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Brooks: Kiesau Embraces New Role

Courtesy: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor
Release: August 07, 2009
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Eric Kiesau: “’Finesse’ is not a word we’re going to use around here,"   By CUBuffs.com
BOULDER - It's a simple, fairly obvious question: Eric Kiesau's wife, Wendy, wants to know if squadrons of butterflies will be doing aerial acrobatics in her husband's gut on the evening of Sept. 5.

That's the night before Colorado opens its 2009 football season, with Kiesau breaking in as the Buffaloes' new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.

Before he answers her question, though, there are several things you should know about her husband and his new role:

  • He's done plenty of game-planning, but he's never actually called a game;
  • He's a former quarterback (Glendale, Calif., Community College; Portland State), so asking him to coach quarterbacks isn't like asking him to split an atom;
  • He's determined to make CU's offense something more than an end-around, a puff of smoke and a 5-yard loss. In fact, if you mention "finesse" to him, do it from a distance.

Kiesau, 36, doesn't waltz into his new job with any illusions. He was on hand last season when the Buffs settled to the bottom of the tank among the Big 12 Conference's otherwise potent offenses.

For a variety of reasons, CU's version was a couple of steps shy of abysmal, finishing last in the league in scoring offense (20.2 points a game) and total offense (318.5 yards a game), and 11th in passing offense (194.0 yards a game).

The run game wasn't exactly fearsome either, limping along at 124.5 yards a game - 10th in the 12-team league.

What does Kiesau, who replaces Mark Helfrich, have in mind to fix all the above?

For starters, he, head man/receivers coach Dan Hawkins and the other offensive coaches - Denver Johnson (line), Kent Riddle (tight ends), Darian Hagan (running backs) - have committed to what Kiesau calls "a downhill, blue-collar run game and an extensive passing game.

"It'll be very different from last season . . . we're not going to do the no-huddle spread stuff. If I had to categorize and give it a name, it would be more of a pro-style, NFL offense.

"We're going to get the ball downfield, let our playmakers get vertical. If you just run the ball along the box, they're going to stop you. We're going to play action and be able to throw it, we'll be extremely multiple.

"It could change from week to week - one week we could be in a lot of two-back, the next week be empty (no backs). But we want to keep a lot of the same concepts, a lot of the same rhythm of the offense.

"I don't know if 'identity' is the right word, but people will be able to see it."

Anxious CU fans undoubtedly will retort, "Seeing is believing,'' especially the portion of his synopsis specifying a vertical passing game and getting playmakers downfield.

But if the Buffs can run like they expect to, develop their incoming receivers like they hope and get more consistent play at quarterback, Kiesau isn't likely to be broken down by his break-in period.

Welcome news developed for the receiving corps Thursday with the admission to school of junior college transfer Andre Simmons (Independence, Kan., Community College) and late high school signee Will Jefferson (Vista Del Lago High School, Moreno Valley, Calif.).

If CU receives a transcript of course work Simmons completed earlier this week, he could begin practicing today. If that paperwork doesn't come in before the Buffs take the field (5:30-7:45 p.m.) for this camp's first practice, it might be Monday before Simmons is allowed to start work. 

Simmons' admission could be the first of several key steps the Buffs must take to right themselves offensively. But Kiesau and his colleagues are optimistic because their starting point - a more hardnosed approach to the running game - already has been introduced. And they believe it will pay dividends in all areas.

"'Finesse' is not a word we're going to use around here," Kiesau said. "The analogy we're going to use is that everybody's been in a street fight before, they been in one after school, out in the back of the school yard where they rolled up their sleeves and here we go.

"That's going to be our deal. We're going to meet every day at 3 o'clock behind the school house and duke it out. And that's what I mean by a downhill, attacking run game. We've got some special backs and we need to use them.

"If everyone stays healthy, we've got a chance to be real good. We've got a smart quarterback, we've got some productive guys outside. We've just got to keep them healthy and make sure they understand the system.

"(Some) are calling this a new system, but it's not. We've tried to keep the same terminology but just get a little bit different mentality."

That "different mentality'' was introduced in spring drills. Helfrich hadn't yet left for Oregon, and Johnson had just joined the staff.

"One thing I will say is that most of the changes we made in the run game, we did it prior to spring practice," Kiesau said. "That's the one thing I feel good about. We kind of got back the downhill run game in spring ball."

