Wrapping up the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut

By Adam Silverstein
April 10, 2011

With the Florida Gators spring game – the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut – now in the books, plenty will be written about what occurred during the game and how it will play a role in what happens the remainder of the season. However, what happens during spring practice and the spring game – outside of player evaluation – often has little to do in determining how a season will unfold in the long run. There are nevertheless some hot topics of conversation coming out of the game which you can read below.

EVALUATING THE SPRING ABOUT IDENTIFYING PLAYMAKERS

Head coach Will Muschamp and his coaching staff have a lot of work to do in order to get the Gators ready for the regular season beginning in September. The initial step to doing so, he said on Saturday, was using the spring to identify those players he can trust to make an impact for him on every unit, something he believes the team accomplished over the previous five weeks.

“The first thing you look [at] is the installation of schemes and see how far along [the team is] and identify playmakers. That dictates what you do. That’s really our philosophy as a coaching staff: Let’s evaluate our players, let’s see what they can do and put them in situations where they can be most successful,” he said. “We’ve done that. We’ve identified, on both sides of the ball, the guys we can rely on as far as offense, defense and special teams. You work through that scheme-wise and then you start implementing things you feel like can work in those situations. We’ve identified our playmakers.”

While a few of those playmakers were showcased on the defensive side of the ball Saturday, there was not much electricity when it came to the offensive output. Muschamp said the goal is to list the top 22 players overall (11 starters on each side) and expand from there. “We need that list to grow as far as guys we know we can count on and rely on in the fall in our league,” he said.

Now that the spring session is over, the coaches will concentrate on recruiting and planning ahead for the summer and fall. In the meantime, Muschamp told his players that it is up to them to show leadership, keep up with their physical fitness and stay out of trouble. “This is a critical time for us. We’ve had a five-week offseason program. We’ve had spring ball. Now the coaches will be on the road recruiting,” he said. “By NCAA rules, we’re very limited as much we can spend with the football team, and our leadership needs to take over. I challenged some guys in our locker room. It’s time for them to step up. It doesn’t need to be a senior. We don’t have many seniors. They need to understand it’s their football team, it’s not mine. We will only be as good as we are next year with the work ethic that takes place.”

[EXPAND Click to expand and read the remainder of this post.]BRANTLEY SHINED IN PRACTICE, STRUGGLED IN DEBUT

The only glimpse fans have had of redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley since last season is Saturday’s dismal performance where he only completed four passes and played just a half of football in a scrimmage. However, according to Muschamp, Brantley has been lights-out in practice and is the team’s starting quarterback going forward.

“I thought he had a really good spring. If we started the season today, John Brantley would be our starter. He’s experienced. He’s got talent. John’s had a very good spring,” he said. “He’s close to 70 percent completion percentage for the spring; 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 checks, protections, run game… I’m pleased with Johnny.”

Critics will be quick to jump on Brantley for throwing incompletions and having a few balls batted down (as was his tendency in 2010), but the Gators entered the game with only one running back, not a single fullback and a banged up offensive line that was neither experienced playing together nor able to handle the stout defensive front they encountered. “We went into scrimmage planning on just playing [Brantley] in the first half regardless. We didn’t change our plan there as far as what we wanted to do,” Muschamp said. “[I’ve been] pleased with his performance all spring. [He’s] been consistent, but he’s also got to have better people around him to help him. That starts with our offensive line.”

Brantley did not discuss his performance in particular but tried to show leadership by propping up the offensive line that let rushers through to all of the quarterbacks all day long. “They were running both ways. I respect the heck out of them for doing that. They played their hearts out,” he said. “It didn’t really limit us play calling or anything like that, it’s just tough for those guys to go back-and-forth, up-and-down the field all afternoon.”

He also discussed how offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has changed the team and him in particular. “We have a great offensive scheme here. Everybody’s getting real comfortable with it,” he said. “We’re going to keep building off it, work together with the receivers over summer, get in sync with everything, and we’ll be good for camp. I feel pretty comfortable [with the system]. There’s a lot more to learn, and Coach Weis and all the coaches will get us ready for all that. For right now, what we learned in the spring is a good basis of what we’re going to be doing in the fall. He’s always been telling me to be more of a leader I don’t have to be more vocal, just be able to lead the team by what my actions are. He wants me to be able to run this team, and he’s helped me out a lot with that this spring.”

