Roper on the run

Because Tennessee's top three tailbacks missed spring practice due to injuries, new running backs coach Kurt Roper had to base his initial impressions of them on word of mouth. Luckily, that mouth belonged to Trooper Taylor.

As a result, Roper got all the scoop on Arian Foster, Montario Hardesty and LaMarcus Coker from Taylor, who is a bit of a talker. That helped considerably.

"Sure," Roper says. "When you sit right next to Trooper in a meeting every day, you seek opinions and advice. That's been helpful in the transition that he's been right there. I do know more about the guys than I would coming in without that resource."

Now that preseason drills have begun, Roper finally is getting a first-hand look at his top three tailbacks. Even limited to non-contact drills, he likes what he has seen.

"The first impression was that everybody was fresh, had strong legs and a lot of speed," he said.

Roper has watched considerable film of Foster, who ran for 879 yards as a redshirt freshman last fall. There's less film available on Hardesty, who carried just six times for 18 yards before being felled by a knee injury. Only a few scrimmage films feature Coker, who redshirted in 2005 due to nagging injuries.

"I'm aware of Arian. I've seen the most film on him of all the guys," Roper says. "The thing that showed up quite obviously was that Arian is a playmaker who's able to break tackles and finish runs well. We're counting on that again."

Roper, 34, is no stranger to Big Orange Country. His dad, Bobby, was UT linebackers coach under Johnny Majors from 1977 through ‘79. Kurt also was part of the 1998 national title team.

"This is my third time here because I was a graduate assistant (1996-98)," he says. "Being around my dad, I knew from an early age I wanted to do what he did. Tennessee was a different place than anywhere we'd ever been before, as far as tradition, excitement, fan involvement and facilities. All of that was first class. It's a big-time program."

Roper is no stranger to Vol offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, either. He worked under him when Cutcliffe was head man at Ole Miss from 1999 through 2004. Thus, they're on the same wavelength in terms of offensive terminology and philosophy.

"I think that helps a lot," Roper says. "When you're trying to get your offense implemented and you're having conversations that you've had numerous times before, it's easier to progress and make sure everybody's on the same page because there's so much communication that's happened previously."

Once the basic offense has been implemented, the next step is to figure out what the Vols do best – individually and collectively – so those strengths can be maximized in the season ahead.

"You determine what your team does well and who the playmakers are," Roper says. "It's a one-month process, so you've got to make some hard decisions and do things pretty quickly to get ready for that first game."

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