Brooks: Kiesau's Goal Is To Keep It Simple
(Note: First of two stories on CU's offensive and defensive priorities for spring football. Today, offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau reviews his plan to reboot the Buffs.)
BOULDER - Is simple better? Eric Kiesau believes it is, hopes it is. He's wagering a great deal on belief and hope.
As he approaches his second season (and first spring) as Colorado's offensive coordinator, Kiesau has pulled whatever he deemed salvageable from the Buffaloes' 3-9 season and attempted to meld it with another offensive concept or two (or three or four) gleaned from watching "countless hours" of tape on other teams.
If this doesn't sound too much like simplification, stay with him here. He does have a plan, and he wants it understood that it doesn't involve wholesale offensive changes pilfered from other teams.
"I want to emphasize I'm not changing the offense to fit what those other teams are doing," Kiesau said. "If I watched 500 clips of a team and saw three concepts of what we do, all I did was try to watch those three . . . I didn't try to take something new and grab it. How did they run it, what's their counter play off of it, get some of those ideas.
"What I want to do this year is simplify, maybe even oversimplify - which is going to make it better for our staff, our players. We're just going to let them have the ability to go out there and play fast."
Offensively, the Buffs weren't particularly fast, loose or effective in 2009, finishing in the lower echelons of the Big 12 Conference in most statistical categories. The rushing game limped home 11th and the passing game was eighth, putting CU last in total offense and 10th in scoring.
Those numbers haunted Kiesau all winter, so much so that he reviewed every CU game - "every possible route, run play." And he didn't stop at 2009. He reviewed tape of the three previous seasons to get a bead on what run and pass schemes that had been successful.
Then came what he termed "this massive surge" of studying other teams' offenses - "countless hours of film. I'm not saying we're going to do all that stuff, but just to get ideas, reflect on what other people are doing, how to match up what we're doing with our personnel . . .
"I've probably watched more film than I have ever. And I've kind of refined and said this is what we've done well over the last four years, this is what we did well last year with these players, this is what other teams do very well that fits into what we're doing . . .
"And I think I've got it narrowed down to a good little package that I'll take through spring. Then we're going to chop it down even more, because I want - and I've told the offensive staff this - as we go through spring I want them to see this block of plays we've done well with for the last couple of years. Now, let's see if we can refine it even more."
When the offense reported on Saturday morning for its first set of spring meetings before the first practice, Kiesau had revised playbooks ready. Not a brand new playbook, but one that reflects Kiesau's studious off-season and hopefully becomes a blueprint for something better in 2010 for the nine returning offensive starters and seven others who made an occasional start.
Kiesau doesn't believe his players will swoon when they crack the playbook. The concepts "are going to be the same," he said. "There won't be a lot of shock, or 'What's all this new stuff?' There won't be a lot of new stuff. We're just going to add some different formations to it and some different bells and whistles, so to speak. I want our guys to get really, really good at what they're doing . . .
"They're going to know this stuff - Play A is still Play A. We're just going to do it out of a different formation and a different look. From a player's standpoint, it's the same stuff; we're just going to have more options within the play."
In the run game, which averaged only 87.9 yards a game in 2009 has come up short of materializing into what Dan Hawkins envisioned four years ago, Kiesau's call for simplicity has resulted in a dramatic reduction of last season's run concepts.
"Again, simplify it . . . make it very, very simple, so the O-linemen can just come off (the ball) with confidence and play physical," Kiesau said. "Last season we had maybe 17 run concepts. This spring, we're going to have five - that's it. Nothing else. We're going with it and we're going to get really, really good at it versus an under-front, an over-front, a field blitz, safety blitz, line twisting - every possible scenario they could come up with.
"If I've got five concepts and (the defense) throws a bunch of different looks at me, hopefully if we keep 'repping' it and get better at it, we'll say, 'Bring that blitz, we don't care, we've practiced it, we've done it.'"
CU's offense will sport new looks at receiver, with Hawkins yielding the position coaching duties to Robert Prince and Toney Clemons now eligible after sitting out his transfer season. Also, 2007 signee Kendrick Celestine has rejoined the team and could factor into a grouping with receptions leader Scotty McKnight. The status of suspended junior Markques Simas hasn't been announced.
Big things are expected from Clemons, an athletic 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, and the consensus is that he will deliver. Still . . .
"'T-Clem' is the new addition everybody is talking about, but it's kind of like the stock market: you've got unrealized money and realized money," Kiesau said. "We still have to see if he's realized. You've got to do it, and I think he's going to. But like I was telling the offense, you don't want to make all these changes (involving Clemons) . . . you've got to make sure the guy can do it. We'll go through spring and tinker with some things, and if the guy can do it like we think he can, then we can expand on that.
"We'll kind of see what Simas is all about when he gets back with the team. Everybody knows Scotty. I'm very excited about Will Jefferson getting a second year - the first year under his belt. Andre Simmons, the same thing. We'll see what he can grasp and handle.
