GAINESVILLE, Fla. — At the start of his press conference Tuesday, Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper engaged in small talk with a few veteran UF beat writers who covered the Gators during Roper’s stint at Ole Miss from 1999-2004.
The Rebels defeated Florida in back-to-back seasons in ’02 and ’03, the second win a 20-17 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Eli Manning was Ole Miss’ quarterback that day and his father, Archie Manning, watched from the stands.
"He claimed after Peyton left that he’d never come back to Gainesville or The Swamp," Eli told reporters afterward. "So, he had one last trip and he got to end it on a good one."
UF’s quarterback that October day 11 years ago? A freshman named Chris Leak. In Roper’s first season at Florida, Leak is in his first season as the team’s receivers coach.
"I always grew up watching him play throughout all the glory days here at Florida," sixth-year receiver Andre Debose said. "Being in the meeting room with him and seeing him every day … he knows his stuff and he knows a lot about the position."
Roper is impressed at Leak’s contributions to the offensive coaching staff.
"I think he can teach big picture," Roper said. "That’s the biggest thing — why everybody is doing what they’re doing. Everybody plays a role within a play and sometimes your route is a route that is supposed to maybe try to help somebody else get open.
"So if you don’t do a great job of running your route, then it doesn’t work. He can get that information across really well to the guys, how it all ties together."
Roper said success for any coach — especially those inexperienced such as Leak — hinges on commitment. If you put in the time results usually follow.
"I think he’s done a really good job," Roper said. "The guys are working hard for him. They’re getting better fundamentally on some of the things that he’s working on with releases and things like that. You see development in the group."
Gators head coach Will Muschamp said Monday that he would like to see separation between the trio of quarterbacks battling to back up Gators starter Jeff Driskel.
True freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris continue to compete for snaps. Redshirt sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg, who started three games a season ago, adds experience to the group.
"It’s fun to watch," said Roper, also UF’s quarterbacks coach. "It’s obviously getting close to decision-making time, but I also think it’s a fluid thing that can change at any time just because you don’t know what’s going to happen. The biggest thing is you look for production on their team reps."
Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Darious Cummings started his career at Florida State, spent a season at East Mississippi Community College, and transferred to UF prior to last season.
Cummings started six games and finished with 15 tackles, three tackles-for-loss and one sack. With the departure of Dominique Easley, Cummings and fellow defensive tackle Leon Orr are being pressed to increase their production.
Cummings eyes a breakout season following back-to-back years in which a Gators defensive lineman — Sharrif Floyd in 2013 and Easley this year — were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
"I wasn’t here when Sharrif was here, but losing Easley last year, I kind of felt a little pressure on me just to be that guy," Cummings said. "But like I told y’all before, I’m not trying to be Easley. I’m trying to play like how I play, because if I play up to my ability, then I don’t really feel like it’s going to be much of a fall off with the defensive line."
Don’t expect to see 6-foot-5, 325-pound offensive lineman Tyler Moore driving around campus on a scooter this season. In what Muschamp called one of the low points of last year’s injury ravaged season — a player taken down by a scooter, really? — Moore broke an elbow during a scooter accident, ending his season.
"No, I don’t," Moore told reporters Wednesday when asked if he still drives a scooter. "If anyone talks to me [about scooters], it’s like, ‘be careful, because it can go so quick.’ "
Darious Cummings and Antonio Morrison
Gators defensive tackle Darious Cummings, left, and linebacker Antonio Morrison.
QUOTE OF NOTE I
"He’s right in front of me. If something goes wrong with him, it’s probably going to go wrong for me, too." — Gators junior linebacker Antonio Morrison on working in tandem with Cummings
QUOTE OF NOTE II
"I always describe it as turning the lights on and turning the lights off. It’s football; it’s 22 people. I mean, it ain’t complex math." — Roper on developing success as a coach
QUOTE OF NOTE III
"The competition is amazing. I love it. I know every day that I have to come and play at the best of my ability and compete and make plays or I will be bypassed, quick." — Debose
Former Broncos and Washington head coach Mike Shanahan, who was UF’s offensive coordinator from 1980-83, visited the Gators this week … Morrison has shed approximately 10-15 pounds since last season. He said Tuesday he is "around, 220, 225" pounds after playing at 240 pounds last season. "I just feel more comfortable playing it this way," he said. "Last year they wanted me to gain weight but I ended up gaining too much." … The Gators are not ranked in the AP Top 25 preseason poll for the first time since 2003. Florida earned 87 points, ranking 27th overall … Defensive lineman Bryan Cox Jr., who missed time last week with shoulder pain, is back at practice. "It’s back to where it needs to be for me to compete," Cox said.