Roper aims to make his mark with QBS

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Brian How­ell

BOUL­DER» In the early 1990s, Kurt Roper was a player at Rice Univer­sity, sit­ting in a meet­ing with his fel­low quar­ter­backs and feel­ing lost as he lis­tened to of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Heimerdinger.

“He was go­ing over de­fen­sive foot­ball and I’m go­ing, ‘Hey, I don’t know what you’re talk­ing about and this is over my head,’ ” Roper re­called re­cently. “As a player, I re­ally didn’t take the ini­tia­tive to learn it.”

A quar­ter cen­tury later, Roper is try­ing to teach the quar­ter­backs at Colorado what he wished he had learned as a player.

En­ter­ing his first sea­son as CU’S quar­ter­backs coach, Roper, who was hired in Jan­uary, is al­ready mak­ing a big im­pact on the Buffs. It’s been well doc­u­mented that start­ing quar­ter­back Steven Mon­tez has “gone from al­ge­bra to cal­cu­lus” in his knowl­edge of the game, but Mon­tez isn’t the only quar­ter­back ben­e­fit­ting from Roper’s tute­lage.

Colorado quar­ter­backs coach Kurt Roper is en­ter­ing his first sea­son the Buffs coach­ing staff,

Colorado quar­ter­backs coach Kurt Roper is en­ter­ing his first sea­son the Buffs coach­ing staff, (Cliff Grass­mick / Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher)

“In the last few months I’ve learned more than I’ve ever learned in my whole en­tire life,” sopho­more Sam Noyer said. “Not tak­ing away from any coaches that I’ve had in the past. They’ve all pre­pared me re­ally well up to this point, but (Roper) has come in and he’s taken it to that next level, for sure.”

While CU hopes Mon­tez, in his sec­ond year as the starter, takes his game to a new level and leads the Buffs back to the post­sea­son, his top back­ups — Noyer and Ly­tle — are grow­ing, as well. Both said their big­gest im­prove­ment has come be­tween the ears.

“Def­i­nitely men­tally I think ev­ery­body has taken the next step in the quar­ter­back room,” Ly­tle said. “(Roper) de­mands a lot more when it comes to film study and the men­tal as­pect of the game.

“(For­mer co-of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor/quar­ter­backs coach Brian) Lind­gren was awe­some; there’s just def­i­nitely more at­ten­tion to de­tail and more de­mand­ing in a good way. For me, that’s what I re­ally needed.”

For Roper, that at­ten­tion to de­tail started with Heimerdinger, who was a well-re­spected and long-time col­lege and NFL coach whose ca­reer in­cluded two stints with the Bron­cos. The knowl­edge re­ally blos­somed for Roper af­ter his play­ing days, how­ever, when he started work­ing un­der David Cut­cliffe, now the head coach at Duke.

“I be­came a (grad­u­ate as­sis­tant) and a coach and I sat in some meet­ings and said, ‘You know what? This is pretty easy. I can learn this,’” he said.

“My first cou­ple of years as a coach, I sat in a quar­ter­back room and I was much like a quar­ter­back and I lis­tened to David Cut­cliffe for two years. That was a huge ben­e­fit for me to be able to learn how to teach be­fore I had to teach.”

The first quar­ter­back Cut­cliffe turned over to Roper to teach was Eli Man­ning, now a long­time New York Gi­ants vet­eran and two-time Su­per Bowl champ.

“That was a huge ad­van­tage for me,” Roper said of work­ing with Man­ning, “be­cause I was deal­ing with a guy that re­ally un­der­stood the game and he could make things hap­pen.”

Roper is work­ing to get CU’S quar­ter­backs to that point. What Roper tries to teach his quar­ter­backs is to un­der­stand what’s hap­pen­ing all over the field.

“While foot­ball is some­times com­pli­cated by coaches, it’s sim­ple in de­sign,” Roper sad. “It’s 22 peo­ple. So, I don’t think it’s too much to make a quar­ter­back un­der­stand what all 22 peo­ple are do­ing on of­fense and de­fense. It’s not that dif­fi­cult. The more knowl­edge they have of the game in gen­eral, I think the bet­ter they can play, the faster they can play.

“This game, at quar­ter­back, you bet­ter have a re­ally good plan be­fore you ever snap the ball and then you bet­ter be able to ad­just if your plan has to change, all in a timely man­ner. So, the more in­for­ma­tion you can have, the faster you can play.”

Like Roper, CU head coach Mike Mac­in­tyre learned un­der Cut­cliffe. In fact, they worked to­gether un­der Cut­cliffe at both Ole Miss and Duke, so Mac­in­tyre knew he was get­ting some­what of a pro­fes­sor for his quar­ter­backs.

“When (Roper) first came in, coach Mac had a con­ver­sa­tion with us quar­ter­backs and told us we’re go­ing to start do­ing this thing called ‘Quar­ter­back school,’ ” Noyer said. “He just wanted to teach us foot­ball and we wanted to just learn foot­ball.

“It’s been re­ally help­ful for the quar­ter­backs and we’ve learned a lot about cov­er­ages, de­fenses, and de­fen­sive fronts — a lot of things we should have been learn­ing, but not nec­es­sar­ily were.”

Mon­tez said this sum­mer he knows much more about de­fen­sive foot­ball than he’s ever known. In a re­cent prac­tice, he and Noyer were watch­ing other quar­ter­backs in ac­tion and talk­ing about the de­fen­sive fronts they were see­ing.

“It’s crazy how much a de­fen­sive front can tell you, and there are a lot of the tips he’s brought in and helped us,” Noyer said. “We never re­ally took that into ac­count be­fore. Not say­ing we didn’t learn it, be­cause we did learn that stuff, but it’s just more de­tail ori­ented right now.”

Roper also wants his quar­ter­backs to know ev­ery de­tail of the of­fense. In fact, even Mac­in­tyre was a bit sur­prised by a re­cent les­son Roper used in prac­tice.

“(Last week) in our walk­throughs, he had the quar­ter­backs line up as run­ning backs,” Mac­in­tyre said. “They were work­ing on pro­tec­tions, so he wanted them to fit the pro­tec­tions and un­der­stand them. I hadn’t seen that be­fore; he must have picked that up along the way. It was a great teach­ing tool.”

Ly­tle said Roper “doesn’t let any­thing go” when even mi­nor mis­takes hap­pen in prac­tice.

Hav­ing gone through it as a player, Roper re­al­izes the Buffs’ quar­ter­backs aren’t go­ing to learn ev­ery­thing he’s teach­ing right away.

“Yes, ini­tially, they are prob­a­bly a lit­tle over­whelmed, but they shouldn’t learn it in one meet­ing or two meet­ings, but over years of con­ver­sa­tion, this stuff starts stick­ing in,” he said.

Roper hasn’t had years — only a few months — with CU’S quar­ter­backs, but added, “Here’s the thing: They can draw back on be­ing in col­lege foot­ball for more than just six, seven months. They’ve been here. When I start hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion, there are ex­pe­ri­ences — whether it’s on the prac­tice field, a meet­ing room or a game rep — for them to ap­ply it to. So, while maybe some of the things I’m teach­ing them is the first time they’ve heard it, it’s eas­ier maybe to con­nect the dots be­cause they’ve been around.”

Cliff Grass­mick, Daily Cam­era

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