Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper met with the media on Tuesday after the team’s 11th fall practice to provide his thoughts on the offense to this point. Roper also evaluated a number of Gators who should be big factors for Florida in 2014.
The theme coming out of spring practice was that the Gators installed more of the offense and were much further along in the learning process than Roper expected. While that might have been true then, Roper was cautious Tuesday to say that Florida’s players fully understand what is going on with his scheme.
“I think they’ve got a really good understanding of what we’re asking them to do, our base offense, I should say, the guys that were around for those 15 days – our two offensive lines, our two quarterbacks,” he explained. “Really, the young guys, it’s a battle right now to have a great understanding because it is so new to them and our defense is so multiple and causes so many problems. But the guys that have been in the battles before can obviously apply experiences to what we’re teaching them offensively, I think they’ve really got a good understanding of what we’re doing.”
He later added: “These guys aren’t there yet because they’ve just been in it 25-26 practices in. The biggest thing to guard against is putting too much on their plate.”
While Roper may still be spoon-feeding the Gators his offense, he is pleased with how the team has responded to his system and coaching.
“I think [their attitude's] been really good. I think these guys are excited about playing football,” he explained. “It wouldn’t matter who you rolled in here. When this time of season comes running around, everybody is excited. But I hope they’re enjoying the offense. I hope they’re enjoying competing every day on the practice field, and I think they’re excited about going and competing on Saturdays.”
Roper had nothing particularly negative to say about Florida’s first team offense, a group he said needs “to stay focused, keep battling” while it continues to pick up more of the scheme along the way. He prefers they lock in on doing things the right way, even if that means that it might take longer to expand the playbook.
“I hear coaches say all the time, ‘Don’t make the same mistake twice.’ I’m a believer that you’re coaching the same things every day, whether it’s steps, hands, eyes, whatever it is. So we got to keep coaching those same things all the time with those guys. The better we keep getting at that, the better we’ll be. I think it’s a group that’s doing a pretty good job,” he noted.
STILL SEARCHING FOR A BACKUP
Two more practices down and the Gators do not seem to be any closer to naming a backup quarterback, according to Roper. Though no one has said so specifically, the race appears to be coming down to freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris with redshirt sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg likely holding down the third-string job while the other loser of the battle takes a redshirt.
Roper on Tuesday broke down what he thinks of the first-year signal callers.
“I see talent. I see guys that are working hard, that want to be good, that right now are confused because it is a bunch on their plate. It is a different game. It’s a brand new language. We do have a lot of routes. It takes a little bit of time to pick up. But I see talented players,” he said.
“Will’s got a pretty good command of the offense, managing the line of scrimmage, getting everybody on the same page, just good communication. I think Treon is being pretty decisive right now. Where they’re different is obviously in size, there’s a difference there. There’s a difference in top-end speed, but both of them are quick and both of them can throw the football.”
Grier certainly has the edge on Harris when it comes to commanding the offense considering he participated in spring practice while Harris was not on campus.
The decision that Roper and head coach Will Muschamp have to make is not just which player they want to be second-string but whether they plan on having a set package of plays for the player in that role.
If they want a true backup to redshirt junior Jeff Driskel, the player best-equipped to come in and replace him should an injury occur on the field, Grier will be the choice. If the concept of putting a package of plays that can be run in a game is enthralling, Harris might take the role while Grier receives the redshirt he once desired when first committing to UF.
A decision should ultimately be made “through the week into next week.”
DRISKEL: HELMET CAM
» On what he thinks about coaching Driskel: “I’ve enjoyed every second of it. He’s a good person. I like being around really good people. That’s fun for me. That’s one of the things that’s important for me in evaluation, a guy that’s accountable, does what he says what he’s going to do. He’s that kind of person. He’s a guy that you can hang your hat on as a person. He’s fun to be around. He’s obviously a really talented football player, so he’s fun to coach that way. It’s been a lot of fun to get to know him.”
As Florida’s offense rolls along, Roper is looking for a total of nine running backs and wideouts to see action in any given week. On Tuesday, he said he definitely has enjoy talent on the field but still must determine which nine are the guys that will be counted on when kickoff comes around.
