Brantley ready to start for Gators

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- John Brantley's first two seasons at Florida consisted mostly of wearing a headset, carrying a clipboard, signaling in plays and getting on the field in mop-up duty.

It hasn't exactly been a pressure-packed career.

That could change drastically in the next week or so.

Brantley, a third-year sophomore from Ocala, has taken most of the snaps for the top-ranked Gators this week and could be the one directing coach Urban Meyer's offense in what looks like the toughest test of the season for the defending national champions.

The Gators (4-0) aren't worried a bit, either.

"He's got a good grasp of the whole offense," offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. "He really does. You're talking about a guy that's been in training now. He's been here and he knows what he's doing. He can run the whole offense."

With 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow still recovering from a concussion sustained Saturday at Kentucky, Brantley might have to run the offense when Florida returns to the field Oct. 10 at LSU.

Sure, the Gators would love to have Tebow back against the fourth-ranked Tigers. But if he's not medically cleared, teammates and coaches insist Brantley would be ready for the challenge.

"John Brantley is a hell of a football player, a big-time guy," Addazio said. "We're not going to change dramatically. We're going to have some wrinkles for John Brantley, like we always would, but John Brantley will run our offense and will compete. He'd be starting for a lot of teams in this conference right now. That's a real good thing."

Brantley, coached by former Florida quarterback Kerwin Bell, led Trinity Catholic to a state title in 2006 and signed with Florida a few months later even though Tebow had already established himself as the face of the program.

Brantley went 27-1 as a high school starter and broke the state record for career touchdown passes with 99, topping the previous record shared by Tebow and former Florida State quarterback Xavier Lee. Brantley threw 41 touchdown passes as a junior and 41 more as a senior.

But he had to wait his turn in Gainesville.

"It's a pleasure to be Tim Tebow's backup," said Brantley, whose father [John] and uncle [Scot] played for the Gators. "He's one of the greatest players in college football history. To learn from him and be around him, I think it's a huge opportunity for me."

Tebow has played through a nagging shoulder injury, back pain, a hyper-extended knee and a broken hand. Although Brantley and his teammates expect Tebow to return in time for LSU, they also are preparing to play without him. In essence, they're getting a glimpse of the future.

"We've seen what he can do," receiver David Nelson said. "We know he's a tremendous quarterback and we know that he's a tremendous player. We see him every day in practice, we know the throws he makes, the effort he gives us in practice, we see the kind of quarterback he brings to the table."

Although the Gators are saying all the right things about Brantley, the bottom line is his first career start could come on the road, in front of a hostile crowd and in a night game at Baton Rouge. Since 2000, the Tigers are 45-4 at home in night games, including 31 in a row.

Is Brantley ready for the spotlight?

"I think I'll be ready after these next two weeks," he said. "What gives me the confidence is our coaches and the players around me. We've got so many play-makers at this school, and to go in there and see those play-makers in the huddle with you, that gives you confidence that they're going to help you out as much as you need it."

It's also helped being around Tebow for two years.

"He's taught me a lot of things, just outside the meeting room, without coaches. He's taught me so much about this offense," Brantley said. "Just watching him out there everyday, you can go by that and watch what he does and learn from that."