Playing defense and special teams at the University of Florida from 2000-2003 gave Keiwan Ratliff the best seat in the house to watch Steve Spurrier’s fun-n-gun offense for two years. After finishing a record-setting career at Florida, Ratliff played in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers before returning to Florida to begin coaching.
Gator Country recently caught up with Ratliff in Bradenton, Florida for the IMG 7-on-7 championships and Ratliff expressed his delight that Florida was moving back to a spread offense under Kurt Roper.
What makes his opinion valued — more than just playing for the Gators — is Ratliff’s involvement in the high school ranks, coaching some of the top talent in the state.
It’s simple in Ratliff’s mind. Florida has a valued commodity, one that most people say can’t be taught — and the move to a spread offense will take advantage of that.
“First and foremost, I believe that the state of Florida is the fastest state as far as recruiting goes,” Ratliff said. “That being said, I think it’s kind of hard not to run that spread, up-tempo, fast offense with all the recruits you have in the state.”
He’s right. You can argue that Florida — for whatever reason — doesn’t produce the best offensive linemen. The state will put out one or two every recruiting cycle but most Florida schools have to go out-of-state to find their offensive linemen. You can even argue that more states produce better passers as well. Florida signed Will Grier (North Carolina) the last recruiting cycle and has another signal caller, Sheriron Jones (California), pledged to the 2015 cycle.
But Florida does produce speed. It’s something that Spurrier began to take advantage of at Florida, getting speedy wide receivers to heave the ball all over the field. Urban Meyer took that idea and injected it with steroids. He came to Florida and simply stated that he wanted to field the fastest team in the country and that’s what he did. You can teach big kids of to pass block, teach linebacker proper tackling technique and even re-tool a quarterbacks’ throwing motion.
You cannot, however, teach the blazing speed that Florida is overflowing with.
That is why there is so much excitement surrounding the hire of Kurt Roper. Coaches and people around college football have called this Muschamp’s best hire since he’s been at Florida and they might be right if Roper can take advantage of Florida’s most abundant recruiting resource, speed.
“Having Roper come in and being able to spread it out and get those one-on-one matchups in space, I think it will help our offense tremendously,” Ratliff said.
The first part is getting those in state playmakers on Campus, something Roper was able to do in a short time after being hired and something that a good offensive showing will continue to do in the future.
“I’m looking at a guy right now and a guy that loves that move in George Campbell; a guy like a Ray-Ray McCloud, those type of recruits. They see that offense spread around and all these guys are going to the Ohio State’s, the Clemson’s, the Oregon’s and to the Florida State’s,” said Ratliff. “They’re going to those schools that are spreading the ball around and getting the ball to their playmakers. In college football, just like the NFL, just like Pop-Warner, it’s a copycat league. The spread is what’s hot right now so all of these kids want to play in what’s hot and that’s the spread, up-tempo.”
A defensive player, Ratliff naturally loves what Muschamp has been able to do defensively at Florida. Ratliff enjoys watching the defense, one he considers (and rightly so) to be one of the premier defensive units in the country. He expressed his confidence in the defense and the entire defensive coaching staff, even though, in his opinion, the offensive philosophy was out of touch.
The hire of Kurt Roper changed that in his mind.
“I just think our offensive philosophy was a little contradictory to what we have in the state as far as the speed and he [Muschamp] wanted to be a power team,” Ratliff said. “Now, the speed I think will help put more points on the board, let our defense play with a lead and I think we’ll be lights out.”