GAINESVILLE — When he began watching film of Florida in preparation for today's season opener, it was the first thing that jumped out at Hawaii linebacker Adam Leonard.
Leonard immediately recognized what is, arguably, the most coveted aspect of Florida's offense — speed, most notably its receivers.
"Just from what you can see on film, you can definitely tell in the open field they are the most dangerous players we ever played against," said Leonard, a senior from Seattle. "It's just a matter of trying our best to contain that speed, not letting them break loose in the open field and secure the tackle.
"That's where (speed) shows the most. When they get in that open field and they break one tackle and they get the opportunity to go at that speed, they are unstoppable."
It's the foundation on which Florida coach Urban Meyer has built his unique, spread offense, the kind of offense he simultaneously hoped for and promised shortly after he arrived in Gainesville in 2006. He realized that without speed, you don't win championships in the SEC.
"That's the essence of our offense," Meyer said.
At any given time when the Gators line up to receive a pass from Tim Tebow, there are at least a half-dozen receivers who could go the distance. That includes freshman running back/receiver Jeff Demps, who ran a 10.37 in the 100 meters this year.
"When you've got the kind of speed we have, it just gives you confidence any time you're on the field looking at a defender," said redshirt freshman receiver Deonte Thompson, who ran the 100 and 200 for the Gators track team.
"You just know it's something that's on that defender's mind constantly. He's thinking about it, and it affects how he's playing.
But speed alone does not make a great receiver. After all, football history is littered with track superstars who couldn't quite make the transition to superstar receiver.
"If a guy can't catch, you're in trouble," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "And if he can't catch or he can't handle the physical nature of the game, you can be as fast as you want. You're going to get tackled sooner or later, or you're going to have to try to block somebody.
"So if you get hit in the mouth and you can't respond, you won't play very long. So you've got to have fast football players, not just fast people."
Which is one reason Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen is unimpressed with sheer speed alone. It's what you do with it that makes the difference, especially in this Gator offense.
"Speed differential is what I like to look at, the speed at which we execute," Mullen said. "If I have a guy who runs 4.2 in the 40 but he's thinking and not playing real fast during the course of the game, he's not running his 4.2 anymore. So we need that execution and to play at the speed that we have.
"If we can execute at that level and play at that top speed and maybe cause some issues for the defense, you'll see a wider gap in speed differential."
And there is a differential among teams in the SEC. The faster, the better.
"Speed is a big part for sure, especially in the SEC, which is the fastest conference," Florida junior receiver Riley Cooper said. "Size definitely helps, too. Those are probably the two biggest factors for receivers in this league."
Florida receivers coach Billy Gonzales knows all too well finding big-time receivers who also are speedsters is a balancing act. But believe it or not, speed isn't the first trait he looks for when on the recruiting trail.
"It's a little easier to be a football coach here with wide receivers when you've got some guys who can run with speed and stretch the field," Gonzales said. "Obviously in our offense, you want to get the best of the best and you want to have the fastest group of receivers you can possibly have.
"But there's a fine line between the two. What I care about is guys that grade a winning performance; that are willing to make the play and they make the play when their number is called."
Gonzales believes he has found just that in his receivers.
And they are fast.
Which is what has Leonard and the Warriors concerned.
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No. 5 Florida vs. Hawaii
12:30, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville
TV/radio: Ch. 38; 620-AM
Line: Florida by 341/2
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 40 percent chance of rain. Highs in low 90s. Wind 10-15 mph.
No. 19 USF vs. Tenn.-Martin
7, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
TV/radio: Catch 47; 970-AM
Weather: Scattered showers, 40 percent chance of rain. Highs in mid 80s. Wind 15-20 mph.