Brantley, Gators get spring work

Quarterback Jonathan Brantley (12) drops back to pass during the Orange and Blue Spring Game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, April 9, 2011 in Gainesville Fl. The Blue defeated the Orange 13-10. (Photo by Matt Stamey/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 1:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 1:00 p.m.

For a few minutes there Saturday, it looked like 2010 all over again in The Swamp.

First series: incomplete pass, two-yard loss, incomplete pass. Three-and-out for John Brantley and the Florida offense.

Second series: 11-yard run by Chris Rainey, 2-yard run by Rainey, then three consecutive Brantley incompletions. A quick five-and-out.

Through two series, Brantley was 0-for-5, with two of those incompletions coming on batted balls at the line of scrimmage.

It looked so much like last season's struggles for Brantley and the offense that you could sense the crowd of 53,000 growing restless - in a spring game.

But as the day went on, it became obvious that this is a different offense, a different Brantley, a different Florida team.

“Overall, we made a lot of progress this spring, and we're going to be OK,” Brantley said after his Blue team defeated the Orange 13-10 in what amounted to a scrimmage. “It was another opportunity to go out and get better. We've had a good spring. We progressed very well. We're just going to keep building on that.

“Charlie Weis has a great offense and everyone is getting real comfortable with it, and we're going to keep building off it.”

Brantley did not have a great day statistically Saturday. Playing in only the first half (in a game with a running clock and 12-minute quarters), Brantley completed just 4 of 14 passes for 45 yards and failed to get the offense into the end zone.

But it's hard to judge anybody - especially the quarterback - on one afternoon's work with so many players standing on the sideline with injuries, including probably half the starting offensive line.

Instead, new UF coach Will Muschamp is judging his players on their body of work this spring. And Brantley's pretty good, Muschamp said.

“I thought he had a really good spring,” Muschamp said. “If the season started today, he'd be our starter. He's experienced, he's got talent. Coming out of the gate that (deep ball to wide receiver Quinton Dunbar on the game's first play) should have been caught. Quin made those plays all spring.

“John has had a very good spring. He's close to 70-percent completion rate. We tally every throw. I'm very pleased with how he's managing our football team.

“He's picked up our offense. He does a great job at the line of scrimmage. We put a lot on the quarterback as far as running, pass-check protections, the run game. I'm pleased with John.”

Going against the No. 1 defense with a patchwork offensive front, Brantley had precious little time in the pocket Saturday. He was pressured every time he dropped to pass.

“There was nothing wrong with John Brantley's performance,” sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. “We forced the offensive line into his face every play.”

When asked if Muschamp told the defensive front to dial it down a bit to give Brantley some time to operate the offense, Floyd said, “The defense doesn't dial down.”

It was tough going for Brantley and the offense. The only touchdowns came in the fourth quarter with most of the reserves (and many walk-ons) on the field.

Walk-on fullback Ben Sams caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from No. 2 quarterback Tyler Murphy and walk-on quarterback Christian Provancha threw a 39-yard TD strike to Robert Clark with 45 seconds remaining for the winning score.

Things should look a lot different for the offense in the fall, with the expected return of so many injured players.

Brantley seems excited about where the offense is headed.

“It's going to look different,” Brantley said of the offense. “I'm more comfortable with it, we'll be fresh, and we only can get better from here on out. We have to work hard and do what we have to do this summer.

“I'm pretty comfortable. There's still a lot more to learn. What we learned in the spring is the basis for what we're going to do in the fall.”

Clark said Weis revealed only a small portion of the offense Saturday.

“Not much,” Clark said. “About 30 percent.”

A few things he did bring out were the play-action passing game, which Brantley seems to really like, and a moving pocket when Murphy and true freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel were in the game.

“Play-action really opens up the passing game,” Brantley said. “Coach Weis is a genius. He knows best about that stuff. It showed in the spring. It's going to be good. It opens holes up in the passing game. The linebackers will suck in a little bit and it creates holes.”

Muschamp clearly likes what he's seen from Brantley this spring.

“He's been consistent,” Muschamp said. “He also has to have better people around him to help him and that starts with the offensive line. There's been spotty work there because of the injuries.

“He's ahead (of Murphy and Driskel). You look at his whole body of work, and he's done a nice job.”

Brantley enters the offseason as the clear No. 1. He'll have to compete with Murphy and Driskel to hold the position with the start of two-a-days in August.

As for the Gators overall, Muschamp seemed pleased with the spring progress.

“The first thing you look at is installation of schemes and see how far along you are and identify your playmakers,” he said. “Obviously, that dictates what you do. Our philosophy is to evaluate our players and see what they can do, and put them in situations where they can best be successful.

“I think we've done that. We've identified on both sides of the ball guys we can rely on. We've identified the top 22 on both sides of the ball. We need that list to grow as far as guys we can count on in the fall in our league.”

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