Sometimes you stumble onto an opportunity which presents a tremendous chance to not only help out the website you write for, but also a potential NFL prospect. This was the case when I was able to interview quarterback from Northern Colorado, Kyle Sloter.
You might be thinking, “Who?” and I did the same thing, but the more you watch and learn about Sloter, this kid could end up being a diamond in the rough for a team in need of a quarterback, hello Pittsburgh Steelers.
I can’t say how excited I am about showing everyone this excellent interview. This interview took up a lot of time, but the amount of what he provided in detail is what made this such a great experience. You’ll learn quickly just how high of a football IQ he has and what type of person he is.
Just a heads up, this is a long interview but I highly encourage you read every bit of it. Without further ado, enjoy.
Kyle I’d like to thank you for your time in this interview. You have an interesting career arc, you started out at Southern Miss, Nick Mullens was the starter and you waited for your opportunity, tell me what it was like going through that.
Kyle: Well, I was there the year before he got there with a different coaching staff. So during that 0-12 season I spent the entire year as the practice squad QB while I was red shirting. We had three QBs get hurt during the season and they called me in in during the week of the 7th game and asked me if I would like to start that week. I told them with us being 0-6 that I would like to redshirt, and they said that that was what they wanted to hear but they were giving me the option.
At that point I assumed they were playing for next year. At the end of the season when we had our player meetings with the Head Coach he told me that going into the spring I was his guy, and that he wanted me to take the reigns. We had one QB graduate, one got kicked out of school for a gun charge, and two decided to transfer. That left me and one other QB. So I was very excited. I was getting an opportunity early in my career and was looking at becoming a 4 year starter. Well, as I walked out of my player meeting, the Athletic Director walked in, and Ellis Johnson was fired. It was the last player meeting he had as the Head Coach.
Fast forward and Monken is hired in December. We were behind on meetings and getting things ready for spring ball as Monken was still putting his staff together, so we didn't start running through the offense until a week before spring break. After spring break we would have our first spring practice. So here I am as an 18 year old kid, who has never taken a meaningful practice rep, and I'm thrown into the fire as his starting QB. I felt I did really well, and many guys will attest to that, and I held the starting job through the spring. We go through summer workouts and I'm still the starter. Two weeks before the start of fall camp I learn that we signed a senior graduate transfer from Cal, Allan Bridgford. I come into fall camp assuming I'll still be the starter and that its my job to lose and I never received another snap at QB. He immediately put Allan Bridgford, Ricky Lloyd and Nick Mullens ahead of me on the depth chart.
Alright, so you end up transferring to Northern Colorado and Jacob Knipp, who was the starter the previous year, ends up being the starter. Was it an open competition? And if so, at the end of the day he ends up getting the nod, what do you think it ultimately came down to?
Kyle: So I transferred in 2015. So I was also here last year. I got to Northern Colorado 1 week before the start of fall camp. The coaches informed me that I would have two weeks to pick up a brand new system, or they would move me back to wide receiver in order in get me reps and ready for the season. When I came in I was battling with 3 other guys who I was a year and a half behind in learning the system, so there was a pretty big gap to make up. So, they ended up moving me to wide out for that season and Knipp emerged that year as the starter.
They moved me back to QB in the spring because Knipp and I were now the only QBs on roster going into last season. They told me I would be able to compete for the job, but I knew that they loved him and it would take a really good spring and fall camp to supplant him. Then I'm hit with a bombshell that a lot of my classes didn't transfer from southern miss. So in order to be eligible, and on pace to graduate (as a senior you have to have a certain number of hours completed in order to be eligible. It was never a GPA thing) I had to take classes during the same time we had practice. So I missed two out of three spring ball practices. Then, in the summer I'm told that I have to do a two month internship in order to fill a requirement for the school. So I had to go back home to Atlanta for two months and be away from the team during an important part of the year.
By the time I got back for fall camp Knipp had a lot more reps and chemistry with the team than I did. My coach told me that I made huge strides in the offense during camp and they were thinking about opening the competition back up, but it was too close to the season so they decided, for chemistry purposes, to leave Knipp as the starter. My academics were the main reason for the lack of opportunity. Second game of the season Knipp breaks his collarbone and the rest is history.
