall. He reiterates that he would love to pinpoint a clear number one guy, but is prepared to utilize both players if that’s what turns out to be the best situation for the team.
“(Offensive coordinator) Brent (Pease) and I talk about this every day, that’s something you need to manage as a coach, if it goes down that road (of both quarterbacks playing),” Muschamp said. “How do those guys get in a rhythm, how do they get comfortable, how do our players get a comfort level with them in certain situations? More than anything right now, we need to identify the things they do well, and what we need to accentuate within our offense for what they do well. As we move forward, it’s something we’ve discussed and obviously are concerned with, but I feel comfortable about Brent and I and our experience in handling the situation and making the right decision.”
It’s a decision that Muschamp is not stressing over, at least in the middle of May, because of the confidence he has in both Brissett and Driskel.
“They were not ready last year and that’s not a slight on them,” he said. “Playing quarterback in the SEC as a freshman, as a rookie, is very, very difficult. We lived through it and don’t want to again. That’s why we’re going to sign a quarterback every year, because you don’t want to be put in that situation where you’ve got to put a young man in a game that he is not prepared for.
“Unfortunately it happened, and now, fortunately it happened. Both of those guys have been in the fire, they’ve been in the preparation, they have great work ethics and both have all the intangibles to be successful quarterbacks.
“Whether you believe it or not, the quarterback is your leader – he is. That position commands that respect and both of those young men have the intangibles you need.”
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During his speech to the Tampa crowd, Muschamp did provide an update on the status of junior BUCK linebacker Ronald Powell, who suffered a torn ACL in the Orange and Blue Game last month.
“Obviously very disappointed with Ronald Powell’s injury, a freak, non-contact injury in the spring game, that’s football, those things happen,” he said. “There’s nobody that’s had a better attitude than Ronald Powell’s had, a lot better attitude about it than I’ve had. He’s handled it like a champ. He came up to me the other day and said, ‘Coach I’m a better person because this happened.’ That’s the type of attitude he’s got. How quickly he will recover from the ACL, I don’t know. Do we count on him playing this year? I’m not counting him out, I’ll tell you that. He’s working extremely hard and is far ahead of where his rehab should be. I’m very pleased with that.”
And in a light-hearted moment, a woman strolled to the microphone set up for audience questions and first told Muschamp she graduated from a Gainesville high school in 1973, and then dropped this bombshell:
“And I was thrilled to be your baby-sitter.”
The comment left Muschamp momentarily speechless, taken aback by the stroll down memory lane. As the laughter from the folks in the crowd subsided, a somewhat startled Muschamp said, “I was 2 (years old). Don’t tell any stories now.”
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