Rumph saw the freakish athleticism. He saw the 6-2, 314-pound frame.
But he didn’t see the production that kind of size and athleticism should produce.
"Caleb has to push himself,” Chris Rumph said on March 27. “He's a very, very talented young man. Very, very talented. But right now, mentally, he's playing like a freshman. Sometimes he's relying on his talent and his athletic ability to do things. As a coach, one of the hardest things to do is to coach a guy up after he's done something wrong, but yet he's had success. He's so result oriented that's all he sees. When I tell him, 'Hey look at your footwork here. Look where your eyes and your hands were on this particular play.'
“He blocks that out and the only thing he's saying right now is 'Coach you're crazy. I just made a sack. I just made a tackle for a loss, that's what you want.' So I have to tell him, ‘yeah you get away with that against this guy but what if it's LSU? What if it's Georgia? What if it's that other school? You may not have that success, so when you're going against just as talented as you are it comes down to technique and fundamentals.’ Trying to get him to buy into it, which he is, he's trying, all those guys are trying to do that, but him in particular because he's so talented."
Brantley read those words soon after the press conference ended. It was a hard pill to swallow, knowing that Florida would need him to stand out this fall at defensive tackle but hearing his position coach say that he wasn’t close to that level of production.
Those words created a fire in Brantley that has pushed him since then.
“Obviously, I didn’t like it,” Caleb Brantley said. “But Coach Rumph did his job. He motivated me. He brought out something in me I didn’t think I had in me. It’s just the work that I put in the summer, he sat me down and just told me what I needed to do to make my dream happen.”
Having that type of conversation is something that Brantley might not have felt comfortable with under the previous staff. He said multiple times after Wednesday’s practice that he didn’t want to sound like he was speaking poorly about former defensive line coach Brad Lawing, but it was clear that his relationship with Rumph has played a major role in his breakout summer and fall.
The difference is simply patience. Brantley used to let mistakes in practice weigh him down and impact his mindset for the next snap. That’s no longer the case.
“Coaching was definitely a problem for me,” Brantley said. “Like last year, me and Lawing obviously didn’t get along and it was just a hassle. I didn’t want to go to practice every day because I didn’t want to deal with the kind of coaching I was getting. And Rumph, he’s more patient. Coaching definitely helped out a lot.
“(Rumph is) more patient with me. I don’t want to really talk about coaches or nothing like that, but with Coach Lawing, he didn’t make me feel like I was worthy of becoming better. Coach Rumph just reminded me how good I could be if I just pushed myself. I feel like a coach can get more out of his player if the player has a better relationship.”
Brantley pointed to Rumph’s patience and willingness to teach the defensive linemen as his best assets on the field. Off the field, Rumph taught Brantley how to work. He had to learn how to pull full effort into every play or every rep in the weight room and fight through the exhaustion that came with it.
Conversations with Dante Fowler last season also helped that. Brantley watched Fowler work every day and was blown away by the jump in consistent effort Fowler showed during his junior year. Fowler helped Brantley’s mental conditioning to treat every rep like it was the middle of an important Southeastern Conference game.
“Every rep I give, I’m giving 100 percent,” Brantley said. “Like usually, guys don’t want to. They give 50 percent, 75 percent just to get through it. You’ve got to push yourself, and if you push yourself in practice, it’ll have you ready. Now it feels like re-creation in me.”