I feel like I really learned the position of QB the most once I came to UNC. They taught me how to make my own protection checks and in what looks I audible a play, how to identify tendencies and blitzes. At USM we were only taught coverages and how to identify the secondary, which is still important. The offense is progression based. It's an important aspect of football, but to me after I learned about the first two levels being the D-line and linebackers, making sure you are protected and in a play that will work is first and foremost. Then you can identify coverage and where to go with the ball.
Wow! That is absolutely crazy and completely understandable. So you're telling me even in that time away they still considered re opening the competition? That is really crazy.
Kyle: Yeah. They told me that after the kind of camp I had that they were thinking about making a switch, but I ran out of time with the season quickly approaching. They also liked the fact that I offered the running aspect of QB as well. I've been timed at a 4.54 this last spring.
Still impressive, and you mentioned the injury to Knipp. Knipp ends up going down 2nd game of the season with a shoulder injury and you were thrust into action right there. You end up throwing for 408 yards and 6 TDs in that game, and you lead your team to a win a 55-52 shootout, what’s going through your mind as that’s happening?
Kyle: I knew I had the talent to play like that, all I needed was an opportunity that I had never gotten. At that point I was just grateful for the opportunity and that I never gave up preparing myself like I was going to be the starter, even though I was the backup. Honestly, it was overwhelming so not much was going through my head. Just a lot of emotion. I finally was able to tell all those people who told me I wasn't good enough off. It was a feeling I'll never forget. Just surreal.
That's incredible for sure, the journey no doubt has been long for you. Definitely could see that. Speaking of offense, I’ve watched quite a bit of film on this Northern Colorado team offense. Your head coach and OC (correct me if I’m wrong as I couldn’t find your Offensive Coordinator), Earnest Collins Jr runs some variation of a spread hurry up offense and pro style scheme. I notice a lot of shifting and movement pre snap, sometimes you even get under center, describe what type of offensive concepts you guys run and how you think it helped prepared you for the NFL?
Kyle: Collins is the head coach, but he is more defensive oriented. The mastermind behind the offense is definitely Jon Boyer. The OC. They basically took a pro style system and made it 70 percent gun and 30 percent under center. It's a signal based no huddle system but definitely still uses all the pro style concepts. So it's pretty unique. All of our concepts are straight from the NFL west coast style offenses. We have the same names for almost everything from route concepts to pass protections. I think it really prepared me because I had to learn the pass protections for myself instead of having my center make all the calls and just rolling with it like spread systems do. My center made the calls but I had to know the terminology he was using and who everyone was responsible for in pass protection because it was up to me to Re-ID protections, move the Mike points, identify blitzes and dogs, and switch the play all together if necessary to get us into a play that would work. So I had to understand every concept inside an out right down to the leverages of the linemen blocking the D-line and switching run plays to out leverage the defense with our blocking schemes.
There's a lot of QBs in this class that typically don't get the opportunity to do that. The ability pre snap is so vital for a QB to survive in the NFL. Bryce Petty is a great example of this because that Baylor system was so basic in terms of what was asked of the QB and he ended up being very far behind in the learning curve. Definitely something NFL teams would like to know about you. Petty looked like a dear in the headlights vs. Miami because they kept sending blitzes at him and he couldn't ID them.
Kyle: Yeah. It's a lot on your plate at first. It takes a lot of time and reps to really understand what you're seeing but identifying things like that has become almost like second nature to me. I think even the best will miss things from time to time, but understanding what the defense is about to do based on where they are lining up is huge.
No doubt, you mention your ability to ID the defense pre snap, just how are you able to understand what's happening pre snap with the defense and what to adjust the play/protections to if based off the look they're giving you?
Kyle: You may understand, but the average person may not understand that every defensive scheme has to play sound football. Every gap must be accounted for. There must be a contain player and a support player on every single play. So, in other words, the defense can give you a million different looks, but they are limited in what they can do.
