There is a whole lot of new stuff shaking with the Florida offense in 2010. It all starts with John Brantley at quarterback, but also includes a mess of receivers as well. Replacing all-Americans and future pros at several positions on offense won't be easy, but Brantley was all smiles when he walked out that first day of this exciting spring.
“It feels really good,” Brantley told the media late last week in a session after practice. “Walking out here last week that first day it really hit me...it just feels good running out here with the one's.”
Gone are receivers Riley Cooper, Brandon James, and David Nelson from last year's 13-1 team. In their steed are a bunch of younger guys with not nearly as much experience. Still, Brantley has been working with some of them for a couple of years on the second and third team.
“It has helped out a lot with the timing,” Brantley said about guys like Frankie Hammond, Omarius Hines, Justin Williams, and T.J. Lawrence who he has thrown to quite a bit in the second and third group. “I know how a lot of these guys run and I trust all of them right now. They are doing a great job of getting better every day and we just need to keep improving.”
One aspect Brantley is having to uncover in himself is being a leader for this offense and this team. It is something that wasn't automatic and just showed up on the first day of offseason workouts. He isn't the jump up and down, get the crowd charged up, fanatic that Tim Tebow was. He is having to try and take charge of this offense his own way.
“I think so ...so far,” Brantley replied when asked if he felt he is becoming a better leader. “That is what I have tried to learn the last three years...become more of a leader. I think I have done that so far and am working on it right now. I think I am getting better.
Over the last couple of years it would have been earth shattering had the Gators lost Tebow to an injury, at the same time there was always the Gatorade National Player of the Year at quarterback behind Tebow on the depth chart. That cushion was something fans and maybe even coaches could take a little bit of solace in.
Now, there isn't that luxury. This spring, the only quarterback behind Brantley is true freshman and college early enrollee Trey Burton. Burton doesn't have nearly the high school acumen that Brantley brought with him. However, Brantley thins the young signal caller is doing very well for himself this spring.
“The young guy behind me is doing very well for a freshman,” Brantley said nodding his head. “He is making progress every day. That's what you want to see from the young guys.”
At this stage of the game, Brantley believes Burton's growth as a quarterback is very similar to his and in some major aspects, he is way ahead of the game.
“We were probably very similar,” he said. “Sometimes you have trouble calling plays with a lot of verbiage. He came right in the spring and I didn't so I had more time to watch spring and sit out. He is coming right in and college is fast, but he's progressing and getting better every day and I am happy to see that.”
Behind Burton this spring is really no one. Chas Henry actually works as the third quarterback when the Gators need to give the others a break or one of the top two is absent. Brantley has been impressed with the punter's arm so far.
“He played quarterback in high school and hasn't lost much of his throwing ability,” Brantley said. “He can throw very (well).”
One huge target for Brantley and Burton this spring has been freshman receiver Stephen Alli. Alli is 6-5 and around 210 pounds and has become a real force in the middle of the field as a reliable possession guy that can actually take the ball and do some things with it once he catches it. Any doubts about Alli come from the fact that he played high school ball in New Hampshire, before that he was playing football in Canada, and then he left high school early skipping his entire senior year to come play football at Florida.
“He has had a great spring and has proven that he can play,” Brantley said. “That's what you want to see, I hope he is going to be a great player one day.”
One guy on offense that Brantley believes will really help the offense maintain it's excellence is sophomore running back Mike Gillislee. Gillislee finished with more than an eight yards per carry average as a true freshman in a limited role. He has really played a lot this spring and for a good bit of practice was the only scholarship tailback running the ball. Brantley believes Gillislee has really stood out so far.
“I think Mike Gillislee is doing very well,” Brantley said. “He plays hard on every play and is getting better. He knows how to make plays. Sometimes I don't know how he makes people miss tackles, but he does a great job.”
Brantley has all the intangibles that coaches look for in a quarterback. He has a healthy respect for his teammates, a great demeanor where he doesn't let things get to him, and he understands the game. He is a pure pocket passer that can make all the throws and is athletic enough to run a great deal of the spread option stuff that this offense requires in a limited capacity.
He is getting to know his receivers and everyone else around him and at the same time is adjusting to being the man on offense. The time is coming when there won't be any question about it, until then he will progress toward that point.