Burton, Gators have decisions to make during spring football

On Sept. 26, a relatively unheralded true freshman quarterback took the college football world by storm with an electrifying six-touchdown performance.

In a matter of hours, hundreds of thousands of fans across the country were Googling the name “Trey Burton.”

Gators fans, at the time, knew him as the promising young quarterback who provided the ying to John Brantley’s yang.

And while Burton endeared himself to Florida fans everywhere in the fourth game of his career, things didn’t start off quite so well for the unheralded dual-threat quarterback from Venice.

On March 19, Burton trotted onto the field for his second spring football practice as a Gator. As he warmed up with fellow quarterback John Brantley on the far side of the field, the media began picking apart his shot-put style throwing motion.

A few minutes later Burton threw a pass behind his intended receiver, and Josh Shaw stepped in front for an easy interception. Later in the practice, Burton scrambled to his right and launched a wobbly, underthrown pass that was picked off by Janoris Jenkins.

After the first week of spring football, fans were already commenting that he’d never be a quarterback in college, much less at Florida.

But over the rest of spring practice, Burton did what he would continue to do for the Gators during the 2010 season: He kept getting better.

By the end of the spring, he had won over many of his critics. He capped off his impressive turnaround by completing 12 of 18 passes and delivering an electrifying 76-yard touchdown run in Florida’s spring football game that got everyone whispering about his potential.

Five and a half months later, those whispers turned into a loud roar as Gators fans and the rest of the country marveled at Burton’s astounding six-touchdown performance against Kentucky.

Midway through the 2010 season, many of the same fans who had railed on him just six months earlier were calling for him to be the starting quarterback as John Brantley struggled to move the offense and Burton continued to impress.

And while he never took over the starting role, Burton’s versatility on offense was one of the few bright spots on one of the worst offenses in recent Florida Gators history.

Heading into this year’s spring practice, that versatility makes him one of the most interesting stories on the team.

After playing multiple positions on offense last season, including quarterback, fullback, tight end and H-back, it appears Burton’s future might actually be on the defensive side of the ball.

In early February, head coach Will Muschamp hinted that Burton might get a look on defense.

“Trey was a guy that’s been talked about as a defensive back, but I’m not so sure he’s not better suited to be on the offensive side of the ball as a fullback more and still have some sort of package for him at the quarterback position,” Muschamp said in early February.

At Venice High School, Burton played some safety, where his coaches said he showed great instincts. With his athleticism and some holes to fill at safety, he would have a chance to win immediate playing time.

He might also get a look at weak-side linebacker when Florida runs a 3-4 package.

But the more important question is whether the Gators are willing to risk losing Burton’s production and versatility on offense.

His ability to pick up the offense quickly – and at multiple positions – was his greatest asset last season. With a new offensive scheme in place, a player like Burton should thrive and pick up the offense faster than others.

Despite playing as a true freshman and learning four different positions, Burton led the team with 12 touchdowns in 2010. He finished the season with 349 yards rushing and 210 yards receiving.

Is Florida willing to lose that when it has so few proven playmakers on the offensive side of the ball?

While Burton would undoubtedly bring more competition and leadership to the secondary, Florida’s defense wasn’t the problem last season.

The offense was.

Sacrificing his ability on offense would be a big gamble for Muschamp and the Gators.

While he could have an instant impact in the secondary, Florida would lose one of its most promising players on offense.

Is that a risk the Gators are willing – or can afford – to take?