If you are Kurt Roper, the new offensive coordinator of the Florida Gators, your approach to spring football in Gainesville, Fla. had better be all about teaching, with heavy doses of open-mindedness and patience.
Anyone who watched the Gators' offense from a season ago knows patience is truly a virtue as there was plenty of frustration abound. Mounting injuries were a massive issue. Inexperience at quarterback led to more flustered moments. Lack of inventive play-calling had folks pulling their hair out at the ineptitude.
Now, Roper takes over a unit that has been beaten down and needs not only a shot of confidence but an infusion of instruction to create production on that side of the football. Quarterback development has lagged for the Gators, and to help get Jeff Driskel, Skyler Mornhinweg and early enrollee Will Grier up to speed, it will take plenty of patience out of the new coordinator.
That means breaking them down during spring football. Not mentally pushing them to the edge but rather taking the mechanics of their games and reteaching them how to play the position. Making the game small will allow Roper to deliver his wealth of knowledge to the athletes in manageable doses, instead of asking them to drink from an information fire hose.
At Duke, both Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone were further along in the developmental process at the quarterback spot. Roper is going to have to play catch up, and that takes persistence. A deliberate approach in teaching the fundamentals of the position. Thorough instruction on the principles of the offensive scheme. Careful correction during the film room sessions.
All of which requires patience on the part of Roper.
Along with the patience in teaching, the new offensive coordinator is going to have to do some of the cliche thinking outside of the box to get production. This is a roster without a Jamison Crowder or a Braxton Deaver, and as the Gators' offensive staff works to improve their players, Roper will have to scheme success using the athletes' current skills.
That means figuring out who can get separation, who can catch the ball reliably and who runs good routes. As the staff helps players improve upon their deficiencies, the coordinator has to use what they can do to produce positive results.
Quinton Dunbar returns as the most reliable receiver, although Ahmad Fulwood, a 2013 4-star prospect, showed flashes late in the season. Roper will have to open his offensive toolbox and figure out what blend of screens, shovel passes, intermediate and deep routes will get the ball advanced down the field through the air. Another season of inept one-dimensional football will not fly in Gainesville.
Do you think Kurt Roper can help make the Gators' offense productive through the air?
Being open to options is a luxury Roper has earned by not being strictly a system coach. He's worked in the pro style and out of the spread. The former Duke offensive coordinator has also made offenses work with quarterbacks as run threats and immobile pocket football slingers. Florida cannot help but to buy in, given the inability to move the ball in recent seasons, and that should help Roper get results.
The Gators, with Mack Brown and Kelvin Taylor returning to set the pace in spring, are going to run the football. Matt Jones should be healthy in the fall to give this team three capable ball-carriers, and Florida will continue to be able to manufacture yards on the ground.
Roper was brought in to help fix the mess of a passing game, and that starts with spring ball. He has to teach the squad how to play his brand of football, from the ground up, and in the process evaluate skill sets in order to open up his offensive repertoire and put players in a position to succeed.
And that is going to take a little, old fashioned patience.