The Cleveland Browns made some big hires to replace Kyle Shanahan and most of the offensive staff. Rightfully so a lot of attention went to new Offensive Coordinator John Defilippo, QB Coach Kevin O'Connell and WR Joker Phillips. Each of those guys will be responsible for big pieces of the Browns offense. Flip will set the tone and the script, KOC has to try to make a starting level QB out of the Browns Depth Chart and Phillips has a unique group at WR to try to increase productivity with.
One name that hasn't gotten the kind of recognition and attention as the three aforementioned guys is Kurt Roper. Roper was hired as the Browns Senior Offensive Assistant among the hiring of the other guys. The SOA position is so vague and Roper's name so unknown that he has been an after thought for many fans and media members. Understandable.
First some thoughts on the role of the Senior Offensive Assistant. While Roper technically works under Coach Flip, his role takes on more of an advisory tact than as a subordinate. The SOA generally does not have a ton of direct player responsibilities and instead is an overseer of the offense.
While position coaches are focused on their players and even the OC is focused on the details, the SOA takes a big picture, oversight view of the situation.
In some ways, Roper will be a 1 man Board of Directors for the offense. With the 36 year old Flip and the 29 year old O'Connell, Roper is perfectly fitted for this role.
So who is Kurt Roper?
The 42 year old Roper is actually a bit young for this role. Many SOA types are in their late 50s or early 60s after years and years in different roles. The Browns went young on their staff so having a 42 year old in this role fits.
Roper was last the offensive coordinator at the University of Florida. He was there for only one year before the Gators fired their staff. Prior to late he was the OC for Duke University and the high flying offense that David Cutcliffe runs. Roper has been with Cutcliffe a majority of his career including stints with Mississippi and Tennessee. Roper also coached with Joker Phillips at Kentucky for a season.
Among the NFL players that Roper has been directly responsible for, Eli Manning and Arian Foster top the list. With Duke, Roper led an offense quarterbacked by once again Browns QB Thad Lewis. Lewis set a number of records under Roper. That relationship could be one reason that Lewis is back with the Browns this year.
CBS Sports has a great Q&A interview from shortly after he was hired by the Gators last year. You should check out the entire interview but this really stood out to me:
"Q: So, how, specifically, do you teach your quarterbacks decision-making?
Roper: The first thing they gotta understand is the amount of time that they're working with. We try to work under three seconds in decision-making. We're trying to play fast. Once they understand that, 'O.K., this is the time,' then we tie that time to their feet. And, after they've gone through what I call 'gathers' which other people call hitches, well, once they've hitched a third time, that ball better be gone. They'd better have made a decision and the ball's out. If not, you've got to throw it away or you've got to run with it. That's how you do it. You build a passing game that can get the ball out immediately. If you're not building a passing game that can get the ball out immediately, then you're going to hold on to the ball more and you're gonna have some problems.
Now, there are going to be some times where we're going to try and hold onto the ball longer when we're trying to play-action and get something down the field, but you can't major in that. You gotta major in getting the ball out of the quarterback's hand. Make a decision and get it gone."---
I think we can all agree that this is the kind of thing we hope can be coached into young Johnny Manziel. Tying his feet to his hand with quick decisions is something Manziel struggled with in his transition to the NFL. It wasn't his strong suit in college either. If Roper's job only requires him to help KOC with Manziel's development, and he is successful, his hire would be well worth it.
Yet, as the SOA, Roper's history as an offensive coordinator for years will help the Browns offense in a variety of ways. Since he won't have to focus on play installation, Roper can assist Flip, KOC and Joker in seeing things from a bigger perspective. His history as a QB and RB coach, as well as his first few years as a defense and special teams coach, give him a wide variety of knowledge to bank on.
The biggest area of intrigue will be Roper's long history with a spread passing attack. Unlike Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly, whose spread systems were primarily run oriented, Roper's recent history has been with more pass happy systems. Will he provide a balance to the run first philosophy of the Browns or will there be negative tension between philosophies? Obviously it was something that Flip and HC Mike Pettine were comfortable in when hiring Roper but will it be a benefit or a hindrance as the season goes on? Personally I like that kind of discussion in the offensive room, not so much on the defensive side of the ball.
Flip, KOC and Joker got the headlines this off-season as the Browns updated their offensive coaching staff. Kurt Roper was an after thought but, based on his role and his history, I believe he will have a huge impact on the Browns this year!
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