"It has the potential to be a dynamic group. Coach Prince is doing an awesome job with those guys."
Although Kiesau and Prince had never worked together, Kiesau was pleasantly surprised by how their "coaching trees" were interconnected and how that enhanced their communication. Both had ties with former Boise State/Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter and current California coach Jeff Tedford.
"There are things (Prince) is saying that were being said when I was at Cal with Tedford," Kiesau said. "Him fitting in and having a feel for the offense and knowing these concepts, it's been seamless, just awesome."
Plus, Prince's NFL background (most recently with the Seattle Seahawks) with receivers gives him instant credibility among the Buffs.
"He'll bring structure, attention to detail, accountability," Kiesau said. "And there's an instant respect within that receiver group just because he came from the NFL. It's just instant . . . they've already got that big-eyed look because he's been there. All of those receivers want to go where he's been."
Kiesau was named offensive coordinator following last spring's drills when former CU coordinator Mark Helfrich accepted the same position at Oregon. So, Kiesau lurched into August camp and the 2009 season with no on-the-field experience in his new job.
Now, he is "definitely" more comfortable in his role and relishes the chance to refine it even more in spring drills. He said he feels like the offense is his "to a certain extent. (Hawkins) gives us the freedom, but he's also the head coach. If he says, 'Kies,' tomorrow it's Easter, we've got to start coloring our eggs.' Like it or not, you color the eggs."
Kiesau also coaches the quarterbacks, a position he believes is "a little different" than others in terms of spring competition. The top two competitors are junior-to-be Tyler Hansen, who replaced senior-to-be Cody Hawkins as the starter during the last half of the 2009 season. Redshirt freshman Seth Lobato and newly enrolled freshman Nick Hirschman round out the top four.
The QB spot is "a little different," said Kiesau, "because with receivers, you can put two guys on the field. At offensive tackle, you can put two guys on the field. At corner, you can put two guys on the field.
"At quarterback, one guy gets to roll out there. You don't get to split time here. I will say that at times both players played well (in 2009) and at times both did not play well. But we made the decision halfway through the year that Tyler was going to start, and he finished the year out (as the starter).
"If I was to say one guy has an edge (entering spring ball), I would say Tyler, just because he finished out the year.
"Now, I understand where 'Hawk' is coming from about the level of competition. We want to create that competition and that culture of competition. So Cody has to beat out Tyler in the culture of competition, which is healthy.
"That's great and that's what we want. But when we start practice (Saturday), I can't say, 'first team's up, both of you guys go in there and take snaps.' That's just hard to do. They both have to get better, play better. And with some of the things we're going to do offensively, I think it'll help both of those guys tremendously."
The rangy Lobato (6-5, 205) is a "sleeper" with "horrendous throwing mechanics, but he knows that," Kiesau said. "We'll work that out." More promising, though, Lobato is very athletic and can run, and offensive staffers have joked (or maybe not) that he could be CU's Kerry Meier - the former Kansas quarterback who became a stellar receiver for the Jayhawks.
Hirschman, a January enrollee, "has done a phenomenal job of fitting in," Kiesau said. "I've done this mid-year deal a couple of times at Cal, and I think he's handled it the best of all the guys I've seen. He doesn't have that big-eyed look, so I'm excited."
He's also big (6-4, 220), "is not slow-footed and has a big arm," Kiesau added. But for now, the spring plan is not to rush Hirschman's development. Kiesau wants to see "how much offense he can grasp. He's had such a whirlwind here - new environment, new friends, college classrooms - so I don't say, 'Learn all this in 15 practices.'
"With him, I want to go very, very slow. I don't want to freak him out, I don't want to shatter his confidence."
(Tuesday: Defensive coordinator Ron Collins wants his unit to get a better grip on things - specifically, ball carriers.)
BUFF BITS: Maybe the most noticeable person on the field on Day 1 of spring ball Saturday was Prince. His energy was clearly felt and heard throughout practice, eliciting a number of entertaining exchanges with players. Prince even ran post-practice sprints with the team, with the number of sprints determined by turnovers and penalties . . . . Simas was on the field Saturday, but did not practice. No timetable has been announced for his return . . . . Receiver Andre Simmons missed the Day 1 drills to attend to a personal matter. He is expected to return for Tuesday's practice . . . . Out for the spring with knee injuries are defensive tackle Nate Bonsu and cornerback/receiver Anthony Wright . . . . Sophomore defensive back Stephen Hicks is out of spring ball for academic reasons, while redshirt freshman receiver Terdema Ussery has taken a leave but intends to return in August . . . . Sophomore Doug Rippy, who played outside linebacker last season, now is listed with the inside 'backers . . . . Fifth-year senior Joe Silipo is listed as the No. 1 short and long snapper, replacing graduated Justin Drescher . . . . Former CU defensive tackle Justin Bannan signed a five-year contract with the Broncos on Friday . . . . Next week's practice schedule has drills set for Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. All practices are open to the public.