Every single game I go in to, I look at what the defensive line's normal alignment is on and over front and an under front. Then, I look at the normal alignment of the linebackers when the D-line is in an over or underground. Normal meaning where are they when they aren't blitzing. Then once I've ID’d the subtle differences they may give to tell me if they are blitzing I look at the safeties. The safeties are the biggest giveaways. Safeties are the last line of defense so they can't afford to try to disguise anything. Safeties tell the truth. So a low safety over a linebacker acting like he's covering the slot receiver is a dead giveaway that that backer is coming. The opposite safety will then have to be rolled uncharacteristically more towards the middle of the field because the other safety now either has the slot in man coverages or the curl flat responsibility. We played teams where the linebackers would line up head up over the guard when they were not coming and half a yard over in the a gap when they were. It's subtle things that you have to notice that set you apart from other QBs.
I'm learning something new today. No doubt that'll set you apart from a lot of QBs in this class. I'd like to test you now and get an idea of what went on some plays. Now we're moving to the film session of this interview.
This play right here is a great example of that ability to ID pre snap. Tell me what did you see pre snap that caused you to adjust at the line?
Kyle: So we actually had a pass play on here, and I think it was 3rd and 6 if I remember correctly. We actually could have picked up this blitz. The protection call is 2 jet meaning that the offensive line has the four down linemen and the furthest outside threat being whoever comes out of those guys at the top of the screen. The RB would then be responsible for the blitzing backer on the bottom. The main reason I changed it to a draw was a couple reasons. The first one being that you don't ever want to have to be in one on one blocking situations if you can help it. We hope our guys win but the chances of all 6 guys blocking all 6 of their guys is slim. You want to create double teams as often as you can and here I was able to recognize that we didn't have any.
The second reason for changing the play is the most important though. We have both of their defensive tackles out leverages with our guards and no linebacker occupying the middle. This is one of the few examples you'll see during the course of the year where the defense is not sound. Someone messed up and I saw that no one was responsible for one of the gaps in the middle. On top of that it is man coverage. The defensive backs have their eyes on the receivers and the receivers are just going to run downfield and run them off because they must stay with them. So I knew they wouldn't have secondary help. Both our left guard and tackle get beat and that's not good by them but our back was able to make them miss and there was no one left on the second level.
Makes a lot of sense. I remember seeing that play and I thought instantly to myself why would he check it to a run on 3rd and medium? Clearly should have realized there was no inside backers whatsoever in the middle of the defense. And you're right, none of the DBs are shaded, it's just straight man to man. That is an excellent adjustment no doubt, although don't think it'll be too often a defense will have no backers on the inside like that, hahahaha!
Kyle: Yeah. They'll never do it haha!
This is probably what you were referring to when the safety is lined up over the slot. The backer came but so did the safety, did you know that your slot was going to be open that like that?
Kyle: Yes so this is what we call a BOSS pressure. Every game I would look at a teams top blitzes on film and for the most part you get the same 8 to 10 different pressures by a team. I knew by the stand up end that he was going to drop because in that pressure his responsibility is the flat. Most of the game he was in a three point stance. I also noticed the safety low and his eyes inside on me. And the backside safety starting to cheat to the middle of the field. It's then the Mike linebackers responsibility to cover our fastest guy in the slot with no help vertically. All I had to do for the protection on this call was call a "red dog" check. This means that our offensive line had the four down defensive linemen and the blitzing backer. But that means that the safety coming would be free. The RB’s responsibility is to pick up either the Mike backer or the will if he blitzed. I knew the Mike had the man in the slot and the will was not coming because that would not be sound defense if he did. So I called "red dog" which mean the RB abandons his responsibility with the backside linebackers and goes to the opposite side to pick up safety pressure. All I had to do was let the slot win and I knew it was a TD before I snapped the ball.
That's awesome. It's stuff like that you can't even see really on film. The fact you noticed the safety's eyes looking straight at you, you had an inkling he'd blitz with the backer is a great observation. so now you got a LB on a WR which is a huge mismatch. The backside safety was no where near the post and I have a suspicion he was reading your eyes because you start out looking mostly to your left. Backside safety is already pedaling to the left so he takes it and as soon the receiver breaks, game over.
Kyle: Yeah. The linebacker alignments give it away. Kind of like what I was saying earlier. There's a ton of hints on this play.
