- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

GAINESVILLE, FLA. (AP) - John Brantley’s two seasons at Florida have been more about signaling in plays from the sideline than calling them in the huddle.

And he’s OK with it.

Brantley knows his time is coming.

Although the 6-foot-3, 217-pound sophomore from nearby Ocala is stuck behind 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow on the depth chart, he is expected to get the first significant playing time of his career when the defending national champion Gators holds their spring game Saturday.

It could be considered a glimpse into Florida’s future.

“He’ll play a lot, and he needs it more than anybody,” coach Urban Meyer said.

Brantley has been one of the bright spots this spring, turning heads with his strong arm, agility and instinctive decision-making skills. He was the star of last weekend’s scrimmage, looking polished and poised while throwing two touchdown passes.

It was the kind of progress Meyer expected all along from Brantley, the nephew of former Florida star linebacker Scot Brantley and one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation when he signed with the Gators in 2007.

“I’ve gotten much better,” Brantley said. “I’m comfortable with the playbook, I’ve got a feel for all my receivers and the really started to figure out what it takes to run an offense at this level.”

Brantley had little trouble in high school.

He went 27-1 as a starter at Trinity Catholic and set a state record with 99 career touchdown passes, breaking the previous mark held by Tebow and former Florida State quarterback Xavier Lee. He threw for more than 6,800 yards in high school and led Trinity Catholic to consecutive state title games.

Some even thought he would play right away at Florida, especially since Meyer likes to use two quarterbacks. But Tebow proved to be an every-down player, leaving Brantley on the bench for the better past of two years. He redshirted his first year, then missed last year’s spring game because of a hand injury.

Nonetheless, he beat out Cameron Newton for the backup spot in 2008 and played 13 games in mop-up duty. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 235 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception. Although he’s played several games in The Swamp, all of his snaps have come with the games well in hand and with most fans walking to the parking lot.

Saturday’s contest should be different, mostly because he’s expected to start opposite Tebow.

“I just want to go out there and have some fun,” he said. “I haven’t gotten to play much in The Swamp, so it should be something different. To be able to go out in a game atmosphere and perform, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The Gators will be without several starters, including offensive linemen Carl Johnson (shoulder), Maurkice Pouncey (shoulder), Mike Pouncey (shoulder) and James Wilson (foot).

Cornerback Janoris Jenkins, return man Brandon James, linebacker Brandon Hicks, receivers David Nelson and Riley Cooper, running backs Jeff Demps and Emmanuel Moody, and defensive linemen Carlos Dunlap, Lawrence Marsh and Justin Trattou also are expected to miss the game.

Brantley knows what’s it’s like to have to watch from the sideline and remembers what it’s like to be in the spotlight.

He enjoys the latter much more, and for one game _ and maybe in the future _ he’ll get his chance to shine.

“It would be unjust to not let him go play in game conditions in that stadium,” Meyer said. “I kind of thought he’d be at this point last year. I don’t want to say he’s game ready because I don’t know if he is, but he’s close.”

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