A TALE OF TWO LINES

Florida had nearly 20 players sidelined and sitting out for the Orange & Blue Debut including a number of major playmakers and much of the starting offensive line. Muschamp, who has maintained from the beginning that football in the Southeastern Conference starts with the play of the men in the trenches, understands the injuries but is anxious for the players to get healthy as soon as possible.

“There’s been some spotty work up front with that because of injuries. Because we were thin to begin with [and] you take the laundry list [of players] out of that then it’s even worse,” he said. “There’s two units that have to be as tight-knit as any on the team and that’s the offensive line and the secondary. When you have a lot of moving parts on either one of those positions, then it creates problems for the rest of your team. The SEC is a line of scrimmage league and we’re only as good as we are upfront. […] We’ve had a lot of moving parts up front, which is good for our football team in that we’re building depth and we’ve had to cross-train guys at different positions. That will help us in the long run, but in the short run it has been a little frustrating.”

While the offensive line has been a point of concern, the defensive line – especially the play of sophomore defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley – has been a bright spot all spring and was once again on Saturday. “They’re good football players and they need to stay grounded with where they are. They’re disruptive players inside,” said Muschamp of the duo. “Dominique is extremely quick with his first step. He’s got great initial quickness, punch and power, good change of direction. Sharrif is a really good football player, starting to feel blocks inside. Instead of just playing the game, they need to start learning the game. They need to understand situations; they need to understand stances; they need to understand steps. Those are the things they need to do a great job in [learning] in the offseason.”

Floyd confirmed to ESPN that what he and Easley were able to do to the offensive line caused Brantley some problems. “I wouldn’t call John Brantley’s play today a struggle. I would call it, ‘Not enough room,’” he said. “Me and Dominique Easley collapsed the pocket, and that’s one of our main goals. We forced offensive linemen into his face, and he had to roll out.”

DUNBAR, WIDE RECEIVERS STEPPING UP

No pass catcher was raved about more on Saturday than sophomore wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, who only finished with two receptions for 21 yards but opened eyes during practice over the last five weeks. “You can’t take away from what Quinton Dunbar has done vertically down the field through the entire body of work of spring,” Muschamp said after the game. “Dunbar has made more big plays than anybody else.”

In fact, Brantley nearly hit Dunbar for a long pass on the first play of the game that he promptly dropped. “I wish I would have had that back. Cody Riggs made a good play on it and I came back, tried to make a play, and he knocked it out of my hands,” Dunbar told the Orlando Sentinel after the game. “I feel that I had a solid spring. I came out, worked hard, competed everyday and I felt great. I’m hoping to stretch the field, and I’m also hoping to just be a receiver in general.”

Muschamp had handed out superlatives to the other receivers, calling redshirt junior Frankie Hammond, Jr. the “most consistent,” redshirt junior Omarius Hines the most versatile (F position in the backfield, X receiver on the line), redshirt senior Deonte Thompson the most experienced, redshirt sophomore Andre Debose a threat anywhere on the field because of his speed and sophomore Solomon Patton the best out of the backfield on the reverse.

Photo Credit: Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun[/EXPAND]

27 Comments

  1. Mr2Bits says:

    “he said. “He’s close to 70 percent completion percentage for the spring; we tally every throw.”

    Wonder what his percentage is when the defense is on the field then!

  2. jay d says:

    I think brantley is a practice warrior…..now what I mean by that is…..he practices well…does everything he needs to do behind the curtains…..but he just isn’t a game time player…he can’t play under the pressure of 80,000 plus fans watching his every move..its too much for him…I’ve expierianced this same thing with teamates in other sports…not the 80 plus thousand fans but the pressure of playing well when it really matters….it is very possible that this is the case and only time will tell if my theory is correct…

  3. dgator says:

    If Brantley is our starting QB, we are in for another LONG year…

  4. npgator says:

    In all fairness Brantley didn’t have a very solid offensive line and the recievers seemed to not be able to seperate. With that said – I trust Weis and will see where the cards fall.

    • G8TRKYLE says:

      He had plenty of time to throw the ball, and how does receiver seperation come into play when you can’t get the ball past the line of scrimmage, i.e. throw the ball into a d-lineman’s hand or off the helmet of your o-lineman. I gave Brantley the benefit of doubt all last year, but it is clear the same issues that wore on the fan base last year were very present in his O&B performance. I hope that changes, and that I am just an ignorant football fan who doesn’t have the first clue in what to look for in a QB’s performance.

