John Brantley, Deonte Thompson And William Green Sign NFL Free Agent Deals

Two former Florida Gators were expected to be selected in the 2012 NFL draft and exactly two were. Defensive lineman Jaye Howard went to the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth round and running back Chris Rainey joined former teammates Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert after he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fifth round. No other Gator heard his name called during the NFL’s three-day event (Janoris Jenkins aside). There is hope though; more than a few undrafted players have become key contributors and even stars in the NFL.

Once the draft ends – and even before it comes to its conclusion – phones are ringing and teams are talking to those players they hope to give an opportunity to (or, more realistically, take another look at). Players are signed as undrafted free agents, while others are invited to various camps. Four such individuals have been given a chance to continue their football careers beyond their time with the Gators.

The Baltimore Ravens signed both quarterback John Brantley and wide receiver Deonte Thompson. The two have already spent a lot of time together as Gators and former classmates as a part of Florida’s 2007 recruiting class. While neither would claim their orange and blue careers went as planned, it is nice to see them get at least a look at the next level. There is plenty both can improve, but the opportunity is there. Brantley isn’t being brought aboard to unseat Joe Flacco, but Thompson comes to a team with little depth at wide receiver.

Defensive end William Green was signed to the team that at one point in NFL history became the team that signed Brantley and Thompson. Still with me? Green is now a member of the Cleveland Browns and will go to camp fighting for a roster spot.

Former Florida and Notre Dame offensive lineman Dan Wenger also received interest from several NFL teams, but wasn’t offered a deal. He was invited to participate in the New York Jets mini-camp though.

The Offense: Florida Gators 33 – Tennessee Volunteers 23

As with last week, the game recap comes in parts. Offense up first, defense next, special teams after that, and then some final thoughts.

The Florida offense isn’t on any sort of torrid pace with fireworks at every turn, but so far it has been consistently solid. In the 33-23 win over Tennessee, the Gators put up 347 total yards. That’s not overly impressive. Instead, it could be called average, but it was enough. Enough for Florida to not only win its third-straight game, but to jump out to 1-0 in SEC play. That puts the Gators a game clear of SEC East rivals Tennessee and Georgia early in the season. These are the wins that mean the most.

Although finishing them was tough, Florida put together a number of successful drives to get out to an early lead. The Gators scored on their first four drives to lead 16-0 in the second quarter. The Vols, on the other, hand, weren’t able to score until their fifth drive of the game. Florida would do some of the same in the second half, finding the end zone on their first two drives to go up 30-7. Although Tennessee made the score closer late, the Vols were out of it thanks to timely scoring by the Gators’ offense. If the red zone offense had clicked, the score could have gotten out of hand. That aspect to the offense definitely left something to be desired, but chances are it’ll be one of the things worked on most during the week.

In his second season as the starter, John Brantley has already looked much more comfortable as a quarterback. It’s still early in the season, but Brantley has raised his rating by more than 30 points over 2010. Against Tennessee, he registered his highest rating of the season at 167.4. With two touchdowns and no interceptions, Brantley appeared ready to run Charlie Weis’ offense against SEC opponents. His stats won’t awe you, but they don’t have to. Weis has turned Brantley into a game manager and so far so good. When he has to make throws he can. His touchdown pass that wasn’t a catch because Deonte Thompson’s right foot hit out of bounds just before his left foot came down was one of the better throws we’ve seen from Brantley. For now, he’s making the right decisions and helping the Gators’ offense move the ball. He – and the entire offense – will need to improve play in the red zone, but that can come. Let’s rephrase that, it needs to come. Less than two weeks from now, Brantley will face Alabama’s defense. Enough said.

The run game wasn’t as explosive as it had been, but it was nearly as efficient. Weis stuck with the starters against Tennessee and gave 35 carries to Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Trey Burton. Rainey led the way with 108 yards on 21 carries for a good, but modest for him, 5.1 yards per carry. Demps added 48 on 10. The long of the day was only 28 yards, but sometimes that’s alright. The offense moved the ball and did what it had to when it needed to. It was good to see tough yards gained and Rainey carry such a load. There was a point where exhaustion seemed to overtake no. 1, but he came back from it and pressed on. Rainey may have to get used to being the focal point of the offense; he’s suddenly one of the better offensive weapons in the nation. After three games, Rainey is only three rushes and 60 yards from matching last season’s totals and he’s nearly halfway to his career-best 652 rushing yards he posted in 2008. As a running back, Rainey is no longer a change-of-pace type. He’s become an every-down back in Weis’ offense.

As mentioned above, the passing game was efficient, but not dynamic. Unfortunately, a wide receiver hasn’t stepped up and that’s mostly because they still haven’t been used all that much. Brantley only completed 14 passes, but just three went to receivers. Thompson had two for 26 yards and Quinton Dunbar had one for one. Those aren’t great numbers. The backs are making up for the lack of a go-to receiver and look great doing so, but we still don’t know what we’ll see when Florida needs to stretch the field. Rainey broke the Vols’ back on his 83-yard touchdown scamper and Burton and Demps each had four receptions, but add in the tight ends and all non-backs had four total catches. That will need to change. The offense is working for now, but all dimensions of it will need to be running almost flawlessly for the rest of the schedule.

The offensive line continues to improve and seems to have its starting five set. Chaz Green, Jon Halapio, Jonotthan Harrison, Xavier Nixon and Dan Wenger have started every game and are beginning to come together as a cohesive unit. Tennessee only managed one sack and one other hit on Brantley. That’s a plus for the line and a definite step in the right direction. Facing a better defense, the line played well and opened holes for the running game. Short yardage can still be worked on and overall the line still has room to grow, but a step forward is not a step backward. That’s about as obvious as obvious can be, but it’s worth pointing out that this unit is improving.

