As camp opens, injuries leave questions for Gators

Everything should be going great for the Florida Gators right now, fresh off an outstanding season and looking to do even better this fall.

UF had minimal issues merely a few weeks ago, but suddenly the offense is in limbo as training camp opens this evening. Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel could miss two weeks while healing from an appendectomy. Starting running back Matt Jones, who coach Will Muschamp hyped throughout the off-season, is suffering from a viral infection and will be out at least a week. Both starting guards, Jon Halapio and Max Garcia, also will sit out the first week.

“It’s a downer, but it’s a great opportunity for the younger guys to step up and for us to practice for situations like this in case somebody’s out during the season,” said Halapio, who tore his left pectoral muscle while weightlifting. “It’s just some adversity we’ve got to deal with together. It’s gonna happen in football. People get hurt.”

The most notable injured player is Driskel, who is returning for his second season as the starter after leading UF to an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl trip last year. He appears to be recovering quickly from Tuesday’s surgery and thinks he could be back next week. Tyler Murphy, a redshirt junior who has appeared in three career games and never thrown a pass, will take first-string reps in the meantime.

Driskel believed he had a stomach ache Monday, but when it persisted into the next morning, he alerted the trainers.

“We’re lucky we found it early and handled that; it could have been a lot worse,” he said. “Whenever I’m ready, I’ll be back. Not going to rush it. I don’t think I’ll have any mental blocks or anything like that. It’s not something where I’m going to be out for a long period of time.”

He threw for 1,646 yards, completed 63.7 percent of his passes and connected on 12 touchdown passes against five interceptions as a sophomore. He also rushed for 413 yards and four touchdowns.

Murphy has almost no chance of stealing the starting job, but can solidify his spot as Driskel’s backup, ahead of redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg and signee Max Staver.

“I definitely feel like I’m ready,” Murphy said. “I’ve worked very hard on and off the field and in the film room. I feel like my teammates and coaches have confidence in me.”

Jones’ situation might be the most serious of the four. He was hospitalized this week and still is being treated. Muschamp said the doctors will not have a significant update on his health until late next week.

Halapio said Jones looked like “he’s lost a lot of weight,” so even when the virus clears, he might not be ready immediately.

Muschamp has touted Jones as a breakout player throughout the off-season, but now Muschamp will turn to seldom-used junior Mack Brown and true freshmen Kelvin Taylor of Belle Glade and Adam Lane. Brown, a redshirt junior, had 25 carries last year.

Garcia is fighting an ongoing back injury. He transferred from Maryland, where he started all 12 games in 2011, and could not play last season. He emerged as a starter for Florida during spring practices and should take over the left guard spot when healthy.

Muschamp believes all four of those starters will be at full speed when UF kicks off the season Aug. 31 against Toledo.

Beyond the players stuck in the infirmary, the Gators will go without sophomore Antonio Morrison for a while. Morrison, the likely starter at middle linebacker, is suspended from the team in the wake of two misdemeanor arrests during the summer (one charge was later dropped). He will miss an unspecified chunk of training camp and at least the first two games.

It’s a sturdy list of concerns for a team trying to maintain momentum, but Muschamp was unfazed and eager to start camp.

“I worry about the things I can control: the guys that are on the field,” he said. “We’re gonna coach them hard and we’re gonna have a good football team.”