published Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Florida Gators get started on improving

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw dives past Florida safety Josh Evans during the Gamecocks' 17-12 win last season in Columbia. The two teams began spring practice this week.
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw dives past Florida safety Josh Evans during the Gamecocks' 17-12 win last season in Columbia. The two teams began spring practice this week.

Florida and South Carolina began spring football practice this week after very different seasons.

Florida's first year under coach Will Muschamp was a disaster for the Gators, who went 3-5 in Southeastern Conference play and salvaged a winning season with a 24-17 win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. The 7-6 record was Florida's worst since 1987, and the Gators had been the only team never to have a losing league mark since the SEC went to divisional play in 1992.

Florida held its first spring practice Wednesday, but not before Muschamp vowed things would be different in year two.

"You ought to make your biggest improvement from the standpoint of your young players developing," Muschamp said. "I've said it before, but over 70 percent of our roster last year was freshmen and sophomores, and for a lot of those sophomores it was their first time playing. We had fewer starts than anybody else in the SEC on defense going into the year by a lot."

While the Gators are trying to forget last season, the Gamecocks are cherishing it. South Carolina won 11 games for the first time in program history, posting its first sweep of the East Division in the process, and players soon will receive rings that commemorate the new standard.

The Gamecocks' 11th triumph was a 30-13 thumping of Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.

"It was neat to get that 11th win, but we're just trying to get this team ready to go," coach Steve Spurrier said after opening practice Tuesday. "This team has a chance to be pretty good."

South Carolina is expected to be picked among the top 10 or 12 teams nationally but has several players sitting out this spring with various injuries, including tailback Marcus Lattimore, tackle Mike Matulis, cornerback Akeem Auguste and safety D.J. Swearinger. Spurrier said sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney missed the first practice because of an academic issue.

It would be hard to find more compelling SEC spring storylines than at Florida, where almost all of them are on offense. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who spent the past six seasons at Boise State, inherits a race at quarterback, untested tailbacks and a receiving corps that has been depressing for two seasons.

Pease wants to develop a power running game with Mack Brown and Mike Gillislee -- speedsters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey are out of eligibility -- but the most attention will be on sophomore quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett.

Driskel and Brissett were thrust into action last season when John Brantley got hurt and combined to complete 34 of 73 passes (46.6 percent) for 354 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions.

"Spring is a time to challenge everybody, so you've got to challenge your quarterbacks and see how much they can handle," Pease said. "How much they can handle tells us how fast and how much more we can add and move along. Then in the fall, you kind of gear it back and try to do things that will be successful for what you're really trying to establish and the foundation and your philosophy.

"We're going to tax them this spring."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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