      • You’re not ignorant and a lot of what you say are legitimate issues, but he did not have plenty of time to throw the ball on most plays. That you are incorrect on…unless you don’t want to believe Muschamp, the defensive linemen, etc.

        • Drew says:

          Come on Adam, being a QB you have to adept at playing under pressure. This is the SEC, QB’s don’t have a lot of time to throw the ball. By saying “he didn’t have a lot of time” eludes to the fact that unless JB has 30-45 seconds to go throw his progression otherwise he can’t get it done. The other QB’s didn’t seem to have a problem with delivering their balls with authority, or getting passes batted down. 4-14 for 65 yards is garbage, especially for the supposed starting QB for Florida.

          • “Come on Drew.” It doesn’t allude to that at all. Your exaggeration is ridiculous. Brantley had to stay in a pocket that was collapsing and, therefore, had to get the ball of quick. Weis called plays for Murphy that allowed the pocket for move and on occasion him to roll out…giving him more space and time because he is more mobile and able to throw that way. Murphy’s passes weren’t batted down b/c he wasn’t throwing over the line every time. Driskel had nearly the same inc. % as Brantley. Both Murphy and Driskel were playing against the second- and third-team defenses. But you know what…you’re right. The coaches are wrong.

          • drew says:

            Great he had a big 2010 O&B game, what did he do during the season? Looked a lot like what he did in the O&B game in an offense that is more “suited” to his “talents”. As far as me watching him for 20 minutes, not sure where you got that from. I watched dozens of highlight films, and I had the misfortune of watching him crumble time and time again last year. I realize since you write on onlygators.com you know far than I, so please forgive me for stating the obvious. He sucks. People may have said “hey, maybe it was just the system last yr” if he would have come out and done something sat. but he didn’t. Plain and simple. Trying to say JD had the same incompletion % as JB is lame. We’re talking about comparing a true freshman to a 5th year senior. He’s a one dimensional QB, and his one dimension is not that good. But hey, if it makes you feel better to make excuses for a guy who hasn’t done squat his entire UF career, and is only the starter because of his family name (hopefully Muschamp changes that this year) then by all means go ahead. Enjoy the suck that is John Brantley.

            • Exactly my point. You must not have understood what I said. He had a great 2010 O&B game and a bad 2010 season = zero correlation. Just like his bad 2011 O&B game can have zero correlation on his 2011 season.

              You watching him for 20 minutes refers to Saturday. So far in the new offense and scheme you have seen 20 minutes of Brantley. What he did in 2010 is irrelevant.

              You are saying that Brantley, after five weeks in a new system, proved that he is the problem. I’m saying, give the guy an entire offseason to learn and develop under Weis. You are ready to write him off after seeing a half of a scrimmage.

              The Driskel note was not to compare them as players, it was just to show you that none of the stats matter. Nothing that happened Saturday has any barring on the season. Stop putting so much weight into it.

              Finally, I am not making excuses for anyone. I don’t do that. Don’t need to. I’m simply telling you that you are not looking at it with perspective and simply dislike Brantley for his failures in 2010 and therefore don’t want to give him a chance in 2011. You’re being ridiculous.

              Don’t bother replying. I’m done wasting my time with this.

        • G8TRKYLE says:

          Adam, I’ll watch it again tonight, but when I say plenty of time, I mean enough time to get off a legit throwing motion pass. I just can’t remember a QB who seems to throw it into the line of scrimmage so much, regardless of whether it is the result of the pass rush. I only watched it the first go around, so maybe my memory is a little off, which could certainly be the case!!

          • You need more time than just for your arm to go from your shoulder – forward. You need time to read the defense, let routes develop and find the open man. He didn’t have that and had to get rid of the ball too fast.

  5. Jesse C says:

    Same old story… Brantley is real good at practice (no pressure) and lousy during the game (pressure). What concerns me is that he played like crap when he knew he wasn’t going to get popped during the O&B game. Weis may be able to coach him up on mechanics but he can’t coach nerves. Let’s face it, the O-line is not going to be as good as UM 2001 so Brantley is going to get pressured no matter what and he is going to have to move the pocket, create a little more time with his feet and take a couple hits standing the pocket in order to move the ball at times. If he folds like a deck of cards as soon as a defensive player gets close and always throws to the hot route, we will need our D to play like the Superbowl champ Ravens when they had Dil-hole (that is for my Buc friends) as their QB to squeak by with a win every week. I hope Brantley steps up but it looks like he hasn’t changed it that regard and unfortunately it’ll be the same old story with him this year.

