With practices closed off to the media and the public — and limited bits of actual information coming from anyone associated with the Gators — reporters, fans and outside observers alike have had to take coach Will Muschamp and his players at their word.
So I have, and that includes redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley during fall camp.
When asked whether he was nervous last year, his first as the Gators’ starting quarterback, Brantley was frank.
“You’re always nervous in games, that’s just the way you are,” he said.
It was arguably the most honest answer to a question during the opening weeks of practice.
If you’re taking the Gators at their word — and aren’t we all? — it was the most telling and damning one, too.
“Nervous” is not a characteristic, or to borrow a phrase from Muschamp, “a critical factor,” you look for in a quarterback. In fact, a simple right-click for its synonyms brings up words like “panicky,” “worried,” “tense” and “uneasy” — not words you want associated with your team’s signal-caller.
While Brantley can’t be blamed for being nervous when he was handed the keys to an offense previously driven by one of the best college football players ever, the most troubling part of his answer is that he said you’re always nervous.
As in, it’s just part of who you are.
His nerves showed last season, and as a result, the Gators sputtered to an 8-5 record and had the 10th-worst offense in the Southeastern Conference.
By all accounts, Brantley has been confident this fall, but if he’s still panicky it could prove troublesome (again) for the Gators’ offense, because it will be only as good as Brantley.
This may shock you, but weapons like Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, Quinton Dunbar and Frankie Hammond aren’t very useful if someone can’t get them the ball.
In Brantley’s defense, when asked in that same interview about how comfortable he is in offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’ new system — which remains a mystery to anybody outside of the team — he had this to say: “I don’t feel as nervous as I used to back in spring. I feel more confident going out there making the right calls, making the right protections.”
That’s a good sign for Florida, because it shows Brantley is progressing to the point where he’s not anxious in the backfield.
But it’s also cause for concern, because it means he’s not there yet.
We’ve seen how bad Florida can be when it doesn’t get good play from its quarterback.
While last year’s team had a lot of issues, quarterback had to be the most glaring considering Brantley threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine) as the Gators’ 82nd-ranked offense stalled all season.
Brantley said he needed to just forget about last year’s disastrous season and move forward. But there’s something he should remember: the Gators’ new offense will only go as far as their quarterback can carry them.
You can take me for my word on that one.
Contact Tom Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.