Brantley more than just a runner


Sean Hastings

Eastern’s new quarterback Johnathan Brantley throws a pass in spring football on April 4th at O’Brien Field. Brantley is a transfer from Tulane and one of four quarterbacks in camp for Eastern.

JJ Bullock, Assistant Sports Editor

Forget what the statistics say. Disregard what his coaches at Tulane wanted him to be, Johnathan Brantley is a pass-first quarterback and he and his new coaches at Eastern believe in full of his ability to pass the football.

Is Brantley the fastest quarterback on Eastern’s roster? Without a doubt. Do his career numbers at Tulane, 395 yards rushing and three touchdowns to just 152 yards through the air, support the idea of him being a “running” quarterback? Yes, they do. But that is not who he believes he is, and that is one of the reasons he transferred from Tulane to Eastern.

He is a self-described “passing first, running second, playmaking” quarterback and has a lot of confidence in himself as a passer.

“In the summer when I work out, I work on my passing, I don’t work on running,” Brantley said. “In high school I was a passer, so why not be a passer in college?”

When Brantley was in high school, he was in a spread offense that allowed his passing game to show itself, but at Tulane he was worked into more of a triple-option style offense that required him to use his quickness, and feet more often than his arm.

Brantley wanted a change and reached out to Eastern, looking to get back into a more spread style offense once again. Brantley had a previous connection to Eastern’s new offensive coordinator Scott Parr, who had personally recruited him “hard” when Parr was at Navarro Junior College.

“Coming to a coach that I was familiar with, Coach Parr, I met him when I was in high school my senior year so at least I knew what type of guy he was,” Brantley said.

This season Eastern will be running a spread, air-raid style offense, where the ball will be in the air more often than not, and having a quarterback with keen throwing skills will be pivotal to executing this offensive attack. The new offense along with Eastern being in the need for another transfer quarterback, the fit with Brantley was perfect and he agreed to transfer to Eastern without even making a visit to the campus.

“It was pretty easy. He came without a visit. So, it might have been the best deal in college football as far as affordability,” Parr said.

There is no question by anyone at Eastern to his ability as a passer and runner, but one of the hurdles Brantley will have to jump is learning the new offense. But this hurdle might be easily crossed for Brantley as Parr describes him as a “sponge” and a “student of the game.”

“He is a very explosive runner. (He has) great speed, great change of direction. Right now, we’re getting him back to trying to get him comfortable with a spread system and throwing the ball,” Parr said.

In spring football, the quarterbacks cannot be touched by the defensive players, and if anyone even comes close, they will hear loudly from one of the coaches to back off the quarterback. But getting touched by a defender might not be a problem for Brantley. Frequently in practice his speed and ability to move with the ball is displayed when the pocket is collapsing, or the pass rush is on his tail.

Brantley can roll out of the pocket with ease and quickly cut his 6-foot-1, 195-lbs. frame up the field, too fast for lineman and linebackers to catch, and just fast enough to keep defensive backs on their toes.

Brantley said he is picking up on some parts of the new offense quicker than others. Some of it he had done before and that is what he says he is trying to build on in spring football.

The goals to get Brantley comfortable have been clearly addressed already in spring football and are something that Parr expects him to get ahold of.

“He was a good passer in high school and we have got to get him comfortable with knowing where to go with the ball. He has a quick release, he gets it out fast,” Parr said. “We have to get more velocity on his balls, so we can get more catch and runs in space, but with this spring and a summer and knowing and practicing the offense and knowing what he has to work on, I am expecting a big jump by the time we get to fall camp.”

Brantley is just one of four quarterbacks in spring football all trying to prove that they deserve the starting nod in next season’s opening game against Arkansas. The group of four includes redshirt sophomore Scotty Gilkey Jr., who started five games last year for Eastern. Redshirt freshman Jaylon Banks and redshirt sophomore Harry Woodbery, who transferred from Navarro Junior College along with Parr.

The group of four quarterbacks currently in spring camp does not even include incoming freshman Qua Gray, who threw for 60 touchdowns as a senior at Coronado High School in Texas.

No one is sure right now who has a leg up in the quarterback competition, and the coaches are using spring ball as an indicator to see who can run the new offense.

Brantley’s plan to separate himself from the pack is to just be himself and show the coaches that he can move the ball down the field in Parr’s offensive system. But the biggest thing in his mind he wants to show he can do in spring football is prove he is a coachable player.

“(Being coachable means) taking something from the film room and translating it over to the field and when coach corrects you on something, making the correction and doing your very best to make the correction,” Brantley said.

One of the things that the Eastern staff liked so much about Brantley is his experience playing against big schools.

In 2017 he started a game against Oklahoma, who was ranked number two in the country at the time, and had 103 yards from scrimmage.

“He is a guy that has some experience at a Division-IA, FBS school. He has played in some big venues, started some games for Tulane last year, one specifically against Oklahoma, that was a pretty good opponent,” head coach Kim Dameron said. “He is a smart young man, he is talented, he probably is the fastest of all the quarterbacks, as a matter of fact I know he is. I would think that he would be.”

Coming out of C.E. King High School in Texas, Brantley ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.74 seconds

As of now, Brantley is just a quarterback at a new school, in a new offense, trying to prove to a new group of faces that he is the passer, and the runner for that matter, that he truly believes he is.

There is still just under five months until the Panthers travel to Arkansas for their season opener and between now and then, there will be plenty of decisions for Dameron and Parr to make regarding the quarterback situation, but until then, Brantley has plenty of time to showcase if he is the best fit at quarterback.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]