Florida is heading into the 2012 season with a goal of starting fast.
But second-year coach Will Muschamp said he intends to take his time when deciding who will start at quarterback. Sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are coming off strong performances in the spring game and Muschamp said both will have an equal opportunity to win the starting job this fall.
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"They're even going into fall camp," Muschamp said. "They'll get equal reps. I would like to name a starter before the season, but I'm not going to put a timetable on that. If we need to play both, that's what we're going to do. We're going to do what we need to do to win football games."
Brissett and Driskel both filled in for injured quarterback John Brantley last season with mixed results. Brissett finished the season with 206 yards passing, two touchdowns and four interceptions. Driskel had 148 yards passing with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
"Both guys have a similar skill set," Muschamp said. "So, it's not like there's one offense we run with one and one with another. There's a possibility you could see both in the game at the same time. Jeff and Jacoby have handled the competition very well. It's been good for our football team."
Florida is coming off a 7-6 season, its worst since 1987. But there is renewed optimism. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease, hired from Boise State, has brought in a system that has the potential to create mismatches and spring UF's receivers. Senior running back Mike Gillislee will get his chance to lead a power running game that will focus more on going between the tackles.
"I think [the system] suits me a lot better with not just running the ball but catching the ball out in the back field and just being a complete back," said the 201-pound Gillislee.
The Gators return four of five starters on the offensive line and have added true freshman D.J. Humphries, considered one of the top O-line prospects in the nation. Defensively, the Gators return 10 starters, but must find a pass-rushing replacement for Ronald Powell. Powell, who led Florida in sacks last season with six, will miss at least the first month of the season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL he suffered last April.
"We are going to start fast and we are going to finish," Gillislee said. "We are going to be more physically and mentally tough. That's what we have been doing."
HEAD COACH: Will Muschamp, second year at Florida, 7-6 record at Florida and as a head coach
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: SS Matt Elam -- The Gators are going to need to win with defense until sophomore QBs Driskel and Brissett get comfortable. Elam projects to be one of the leaders on defense as a hard-hitting junior safety with playmaking ability. It will be Elam's job to anchor the secondary and prevent big plays from happening to keep the Gators in games until the offense comes around.
BREAKOUT STAR: RB Mike Gillislee -- Muschamp said during SEC media days that he made a mistake by not playing Gillislee more last season. Gillislee has waited patiently behind Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps for his opportunity to carry the load. He will add a power element to the running game that the Gators have been lacking in recent years. Whether he is durable enough to become Florida's first 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Faison in 2004 remains to be seen.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: WR Latroy Pittman -- Pease said Pittman has a chance to be an "impact player" in 2012. The true freshman from Citra, Fla., enrolled early and made the most of spring drills, impressing coaches with his speed and playmaking ability. Pittman had two catches for 46 yards in the spring game.
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KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Gators have a strong, experienced offensive line returning. Florida will need the line to establish the running game and protect Brissett and Driskel until they feel more comfortable with the offense. The defense was strong against the run early last season before slipping once it faced more physical teams in the SEC. Muschamp is hopeful new strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman's program will result in players being more capable of withstanding all four quarters of a game. The Gators were outscored 72-22 in the fourth quarter in SEC games last season. The strength of Florida's defense is at linebacker, where seniors Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins should provide strong support against the run.
AREAS OF CONCERN: Turnovers were a big problem for the Gators last season. Florida was last in the SEC in turnover differential at minus-12, turning the ball over 26 times while only forcing 14. Florida coaches said there will be a renewed emphasis on fundamentals in fall drills to take care of the ball. With the departure of Rainey and Demps, there are even fewer playmakers on the roster. Florida is hoping Pittman can become an impact big-play receiver. Junior Andre Debose showed flashes of big-play ability last season (four TD catches) but needs to develop more consistency.
-- OC Pease said the bar has been raised for redshirt sophomore RB Mack Brown in terms of production and accountability. "Sometimes what happens is coming out of high school you hear how great a guy is because of the media nowadays," Pease said. "They pump them up, pump them up, but still college football is a developmental program. To come in and play right away, it's tough. You still need two or three years to develop. ... I think that's where Mack is finally getting to. He's had some liabilities on things, and he's totally improved on those. He's worked on those all summer."
-- Pease said all-purpose Trey Burton will continue to be used in wildcat formations. "Trey can be a running back, Trey can be a fullback, Trey can be a tight end, Trey can be a wide receiver," Pease said. "By doing that, we can set some things up. ... He's pretty valuable in what we're able to do."
-- TE A.C. Leonard will transfer. Leonard was arrested last February on domestic violence charges. "He had a set of criteria he needed to work his way back on our football team," Muschamp said. "He and I sat down and decided it would be better off for him to transfer. It was a mutual decision. Just sometimes it doesn't work, and it wasn't working in this situation, so he needs to move on." The move leaves Florida with five scholarship TEs. Two are true freshmen, Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor.
-- CB Jeremy Brown had wrist surgery in July and should be cleared for full contact by Sept. 1
-- Muschamp said DL Dominique Easley (knee surgery), DB Marcus Maye (knee surgery) and WR Stephen Alli (stress fracture, foot) should all be cleared to play by the beginning of fall practice.
-- Sophomore DL Tevin Westbrook has switched to TE.
-- Redshirt sophomore LB Neiron Ball has been cleared for fall camp. Ball sat out the entire 2011 season after he was treated for arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a hereditary congenital vascular condition. Ball was hospitalized in February 2011 when a blood vessel burst in his brain.