Under new coach Will Muschamp, Florida has been more secretive than ever about schemes, formations and plays. Muschamp believes it will give the 22nd-ranked Gators a chance to surprise early season opponents.
Even when the veil gets removed during Saturday night's season opener against Florida Atlantic, there's a strong likelihood that Florida will be saving something – maybe even everything – for Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee two weeks later.
“We look a little bit different from last year,” versatile H-back Trey Burton said Monday.
That could be a huge understatement.
Muschamp scrapped the spread offense that defined Florida the last six years. He hired Charlie Weis to install a pro-style system that worked well at Notre Dame and even better in the NFL with New England and Kansas City. But how will it work with quarterback John Brantley? Or with 180-pound running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps? Or behind an offensive line that remains unsettled five days before the opener?
“I think (fans are) going to be pleased,” Brantley said. “We've had a great camp, a great three weeks. We're excited just to get out there and play someone else besides ourselves. We're looking forward to showing our fans what this new Gator football is doing.”
The Gators have been a mystery for much of 2011.
Muschamp closed spring practice for the first time in school history, so few outsiders have much insight into the team's revamped offensive and defensive designs. There was a two-hour spring game that drew nearly 50,000 fans, but the Gators hope that was more fluky than foreboding.
Brantley completed 4 of 14 passes for 45 yards, and neither team found the end zone until the fourth quarter.
Now, nearly five weeks later, Brantley is dealing with a back injury that kept him sidelined during parts of practice the last two weeks.
Brantley and Muschamp insist there's no cause for concern.
“Feeling good,” Brantley said, adding that it's a lower-back injury. “Just been in the training room a lot lately. It's just been a bunch of little soreness, tightness, nothing major at all. It just started getting sore one day, just a couple of weeks ago. I've only missed a little bit, not much, though, not much at all.
“I've been feeling good lately. I'm ready to move forward. I'm not worried about it at all.”
Muschamp has acknowledged he will not be totally honest about injuries.
So far, though, he has been relatively forthcoming. Muschamp ruled out tight end A.C. Leonard (knee) for the opener, and said cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee), linebacker Dee Finley (shoulder) and receiver Omarius Hines (hamstring) are questionable.
Still, he knows keeping secrets could be beneficial.
“That's why we've closed everything,” Muschamp said. “I do think it's an advantage for us this season not to show. What is Charlie doing? Is he doing what he did at Notre Dame? Kansas City? New England? How is he using this guy? This guy? This guy? This guy? And this guy? We put a wild rumor out there about wildcat. So defensively, are we doing Dan Quinn or Will Muschamp? Are we 3-4 or 4-3? I don't know. That's why we've closed things.”
Although fans care more about Florida's offense, especially since it ranked 82nd in the nation last season and looked downright dismal in losses to Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State, the defense might have more wrinkles.
Quinn came to Florida with NFL experience and installed a multiple-scheme defense that features varying fronts and unpredictable blitzes.
“We can do different types of things with the linebackers, with the defensive line, with the buck position,” linebacker Jon Bostic said. “He has a lot of different things he can bring to the table. We bring more of a variety this year.
“We have the ability to do everything. We have a lot of coverages where we might drop everybody and come up and make the tackle when we need to. We have the ability to rush the passer all day, bring the house. We have DBs that can sit back there and hold up. We really can do it all.”
Maybe so, but who does it remains to be seen. Muschamp's initial depth chart released Monday had several holes and unsettled starters at both cornerback positions. Assistant coaches aren't likely to add much, either. Weis and Quinn haven't spoken to the media since April – part of Muschamp's “one voice” philosophy. That certainly adds to the program's clandestine operations.
“It's all-encompassing when you talk about philosophically being on the same page, and I feel like our staff is,” Muschamp said. “They understand and know what I want done in the program as far as discipline is concerned, how we approach practice, how we approach our players, how we handle situations.
“I've been very pleased with the results to this point. But we're measured on game day. At the end of the day, we can talk about all this other stuff, but we're measured on how we play.”