GAINESVILLE - Kurt Roper is excited to see how effectively the Gators’ are running his new offense a little more than a week into preseason camp.
But at times, Roper’s offense has operated about as smoothly as his raspy voice did following Tuesday’s practice, the Gators’ 11th this summer.
On Monday night, Roper’s daughter, Reese, wondered what was wrong.
“She came by last night and she said, ‘Dad, what happened to your voice?’” Roper recalled. “’Everything’s been going perfect …’”
The Gators’ offensive execution understandably has been a mixed bag eight days into camp. But Roper sees plenty of positive signs from UF’s players running his up-tempo scheme.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel is more decisive, receivers are getting open and running backs are battling for touches, though Kelvin Taylor (hamstring) and Matt Jones (knee swelling) did not practice Monday or Tuesday.
“We’ve got guys that can play really good football at that position,” Roper said of his tailbacks. “But running back is a physical position and a place you do need numbers.”
The key during the coming days and weeks will be getting his players on the same page more consistently as coaches continue to implement the system.
“These guys aren’t there yet because they’ve just been in it 25-26 practices in,” said Roper, who began installing his offense during 15 spring practices. “The biggest thing to guard against is putting too much on their plate.”
Roper, though, has proven he can do more with less.
The 42-year-old Iowan recalled when he arrived with head coach David Cutcliffe at Ole Miss to replace Tommy Tuberville. The new staff had less than a month to prepare for the 1998 Independence Bowl against Texas Tech.
“We put in about 10 plays and went out and scored 35 points,” Roper said.
The Gators never scored more than 31 points last season, finishing with an SEC-low 18.8 points a game. The struggles led coach Will Muschamp to fire offensive coordinator Brent Pease after a 4-8 season and hire Roper after six seasons at Duke, during which scored a school-record 60 touchdowns in 2013.
Roper said the Gators’ have the talent and attitude to turn things around quickly.
“I think these guys are excited about playing football,” Roper said. “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.”
Roper’s players are all in.
“We’re going to surprise a lot of people,” receiver Ahmad Fulwood said. “We plan on playing fast and see if everybody can keep up with us.”
The 6-foot-4, 202-pound Fulwood has been on the receiving end of many of Driskel’s throws this week, including a couple of long catches down the sideline on Tuesday.
“He’s a guy that’s a big body,” Roper said. “He has an advantage over guys, and we've got to use that advantage.”
Fulwood is one of several receivers making plays.
Fellow sophomore Demarcus Robinson has a gear UF’s other receivers do not. On Tuesday, he was so explosive, All-SEC cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (@VH3) took to Twitter to post: “@honeythunder11 (Robinson’s Twitter handle) had a hell of a practice today!”
Roper had been similarly impressed with Virginia transfer Jake McGee, a fifth-year senior new to the offense when summer practices open Aug. 4.
“He can flat run and catch,” Roper said.
For his offense to effectively run a high volume of plays, Roper said ideally he seeks production from a half dozen receivers and three running backs. Dynamic playmakers have been glaringly absent of late in Gainesville, but Roper believes he has enough to do the job.
“The more the better is what it really gets down to,” Roper said. “There's guys that give us a chance to win when they're in the game with that amount of numbers.”