Like a person who just pulled out of the parking lot with a brand new sports car, Kurt Roper is having a hard time not just standing on the accelerator and seeing exactly what the new toy has got.
“Probably right now over two days we are probably asking him to do too much,” the Gamecocks offensive coordinator said of sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley. “You are dealing with a guy I have a lot of trust in so you are like, ‘More, more, more.’ You just have to be careful.”
Last season, Bentley was college football’s version of a clunker – a true freshman thrust into a starting role midseason. By the end of the year, he was getting up to speed, and now Roper is ready to let him run.
“This guy is the guy on Thursday night that’s in the film room at 10 o’clock,” Roper said. “I think football is really, really important to him and because of that he really works at it.”
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Roper is in his second year as South Carolina’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Last year, he put Bentley in the lineup in the seventh game of the season and watched as the freshman racked up 1,420 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions while trying to digest the intricacies of the team’s playbook. Through spring practice and during the offseason, Roper saw that those details were getting through to his young quarterback, specifically as it pertains to pass protection schemes.
“When you watch him handle our protection system, that’s when you know he really knows what’s going on,” Roper said. “Every protection has an inherent problem with it and the first thing a quarterback has to know is what the inherent problem is. There were times (last year) when I don’t think he necessarily knew who was blocked and who wasn’t blocked, and I think he’s got full grasp of that now.”
That means the Gamecocks won’t have to protect Bentley this year like they did last year by limiting the number of concepts and plays they ask him to execute, Roper believes.
“The more comfortable I am with his understanding, the more he gets,” Roper said.
Everyone on South Carolina’s offense has become more comfortable with the quarterback’s understanding, tight end Jacob August said.
“He’s definitely taken a good leadership role,” August said. “Guys are starting to listen to him a lot more. Everyone is confident in him. They want to listen to him and get better so they can perform for him. It’s really just a confidence thing. We believe in him and in those last six games of the year we saw that he can become a really good player and a really good starter for us.”
The Gamecocks will keep Bentley off limits to contact throughout practice, Roper said.
“One of the things that people always joke about is the quarterback never gets hit in practice. Watch Saturday when he’s standing there, a guy’s got a 10-yard run and he’s going to hit him. How many guys want to do that? And that’s what a guy has to do, and Jake is tough enough to do that,” Roper said. “We have to get him the game. (Former Tennessee head coach Phil) Fulmer used to say all the time, ‘Get the horse to the gate.’
“He’s a horse.”