UF looks to spring forward
Published: Monday, February 28, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 11:57 p.m.
In a few short weeks, the Florida Gators will take on the challenge of learning an entirely new offense. New plays. New terminology. New schemes. New formations. New philosophy.
It sounds daunting, maybe even potentially confusing, this abrupt spring move from Urban Meyer’s spread-option offense to Charlie Weis’ pro-style attack.
Then again, maybe it won’t be.
Maybe this much-anticipated transition will come off smoother and more seamless than many are expecting.
“It’s a concept,” former Florida quarterback Shane Matthews said. “It will be easy for these guys to pick up on that. It won’t take long at all. Charlie Weis and Aubrey Hill and the offensive coaches will coach it up well. They’ll make it simple for these guys. People think it’s complicated, but it’s not. They’ll put the players in a position to be successful.”
Matthews speaks from experience. He and the Gators were in a similar situation in the spring of 1990, when UF was making the move from the Emmitt Smith (running) offense to what would become the Fun ‘n’ Gun (passing) offense of Steve Spurrier.
Matthews said the Gators quickly picked up Spurrier’s offense in 1990, and started thriving in it almost immediately.
He said it was an easy transition for several reasons. Spurrier really knows offense, especially the passing game, and he’s an excellent teacher who keeps things relatively simple. And he inherited a lot of fast and talented offensive players thanks to some strong recruiting in the late 1980s by Galen Hall and his staff.
Matthews said he sees UF in a similar situation now.
“There is a learning curve, but Charlie Weis and these guys are used to coaching it from a professional standpoint,” Matthews said. “The X’s and O’s, the precise routes of a passing offense, the timing.
“Charlie Weis’ track record speaks for itself. Based on past experience (with Weis), they’re going to run a handful of plays out of multiple formations and take advantage of mismatches (like Spurrier did so well at UF). I think with (quarterback) John Brantley coming from a passing offense in high school, he’ll be able to adjust and help the receivers as well.
“I think the receivers are going to be coming out of the woodwork. I think Deonte Thompson is going to have a huge year. I think a lot of those receivers will catch a lot of balls. And the running backs are going to enjoy running downhill. I think the players are excited about this coaching staff. It’s by far the best I’ve ever seen. It’s unbelievable.”
Tre Everett, one of Matthews’ favorite receivers on the 1990 team, said the UF wide receivers have a lot to look forward to this spring — and in the fall.
“I think anyone who wants to compete and has a coach like Charlie Weis to evaluate and coach you, it can’t be anything but exciting,” Everett said. “I think they’re going to have fun with it.
“I don’t think there is going to be a tough transition for anyone. I think it will be far easier than some think. They have some great athletes and these coaches have done this before. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re right back where we’re supposed to be (as a national contender) next season.”
When Spurrier first arrived at Florida, the wide receivers were known more for their blocking ability than their pass-catching skills. That quickly changed, with the receivers becoming a huge part of the offense. Everett said UF’s receivers will experience a similar transformation under Weis.
“They’re going to have a blast,” Everett said. “This is going to be a welcome change for them.”
But the Gator who may benefit the most from the new offense is Brantley, who never seemed a comfortable fit in the spread and appeared to lose all confidence over the course of last season.
Matthews said Weis’ offense is clearly a better fit for Brantley. And Weis has a reputation for developing quarterbacks, including perennial All-Pro Tom Brady, so Brantley has a chance to revive his career.
“He fits very well with what Charlie Weis wants to do,” Matthews said. “It’s pretty much going to be Brantley’s team. He needs to play well, and I think he will because this offense is right up his alley. It’s perfect for what he does.
“You build confidence as a quarterback by moving a team. Charlie Weis will have some easy throws in there and he’ll find some mismatches for certain coverages. He’ll have certain combination routes that will get people open. Brantley is a very accurate passer who knows what’s going on. I think he’s going to have a great year.”
Overall, the Gators have a chance to have a big season, Matthews said. That’s the way it played out in Spurrier’s first year. Matthews says similar thing could happen in Will Muschamp’s.
“Any time you throw the ball and mix it up, you’ve got a chance,” Matthews said. “I know there are a lot of excited kids over there.
“I’ve known Will Muschamp for a long time. I’m excited for him to be a head coach. I’m excited about Florida football. I think this team is going to surprise a lot of people, and I think Gator Nation will embrace Muschamp. He reminds me so much of Nick Saban. But he’s also got a little Steve Spurrier in him.”