GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- John Brantley never really fit in
Florida's spread offense.
He seemed fine sitting on the bench behind Tim Tebow. But when
it was his turn, little went right.
Brantley struggled to read defenses, missed open receivers and often held the ball too long. Things were so bad that Brantley, a lifelong Gators fan whose father and uncle played in Gainesville, considered following coach Urban Meyer out the door.
He eventually chose to stick around under first-year head coach Will Muschamp, swayed by the hiring of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. His decision and his ability to transition to Weis' pro-style
offense could be keys as Florida tries to survive a tough schedule
and compete in the Southeastern Conference.
The Gators open the season Sept. 3 against Florida Atlantic. They also face Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State.
For Florida to have success, they need more Brantley. Teammates
insist they've already seen improvement.
"Big difference," receiver Deonte Thompson said. "He came in confident. He's taking control of the huddle. He walks around different. His whole swagger's back right now. We expect big things
The Gators expected big things from Brantley last year, too. He completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,061 yards, with nine
touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
He became the first player to lead Florida in passing and throw more INTs than TDs since Kyle Morris in 1988. That dubious distinction is far from what anyone expected from one of the country's prized recruits in 2007.
Brantley watched and learned from Tebow for three seasons, and some expected Florida's offense to run as smoothly with Brantley under center. It wasn't even close.
It didn't help that the Gators were plagued by bad snaps, dropped passes, turnovers, sacks, missed field goals and poor execution in the red zone. All the issues resulted in some of the program's worst offensive performances in more than two decades.
Brantley received the brunt of the blame. Meyer, who quit shortly after the season, tried to spark the floundering offense by experimenting with tight end Jordan Reed and versatile Trey Burton at quarterback.
Neither proved to be a long-term solution.
"I definitely learned last year that when things aren't going right or when things are just going wrong, you need to forget about it and just move on," Brantley said. "You have to keep your head up and keep pushing forward. If your head is down, other people's heads are going to go down.
"You have to keep moving. Bad things aren't unavoidable. They've going to happen, even if you're the No. 1 team in the country. A play or two is not always going to be perfect. You just have to forget about it and move on."
Muschamp, the former head coach-in-waiting at Texas, said Brantley is the clear-cut starter ahead of freshmen Tyler Murphy, Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett heading into the Sept. 3 season opener against Florida Atlantic.
Muschamp said Weis' history of developing quarterbacks -- Tom Brady, Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen and Matt Cassel are on his resume should benefit Brantley.
"He's got great confidence in John. That should give John great confidence," Muschamp said. "Here's Charlie Weis, who's coached
some of the best quarterbacks that maybe have ever played the game. That ought to give him great confidence as a quarterback, and I
think it does."
Even though Brantley is a senior and an integral part of the offense, the Gators don't plan to lean on him in 2011. Muschamp wants a stout running game, with undersized backs Jeff Demps and
Chris Rainey carrying the load, and hopes to get chunks of yards
through play-action passes.
It could be a good fit for Brantley. At least a better fit than the spread.
"Coming off last year, (Brantley's) definitely more confident," receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. said. "He looks more settled. Things should turn around and it should get better."