I'm kind of wondering what his first read was, I couldn't see the receiver anywhere.Good job coming off of it and fitting it over the middle pic.twitter.com/OMzhuvBHNr— The Mick Nartin™ (@themicknartin) March 14, 2017
One area of your game I noticed as soon I watched your film was to go through your progressions without panic. Right here (ignore the caption, it was late and my eyes were bad) your first read looks to be 10 yard out to the TE, you knew even before he broke that route was covered. You come off it go to the 12 yard in breaking route over the middle. I noticed the first read got the LB out of the way to clear it open and you placed it right where it needed to be. Walk me through this play, what it's called and how the progression worked.
Kyle: My first read on this is if the safeties are showing cover 4 to give the outside receiver to the left a post and to hit that. Since it isn't 4 I am reading the flat defender. The tight end has the option to break in, out, or sit. He chose the wrong option since he didn't win so once I saw the LB was outside and he broke out I got off my read quickly to the crossing route over the ball. I threw this a little behind him in order to stop his momentum from being blown up by the safety. You'll see a couple throws like that throughout the year where I try to stop him to protect him. If he wasn't open then I would have gotten off that read to a 15 yard dig route coming into the screen from the right. Both were open.
That makes sense because I did note that you did that and sometimes a QB actually puts the receiver in harms way. I noticed most of the time your receivers weren't getting blown up. In regards to the play and the TE, I'm assuming he as supposed to sit, not cut out correct?
Kyle: Exactly. He should have sat and it would have been a 5 yard gain but he didn't and it worked out haha!
This next play really is an example of situational awareness in regards to placement. You got your slot guy running vertical and I'm assuming you noted the safety he was running towards, that caused you to throw it low and away from the safety. Walk me through this play if you can.
Kyle: Yeah so this is actually the exact same play. The receiver at the bottom of the screen is curling but should be coming on a dig. I knew before the play started that it was cover 2 so I knew if I could keep it away from the safety Id have a big gain. All I had to do was keep my eyes left for a split second to hold the safeties.
Eye manipulation is a key trait I look for in a QB. Being able to manipulate the safety to help create throwing windows is huge. It shows you aren't thinking as you play, you're playing fast and not worrying about pressure, or what the call is.
This is v good, clean mechanics. pic.twitter.com/xzVHCHysDV— Will Stevenson (@DraftMarvel) March 30, 2017
Now I want to talk a little bit about your arm. I noticed you threw into some tight windowed areas and this play in particular against Eastern Washington is huge. You threw this on time but really showed the ability to gun it in with the safety closing. This looked like cover 3 to me but this is truly a hole shot. Just how much confidence do you have when it comes to your ability to make any throw?
Kyle: This one is actually cover 4. The corner drops to cover that deep quarter. The safety is going to the middle with the crossing route forcing him that way. This is another one I threw at his back ear to keep him away from the safety and being hit. I really believe I can make any throw long or short with as much velocity or arc I need on it. I think I have one of the strongest arms out there but I really feel like my accuracy is second to none. That's what I pride myself on most about throwing the ball.
Accuracy is arguably more important than having a great arm. No doubt you're accurate but you were clocked at the Colorado pro day at 58 MPH which is ahead of a lot of QBs in this class, the lone few ahead I believe are Patrick Mahomes and Dane Evans. It allows you to challenge windows that not many can. Patrick Mahomes is a gunslinger and sometimes that can get in him into trouble but he also has no fear making the tight throws. Would you classify your style as a gunslinger?
Kyle: To be honest I don't know the exact definition of a gunslinger but I would say that I can challenge a lot of windows with my arm strength but at the same time I think I'm smart about it. I don't get greedy. Meaning if my first read is a 5 yard route that is wide open I'm going to take it without hesitation. I feel like I do it in a smart fashion. There's times and situations where it is needed and others where it is not.
That's a great answer and one that I will keep in mind.
I want to talk a little bit about your ability to improvise when the play breaks down. You do some very interesting things which made me think of a gunslinger. Right here I love that you never dropped your eyes and that's important because the best improvisational QBs are the ones who always keep their eyes down field. What would you say allows to improvise the way you do and also what could you have done better on this play?
