(Edited, promoted, updated time to push to front. An excellent read. — Andy)
A disturbing trend seems to be emerging at AA and other Gator-centric sites around the interweb with regards to the much-maligned senior quarterback, John Brantley. Now, the Gators' current "football" season has caused us all to engage in quite a lot of soul-searching (read: drinking), but I'm here to preach a bit of understanding and patience when evaluating Johnny's performance (and, in a sense, with Will Muschamp as coach, as well). Basically, I'm trying to tell everyone to CALM DOWN, and that perhaps you're projecting the blame on the wrong college-aged young man.
Let me preface this whole thing by saying that the 2011 season should be judged in a vacuum. The 2010 season, by all accounts, was a complete dumpster fire. Plenty of blame deserves to go around for that display of football somnolence, Brantley chief among them. But there's more to that list, populated by the usual suspects: a near-catatonic Urban Meyer, the Peter-principled Steve Addazio, Chris Rainey's text message brain farts, and an offensive line that couldn't block a telemarketer's phone calls. Meyer's last year was an abomination, and should be swiftly forgotten by any Gator fan interested in self-preservation.
Bear in mind, however, that these problems didn't simply go away when Muschamp and Charlie Weis came into Gainesville. Rainey and Demps didn't get any bigger (nor did they figure out a way to prevent the ligaments in their ankles from ever being sprained). The receivers didn't get any bigger, either, and Deonte Thompson opted to skip the much-needed surgery to receive cadaver hand transplants in place of the cock fingers that he currently has. Trey Burton didn't learn how to throw.
And most disturbingly, the offensive line somehow lost even more depth. While the oft-concussed Dan Wenger has been a pleasant surprise at left guard, and it is heartening that Jonatthan Harrison is actually capable of snapping the ball between his legs accurately, the tackle position is absurdly thin. This isn't a joke: despite being a once-respected member of the ESS-EEE-SEE, the Florida Gators have played the entirety of this season with Xavier "The Matador" Nixon and notable vegan Matt Patchan at the tackle positions. Note that I have only listed two names. This isn't an oversight; rather, it's pretty much the entire current depth chart at offensive tackle. Chaz Green is quixotically listed as "questionable" for the Vandy game, and he's the backup to BOTH Nixon and Patchan. The only other scholarship tackle listed on the roster is sophomore Kyle Koehne, he of the no kneecaps. I wouldn't wish this kind of offensive line depth on even a Florida State quarterback (with the possible exception of Chris Rix).
And that, my friends, is what Brantley has been dealing with this entire season: receivers that can't catch, an offensive line that can't block, and a menagerie of glass running backs who, no matter how small or quick, cannot run through holes that just aren't there. Florida's pass protection is a bit like watching a Best Buy open its doors on Black Friday: the flood through the gates is quick, grotesque, and can be accomplished by out of shape middle-aged women.
Here's a non-non sequitur! There was a big difference between John Elway in his first year and Elway in his last year: One was perpetually running for his life, and the other was a Super Bowl-winning Hall of Famer. Do you really think the answer to Florida's protection problem is any combination of two doe-eyed freshmen quarterbacks who have ranged from simple competence to flat-out ineptitude? That question is rhetorical, by the way.
I could trot out statistics, but by this point I don't think I need to. When times have been tough (i.e., against any defense after Week 4), Brantley has been the lone bright spot for this offense. At worst, he's been a game manager that has a tendency to overthrow receivers. But at his best, he's been a gritty senior leader who keeps the offense in games that it has no business being in.
In some places, Brantley would be hailed as a loyal player who has shown mental and physical perseverance, despite given many opportunities throughout his career where he could have (understandably!) jumped ship. Brantley isn't the second coming of Tim Tebow, or Rex Grossman, or Danny Wuerffel, or Steve Spurrier. He might not even be the second coming of Chris Leak.
But let's just sit back, take a deep breath, and celebrate him for what he is: a Florida Gator, no more, no less.