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All eyes on Florida's retooled offense as team begins spring practice with new coordinator

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GAINESVILLE, Florida — This is Florida's most important spring in coach Will Muschamp's tenure.

Coming off their first losing season since 1979, the Gators have a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive line coach and plenty of room for improvement after finishing 113th in the nation in total offense.

So all eyes will be on that side of the ball when Florida takes the field Wednesday for the first of 15 spring practices. The Gators will hold their annual spring game April 12.

"I know from the schematic standpoint, the guys are excited about what we're doing," Muschamp said. "That's good. You've got to have belief in what you're doing. I feel like that was a huge issue for us last season. We lost belief and confidence in what we were doing. It affected our entire team from the offensive side of the ball."

The Gators were decimated by injuries last year, losing quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones, receiver Andre Debose and right tackle Chaz Green either before the season or early in the season.

Driskel broke his right leg against Tennessee in September, but has been cleared to practice. Jones tore the meniscus in his left knee and needed two surgeries to fully repair the damage. He won't be cleared until early May, so he will miss all of spring. Debose (knee) will be cleared for non-contact later this month, and Green (torn labrum) will be full go for Wednesday's practice.

Muschamp lauded Green for his attitude during the offseason, and the fifth-year senior could be the key to helping Florida get its woeful line in better shape.

"When something is taken away, sometimes you realize how important it is to you," Muschamp said. "That guy has always worked hard, but he's picked it up to another level as far as his commitment, his work ethic. The guy has been a great example for our entire offseason program on how he's handled himself and how he's worked."

The Gators lost their final seven games in 2013, finished 4-8 and missed a bowl game for the first time since 1990. The offense was the primary problem, finishing last in the Southeastern Conference in total yards.

Muschamp responded by firing offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis less than 24 hours after the season ended. Their replacements — Duke's Kurt Roper and USC's Mike Summers, respectively — are tasked with helping Florida get back on track. And in a hurry.

It's unlikely that Muschamp, who is 21-16 in three seasons at Florida, will get more than a season to turn things around. So the Gators have to find some quick fixes to the offense, and they brought in Roper to install an up-tempo scheme that could play to Driskel's strengths.

"I don't know that you can put the season behind you at all," Muschamp said. "You need to have a good memory for that and not let it happen again. We've talked about those sort of things but our guys are hungry, our guys are working hard. At the end of the day, you shut up and have a good memory. That's kind of been our motto around here."

Florida is counting on Driskel as the centerpiece of the retooled offense. Driskel is one of the SEC's most experienced quarterbacks, having thrown for 2,271 yards and 14 touchdowns in 20 games. He also has 469 yards rushing and five scores.

And the Gators are switching from a conventional, pro-style offense to something with more spread elements.

"Jeff's been exposed to a lot since he's been here, schematically, so he'll be able to adjust well," Muschamp said. "I think he's more comfortable in the gun. A lot of the reason why we went to this was because of Jeff."

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