“The more the better is what it really gets down to. But typically you go into a game, with running backs you’re probably going to lean on two and three is going to show up in there some. And you never know how the injuries are going to go and whatnot,” he explained. “And receivers, if you have a group of six that are going to rotate that are really capable, you’re in good shape. Back in 2012, we really played three guys the whole year [at Duke].”
The first thing the Gators will need to do is figure out their depth chart at running back. The preferred starter in 2013, junior Matt Jones, is looking solid in training camp but nevertheless coming off a knee injury. Sophomore Kelvin Taylor, who shined when given the bulk of the carries late in the season, brings athleticism and versatility. Then there’s freshman Brandon Powell, an electric and elusive ball carrier who has impressed during fall practice.
Roper appeared to admit on Tuesday that those three players stood out the most to him, but he was quick to ensure that two more Florida rushers got their due, one in particular.
“Mack Brown is an experienced football player,” he said of the redshirt senior. “And Mark Herndon is a football player. That’s a guy, when he’s in the game, I got a lot of confidence that he’s going to know what to do. He’s a talented player. He’s one of those guys that you watch, obviously he was a walk-on that earned a scholarship. This guy could start at a lot of places. He’s that good. But obviously Matt Jones and KT and Brandon Powell are physically gifted.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» According to reporters on-site at practice, sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (knee) returned to the field after missing some time with a bone bruise. He wore an orange non-contact jersey and was limited to minimal participation.
» On his main rule for quarterbacks: “These [defensive] guys are trying to get back there and hurt them. When you have a guy like [Jadaveon] Clowney rushing you, that is below three seconds and then its 270 pounds of pain. They need to understand that if they want to stay healthy, they need to throw the football. I have a simple rule for young quarterbacks when we come in. When I call a pass, I want you to throw the ball. That’s hard for young guys to do because they don’t know what the route concepts are, so their inclination is to keep it and try to run. Well, you’re not running past Jon Bullard and Dante Fowler. Simple rule: When I call a pass, throw it. Make a decision, throw it. We’ll learn from our mistakes but be decisive. If a guy can’t be decisive, it’s hard to play.”
» On how he coaches players during practice: “Football is game. It’s supposed to be fun. There’s a time to be serious and a time to lock in and all that. I learned a long time ago, if you take a player’s hope away from them, that’s when you got a guy that’s going to struggle. I want guys to have hope and belief in themselves and enjoy coming out here and playing. If I got a guy that’s playing really, really hard, then we’re going to fix the issues whether its route depth or whatever it is, we’re going to fix the issues. If we got a guy that’s not playing very hard, you can’t coach him. But when these guys are playing hard, then we’re going to coach positive.”
» On how much Florida will be running up-tempo and how quickly plays will be run: “We’re going to call some plays that are really fast, that are around the 25-28-30-second range. We’re going to call some plays that are around the five-second range. What we try to keep tabs of is that 18-second range. If we can get the ball snapped around 18 seconds on the play clock, then we’re keeping a pretty good tempo. But my biggest thing is execution. I’ve never really talked a number of plays or how fast we’re going. We’re going to be a no-huddle, quick-tempo team. At the end of the day, we want to look up and have points on the scoreboard typically that’s meant more plays in the past by going no huddle, but we don’t just sit here and say, ‘Hey, let’s go get 92 plays.’ We got to execute. If we can score in two plays, let the other team run 10 plays and punt. That’s kind of the thought process.”
» On how he performed while running a wide receiver’s route over the weekend: “I would rate it as a 42-year-old man that’s stiff.”
» On redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee: “Smart guy, guy that’s played a lot of football, so it’s not new to him. All he has to do is be able to understand the language. Once he does, he can do it. What he can do is run and catch, he can flat run and catch.”
» On senior Hunter Joyer and where he fits in now that there are no more fullbacks in the offense: “It’s interesting. Hunter has been working into that same position, what we call the ‘B’ position. He gets a bunch of reps. We try to share those reps as much as possible so we can evaluate fairly. He’s a guy that has really good hands, a lot of experience. He doesn’t have the length, obviously, that a lot of other guys have, but I’ve got a lot of confidence when Hunter’s in the game to know what to do and how to do it.”