Brantley shines in Florida’s spring game
John Brantley dropped back on the first play of Florida’s spring game and threw it as far as he could.
Deonte Thompson was open on the other end, hauling in a 47-yard pass that started the post-Tim Tebow era – and the least the spring game part of it – with some flair and gave about 50,000 fans a glimpse of what to expect in the fall.
Brantley completed 15 of 19 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns Saturday – the kind of performance many expected from the highly touted quarterback who waited three years behind Tebow for a shot to start.
“Boy, he was good,” coach Urban Meyer said. “He was good.”
Facing Florida’s first-team defense and wearing a red, non-contact jersey, Brantley showed the kind of awareness and confidence of a seasoned starter. He even did it with four linemen sitting out for precautionary reasons.
“I feel like it’s my huddle now,” said Brantley, whose Blue team beat the Orange team 27-24. “I definitely do. That’s what I’ve been working on – leadership, being more vocal in the huddle.”
Florida’s spring was all about finding playmakers for an offense that lost Tebow, center Maurkice Pouncey and four of its top five receivers.
Meyer says his team lacks identity, adding that he doesn’t have any idea what the offense will look like when Miami (Ohio) comes to town for the Sept. 4 season opener.
But he has some options.
Carl Moore, who stormed out of practice two weeks ago and missed time because of personal issues, finished with eight catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.
The 6-foot-3 senior, who missed all of last season because of a back injury, showed he can be a sure-handed receiver for a team trying to replace pass-catchers Aaron Hernandez, Riley Cooper, David Nelson and Brandon James.
Thompson showed his deep-threat ability on the opening play, then sat out the rest of the way. Moore took over from there, consistently getting open over the middle and down the sideline. Omarius Hines (four catches for 69 yards and a TD), Frankie Hammond Jr. (four for 20) and T.J. Lawrence (two for 41 and a score) also chipped in.
The biggest surprise may have been Andre Debose, the No. 2 receiver prospect in the country last year who missed the entire season following surgery to repair a torn hamstring.
Although Debose still isn’t full speed, he started for the Blue team and caught two passes for 30 yards. He flashed the kind of moves that had Meyer comparing him to former Florida star Percy Harvin.
“It feels good to be back,” Debose said. “It was real stressful being away from the game. … As the season went on, it gradually got worse and worse and worse. Just not being part of the team and being kind of pushed away and being on a shelf, it kind of crushed me.”
An injury to Brantley would seemingly crush the Gators. But backup quarterbacks Trey Burton and Jordan Reed may have earned playing time with their performances this spring and Saturday.
Burton completed 12 of 18 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown for the Orange team. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound freshman also ran 10 times for 123 yards and two scores. He broke loose for a 76-yard gain that set up his 20-yard TD pass to Hines.
“I’ll do whatever I have to do to play,” Burton said. “I’ll long snap it if I have to.”
Reed, who moved from quarterback to tight end last fall, threw for 80 yards and a score. His perfectly thrown pass to Lawrence in the fourth quarter turned out to be the decisive play. He also ran several times from the wildcat formation.
“It’s an aspect we don’t want to lose,” offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. “We’re really fired up about what you’re seeing.”