- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

Fear college football's Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Florida junior quarterback Rex Grossman has heard the squeals of conventional wisdom. And he's ready to answer those skeptics with another monster season.

Ever since legendary Gator Steve Spurrier left Gainesville for Washington, trading his SEC sovereignty for NFL uncertainty, Grossman has been in the vortex of a speculation storm.

Will Grossman and the Gators still flourish without his visored Highness at the helm?

"Not having Coach Spurrier there to draw up plays, do some things, will definitely be different," Grossman said at Florida's media day. "But nobody on this team is really thinking about Coach Spurrier anymore. People think we're going to struggle a little bit with the new coaching staff, and that's just what we want them to think."

Frankly, it would be difficult to think anything else. Over the last 12 years, Spurrier was synonymous with Florida football. And over the last two years, Grossman developed into his ultimate pupil.

In his first full season as the starter last year, Grossman eclipsed the efforts of every previous Spurrier protege, including 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel. Grossman set Florida records for regular-season passing yardage (3,896), consecutive 300-yard games (nine) and completion percentage (65.6), finishing second in the Heisman race and leading the Gators to a 10-2 record. His career rating for passing efficiency (167.6) is the highest in NCAA history.

Yet despite that litany of accomplishments, many still dismiss Grossman's talent and think of him simply as the product of Spurrier's system. Even Coach Fun'n'Gun himself would like to see Grossman take a few snaps under new coach Ron Zook before blessing Grossman with the stamp of stardom.

"Well, I don't know what they're doing on offense down there, so I don't have a feel for how old Rex is going to go," Spurrier said last week. "I know he had our system down pretty good. He had 300 yards or more in every game but one, and he had 290 in that one. He's got all the throws. He might be the best pure passer I ever had, but it's always a little tough to change. So, I guess it's a wait-and-see situation."

Grossman bristles a bit at such natural uncertainty.

"It's my opinion that there's no good quarterback in a bad system," he said. "You have to be a good quarterback in a good system to succeed. So if people label me a product of the system, yeah, I want to break that mold."

Skeptics think Grossman and the Gators have more than just a new coaching regime standing in the way of shattering that perception. For one thing, Grossman lost two of his top targets to the NFL Draft in Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell. For another, fifth-ranked Florida's schedule includes a home date with defending national champion Miami (Sept.7) and unenviable road trips to other top-five powers Tennessee (Sept.21) and Florida State (Nov.30).

"We'll let other people focus on problems and excuses," said Zook, a workaholic who is best known for describing food and sleep as wastes of time. "We're focused on solutions and execution."

Zook, who has 24 years of experience as an assistant in college and the NFL, hopes Ed Zaunbrecher will provide the offensive answers. Zaunbrecher, who spent the last three seasons teaching Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich how to attack defenses as the offensive coordinator at Marshall, is no stranger to fifth-gear football. According to Grossman, the new-look Florida assault will feature more shotgun formations, more no-huddle offense and more rollout protections.

"It's pretty exciting stuff," said senior wideout Taylor Jacobs, the Orange Bowl MVP who is expected to be the Gators' primary playmaker. "We're still going to score plenty of points, and we're still going to be able to do it in a hurry. We can't wait to get out there and run this system."

Zaunbrecher's system helped Leftwich lead the nation in passing yardage (4,708 yards) and touchdowns (42) last season, facts that should help concerned Gators with their insomnia.

"[Zaunbrecher] is a really sharp guy," said Leftwich, whom most consider Grossman's stiffest competition in the Heisman chase. "He taught me a whole lot, and I think he'll be a great fit at Florida."

He could actually turn out to be a better fit for Grossman. Spurrier stood on the sidelines, micromanaged virtually every play, held oft-heated post-possession powwows with his quarterbacks and receivers and never hesitated to play musical quarterbacks. Zaunbrecher, on the other hand, prefers to do his teaching from the coaches' box, chatting with his quarterbacks via headset between possessions, and is loathe to yank his starter lest he crush his confidence.

This approach obviously gives Grossman more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage and less stress after possessions on the sideline.

"If he starts yelling at me, I'll just take the headphones off," Grossman jokingly told the Tampa Tribune last week.

Apparently, that light moment has been a rarity for Grossman during this year's fall practice sessions. Under Spurrier, when he was given very little latitude to make his own calls, Grossman was far more given to joke around in the huddle. Understanding his increased responsibility in Zaunbrecher's system, Grossman has adopted a more serious demeanor.

"It's his team now, and he knows it and acts like it," Jacobs said. "He's our leader, and he's out there like he's got something to prove."

Grossman and the Gators get their first real chance to prove they can prosper in the post-Spurrier era when top-ranked Miami brings a completely inexperienced secondary to the Swamp. If attitude is any predictor of performance, don't bet against Grossman's gang.

"No Jesse Palmer. No Brock Berlin," Grossman told the Miami Herald at the start of two-a-days, referring to his former backups. "No more 'What are you going to do if the coach pulls you' questions. It might be dull around here, but I might be a little bit happier with my situation."


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