New Offense Could Mean a New Start for John Brantley

Florida QB John Brantley will look to rebound after a difficult 2010 season (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

With the start of spring practices on the horizon, few players in college football seem to need a clean slate more than Florida’s John Brantley.

In his first season as the Gators starting quarterback, Brantley struggled to replace the iconic Tim Tebow, throwing nine touchdowns and ten interceptions in 2010, and for only 2,061 yards. Florida finished the season 8-5.

Much of Brantley’s struggles could be attributed to his difficulties running to the spread-option offense of head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, as Brantley looked like the proverbial square-peg in a round hole. As well as the system seemed to suit Tebow was about how much of a mismatch it was for Brantley, a prototypical pocket passer ill-suited for option runs and zone reads.

In fact, Brantley’s inability to execute certain facets of the offense brought quarterbacks Trey Burton and Jordan Reed onto the scene. Both players were versatile and could run the ball, but were less adept throwing it. Gary Danielson of CBS Sports summed up the situation well during the season, noting during a game that the 2010 Gators needed three players to do what one player, Tebow, was able to do. Burton was used for option plays, Reed was used for short yardage, and Brantley was called upon to actually throw the ball. Still, the “three-headed monster” was a far cry from Tebow, and as a result, Florida had a disappointing season.

But that was 2010. The turning of the calendar to 2011 could symbolize Brantley’s career turning a new page.

The retirement of Meyer, and Addazio’s departure to take the Temple head coaching job opened the door for Florida to hire Charlie Weis to be its offensive coordinator. While Weis had mixed results in his last college stint as Notre Dame’s head coach, the pro-style offense he will bring in seems more suited to Brantley’s skill set.

Weis’s offense could offer Brantley the fresh start he needs, as the redshirt senior was not the athlete required to run Meyer’s offense. In a system more tailored to his abilities, Brantley has the opportunity to blossom.  Weis’s offense will allow his quarterback to lineup under center, something that was almost never done in the previous system. It will also see an increase in drop-back passing and traditional formations, taking the place of option runs and exotic personnel packages. Considering the kind of quarterback Brantley is, these developments will be to his advantage.

While at Notre Dame, Weis helped Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen develop into successful collegiate quarterbacks. Also, if one considers his work in the NFL to be relevant to the discussion, his work with future-hall of famer Tom Brady and Pro Bowler Matt Cassel must be considered as well.

Another interesting development concerning the Florida quarterback position is the release of Florida’s 2011 depth chart. With spring practice for the Gators set to begin Wednesday, neither Burton nor Reed was listed as a quarterback, according to Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post. Lieser said that “Burton’s quarterbacking days are finished,” and quoted new head coach Will Muschamp as saying that Reed will be “a full-time tight end.” Listed instead behind Brantley on the depth chart are Tyler Murphy and freshman Jeff Driskel. In the event Brantley struggles, Driskel, one of the nation’s most highly-regarded quarterback recruits, could push him for the starting job.

The apparent end of the Gators quarterback rotation could be more good news for Brantley. Contrary to what some were saying in 2010, a quarterback rotation in itself is not inherently negative for those involved. Florida used Tebow to great effect spelling starter Chris Leak in 2006, en route to winning a national championship. Also, former Gators coach Steve Spurrier utilized a quarterback rotation a number of times during his tenure, including the famous example in which he switched between Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise to beat Florida State in 1997. With these examples in mind, the rotation itself was not detrimental to Brantley in 2010.

What did appear problematic was the way in which the quarterback shuffling was done. On a number of occasions, Reed or Burton would be used on first and second down, with Brantley then being summoned for third and longs. A quarterback going stretches of time playing only in obvious passing situations is bound to struggle. Playing full-time will likely be more conducive to Brantley having success in 2011.

Going forward, the situation will be more favorable for Brantley this season than it was in 2010. The changes brought in this offseason could allow him to finally have the success that has been expected of him. If he continues to struggle, however, style of offense will no longer be an excuse, so this could bring an early start to the Driskel era.

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