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Who is Florida Gators QB John Brantley? We don't know yet

Florida quarterback John Brantley scrambles to pick up a fumbled snap in the first quarter.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Florida quarterback John Brantley scrambles to pick up a fumbled snap in the first quarter.

GAINESVILLE — The moment is near, and there is a sense of uncertainty in the air.

No one is quite sure what to expect, and everyone understands all that is at stake.

And then it happens. The ball is snapped. The quarterback does not drop it. And tens of thousands cheer wildly.

Yeah, it is a new era of Florida football. And it appears the kid still has a lot to prove.

His debut as a starter a week earlier was so unspectacular that quarterback John Brantley was given an ovation Saturday for not fumbling on the first play from scrimmage against South Florida.

"Oh, yeah. I heard it," Brantley said. "Our fans are loud."

Two plays later, Brantley dropped the center's snap then picked up the ball and bounced a pass off an official.

Turns out, being a substitute legend is even tougher than it seems. He is in the first days of his tenure as Tim Tebow's replacement, and Brantley is already up to his facemask in questions about criticisms and lowered expectations.

He has dropped too many snaps in the spread formation and has not found enough receivers down the field. He looks skittish against the blitz and has none of Tebow's flair or theatrics in the huddle or on the sideline.

So, no, it does not look like Brantley will be the next Tebow.

Which makes sense because they are nothing alike.

Brantley is a classic pocket quarterback with a rifle arm. Tebow was a bulldozer quarterback with an awkward throwing motion. Brantley is fairly easygoing and understated. Tebow was emotional and demonstrative.

More than anything else, it is now clear they have been given two different game plans.

While still operating in the spread most of the time, Florida appears to be morphing into a more traditional style of offense. In each of their first two games, the Gators have gained more yards on the ground than in the air.

Pass routes are shorter, and running backs are becoming more vital.

"It is a work in progress. Have we found our identity? Absolutely not," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "I like to score as much as the other guy. But I think we're more of a blue-collar team that's going to find a way to knock out 4 yards here or 5 yards there.

"It's different. It's different for me. We haven't run that style in a while. It might not be as exciting, but it's effective."

In the first two starts of his UF career, Tebow threw for 536 yards. Chris Leak had 502 yards, and Rex Grossman put up 508 yards.

Brantley? He has thrown for 285.

Now, this doesn't mean he has played poorly. Brantley has completed a healthy-looking 62.5 percent of his passes and has yet to throw an interception. He has been adequate, if not quite impressive. In essence, he has not yet been asked to win a game.

Eventually, that will change. The Gators can get away with a bare-minimum passing game against Miami of Ohio. They got away with it against USF, even though the Bulls helped by self-destructing with turnovers.

But as dynamic as Jeff Demps is as a running back, the Gators are going to need more. They are going to need a quarterback who is prepared to press defenses downfield instead of relying on slants and shovel passes. They are going to need a quarterback who looks more comfortable in the face of blitzes. They are going to need a quarterback who is more star than caretaker.

Some of this is not Brantley's doing. The Gators have had some injuries on offense, and the receiving corps is weaker than previous years. Brantley might not have Tebow's skill set, but he also does not have as much talent surrounding him.

"If you're going to be a two-back offense, you still have to be balanced and be able to throw the ball out of that thing," offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. "We came into the game wanting to be real balanced on first down. Maybe at the end it got a little skewed. But to strike that balance in the two-back set is our next challenge."

Two games into his career as a starter, it is probably fair to say Brantley is still undistinguished.

On the other hand, he is still undefeated.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Who is Florida Gators QB John Brantley? We don't know yet 09/11/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 11, 2010 9:23pm]
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