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Expect Weis To Break Brantley In Slowly… As He Did Brady

Just two years ago, CBS analyst Gary Danielson — one of the best in the business, by the way — ranked John Brantley among the top five quarterbacks in the SEC.  That was while Brantley was still serving as Tim Tebow’s backup.

Needless to say, Brantley failed to live up to the hype last season.  Part of the blame for that disappointment should go to a coaching staff that couldn’t or wouldn’t adjust its offense as it had years earlier for Chris Leak.  Part of the blame should also go to a set of skill players who fell just as short of their recruiting rankings as Brantley did.  And a chunk of the blame goes on the QB himself.

With quarterback wiz Charlie Weis now in Gainesville, one of the questions I’ve been asked most by radio hosts across the South is: “Will Weis fix Brantley?”

My answer: “Yes.  Eventually.” 

But for those expecting Weis to use Brantley as he used Brady Quinn back in 2005 at Notre Dame, you might be disappointed.

Weis loves the passing game and when he arrived in South Bend he immediately started slinging the ball around the hallowed ground of Notre Dame Stadium.  Quinn threw 97 more passes in his junior year under Weis than he did in his sophomore year under Ty Willingham.

All told, Weis called on Quinn to throw the ball 450 times over the course of Notre Dame’s 12-game season.  That’s a whopping 37.5 attempts per game.  But Quinn already had two years of starts under his belt by that point.  He’d already thrown 685 passes in his career before Weis got his hands on him.  In other words, Quinn could handle more weight being put on his strong right shoulder.

Florida’s new offensive coordinator didn’t inherit that kind of experienced signal-caller in Gainesville.  Brantley’s lone season as a starter resulted in just 329 pass attempts, five losses, numerous boos, and a career’s worth of bad memories.  Now he’s having to learn a new system (albeit one that should be much better suited to his skills).

Weis’ Irish teams usually attempted around 450 passes per season.  The exception was 2007 when Notre Dame was breaking in a new starter in Jimmy Clausen.  Toss in a Clausen injury and Weis’ team threw only 389 passes that season, far off the coach’s usual pace.

For an even better example of what we at expect Weis to do with Brantley this fall, we suggest you think of Tom Brady.  No, not 2010 NFL MVP Tom Brady, but 2001 backup-turned-starter Tom Brady.

People forget that Brady was for the most part a clutch caretaker during New England’s first Super Bowl run.  He didn’t carry the Patriots’ offense as he has the past few seasons in Foxboro.  Instead, he managed it and — when necessary — he pulled off some late-game magic.

By the numbers, Brady threw 500 passes in the 17 games he started in 2001 (29.4 attempts per start or about eight fewer per game than Quinn in his first year under Weis).  Brady threw 25 or fewer passes in six games that year.  But four of those six under-25-attempt games came in his first seven starts.  In his final 10 starts of the year, Brady threw fewer than 25 passes only twice. 

Unlike with the experienced Quinn at Notre Dame, Weis took his time to break-in the less experienced Brady at New England.

Something else to consider: Like Florida, New England lacked a workhorse back in 2001.  The Patriots of that season relied on trick plays — end-arounds, reverses, double-reverses, flea-flickers, and direct snaps to backs — to keep defenses on their toes and off of Brady.

Patriot wide receivers Troy Brown and David Patten combined for 16 rushing attempts that season.  That might seem like a small number to Florida fans used to seeing Urban Meyer’s spread offense, but for 2001 professional football, Weis was using over-the-top gimmickry.

At this point, no one knows what exactly to expect from Weis’ first Florida offense or his quarterback, but here’s guessing Florida’s ’11 offense will look somewhat similar to New England’s ’01 offense:

1.  A safe passing game that doesn’t call on the quarterback to have to carry the team in the early weeks.

2.  A running back by rotation.

3.  And numerous gimmick plays utilizing the team’s speedsters (Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey) to keep defenses off balance.

Obviously, if the Gators find themselves behind in games, Weis will have to let his QB put the ball in the air more often.  But if the Gator defense lives up to expectations, we look for Weis to gradually break Brantley into the offense just as he did with Brady a decade ago. 



  1. [...] John Pennington says if you want a hint of what’s in store for Florida’s offense this year, check out the 2001 Patriots. [...]

  2. [...] John Pennington says if you want a hint of what’s in store for Florida’s offense this year, check out the 2001 Patriots. [...]

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