The list of Kurt Roper's quarterback protégés starts with Eli Manning. The two-time Super Bowl winner and Super Bowl MVP worked with Roper at Ole Miss, where he earned the first pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
After Roper moved to Duke, he turned two more quarterbacks into NFL prospects. Thad Lewis played in six games for the Buffalo Bills this season after learning under Roper at Duke, while Sean Renfree remains on the Atlanta Falcons roster.
More important than any other position on the offense, Roper builds his offense most importantly around what his quarterback can do.
"Kurt can recruit quarterbacks nationally and I think his track record speaks for itself as far as developing those guys," Will Muschamp said. "You look at Thadeus Lewis and Sean Renfree, two guys that weren't heavily recruited now they're both playing on Sundays. It speaks a lot about his development at the quarterback position, which is important to me."
It's the reason Roper coaches quarterbacks and works so hard to develop a strong relationship with the quarterbacks on his roster. He wants to know what makes them tick. He wants to know what they see on every snap and go over every possible scenario in film so he trusts them to run the Florida offense.
But once that happens, he gives them the reigns on the field.
"Our quarterback is in charge of it all," Roper said. "He's going to be in control of everything at the line of scrimmage.
There are some restrictions to that.
Roper recalled his experience at Duke with Renfree under center, the Blue Devils ran a pro-style with spread elements. Before every snap, Roper recalls the opposing team stacking the box and preparing to take the run. As much as he trusted Renfree, Duke still had to run the ball to remain balanced, even if it wasn't always the best look.
"If we waited for somebody to be in the perfect run front for us to run it we would never run the football," Roper said.
In that situation, Renfree wasn't given much power to audible. However, most of the time Roper wants his quarterback to be the eyes on the field and have freedom in pre-snap reads. He'll spend his Saturdays in the fall calling plays from the press box -- just as he has in all 10 years as an offensive coordinator -- but he'll always have a close eye on what's going on under center.
"They can still hear me yelling on the telephone just as much as in their face," Roper said with a laugh.
The move to Gainesville also gives Roper a chance to be on his own. After working with David Cutcliffe for the last 17 years, becoming the Florida offensive coordinator allows him to take the reigns of the offense by himself. He called plays at Duke, but there was always an offensive head coach that had veto power at the top.
In Gainesville, Roper will be working for the defensive-minded Muschamp. It's his offense, and he'll be able to run the offense that he wants after diagraming practices the way that he wants.
Roper didn't want to speak about the specifics of taking over an offense of his own, but it played a factor in why he left Duke. The biggest factor was the chance to coach at Florida.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for me and my family to come and just get associated with a great program. I think this university is special," Roper said. "I think this football program is special. Everything that I knew about Coach Muschamp, competing against him and as a man is just another great opportunity to be associated with what I think is a heck of a football coach. I thought it was a great opportunity for my career."
Jeff Driskel will be healthy when the Gators open spring practice, but Muschamp was clear to point out that there are no set starting jobs this spring because "when you go 4-8, it's all open." That means freshman Will Grier will have a chance to prove himself.
Roper is already familiar with the freshman who enrolled in Gainesville last week. He worked with him at a Duke football camp years ago and noticed early how special Grier would be.
"I think he has a great mindset," Roper said. "I think he has a great quarterback demeanor, and then I tell you what, he was accurate. He can throw it. He has a fast arm. I look for a guy that when he turns it loose, his arm speed is really consistently fast. He's got a fast arm. Obviously, he's a talented young man."
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