Backup QB to play big role this year

UF quarterback Tim Tebow, center, runs drills during the first football practice of the year on Wednesday.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, March 22, 2008 at 9:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 22, 2008 at 9:24 p.m.

Florida's two-headed quarterback in 2006 featured two players with distinctly different styles.

There was Chris Leak, the senior starter and accomplished passer.

There was Tim Tebow, the true freshman and runner who specialized in bulling his way to first downs and touchdowns.

The quarterbacks were so different that they basically ran different offenses, with the coaches coming up with a special package of plays for Tebow to run each week.

With Urban Meyer vowing to go back to a two-quarterback system in 2008, this new two-headed quarterback probably will not look like the old one. The No. 2 guy (whoever it turns out to be) will be running the same offense that Tebow runs, so there will not just be a designated runner (or passer) coming off the bench like two years ago.

"Playing two quarterbacks doesn't mean you need two systems," offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said. "Each quarterback has their own thing that they do really well. You can highlight different parts.

"But they're all big, they all throw the ball very well and they're all very athletic. It's a pretty good combination."

It's a combination that should allow the Gators to run their spread offense regardless of who comes off the bench sophomore Cameron Newton or redshirt freshman John Brantley.

Like Tebow, Newton and Brantley are capable runners and passers, Mullen said, and capable of running the offense.

"Whoever the backup is, he's going to come in and run the offense," Mullen said. "One of the big benefits is if you have to make an adjustment during a series, I can get a quarterback off the field and make the adjustment with him without taking a time-out or waiting until the next series.

"Another guy goes in and keeps running the show. And you can communicate real well if you want specific things done with the quarterbacks."

Mullen and Meyer know how they want to use their quarterbacks in the fall. Now, they have to find out who the No. 2 guy is going to be.

Only a few days into spring practice, that decision probably will not be coming anytime soon, Mullen said.

"Our thought on that is I'm planning on getting three quarterbacks ready to play," Mullen said. "That's where we are right now."

Newton saw limited playing time last season and was used mostly as a runner. He's been running with the second-team offense this spring, partly because Brantley has been limited by an injury to his non-throwing left shoulder.

Brantley is expected to be close to a full go this week, and the competition will commence.

Newton, who is 6-6, 240 pounds, is considered a stronger runner than passer, while Brantley is considered the best pure passer among the quarterbacks. Brantley, however, is up to 213 pounds and also is capable of doing everything in the offense, Mullen said.

"Brantley is progressing along," Mullen said.

Newton also is advancing, Mullen said, especially with his confidence throwing the ball.

Newton's mechanics and throwing motion appear much-improved from a year ago, and he's showing better touch and accuracy, especially on the deep throws.

"He's had some time this offseason to really learn to throw the ball and get that down," Mullen said. "Couple that with the fact he's more comfortable in the offense, and you're seeing a different result.

"He's a much more consistent passer. He has a really strong arm. What he's done is clean it up a little bit."

Newton said he is much more relaxed now that he has a better grasp of the offense.

"I was kind of tense last year. Now, I'm getting in control of what I'm doing," he said. "I got the jitterbugs out and I'm ready to roll now.

"Last year, I was tensed up and didn't know what to expect from practice to practice. I was like a deer in the headlights. Now, I'm getting kind of comfortable and composed in the system."

Newton said he has been striving for consistency in his passing motion.

"Coach Mullen pointed out that I had a different motion for different throws last year," Newton said. "Now when I go back to pass, I'm thinking about the same motion every time. It's helped me become a more consistent passer."

Newton said he feels he's getting close to being ready to run the offense the same one Tebow runs.

"I want to be able to come into the game and not lose a beat," Newton said. "We want to keep that tempo going."

That's the plan for UF's new version of the two-headed quarterback.

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