Florida backup QB Tyler Murphy gets long-awaited shot in spotlight with Jeff Driskel sidelined to start camp

Why is Tyler Murphy still here?

In four years as a quarterback at Florida, he has had two head coaches, three offensive coordinators and started zero games. Freshmen have come in and immediately jumped him on the depth chart. He is 1,100 miles from home. Why stay?

“That’s a good question,” he said. “Sitting on the bench is no fun, but I just kept faith. I have a lot of good friends here and I enjoy the competition. I’ve gotten better since I’ve been here, so I feel like if I keep getting better, my opportunity will come.”

He is about to get a modest return on his patience. For the next week or two, Murphy is the Gators’ quarterback. Florida’s undisputed starter, Jeff Driskel, is recovering from Tuesday’s appendectomy and could be out until mid-August. The team fully expects him to start the season opener Aug. 31 against Toledo.

Murphy, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound red-shirt junior, took first-string snaps Friday in the opening practice of training camp. Red-shirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg and newcomer Max Staver are behind him.

The stakes for Murphy are somewhat ambiguous. He likened the situation to New England’s Tom Brady stepping in for Drew Bledsoe during the 2001 season. That is a stretch. The goal within reach, though, is to firmly plant himself as the No. 2 quarterback going into the season.

As long as Driskel is healthy, the starting job is his, but his health is never a certainty. While the appendectomy should not be a long-term issue, his aggressive style and UF’s dependence on his running ability perpetually places him at risk.

Last season, Driskel suffered an ankle injury in the second half of a tight game against Louisiana-Lafayette, and the Gators needed backup Jacoby Brissett to rally for the victory. Driskel missed the ensuing game and played at partial strength against Florida State a week later.

UF coach Will Muschamp often says no team can survive the season with just one running back, and the Gators might also have trouble getting by on just one quarterback.

“I don’t think it’s ever good for you that your starter is not taking the reps, but you always look at it from a glass half-full/half-empty standpoint of the great reps those (reserves) will get,” Muschamp said. “We need to distance ourselves a little bit as far as who the backup is going to be. It’s time for somebody to respond.”

Murphy’s game experience has been marginal. Two years ago, he finished off a 39-0 win over Alabama-Birmingham and played three minutes late in the second half against Kentucky when John Brantley was knocked out briefly. He appeared in one game last season, lining up as a wide receiver against South Carolina.

Other than that, his main role prior to this season has been simulating opposing quarterbacks while running the scout team.

“He’s a real selfless player,” center Jonotthan Harrison said. “A lot of people would have taken off and transferred because they weren’t in the spotlight like they expected to be. But he stayed here and kept working hard without getting any credit. He’s been waiting, and this is his time to step up and show what he’s capable of.”

Murphy almost left when former coach Urban Meyer resigned in 2010. He came to the Gators from Wethersfield, Conn., to play in Meyer’s spread-option offense, and Muschamp promised to bring in a pro-style offense.

Murphy could have transferred to Temple and played for Steve Addazio, the former UF offensive coordinator who recruited him. Addazio was a childhood friend of Murphy’s father and knew the family well.

Murphy said he “definitely” considered leaving the Gators and was encouraged to do so by some people close to him, but could not stomach the thought of admitting defeat.

“It was a tough decision, but I figured it was best for me to stay and graduate,” he said. “And it was a pride thing. I didn’t want to leave and have to say I quit. I want to go out with a bang before my time’s over.”