Entering his second season as the general of the offense, more is expected of Colorado quarterback Steven Montez, and he's ready for the challenge.
"I'm very comfortable with being the quarterback right now," Montez, a junior, said. "As a team, we have to get some people in shape and I'm one of those people. I need to get back in shape and get back in football form, but I think once fall rolls around we're going to be looking pretty good. I thought we looked really good in the spring."
CU (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12 last year) needs improvement across the board to get back to a bowl game for the second time in three years, but there may not be a single player more important to its success than Montez.
One of the most talented quarterbacks in the Pac-12, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Montez threw for 2,975 yards, 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions last year, while rushing for 338 yards and three scores.
Those are solid numbers, but Montez and the Buffs know he can be better. There's already evidence that he's benefitting from the tutelage of new quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper.
"Kurt has so much knowledge and we both cut our teeth under (Duke head coach David) Cutcliffe, who I think is a phenomenal coach," CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "He's really attention to detail. Early on, Kurt learned everything from coach Cut: how to train quarterbacks, how to work quarterbacks.
"I'm really excited about having Kurt here and I've seen a big improvement in a lot of the fundamental areas with our quarterbacks."
Montez said he's seen the fundamental improvement, as well.
"It's helped me a ton," he said of working with Roper. "I consider him a football genius. He's a very good football coach. He's a very good quarterbacks coach. He's going to make us better as a team, not only in the quarterback room, but as an offense and as a team in general."
In reviewing his spring performance, Montez said there's even more he can do to play better and help the Buffs succeed offensively.
"I really need to improve on footwork and I think that's just going to come with time and just getting with Roper and working with him and seeing what he thinks and seeing what I need to tweak to make better," he said.
Montez also said he is working for more precision in going through his reads and progressions, rather than simply scanning the field to look for anybody that's open.
"Sometimes in spring, in watching film from the end zone angle, you could see my face just flying across the field looking for somebody to be open," he said. "The more I watch film now, it's more about being precise and looking for windows and looking for defenders and where defenders are going to be and stuff like that."
Strength and conditioning coach Drew Wilson said he's holding Montez to a higher standard this year physically, as well, and Roper is providing support in that area.
"I told him, 'I'm going to be harder on you now because you're a redshirt junior,'" Wilson said. "Coach Roper has been great for (Montez), constantly telling him — which I love — 'You know how you win ball games? By being in shape.'"
Wilson added that Montez "has definitely taken the next step, as far as being a leader," and that may be the most important improvement the Buffs need from their quarterback.
"This right now reminds me of my junior and senior seasons in high school, because that's kind of when I took over the leadership role at that point in time," Montez said. "It feels the same. You're getting that respect from the younger guys because you've been here and you've paid your dues already."
When the Buffs went 10-4 and won the Pac-12 South in 2016, the leadership of their seniors, particularly quarterback Sefo Liufau, was a huge factor. Montez doesn't need to be the same type of leader, but MacIntyre said Montez is more equipped to fill that role.
"At quarterback, you're having to do everything. Everything," MacIntyre said. "Sometimes, just getting all that done is leadership in itself.
"The best way to put it, he's a lot more comfortable in his skin. He kind of knows everything, understands everything, so now I've seen him do a lot more leadership on the field: correcting guys, helping guys, encouraging guys, and not just worried about where (he has) to get lined up. The guys all like him. He has a great personality. I have seen a maturation process in that."
With the start of the season around the corner — the Buffs report for fall camp on Aug. 1 and open against Colorado State on Aug. 31 — Montez is itching to see how the work he and his teammates have done this offseason can translate to game days.
"I think (the attitude of the team) has a little of that 2016 season feel," Montez said. "It's not exactly like that because we don't have those same players here, but it's that same attitude, that same mentality that's like, 'We're not going to go back to winning four or five games and being cool with it.' We need to try to get back in that Pac-12 championship. Our motivation for being out here is that we're going to go out there and win in the fall if we put in the work now — and have been putting in the work since the season ended.
"I'm excited. I'm really excited."