Thursday, January 14, 2016

Mark Cooper at the QB Club

Former Bronco Mark Cooper educated a Denver Broncos Quarterback Club crowd on the intricacies of NFL offensive line play at our monthly meeting Tuesday night.

Cooper played on the John Elway Bronco teams from 1983 through 1987 at various positions along the offensive line.  He was drafted in 1983 in the second round - the same year Elway started with the Broncos.  Cooper told us he roomed with Elway in that first year.  In addition to his time in Denver Cooper played for Tampa Bay from 1987-89.  He was a college teammate of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly and former Georgia head coach Mark Richt at the University of Miami.  With these credentials we were anxious to hear Cooper's insights on the current Broncos team.

Cooper is still very much involved in the game - coaching youth football in the Denver area in addition to being a realtor (he's been with ReMax for 25 years).    He said he still watches a lot of film on the Broncos.

He described the zone blocking scheme that Gary Kubiak has once again turned to after this scheme was so successful with the Shanahan coached Broncos.  Former Bronco offensive line coach Alex Gibbs "invented zone blocking", Cooper said.  "If you want to understand zone blocking do a youtube search on Alex Gibbs - he has a 3 part video seminar up there on zone blocking."  I later found the Gibbs video series on this Seattle Seahawk fan site.

Cooper said the running backs are just as important as the line in the zone blocking scheme.  He said early this year the Bronco running backs weren't that good at it, but he's noticed considerable improvement as the season has progressed.

While he thinks Alex Gibbs is done with coaching, he had some entertaining stories to tell of his time with Gibbs as his o-line coach.  In one game Cooper roughed up a defensive lineman that had taken a cheap shot at John Elway.  Cooper drew a flag, and head coach Dan Reeves was not happy, chewing Cooper out as he left the field for the roughing penalty.  Gibbs pulled Cooper aside and said, "do it again!" In a gladiator sport Gibbs appreciated Cooper standing up for his teammate. 

Cooper was very open with his opinions on some past and present broncos offensive linemen:

Should Tyler Polumbus be starting?  No, Schofield is better but Schofield looks to be playing hurt.
Ryan Harris - he's not a left tackle - he'd be better at right tackle
Evan Mathis - not a fan, it was a horrible trade (Mathis was actually a free agent signee - but you get the point)
Max Garcia - he's decent, definite potential for the future
Ryan Clady - the team really misses him this year.  A solid left tackle, though he lost a step after his last injury.  
Ty Sambrailo - showed potential, could be another solid guy like Clady
Orlando Franklin - wish he was still here - he's a good tackle.  He was not a good guard.

Cooper described in depth his opinions on the correct way to play the offensive line, demonstrating different moves for the qb club audience.  Overall he's been disappointed with the current Broncos offensive line.  "3 offensive linemen have been turtled this season" (knocked on their backs), Cooper said, "that never happened when I played."

Cooper remembers fondly his playing days in Denver.  "Our playbook was twice the size of what we had in Tampa," he said.    "There was nothing more fun than playing in front of the fans at Mile High."

I learned more about offensive line play in one night in listening to Cooper than my many years of watching the game as your average fan.  This is one feature I appreciate about our QB Club meetings - we hear from insiders and get new perspectives on the team and game we all love.

Our next guest speaker will be "Make Those Miracles Happen" Bronco RB Jon Keyworth in March, and in April Cecil Lammey will return to give the club his annual draft preview and offseason assessment of the Broncos.  If you join the club now you'll get these two meetings plus all the meetings of the 2016-2017 season.  $50 for a family membership, plus $20 per person for our buffet dinner meetings.

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