Kyle: I actually took a cognitive skills test that is starting to be used by all NFL teams and the test told me that my best skill is improvising so that's interesting you think that. I would just say my athletic ability and not being nervous in the face of pressure or losing my wits. This play was actually an improv TD to the tight end and it should have been a sack due to my bad judgement. I should have checked to a run play away from the blitz but I trusted my athletic ability too much in thinking I could keep the bootleg on and beat the backer to the edge.
The film don't lie Kyle, hahaha! The fact you admitted you made a mistake though and made up for it is important. Not many QBs have that type of gift and they'd probably be forced to throw it away or take the sack. Actually the big thing I noted on this play was the way you were holding the ball. It's like you turned into Deion Sanders after an interception. If this were John Gruden's QB camp he'd probably have put you through the pool noodle drill and preach the importance of being a "two handed monster." Thankfully for you, I'm not Gruden, hahaha!
Kyle: Haha believe me I have heard it from my coaches for two years now. It's definitely a problem haha!
Speaking of head spinning plays, Brett Farve had a few of these in his time.
Kyle: Haha that's where the improv comes in. I had the chance to work with Brett at southern miss a little so maybe it rubbed off.
You were speaking earlier about your ability to throw under pressure, this throw in particular caught my eye. This out before the receiver breaks, you step into the throw and get smashed, what would you say allows you to throw well under pressure?
Kyle: Well I think having the mindset of knowing that getting hit unexpectedly comes with the territory of playing QB. I know I'm going to get hit at some point probably pretty good and having that mindset allows me to stand confident in the pocket. As a younger QB I was so focused on "when is it going to happen" rather than "it's going to happen". When you have the other mindset you play scared. I really had to learn that you can't worry about things out of your control. My job is to deliver the ball. I can't worry about how my offensive line is doing. That's where people get caught looking down and missing people down field. I tune it out until I very obviously need to escape and then I know I'm fast enough to get away from most. It's more so a mindset than anything.
Yeah, as much as I preach that mindset for QBs, I'd probably fit under the "when is it going to happen" mindset,. Then again, perhaps that's how I feel when I play backyard football without no pads. Typically why we never have a rusher, hahaha!
Kyle: Hahaha! Yeah it's a difficult thing to do but the good ones can do it. I noticed that in the best pros when I was young and tried to implement it.
Speaking of which, who would you say you model your game after?
Kyle: I personally really like Aaron Rodgers. I try to take things from his game the most. He's the best Qb in the NFL right now in my opinion. The mind of Brady is fun to watch. He's a chess player to me more than anything. Roethlisberger's toughness has inspired me for a long time. I think that's his best quality and he's taught me a lot in that area.
Those are the three most look up to for sure. Ben's a tough son of a gun for sure and Brady kills the Steelers defense with his mind. Aaron Rodgers made some of the greatest throws in Superbowl 45. I still can't over the touchdown to I believe Greg Jennings where Troy and Clark both were in the vicinity but the throw caused them to be off by just a hair.
The thing they all have in common is that they know there's always something that can get better at, they're always looking to improve. What would you say you need to improve upon the most as a QB?
Kyle: I'm one that always thinks I can improve on everything every day. I've never been satisfied with a single one of my attributes. I think the biggest area of improvement I needed was my wrist action. How the ball jumps off your hand. That has been my main focus during this process. Also working on my footwork and shortening my stride when I throw. Those three things are the biggest things I've worked on and I feel like it's made me into a much better QB.
I did notice the long stride, I like that you're able to pin point those problems because sometimes it's not always obvious to the QB but some notice it on film.
Kyle: Yeah I've gotten it down to about an 8 inch step now. It's important so you don't eat up so much room in the pocket.
That's good. Alright this is the last question, if I'm a team why should I draft you?
Kyle: I think I offer something unique that very few people possess. I'm a very intelligent player with a high football IQ able to handle the responsibilities of the position. I have a rare combination of size and athleticism to go with a big arm and most importantly, great accuracy. I'm a tough player mentally and physically and I conduct myself the right way on and off the field.
Special Thanks to Will Stevenson for making the GIFs for me, it is appreciated!