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Parting Thoughts II: Appleby discusses 2016 offense, QB development

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In the second segment of his five-part Parting Thoughts interview with Inside the Gators, former Florida quarterback Austin Appleby discusses a number of topics regarding Florida's offense in 2016, as well as Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier's approach to developing quarterbacks.

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PREVIOUS PARTING THOUGHTS SEGMENTS WITH APPLEBY:

Pt. 1: Reflecting on 2016 season at Florida

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ITG: It seemed like the offense was at its best during the first drive of most games. Give us some insight to that. Were those scripted plays? Does the team work on them continuously during the week?

Appleby: I can speak individually. People forget that I never got a chance to play against a low-level team, per se. Every single defense that I played against from the first to the last one was a top-30 defense. These teams are good, man. People don’t give Vanderbilt or South Carolina respect, but they’re arguably some of the best defenses in the country. Then you go see LSU and you’ve got to see Florida State the next week. The next week, you’ve got to go see Alabama. It’s week after week, and it’s grueling.

It would have been really nice to play a North Texas for a whole game or a UMass where you can really be prolific and maybe make your stats look better. People take a look at the stats and they don’t see the big picture. What our team was built for, we had arguably one of the best defenses in the country, would you agree? When you’re on offense, you play to your strengths. You don’t have to put the ball in harm’s way. You don’t have to be dumb with the ball, because your defense is so good, they’ll get it back to you. It’s about playing good team football where you know who you are and what you have. The teams that you’re going up against are great on defense but may not be awesome on offense. So, "Hey, let’s get up a couple scores and protect our lead."

A win is a win – they canceled the Presbyterian game, so obviously we won’t have 10 wins, we finished with nine. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care how you win. As long as you win, that’s what we’re in the business of doing. It would be great to go score 50-60 points every game. I’m much more pleased with scoring whatever we need to do to win the game, whether it’s scoring 16 against LSU or lighting it up and scoring 30 against Iowa. You do what you’ve got to do to win the game.

Yeah, we started fast in a lot of games – and we were challenged to do so – and I think you’ve just got to give credit to the teams that we played. Teams make adjustments and it’s a four-quarter game. I really don’t have an exact reason for you. If I could put my finger on it, we would have done it. We would have kept our foot on the gas pedal and blown every team out, because we’re good enough to do so.

ITG: With the offense flashing at times and struggling during other moments, and the defense being dominant all season long, would you say there was ever a split in the locker room with the defense expecting the offense to pick it up?

Appleby: No, absolutely not. We’re a team, we’re a family, we’re a brotherhood. I can speak to this - I will never forget this. We go into the locker room after the Tennessee game and I’ve got members of our defense, guys that were drafted in the first two rounds, with tears in their eyes apologizing to members of the offense, because it hurt them so bad that they felt like they let down the team. It broke their heart, because they have the expectations for themselves that they got to do it. And the answer from us on the offense is, "No, you’re good. We’re in this thing together. Lift us up, we lift you up." The same thing has happened in other games where the offense maybe hasn’t scored a whole lot of points but the defense has stepped up.

Go back to the Vanderbilt game where you’re playing a great defense where there aren’t going to be a lot of points, or the LSU game. You have to find a way to make plays to win the game. People love to look at the box score and look at the stats - it’s so much more than that.

For our football team, we were interested in doing whatever we needed to do to win the game. There were times where our defenses gave up some points and our offense would come right back and score. Or, we would be playing a top 10 defense like we did many weeks in our conference and our defense would have to step up and make some plays. That’s football, that’s how it goes. At no point was there like, "Come on, man. Pick it up, offense. What’s going on?" Or, "Let’s go defense, pick it up." It’s a football team.

Let’s talk about the Iowa game, perfect point. We throw two picks in the beginning of the game off tipped balls, very unfortunate. The defense could lose their minds and flinch and give up some points, say "Ah, they suck. Whatever." All they did for us was keep the game 3-0 for us. Once the offense got clicking, bam, game over.

I don’t think that happens unless your team is close. That’s really, really special what we had in that locker room. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. This football team that I was on last season was as tight knit of a group that I’ve ever been around on any team that I’ve been a part of. It was really cool.

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Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier (left) and head coach Jim McElwain (USA Today Sports Images)

ITG: McElwain and Nussmeier have helped develop some talented quarterbacks over their careers. When it comes to their approach with QBs, how do they maybe differ from past coaches you've worked with?

Appleby: I’ve been around a lot of different coaches like you said, I’ve learned so much football from all of them. Coach (John) Shoop at Purdue was one of the best coaches I’ve ever had, ever. With so much football he taught me, he was in the NFL for a long time. He taught me so much ball and also backing up for Coach (Gary) Nord – not Coach (Greg) Nord here, but his brother was my offensive coordinator at Purdue. And then obviously getting with Nuss and working with Coach Mac.

I think the ultimate goal of developing a quarterback is to give him the tools that he needs to empower him that he can have all the answers out there, so that everything he sees he’s ready for. I think what Coach Nuss was so good at was giving you as much as you can handle. He’s not going to put a ceiling on your head and say, "This is our system, this is what we do." He really calls the game to put you as the quarterback in the best situation, things you do best that can help the team win.

If you’re not a zone read guy, you’re not going to run the zone read. You can throw seam routes really well, well, we’re going to throw the ball down the field and be a vertical matchup. You throw the ball good off timing where you use the quick game. Every single quarterback is different and he sees the game different and Coach really does a great job knowing how to adjust.

With all those different tools that you have, the quarterback position could become so confusing. Because what’s the coverage, now you got the clock, you got to know the protection, you’ve got to do the route concepts, you got your checks, and then everything changes when you have the ball in your hands and the defense disguises and gives you a different look.

What I was really, really encouraged by and what really helped me improve, from my first day there or my first game to ultimately my last game against Iowa and the growth that I made, was being able to take what was so sophisticated and make it so simple in your own head. Simplifying your thought process. Being able to have a clear cut plan of where to go with the ball so – we always talk about putting your mind on autopilot. The game is so fast and the defenses are so good. If you think, you’re in trouble.

Everybody can see that when a quarterback is thinking, his feet don’t look right, it looks like he looks uncomfortable back there maybe. But when a guy is dialed in and knows exactly where to go with the ball, he’s just reacting, that’s when he hits his back foot and that ball is out immediately and he finds his check downs.

That’s what those coaches have done and they’ve grown so much, especially with me and the next guys coming in. How can we take this offense, this system that is so complex - it’s an NFL system - and how can we make it so that the quarterback is set up for success? And let’s simplify that thought process and make it so clear for him that all he has to go out there and do is have an action.

If that action, that No. 1 guy, isn’t open, we’ve got “react” for that No. 2 guy, and then you find a check down. If you make it that simple – it’s way more difficult than it is to make it that – but if you can turn it into that through millions and millions of reps, that’s when you play at a high level. That’s the ultimate goal for a quarterback.

You see (Tom) Brady and (Drew) Brees and all these guys. Yes, they’re absolute geniuses but they’re so good because they’ve seen the rep so many times that, say curl flats. They’ve thrown four billion curl flats. They don’t even have to look. They know exactly where to go with it. There is no thought process and they can do it quick because they’ve made it so easy for themselves. When you get the reps, that’s what experience is.

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UPCOMING PARTING THOUGHTS TOPICS:

Pt. 3: Evaluations of Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask and Kadarius Toney

Pt. 4: Malik Zaire and Luke Del Rio

Pt. 5: Reviewing units on the 2017 roster

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