GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – John Brantley faced perhaps the most impossible task in college football last season: make his mark at a position Tim Tebow reinvented at Florida over the previous four seasons.
In his first season as Florida’s starting quarterback, Brantley experienced the same kind of growing pains as his predecessor did with Denver in the NFL. Brantley enjoyed a moment of success here and there, but it didn’t take an optometrist to see that Brantley was never fully comfortable running Urban Meyer’s spread offense.
Brantley displayed a renewed confidence recently at SEC Football Media Days when discussing his outlook entering the final season of his college career. Brantley’s UF career received a booster shot when first-year coach Will Muschamp arrived and hired offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
“With the new coaching staff, everyone’s got a clean slate,’’ Brantley said. “Personally, it’s been good for me.’’
Weis helped develop Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during his time as New England’s offensive coordinator and in five seasons at Notre Dame, Weis’ tutoring and pro-style offense helped turn Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen into NFL draft picks.
Can Weis work the same magic with Brantley, a classic drop-back passer much more suited for a pro-style offense?
That’s the million-dollar question heading into fall camp. Weis speaks about Brantley in a way that suggests he is comfortable turning the keys to Florida’s new offense over to the 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior from Ocala.
“He’s a good fit,’’ Weis said. “There is a lot to being a quarterback. The most important thing is teaching him how to run the team. I think he has done a nice job there. It didn’t work out perfect for him [his first year starting], but there is still time left on this clock.’’
Muschamp said he has been pleased with Brantley’s “poise, his leadership and his habits off the field in studying what we need to do,’’ which prompted him to name Brantley the starter coming out of spring practice.
A year ago Brantley completed 60.8 percent of his passes but never threw for more than 248 yards in a single game, that coming in an early season win over Kentucky. By the end of the season, it looked as if Brantley’s confidence was wavering and it showed on the field as he managed to pass for only 93 yards in the final two games – a road loss at Florida State and a victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
Brantley finished the season with 2,061 yards passing, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions, splitting snaps the second half of the season with freshman Trey Burton and redshirt freshman Jordan Reed.
As a team, the Gators finished with only 12 touchdown passes, their fewest total since throwing only 10 in 1989 – or the season before Steve Spurrier arrived.
While Brantley appeared more confident to outsiders at SEC Football Media Days, fifth-year senior Deonte Thompson said the change is for real.
“His confidence is back,’’ Thompson said. “Just from summer workouts, 7-on-7 drills, he’s just come in and taken control of the huddle. He is a lot more verbal.’’
With Brantley entering camp as the projected starter, the Gators have a talented trio behind him should he struggle. Redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy (6-1, 205) is considered the back-up entering fall camp, and incoming freshmen Jeff Driskel (6-4, 235) and Jacoby Brisset (6-5, 225) arrive at UF with strong credentials.
Driskel was ranked by multiple recruiting services as the nation’s top prep quarterback last year and Brissett committed to the Gators after a late push from Weis last spring. Driskel is a classic drop-back passer like Brantley but a better athlete according to Weis. Brisset is also an exceptional athlete – he starred in basketball and football at Palm Beach Dwyer – and has a strong arm to stretch the field vertically.
“I like the group we have at quarterback,’’ Weis said. “There is good talent at the position.’’
Reed has moved to tight end and Burton will spend most of his time at running back.
As for taking to the new offense, Brantley said he picked it up pretty quickly after the first couple of weeks of spring practice and is ready to implement more of it on the field.
“It definitely plays to my strengths,’’ Brantley said. “I’m just going to keep improving on it every day and go out there and try to play my best.’’