"I felt (the pressure) in the offseason," Brantley said to the media after the annual Orange and Blue Debut spring game. "As a quarterback at Florida you have to work as hard as anyone else or even harder. You have to watch more film, you have to be the first one out to practice, last one off...all of that. To keep that mentality up and being able to face the stuff off the field."
Watching the first couple of practices this spring I was a little worried about Florida junior starting quarterback John Brantley. I had seen Brantley throw a thousand times before and almost every time he was always right on the mark with where he wanted to place the ball. Now, that mark may have been in the hands of the defender as he didn't read the defense correctly as a younger quarterback, but at least the ball went where he threw it.
In the first few days of spring this year Brantley was constantly over throwing his receivers. Some of that certainly had to do with a new group of receivers to throw too and one that is much younger and less experienced than in years past, but it really looked like Brantley was pressing and excited to be out there and the football was sailing on him.
Brantley talked about how tough it was when spring first started.
"It was the first day of spring ball...just walking out to the practice field," Brantley said about when it all hit him that he was The man. "Just knowing that this is what I was waiting for."
It took a few days of practice for it to wear off in my opinion, but once everyone was on the same page and Brantley settled down, the laser sighted rifle that he has hanging from his right arm was doing exactly what he wanted it to do again.
With that accomplished it was a matter of getting Brantley and his receivers on the same page. Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio has implemented an offense that will look a little different in 2010 with a great deal of the snaps coming from under center and back in an I-formation or an off-set I-formation. Addazio needed Brantley to take charge of the group and he felt his junior signal caller really progressed in that facet of his own maturation process.
"He had a great spring," Addazio told the media about Brantley Saturday after the spring scrimmage held in front of 51,000 fans. "We know he can throw the ball, (the biggest improvement for him) was watching him take command of the team. All that other stuff is over rated. Can he lead, can he win, motivate, and grab the team? Johnny did all of those things and it was pretty cool.
It now has become Brantley's team and the receivers love for him to throw the ball. We saw the different throws he can make in the Orange and Blue Debut on Saturday and he has every throw in the book.
Addazio got what he wanted out of Brantley and it appears Brantley is vocalizing that leadership responsibility now.
"I feel like it is my huddle now and that is what I have been working on, being more vocal in the huddle," the junior quarterback said.
The best thing Brantley did this spring is not come out scared. He is a gun slinger and he came out on day one and was throwing it all over the field and letting his arm do the talking. He did this even when he was misfiring and the staff just has to love the confidence that he has in his own abilities. That confidence will carry over onto the field in September.
The lone knock on Brantley this spring was his ability to really run well in most of the run option stuff the Gator offense incorporates. This offense relies on the advantage of the quarterback being a runner in this offense and therefore outnumbering the defense with the number of blockers and I have seen Brantley run this a lot better in past springs. They went away from practicing a lot of it this spring, and when he was thrown into it he was often late making the pitch or keeping it for the right read of the defenders playing him. In the end, the offense is changing and they will rely on other quarterbacks to carry that part of the game, but he will have to still get better.
One caveat to the above has been the turnstile along the offensive line this spring. Not so much in their inability to play the positions, but the changeover up front due to injuries has really hampered the consistency along the line. Just like a leader, Brantley won't place blame and uses the excuse as a building point for the team moving forward.
"It is a little (frustrating)," Brantley said about the injuries up front. "You just have to go out there and get better every day. We have a young offensive line and they did a great job of working together. I am very happy with their performance. Stuff happens and if something does happen does happen during the season we know they got some good work in the spring and we know they can perform if needed."
Another huge concern this spring was developing a back up behind Brantley. No one expected a whole lot out of Trey Burton, but what we saw was a young guy that should still be in high school, that really came out focused not afraid to let it all hang out, much like Brantley. The other surprise has been Jordan Reed. The quarterback turned tight end who now will play a little of both looks good doing both and suddenly the back up pair gives the Gators some options in the offense and at least a little bit of relief knowing there are some options in the awful case that Brantley were top go down.
"I feel great about them, always have," Brantley said about the duo Saturday. "Trey came in early and I am just happy to see he is learning the offense. It's tough to come in as a high schooler and learn this offense. He has done a great job. He is very attentive at the meetings and grasps it really well. He had a great spring.
"To see Jordan Reed who hasn't really played quarterback in a while and throw the ball around a bit. I was happy to see that (Saturday).
Still, he had a lot to learn this spring. Knowing that I thought he would be tentative and that just wasn't the case. Florida couldn't afford for him to be tentative, but he stuck his chin in there and made throws he probably regretted, all in all a trial by fire that he performed very well in.
During the process he just improved. He started finding receivers that he didn't find in the first few practices. He has slowly started going through some of the progressions in the passing game. And he has gotten some poise in the pocket as time has gone by. He still knows he has to do more before the fall.
"I am starting to settle in real well and happy to be here," Burton said Saturday. "I am going to try and get really big muscle-wise. I want to get stronger and learn, learn, learn."
Burton was intercepted on his first play of the scrimmage Saturday. It was a deep ball down the left sideline, a play drawn up by someone on the student body as a promotion for the game. He just kept his chin strap buckled and got out there. He told the media that he got some sage advice from Gator Great quarterback Chris Leak during the game on Saturday.
"He said, 'how a quarterback rebounds from an interception is how good he is going to be'," Burton responded when asked what Leak told him. "...I try not to get myself down and know I have to play the next play."
Burton is certainly a different style of quarterback than Brantley and brings a running dimension that he feels totally comfortable with. Having been a running back through the ninth grade, Burton has big time skill doing that and showed a lot of that Saturday accounting for 120 yards on the ground. He understands that is something this staff will like to utilize as a compliment to Brantley's gun slinging abilities. He is often times compared to Tim Tebow, but just shrugs that comparison off.
"I am excited to play, I don't care what package I get and I hope I get a chance," he said. "I'm not Tim Tebow I am Trey and I am going to do what I'm going to do."
The back up quarterback is often times the darling of the fans and Burton certainly did nothing to hurt that notion on Saturday. He has played hard all spring and more times than not has taken hits not normally allowed by quarterbacks. His toughness is underestimated. He actually enjoyed the physical play he was a part of this spring.
"I love it and wouldn't want to be anywhere else," he said.
In the end, Burton had about as good a spring as can be expected and still has a lot of work to do. The fact he has only really been a quarterback for a little over three years means his throwing should improve dramatically during his stay in Gainesville. Right now, his ability to move around allows him to not be a 'perfect' thrower, and so he can learn going forward without being stressed about it.
Reed left the quarterback position, not because of his lack of ability to throw or anything physical, he just couldn't grasp the full scheme of the offense at the position.
Saturday, we saw him make the deep throw and some underneath, he really has a gun. We also saw what he can do running the ball. At 6-4, 240 pounds he is a beast and as big as Tebow was running in short yardage. Reed will likely be the short yardage quarterback when they want to run the option.
They had him throw and will likely out a small package of pass plays in there for him to keep teams honest or catch teams off guard, because he can throw the ball well.
More than anything, as a quarterback, he has now allowed the staff to a chance to breathe maybe a little easier in the unbelievable happens and Brantley gets hurt. As the starter at tight end at the end of the spring and his new role as an option quarterback, Reed has now turned himself into one of the most valuable players on offense. Something I never saw happening before spring started.
Look for extensive highlights of the quarterbacks from the spring to follow. We were able to come up with over 100 highlights of Brantley and Burton and split them up for you. Also stay tuned as we continue our evaluations of every position along with individual highlights.