Coming up next: the defense.

Florida Gators Offensive Line – 2010 vs. 2011

One Eyed Willy and I finish up the Florida offense with the offensive line. To read past installments, click each position: quarterbacks, running backs and fullbacks, wide receivers, tight ends.

2010: Marcus Gilbert – RSR, Maurice Hurt – RSR, Carl Johnson – RSR, Mike Pouncey – SR, Matt Patchan – JR, William Steinmann – JR, James Wilson – RJR, Nick Alajajian – SO, Xavier Nixon – SO, Sam Robey – RSO, David Young – RSO, Cole Gilliam – RFR, Chaz Green – FR, Jon Halapio – RFR, Jonotthan Harrison – RFR, Kyle Koehne – RFR, Ian Silberman – FR
Preseason Rating: B
Postseason Rating: D
I’ll start this one off by saying One Eyed Willy and I don’t dislike Florida. It’s quite the opposite. We love the Gators and are as diehard as you can get. However, we’re also very realistic fans who unfortunately can come across as negative from time to time. We joke that I’m the positive side to Willy’s negative, but we can both have our moments. Keep that in mind when reading these position comparisons. We aren’t the “rah rah” types that will go blindly into the future thinking Florida can do no wrong. We love the Gators and support them until the bitter end, but we also analyze practically anything and everything and sometimes that means pointing out areas which can be (or need to be) improved. We don’t apologize for these doses of realism; we’d like you to take a look at the whole picture when discussing your team and not just the fact that you’ve been a fan as long as you can remember. That’s a prelude to saying the 2010 Florida offensive line gets a D.

Let’s start by running down the starter numbers: Mike Pouncey – 13 games, Marcus Gilbert – 13, Maurice Hurt – 11, Carl Johnson – 11, Xavier Nixon – 8, Jon Halapio – 7, Jonotthan Harrison – 1, James Wilson – 1

Look at that and things don’t seem all that bad. Four players started 11 games or more and only eight total started any games. That would make you think the Gators had a relatively stable offensive line that stayed healthy for the most part. Well, see what had happened was…
First off, Matt Patchan didn’t play and Wilson only appeared in two games. The move to center by Pouncey was a disaster at times and only average at others. Hurt and Halapio were inconsistent and the line as a whole struggled to find balance. This is yet another position that can blame its performance on a number of things. From injuries to inconsistent play to schemes, nothing seemed to, for lack of a better term, click. While John Brantley wasn’t the quarterback we all hoped he’d be during his first year as the Gators’ starter, he was given very little time to even think in many situations. The offensive line didn’t give up some jaw dropping number of sacks – 27 total on the season (and four of those came in a game in which Florida beat Vanderbilt by 41 points) – but also didn’t provide a secure pocket for the quarterbacks to work out of.
It was a rough season for the line and one that hardly got better as it progressed. 2011 needs to be a turning point for the unit or the offense may struggle to get started early in games.
2011: William Steinmann – SR, James Wilson – RSR, Dan Wenger – RSR, Xavier Nixon – JR, Matt Patchan – RJR, Sam Robey – RJR, David Young – RJR, Nick Alajajian – RSO, Cole Gilliam – RSO, Jon Halapio – RSO, Jonotthan Harrison – RSO, Kyle Koehne – RSO, Ian Silberman – SO, Chaz Green – RFR, Tommy Jordan – FR, Trip Thurman – FR
Preseason Rating: C
I hate giving a unit a C. I really do. I debated this unit for quite some time. Should I give the 2010 version a D? Should I give the 2011 one the same grade? It would have been extremely easy to give 2011 a B instead of C, but I had to go with my gut on this one.
The 2011 offensive line has potential, but must stay healthy and consistent. Yes, they get a C, but if they finished 2010 with a D, lost the only players that started more than eight games, and added nothing more than a transfer and two freshmen that are very likely to redshirt, giving them another D would have been reasonable as well. However, because of that potential, they’re bumped a grade.
There are a few keys to the line and since we like to make lists around here, I’ll go ahead and make another one:
• The returning players started a total of 17 games in 2010. That isn’t a lot. Not a lot by any means. The unit has to get through its growing pains quickly. Quickly as in the first two games of the season.
• Patchan can be great. He’s a lineman with a mean streak. Unfortunately, he just can’t stay healthy. If Patchan can stay on the field for an entire season guess is there’s one spot we don’t have to worry about.
• This is the last hurrah for Wilson. This is it. He has one last chance to prove he’s the player many thought he could be. This is it. Put up time.
Chaz Green has been said to be an absolute warrior. We’ll see him on the field for the first time this season and we may see him a lot. He could steal a position and not let it go for a few years.
• IS THERE A CENTER?!? Harrison was moved to the position and Dan Wenger transferred in. Why? Because the position is wide open and the main reason is because Sam Robey hasn’t claimed it as his own. Two years ago we heard of the possibility of the Pounceys both playing guard because of this young lineman who was doing so well in practice that he could bounce a potential All-American from the position. Today, the Pounceys are gone and Robey still hasn’t been named the starter. This will be his fourth season with the team. He’s not in the same territory as Wilson, but he’s getting dangerously close.
The line plays an unbelievably important role in the offense and is the key to allowing plays to develop. In 2010, it didn’t come together as expected despite having four seniors across it. This season, the seniors on the roster are a question mark and that will make you lose some sleep. What Charlie Weis and Frank Verducci do with the line could be one of the most important things to follow during the offseason. It won’t take us very long to see how it all went and how it will all go. This is the definitive “keep your fingers crossed” unit.