GAINESVILLE — When Florida's football season ended in December, offensive lineman Max Garcia was among a handful of players in the postgame locker room who were adamant that changes in the offense were desperately needed.
Fast-forward four months.
As the Gators prepared this week to conclude spring practice with the annual Orange and Blue game today, there was a noticeable difference among the players.
The infusion of new blood, specifically new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, has raised expectations and the excitement level among the Gators.
"I can't wait to get it going at Florida, and get it going against some other guys and see how it works against somebody else," offensive lineman D.J. Humphries said. "I wish it was fall camp right now. I'm ready to fall into this thing."
"My sophomore year at Maryland, we did an uptempo offense," Garcia said. "I made a lot of mental and physical changes because we are uptempo. I'm just really excited. We haven't even scratched the surface yet, and we're doing some big things."
In a spring exhibition, no one will be able to determine just how successful Roper's new system will be in the fall. But what the players and coaches can tell you is that Roper has laid the foundation over the past three weeks, and the players will close practices feeling confident in the future with this offense.
"I feel like it fits not just me, but all of our players," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "We have a lot of guys who can just make plays in space and this offense creates space. We've made some big plays against our defense, which is exciting. You know, when you turn on the film you see a bunch of guys making big plays from last year at Duke (Roper's former school) and it just gets guys really excited for the offense, and I think we've done a good job with what we've had in (15) practices."
There is more at stake than just showing off its new offense. After winning just four games last season, the Gators realize they have a restless fan base they need to win back. It's part of the reason nine of the 15 spring practices were open for the first time under coach Will Muschamp, entering his fourth season. And it's part of the reason the players believe they need to make a statement in closing spring drills.
"Coach Muschamp is kind of emphasizing first impressions," sophomore cornerback and former Wharton High star Vernon Hargreaves said. "We're just going to go out there, have fun, show a lot of effort, a lot of enthusiasm, try to execute as best as we can."
For Roper, the true test begins in August. He said he didn't put a timetable on the players' ability to grasp the system, and he hasn't spent much time analyzing whether they are ahead of schedule.
"I don't know that it's further along or not further along," Roper said. "I think our guys have a good understanding of what we're trying to do offensively. In 15 days, what you want them to be able to understand is, 'What is our base? Who are we? What are we trying to accomplish offensively?' I think they've got a good start and understanding on that, so now leading into the summer, they can keep growing in that realm and then we have another 29 practice opportunities before our first game next season. So I think in this 15 practices, our guys know what we are offensively, who we are offensively, and the direction it's going to go. I think they have a good understanding of what our base is."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]