Kurt Roper seemed surprised about the question at his introductory press conference. A reporter asked how he felt about having 15 practices in the spring to install as much of the offense as possible before summer workouts and fall camp got started. Roper saw no reason the whole thing wouldn’t be installed.
Focusing on simplicity, Roper did just that. Now over a week into fall camp, the players who went through the spring are comfortable in what Florida is doing. The players hurt in the spring and incoming freshmen have a learning curve to get over, but the installation isn’t much of a concern for Roper. It happens quickly and simply.
When David Cutcliffe got the job at Ole Miss and Roper came with him, they didn’t have long to install plays before the team played Texas Tech in the Independence Bowl. Roper said they were able to install 10 plays in time for the game and still managed to score 35 points.
With all of spring and now one week of fall, the Florida offensive players have a good idea of what’s going on.
“I think they’ve got a really good understanding of what we’re asking them to do,” Kurt Roper said. “But the guys that have been in the battles before, they can apply experiences to what we’re teaching them offensively. I think they have a really good understanding of what we’re doing. And now you’re seeing situational work that we put things in that are game plan specific that they’ve picked up really well.”
Game preparation is still weeks away for the Gators, but when it comes, Roper needs to be able to decide what players he can trust at skill position. For him, it’ll be two or three running backs. Two that will touch the ball regularly and then a third one that is “going to show up in there some.”
At receiver, Roper wants a group of six he can trust. It’s not always exactly that number, but it’s the one he shoots for early in fall camp.
Most of the players in those groupings were on campus for spring practice. They went through the initial installation in the spring and picked things up fast in the fall.
“We just need to stay focused, keep battling,” Roper said. “There's going to be little things along the way that we'll keep adding on that they have to learn. I hear coaches all the time say ‘don't make the same mistake twice.’ I am a believer you're coaching the same things every day, whether it's steps, hands, eyes, whatever it is. We've got to keep coaching those same things all the time with those guys, and the better we keep getting at that then the better we'll be.”
The up-tempo portion of the offensive installation is mostly done. It’s second nature for the Florida players to sprint to the ball between plays and get lined up. Two of the backup quarterbacks stand on the sideline, use hand signals to call in the play to whichever quarterback is on the field.
When the offense is going at its fastest between snaps, the Gators can snap the ball with 25-30 seconds on the play clock. Some plays are designed to be snapped earlier in the play clock than others. Roper will mostly focus on the 18-second mark, and if the Gators can get the ball snapped by that point, then he’s happy with the tempo of the unit.
“We’re going to be a no-huddle, quick-tempo team,” Roper said. “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’ve got to execute. If we can score in two plays, let’s get off and let the other team run 10 plays and punt. That’s kind of the thought process."
The timing so far in fall camp has been inconsistent, and Roper admitted it has room for improvement before the start of the season. The good news for Florida is that it’s nothing unheard of. Most camps start with timing issues, and it is improving with each time the offense gets on the field.
He continues to push starting quarterback Jeff Driskel to get rid of the football as quick as possible. The relationship between Roper and his quarterback continues to get stronger. They love working with each other and have mutual respect.
"I've enjoyed every second of it,” Roper said. “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 to me in evaluation. A guy that is accountable and does what he says he's going to do -- he's that kind of person. He's a guy you can hang your hat on as a person. He's fun to be around and he's obviously a really talented football player, so he's fun to coach that way."
The players rave about Roper’s teaching ability, but they have respect for him on the field. He’s a player’s coach, keeping things light and loose on the field. Roper knows how to make things fun for the players.
Last Friday night, he ran a route to show the receivers how to do it. He can a ball at the end of the route and spiked it in the end zone, drawing laughs from the entire position group.
A few periods later in practice, receiver Valdez Showers slipped on a route and accidentally tackled Roper. The Florida offense coordinator got up laughing and quickly took a bow.
It’s that light-hearted mentality that keeps the players loose on the practice field.
“Football is a game. It’s supposed to be fun,” Roper said. “There’s a time to be serious and there’s a time to lock in. I learned a long time ago that if you take a player’s hope away from him, that’s when you’ve got a guy that’s going to struggle. I want guys to have hope and belief in themselves and enjoy coming out here playing.
“If I’ve got a guy playing really, really hard, I’m going to coach and fix the issues, whether it’s a route depth or whatever it is. We’re going to fix the issues. If we’ve got a guy not playing hard, you can’t coach him. These guys play hard. We’re going to coach positive.”