But the passing game alterations will be among the focuses of fall camp, and returning quarterbacks Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen best be prepared to haul a bit more weight.  

"The changes we make in the passing game will be kind of put on the quarterback - different reads, categorizing things differently, just trying to make the picture cleaner for the quarterback, to where he's not scanning all over the field trying to find a guy . . . he can make a read and make a decision (quickly)," Kiesau said.

"We've put some things in the quarterback's hands where he'll have a little more flexibility. The receivers will still hear a route (in the huddle) and run those routes, but it's more how the picture will change for the quarterback from his reads and who he's looking at. We're just putting in more of a definition to the kind of reads he's making."

But because coaches are prohibited from overseeing voluntary summer passing work, quarterbacks and receivers "haven't had a lot of exposure to the new stuff," Kiesau conceded.

That begs the question of just how much exposure to his QBs Kiesau needs in camp to get them all on the same page. He doesn't see it as a problem, mainly because over the past three seasons of coaching the receivers, he did so "from the quarterback's perspective.

"I always thought that was an advantage for our receivers, because I played quarterback. So I know what the quarterback is looking at . . . there's not really much change now."

Kiesau can count on coaching one incoming scholarship quarterback (Clark Evans), with another (Josh Moten) awaiting a resolution on his eligibility. Two freshmen are walking on at the position - Seth Lobato, a 6-foot-5, 200-pounder from Eaton, Colo., and Jerry Slota, a 6-3, 220-pounder from Chaparral High School.

Conventional wisdom says Evans will redshirt, but Kiesau doesn't promote that: "He's going to walk in the door as our third quarterback . . . we hope to redshirt him, if nothing happens to Cody and Tyler.

"But I never like to pigeon-hole guys and say he's going to come in and redshirt; I want them to come in and compete. Maybe he comes out and is unbelievable . . . I think if you tell a kid before he comes to camp that he's redshirting, then he kind of turns it into cruise mode.

"I want to let these guys think they're all competing for a starting job. Then after we've seen what they can do, you can say, 'Hey, it's probably best for you to redshirt, it's best that you're the back up.' You want to let it play out."

Ditto for whoever winds up as the starter, although the incumbent No. 1, Cody Hawkins, enters camp with a generally acknowledged edge.

Kiesau said if using a two-QB system proves best for the offense, that's what will happen. But, he added, "I think one guy will emerge . . . I think the easiest way to coach is to have competition. If you let guys go out and compete, then the cards are going to play out . . . the competition takes care of itself.

"At the end of fall camp, you can bring all three quarterbacks in and say, 'OK, take out a piece of paper and write down who the starter is.' It's almost like a self-evaluation . . . they're smart, they understand.

"And the things we're doing offensively, at quarterback there are a lot of concrete, black and white things. If the quarterback does something wrong, they're all going to know it. If he makes a wrong read, they're going to know it. If he makes a bad check at the line of scrimmage, they're going to know it.

"So if you've got one guy who's making a lot of mistakes, those other guys are going to know he's not ready to play . . . the quarterbacks will know; they'll be able to gauge."

As the opening of camp approached, Kiesau's anticipation increased proportionately. He had tired of paperwork, preparing the playbook, trying to visualize how it all would unfold. Take the next step, already.

"What I want now . . . I want to get into football," he said. "I can't wait until Friday, Saturday . . . and just go out there and start coaching them up on the field and see everything come to life."

He'll be just as eager when game-day approaches, although he admits his new role will bring a new experience. Game-planning won't be new, play-calling will be. But he believes being a careful observer will benefit him.

"I've always studied guys," he said. "When I was at Cal, I studied (Jeff) Tedford and other guys - the good, the bad, everything they've done.

"Maybe the night before the game, I'm nervous. Right now, though, I'm very calm and at ease with it. But I know I've got 'Hawk', 'Ridd' (Riddle) and Denver Johnson - guys who've done it for years. I'm surrounded by a lot of great guys on the staff.

"My wife keeps asking me, 'Are you going to be nervous the night before the game?' I don't know; I don't think I will be. I always tell the players when you're prepared, you'll be confident. If you're not prepared, that's when you're nervous.

"If I'm nervous the night before the game, that's on me; I need to prepare better - watch more film or something. Anticipation, the butterflies, I'm sure I'll have those."

But probably not for long. He'll have too much else going on.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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