Kurt Roper has several titles for Duke: He is the assistant head coach, the offensive coordinator, and the quarterbacks coach. He joined Duke in January, 2008, and was promoted to assistant head coach this past February. Last year, Roper guided Duke’s offense to an average of 31.5 points per game, the fifth-highest total in school history. This year, he has a new quarterback in Anthony Boone and a new center in Matt Skura. I caught up with Roper recently to get his take on the offense this spring. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
Looking at the quarterback position, obviously that’s been a big change for you guys. How has Anthony looked this spring?
Kurt Roper: He’s done a good job. It’s obviously a different role in the fact he’s a starter, so you have to walk, talk, look like -- everything you do has to be as the starting quarterback. I think he’s taking that responsibility the way he should. It still has to show up on the field in productive play, and he’s doing that. He’s a guy who’s really skilled. He’s a guy who, his feet are great, his throwing motion is really fast-twitch. His arm is really strong. He’s a good decision-maker. He has command of what we’re doing at the line of scrimmage. I guess what I should say is, he has a quarterback’s charisma. He’s playing like a starter for the most part. There are things we always need to improve on. His accuracy is a thing we stress all the time, but he’s a guy who can help us win games on Saturday, and he was able to do that last year.
Who else is having a good spring for you offensively?
KR: Isaac Blakeney is doing a good job for us at his position, he’s really a talented guy who can make plays and needs to keep coming on. Matt Skura and Lucas Patrick in the offensive line have had good springs and are physical guys. When you lose a starting center, that’s a scary thing. It’s nervewracking. Especially with us, the way our offense is built, with the gun snap such a high percentage of the time. If you can’t be good at that, it’s hard to be a good offense, and he’s done a good job of that. If we stay healthy, we’ve got four running backs that can help us win on Saturdays. That’s a position we have some confidence in.
How do you guys look up front on the offensive line?
KR: That’s probably been the area that has been the most transformed since we’ve been here in guys that can help us win. You try to build depth. What happens at that position, if you don’t feel like you have eight guys that can go play -- your five starters and then a third tackle, a third guard, and a second center -- then you have huge depth issues. Every year that we’ve been here, we’ve had those huge depth issues. If the wrong guy gets hurt, then it gets hard for us. I think we’re building that depth. I think we’re closer to saying we’ve got eight guys who can go play against ACC competition and have a chance to help us win.
From your perspective, where do you think the program is at? You guys hit an important milestone getting to the bowl game last year, but I’m sure you would have liked to win more in the second half of the season.
KR: The best thing I can say is it’s going in the right direction. When we got here, it definitely was a challenge in the fact we were fighting people’s perception of us. I think we’ve been fighting that challenge -- and it really shows up in recruiting more than anywhere else. People have to buy in and believe, and I think by going to a bowl game, people are starting to see tangible evidence to what we’re selling in recruiting. It’s going in the right direction. I do think we’re better physically in some places than we’ve been. Each Saturday, it doesn’t matter where you are … if you’re coaching for the Green Bay Packers, it’s still hard to win on game day, but we’re putting guys out there who are really good college football players.