UNI Panthers

New UNI quarterbacks coach Justin Roper gets early look at QB competition

Panthers will have options under center

Justin Roper, Northern Iowa quarterbacks coach
Justin Roper, Northern Iowa quarterbacks coach

CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley wasn’t exaggerating when he said earlier this week that a four-way quarterback competition is “an open game.”

In its second spring practice Saturday, UNI regularly rotated returnees Jacob Keller and Will McElvain, along with freshman early enrollee Nate Martens.

Gusty winds and frigid temperatures proved challenging at times during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 competition, but each quarterback displayed an ability to make throws that cut through the wind.

First-year quarterbacks coach Justin Roper — who played the position at Oregon and Montana and most recently coached at Slippery Rock — says his near transfer to UNI in 2008 helped him land his new job as the Panthers’ quarterbacks coach.

“I actually still had (Farley’s) number from 10 years ago and that’s how I kind of connected,” Roper said. “So I kind of knew a little about the history. I know that there’s been some really powerful offenses. There’s been really good quarterback play here as well. It’s a big-time program.”

Coming in to a situation with a wide-open QB competition was also an attractive factor for Roper.

“I like that where I’m new, the position’s new, and everyone kind of has to adapt,” Roper said. “It’s not a situation where you’re walking into a two-year starter who’s done things one way for a couple years and I’m trying to change or adjust different things. I kind of like coming in with a (clean) slate.”

Roper described Martens as having the talent and said there’s no concern about his ability to progress quickly. He described McElvain as a quick-twitch gunslinger who’s the most adept of the three to making plays with his feet. Roper said Keller is a smooth operator with lots of athleticism.

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Justin Fomby, a three-star signee from Georgia, will join the competition this fall and offer his own unique skill set.

Farley said earlier this week whoever proves themselves as the best fit with the other 10 players will ultimately get the gig.

A four-way position battle that’s set to last five months at the game’s most coveted position has potential for drama, however Roper says he’s told his QBs there’s nothing to win this spring.

“I told them actually today, I said I’m not concerned with winning spring ball,” Roper said. “You don’t get win totals for spring ball. What I’m concerned with is understanding what we’re doing. Being able to execute our job efficiently, and limit mistakes. The talent will take care of itself. But I’m not concerned with (us) doing better than the defense, or we ‘win the drill.’”

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