It didn’t take long for the offensive players to take to Kurt Roper’s offense. So far, the team has been through five practices and according to senior running back Mack Brown, have already installed close to 60 plays.
But the excitement didn’t start when the team took the field over a week ago to kick off spring practice; it started before their new offensive coordinator even arrived in Gainesville.
Roper spent the past six seasons at Duke as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, including a 10-4 campaign in 2013 that ended with a Chick-fil-A showdown with Texas A&M.
“It did [get me excited],” Brown said of getting of going over film from Duke last season. “The main thing is they won a lot of games last year and scored a lot of points. We score those points with the defense we have, we should win a lot of games.”
Roper is the third offensive coordinator that will call plays for Will Muschamp’s ball club. That means the offensive players have gone through three playbooks and some — like the redshirt senior Brown — have gone through four coordinators and playbooks. That’s why keeping things simple is important for Roper and for Florida.
“The process is you add things to them every day. That’s a challenge,” Roper said. “Sometimes we’re trying to fix mistakes from the day before but adding to their install on that day so it’s hard to focus on correcting those mistakes when we’re putting new things on them. I think they’re doing a good job. What we’ve tried to do is create an offense that is easy for us to learn as possible but still complicated for us to defend.”
The more simplistic scheme has rejuvenated the offensive players, making the game fun again. With less to think about before the snap, players are able to play faster. Obviously, with just five live practices of installation, the players are still working out the kinks but they see the promise that the new offense has and they’re excited about the potential.
“Last year, our formations were longer and included a lot of bits and pieces,” senior tight end Tevin Westbrook said. “This year, it’s one sign, signal you know where you at. A lot of fast, up-tempo plays. It’s a lot to take in, but once you get it down pat, it’s easy.”
The new offense also means new roles. Roper’s schemes calls for a tight end/ h-back position that he calls the “B position.” It’s a hybrid role that a player like Trey Burton would have excelled in, but without Burton on campus, the job is up for grabs with players like Hunter Joyer, Gideon Ajagbe and all of the tight ends vying for the starting role. Westbrook is a defensive transplant, starting his career on the defensive side of the ball before being moved to tight end. He led the tight ends last season in receptions (three) but looks to be working himself into a bigger role as a receiver.
“It’s really exciting. It’s more of a competition,” he said. “Every day when you go out you know that you’ve to play to be able to catch the ball and block, to move from off the ball to a bigger role. It’s exciting. We’re catching balls and blocking from the backfield. Blocking for the quarterback. It’s exciting.”
Tight end isn’t the only position getting a facelift. No longer will Hunter Joyer and the fullbacks be used as the battering ram for an offense that was content on chewing up clock and playing a field position game. Joyer and Ajagbe have been splitting out wide and are being featured as receivers more this spring than either player had in the past. Combined, the fullback duo has 10 career receptions.
“I feel pretty comfortable with it. I enjoy it,” Joyer said of being featured more. “Any time you get a chance to have the ball in your hands it’s a good thing, so I’m really enjoying it so far.”
After years of mediocrity on the offensive side of the ball, players, coaches and fans alike are ready to turn over a new leaf and bring some excitement back to the field. Based on the small sample size that we’ve seen over the past week or so, Florida will do that in 2014.
“I feel right now our confidence is sky-high,” Joyer said. “Coach is doing a great job building us up and keeping us positive. From the practices, it seems like we’re going to put a lot of points up, so it’s good.”