He has a knack for doing things differently, this Urban Meyer guy. Just like when we saw him in 2006 when he defied coaching logic by playing two quarterbacks, Florida’s unconventional coach is at it again, like a mad scientist on a test-tube tear in a laboratory full of Xs and Os.
The good news is that Meyer is passionately pursuing the task of defining and designing his new offense and “jacked” about the talent surrounding him, as well as renewed in his commitment to find the genie in the bottle.
Meyer’s Spread is now symmetrical, having come full circle as it reverts back to the pocket passer and short-yardage specialist of the Chris Leak era.
Except Urban has one-upped himself: The Florida coach will have a three-headed quarterback in 2010. All of which has him on a buzz, fidgeting in the back room with his “checkers” and presenting himself a whole new set of challenges with this third-generation version of Florida’s Spread.
There may be three “heads,” but the primary quarterback is Johnny Brantley, whose remarkable talent will fuel the attack. My prediction: This will eventually be the most explosive passing game of the Meyer regime.
It was no accident that Leak was at the Orange and Blue Game, chit-chatting with JB IV. The redshirt junior revealed the two quarterbacks developed a relationship and began texting each other earlier this year because they have a lot in common. “Neither of us is going to be running it on third-and-two,” said Brantley.
And that’s just fine.
“Urban is not going to ask Johnny to do anything that he’s not good at doing,” said a staff member.
Translated, when Meyer wants to pick up the first down, tight end Jordan Reed switches over to the Wildcat. And when he wants to run the option, he has Trey Burton available.
Those are your three heads.
There maybe be a trio of heads, but just like in the three-ring circus, you can only watch or play one at a time. That’s why all eyes will be on Brantley, who has the best arm I’ve seen at Florida since the days of John Reaves and the Super Sophs of the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
One reason Meyer was “jacked” is that he sees more depth at the quarterback position than he ever imagined this season. The one Achilles heel of this team was the apparent lack of backup for Brantley. This spring proved that both Burton and Reed are game-ready. More than “ready,” they are extremely competent.
Besides, what other coach can brag about having five quarterbacks? Meyer got so enthused about that they he forgot to name one of them in his recent press conference and had to refer to another by his position.
“We need three (QBs),” Meyer said. “The fourth will be our other guy, the punter, Chas Henry (emergency quarterback). We’ve seen what happens to teams.” (He failed to mention incoming freshman Tyler Murphy.)
At the same time he was grateful to have Brantley and realizes there is a downside to signing big-time talent at that position. Just like Brantley first committed to Texas because Tim Tebow was ensconced at UF, other top-notch prospects passed on the Gators because of Brantley’s presence.
“I think you all know, but it’s real,” said Meyer. “You sign a Tebow and getting a Johnny Brantley is very rare. What happens is that kids don’t want to come here and sit the bench.”
Which is another reason to be grateful for Brantley’s patience. He could have started two of the last three years at all but about three other schools.
Those who question Brantley’s leadership or fear his lack of game experience will cause major deficiencies in the offense are going to be pleasantly surprised at his moxie if not his firepower. After all, as quarterback coach Scot Loeffler likes to point out, Brantley has gone to school as an understudy for one of the great players in America college football history.
Though his style is markedly different than Tim Tebow’s, Brantley has studied the prototypical model for leadership and toughness for three seasons.
Now he has to act like “The Man” – on and off the field. After three years of relative anonymity, Brantley has to get used to seeing the bright lights, because they will be following him home. Everything is magnified times 10 when you are the Florida quarterback – and that includes the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s like playing under a microscope.
At the same time, Johnny is beginning to discover the additional responsibility that comes with that role. Saturdays at The Swamp are one thing. Summer weekdays of exhausting off-season workouts, which coaches cannot supervise, require another level of player commitment, because peer pressure must be exerted by people like Brantley. Not only that, but those leaders must comport themselves with a modicum of restraint when it comes to certain kind of social activities.
On that count, Tebow was the gold standard. He called out players who were late or didn’t show up with what his teammates referred to “the wrath of Tebow.”
Sure, Johnny can throw the speed post, but can he exercise the “wrath of Brantley” on teammates who don’t follow the off-season guidelines? That is yet to be determined.
As for Meyer, he seems have passion tempered with a dose of reality. There is a semblance of balance between life and football, if not a bit of harmony. While Meyer may often be locked up in his office, knee deep in meetings, he is not afraid to duck out for a jog or head to Augusta for a look-see at the Masters. For the most part his counterparts are comfortable with this adjustment, but curious to see.
“It’s not the burden of trying to run the football program with Urban that is of concern,” said one insider. “It’s that he’s in meetings eight hours a day! And he always says his job is about ‘what do do on third and seven.’”
Maybe coaching a three-headed quarterback takes three times as long. Even so, it appears to be a lot more fun.