  6. Joe says:

    I am no longer a Brantley fan. Simply because I don’t believe he has the stones to play a full season in the SEC. However, his performance should not overshadow the O-line’s ineptness to block the middle. Truth is, we are seeing some of the best backfield pressure since good ol Marcus Thomas was here being a bad ass and getting kicked off the team. These O linemen are thin and practicing against the best talent that I have seen at DT in the last 10 years at Florida.

    • Alex says:

      Yeah, I just worry about our O-line. All indications sound like Harrison will be the starting center, and he’s getting pushed off the ball immediately after every snap. Now maybe that’s just Easley and Floyd being beastly, which I think they are, but it’s worrysome.

      • As you should be. Weakest unit on the team right now…even if they were all healthy.

        • drew says:

          its sad that after last year and this years O&B game there are purpler like you out there still on the brantley family tit. new system, same jb.yet here you are defending him. no im not saying I know more than the coaches, but I do know brantley is not the guy that gives us the best chance to win. he sure didn’t look like a 70% passer saturday. hopefully coach can get on the horn with our opponents and ask them not to rush our o line, and tell the fans to stay at home.empty stadiums and no pass rush should put ole jb in his comfort zone and he might be able to throw more than 9 td’s this year. maybe all that top notch talent in the 2A class lead us to believe he was better than he really is.

          • Not sure what a “purpler” is…like Grimmace? What’s sad is someone who, rather than put together a cohesive argument with legitimate talking points, decides to say the person they are having a conversation with has a “Brantley family tilt” when no such thing exists. I apologize for using common sense and perspective when judging someone and not rushing to judgment based on 20 minutes of scrimmage action with a banged-up offensive line in front of him. I suppose that you, who has seen him play now for 20 minutes, have a better idea about his development and potential to lead the offense than say Charlie Weis, who has watched him (and film of him) for hours upon hours over the last five weeks. And trying to evaluate the type of player he can be this year – in an offense that fits him – based on what he did last year in the spread is absurd. I’m not defending anybody. I’m providing an objective analysis of what I saw on Saturday. Sorry if that bothers you.

            Brantley may succeed this year. He may also stink it up and get pulled three games into the season. Either way, judging or evaluating him based on what you saw Saturday is a waste of time. In the 2010 O&B game he threw for 200 yards on 70% completion with two touchdowns…did that have anything to do with how he played that year? Obviously not.

  7. Mr2Bits says:

    I have a feeling that Brantley will be getting booed in the swamp this year Adazzio style.

    • scooterp says:

      He was getting booed last year. Hopefully, it won’t happen, but I’m sure there are enough classless people to embarrass our fanbase again by doing so.

  8. Zooker says:

    Adam, I’m going to start calling you the “Fire Man” because you use feel like one, you’ve been busy putting out fires all weekend, lol…. Bless You, you are a good man!!

  9. Zooker says:

    * you should feel like one

  10. TonyM1449 says:

    I hope Brantley proves us all wrong! That being said, I’m not sure I would have pulled him after 20 minutes of scrimmage Saturday. He has alot to learn and 4 of 14 completions is not my idea of “great job, take a break and let the back-ups clean up”.. I would have had him get all the reps he can. If a snap is being taken, he needs to take it IMO. I would have let the other guys alternate with second team O. I honestly hope that he is so successful in 2011 we can erect statue #4. If he continues to play like a fish out of water…….

  11. drew says:

    Adam, you seem to be missing the point as well. I get to not take to much from a spring game, but, in light of how JB performed last year, you’d think he would want to come out and show the fans that it was Addazio’s ineptitude as an OC that was the main downfall of his QB play. But hey comes out and looks the exact same way he did last year. I get the line issues, and the injuries but damn. There’s been all this hype about Weis’s offensive perfectly suited to his skill set, but he keeps showing people that maybe it’s not the offense, but the fact that he has a very limited skill set that was over blown by playing below average to average competition in high school. Nobody wants more for this team to succeed, but I can’t help but think that this year is going to be more of the same with Brantley. Sure we may throw the ball down field more, but did you see Brantley throw anything pretty when he had the chance to long last year? Reed didn’t get a lot of chances to throw deep, but the one time he did was a beautifully thrown ball for a TD against Vandy. A lot of people, myself included, are tired of his aww shucks demeanor, lack of leadership, and overall poor play both last year and the O&B game.

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