John Brantley and Brandon Hicks
There is no other player that may be more scrutinized in all of college football in 2010 than the guy that has to replace Tim Tebow. Anything short of a Heisman-type season will likely be labeled a bust by some, but junior quarterback John Brantley can't let any of that bother him. He has all the physical tools to be a star in college, but he is spending this time trying to learn to be a leader.
Maybe the most outstanding characteristic of Tim Tebow as the Florida quarterback was the fact he was the absolute leader on his own football team. Tebow almost took that role as a freshman but a senior in Chris Leak held him off just enough.
As a sophomore, there was no denying who led this Gator team and Tebow went on to win the Heisman Trophy that season and have one of the most if not the most prolific offensive season of any player in college football history.
A year later, Tebow turned “The Promise” into a national championship, at least that is how the legend goes.
This is a lot of stuff for the next guy to live up to. John Brantley is just taking it in stride, learning as he goes, and most of all trying to become that leader that the football staff really needs him to be.
This spring, Brantley has progressed in an offense that is evolving around his talents and with some young talent he has around him at every position on offense. For him and now that is the first thing he wants to accomplish.
“I feel good...we have learned pretty well and gotten better every day,” Brantley said about how he feels about his play and the play of backup quarterback Trey Burton this spring. “I am just trying to come out here and have some fun, play some football, and get better.”
One personal trait he is working on is being a little more aggressive with keeping his teammates in line and helping them as they move along. He wants to be a better leader.
“I have been trying to work on that this spring,” Brantley said. “It's tough, because I'm not too vocal, but it's coming along.”
Brantley also has to help mold his backup. Freshman Trey Burton is in his first semester in college and has been thrown into the fire. Burton is the only other scholarship quarterback on campus this spring and has improved dramatically this spring. Brantley likes what he sees out of his young pupil.
“I can tell his confidence is growing out there,” he said. “He is also getting better every day and that's what I like to see.”
To throw Brantley's learning curve into a sharp spin has been some injuries along the offensive line. There have been many days when only one starter on the projected line has been able to practice and that has caused quite a bit of confusion and fatigue for the guys that have to practice a lot more than they usually would have to.
Like a true leader, Brantley is out there pushing them and letting them know they are getting better and that he appreciates how hard they are working.
“We have a lot of guys banged up so a lot of them are running with both the ones and twos,” he said about the six or seven healthy bodies to run practice with. “I just try to encourage them as much as I can because I know its tough. It's getting hot out here now and they just keep stepping up every day.”
There have also been injuries and absences among the receiving ranks. Some prominent players have missed some playing time at receiver and one of them is freshman Andre Debose. Last year Debose was supposed to be in the position that Brantley is in this year, replacing a legend in Percy Harvin and trying to step in without a blip on the radar.
Instead, Debose missed the entire season with a hamstring injury that eventually needed surgery. He has missed all but the last two practices this spring and John Brantley is very happy to have the slick receiver back in the fold once again.
“It feels good,” Brantley said smiling when asked what it was like to have the elusive Debose back on the practice field. “He's a heck of a player, he's as fast as can be, and I am just happy to see him out here again running around.”
Brantley thinks Debose's immediate future looks promising.
“(He's had) no real set backs, it can only get better from here,” Brantley said. “He is only going to get faster, so that's a plus. He's been telling me all spring he wanted to get back out here, so I am real happy for him.”
Another receiver that was missing for a few days was senior Carl Moore. Moore took an unexpected leave last week, but returned and has really come on strong since getting back into the fold.
“I am happy to see him back out here,” Brantley said of Moore. “He is doing a lot and making plays. He's catching the ball when it's thrown to him and blocking when it's not thrown to him, so he is really doing well.”
A couple of true freshmen receivers have also done very well this spring. Solomon Patton and Robert Clark are quick, jitter bug types that have helped really make the slot position be more productive than it was a year ago, even without the presence of Debose for most of the spring.
Patton has been out for the last week and Clark has really stepped up to the plate and delivered. Brantley has taken notice and likes to encourage the brave little man from South Florida.
“He has shown a lot of heart,” Brantley said of Clark. “Coming in as an early enrollee, he is doing a great job. He might not know all the assignments but he goes hard every play.”
Like any true leader Brantley knows he has to go to battle with these guys and he loves to praise them and their strengths. He thinks this group is an unselfish bunch that wants to make sure everyone else is better along with themselves. That unselfishness has made the group core a bit stronger than maybe most would expect.
“Fast and tough,” he described the receiving corps. “When they don't get the ball they do a great job of blocking down field. We stress that a lot and they are doing a great job of it....I am very comfortable (with them). They are great play makers and I love to get them the ball and watch them go.”
Five months from now John Brantley will be the anointed leader of this football team. Along the way he will learn a lot about leading this group. Right now, we already know he has learned quite a bit.
Brantley was asked if Tim Tebow's hometown Jacksonville Jaguars should draft the Florida legend in this year's NFL draft. The question was based on fan support and what it would mean to the franchise. It wasn't a negatively phrased question, but he shrugged off the notion that Tebow should be drafted just for the fan support.
“I don't see why not,” Brantley said about whether Tebow should be drafted by the Jaguars. “He is going to be a great player in that league, so I don't see why not. I think he is going to be just fine as a player, not just for (marketing) and getting people in the stands.”