GAINESVILLE — Florida will conclude spring football practice Saturday with its annual Orange and Blue game hoping it has gotten a productive start on the long process of discovering who the Gators are in the post-Tim Tebow era.
Coach Urban Meyer said the last time he remembers being this uncertain about his offense was his first season with the Gators (2005).
"And then in Year 2 at Florida …" Meyer quipped, referring to the national title after the 2006 season.
Among the goals this spring was to establish a new quarterback, find out who the go-to receivers will be and just what kind of offense the Gators' personnel will be most successful in.
"You want to determine who we are offensively," Meyer said. "I don't know. We don't have an offense; I told you that five years ago. (People ask) are you guys going to change a lot? We have no idea right now. We're going to do what we do well. And if that's I-formation, if it's shotgun, if it's Jordan Reed at quarterback, if it's throwing it all over the lot, I don't know."
Redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley has waited patiently behind Tebow for three seasons for his chance to take the starting job, and while he said he's pleased overall with the spring he has had, even he isn't sure of the Gators' offensive identity.
"I don't know," Brantley said. "I know we're all out here working hard. I guess we'll just have to see."
Meyer hopes to implement a two-quarterback system similar to the one he used with Chris Leak and Tebow in 2006, but never got to use once Tebow took over the starting role. Brantley is more of a prototypical drop-back passer who, by his own admission, isn't going to "run over people like Tebow." So the Gators hope to continue with the single-wing offense using freshman quarterback Trey Burton and redshirt freshman quarterback-turned-tight end Jordan Reed.
"I think we have to," Meyer said. "On third-down-and-3 I know what we want to do, and Johnny's probably not going to do it just because he's not that kind of player. Everybody said we just ran Tim because he was a great player. That's partially true. The other part of it is single-wing offense you are plus in the run game. Jordan Reed has proven he can do it, and Trey Burton can run real well, too."
If the Gators are successful in implementing the system, expect to see Burton doing a few things in the wildcat formations that you didn't see Tebow do in 2006.
"We've expanded since '06, so some of those plays we were running with Trey we didn't have with Tim in '06," offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. "But there's no question (the package will be there). And you see Jordan Reed. I told you we're going to have a pretty good wildcat package because we have some real good wildcat people."
The receivers are in a state of transition with the loss of leading receiver Riley Cooper, a former Clearwater Central Catholic standout, and the addition of receivers coach Zach Azzanni. Receivers Frankie Hammond and Deonte Thompson have been impressive this spring, and Azzanni said he sees strong potential in senior Carl Moore, who sat out all of last season with a back injury, freshman Robert Clark and senior Justin Williams. The return of receiver/running back Andre Debose, who missed all of last season after surgery on his hamstring in September, also has raised Azzanni's expectations.
"I'm really excited about some of these guys the last three or four practices," Azzanni said. "With (Brantley) being such a pure thrower, everything is about timing for us right now. Our job right now is to get open and paint a picture for him, and be where we're supposed to be when we're supposed to be there so he can let it go and not run around. No, they are not where I want them to be yet, but have they gotten better? Yes."
The Gators expect to have a strong unit of running backs, including junior Jeff Demps, redshirt junior Chris Rainey, senior Emmanuel Moody and sophomore Mike Gillislee. Demps missed spring practice to concentrate on track, and Rainey and Moody were slightly hampered with injuries, but new running backs coach Stan Drayton said he's encouraged, adding, "We're ahead of schedule right now."
Moody said with the departure of Tebow as a dominant running quarterback, the role of the running backs will most likely expand.
"We had a great quarterback in Tebow, but now it's time for the running backs to step up and really contribute in a big way next year," he said.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.