By Shannon Snell – OnlyGators.com Featured Columnist
Last week’s column was spent mostly on a couple of current Florida Gators players that I had interactions with this offseason. While it was intriguing to see how these guys responded during spring practice and summer workouts, I was much more interested in how head coach Will Muschamp planned to respond following one of the worst seasons in program history.
At this point, I’m most encouraged by Muschamp’s decision to hire Kurt Roper as Florida’s new offensive coordinator. David Cutcliffe gets a lot of the credit, but Roper is a big reason why Duke, once the doormat of the ACC, jumped up and won the Coastal Division title and nearly took down Texas A&M in the Chik-fil-A Bowl. He did that with nowhere near the talent he has inherited at UF.
The first time I got to see Roper’s offense up close in practice, I noticed the fast tempo right away. Players were not standing around waiting or looking to the sideline for instruction. Coach Roper was all over them screaming, “Make something happen! Make something happen!” It is good to see an offensive coordinator get that involved with his players. He is not just expecting execution but demanding it while showing that he has a beating heart.
It is in this way that Roper is very much like Muschamp. Having an equal intensity on both sides of the ball is refreshing coming off Charlie Weis and Brent Pease, two offensive coordinators that may have been passionate but certainly did not show it. This has been missing on offense the last few years.
As rosy as this sounds, be prepared for the growing pains that the Gators’ offense will undoubtedly experience this year. Remember, this offense is new to everyone, not just the freshmen. As veterans, many of the juniors and seniors are perhaps better equipped to handle the installation of a completely new offense, but everyone started from square one for the most part.
I remember back in 2002 when Ed Zaunbrecher came to Florida and brought his offense from Marshall. Let me tell you, that was the worst spring of my entire life. Not only were most of us physically drained from running a no-huddle offense (which most of us had never run before), I personally was mentally exhausted from everything I had to learn in such a short period of time. I felt like a freshman again.
Myself, Adam, the rest of the media and fans will want to judge this Gators offense as soon as the Idaho game is over. Whether Florida dominates in the season opener and puts up 50 points or only manages to score a couple of touchdowns, it will be way too early to make any serious determination of what this offense will look like in October or November or December.
The coach I was most excited to interact with, of course, was Mike Summers, who has been tasked with rebuilding the offensive line. Outside of Muschamp and Roper, Summers has the toughest coaching job on the team this season.
Despite all the injuries, including losing three starting tackles, the offensive line underachieved mightily last year. It was not nearly as dominant as it was the year before, when it garnered tons of praise for pushing top-notch defensive lines around, despite returning a couple of starters.
Summers is putting a big-time emphasis on toughness, something the unit was sorely missing in 2013. Watching this line, not only are the players making progress, they’re showing their competitiveness every day.
As a former offensive lineman, seeing undisciplined, uninspired play from a group that is supposed to be the toughest on a team was quite depressing. Like the offense itself, the line will not be perfect, but it does look to me like Summers has it on the right track.
Now in his fourth season, Muschamp looks to have his best offensive coaching staff in place, which is good timing considering Florida also appears to have a roster filled with more offensive playmakers than its had since 2009.
There’s no telling what can to happen when lights come on in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He is now in his third year sharing his musings and will do so through the 2014 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.