Thursday, April 21, 2005

Cal: Youth at Wide Receiver

By Chris Avery Date: Apr 20, 2005
Asked about the 2005 Cal Bears as spring practice began, Coach Jeff Tedford summarized the situation in five words, "We're a very young team". In no unit is that more true than with the wide receiver corps.
Wide Receiver Coach Eric Kiesau now enters in his fourth year at Cal following two seasons at Utah State. His first three years at Cal have been eventful, coaching the likes of Geoff McArthur, Burl Toler, Vincent Strang, Chase Lyman, Jonathan Makonnen, LaShaun Ward, and others. Under Kiesau’s tutelage, Ward’s nine TD catches placed third on Cal's all-time list, and McArthur broke Cal-career marks for receptions (202) and total yardage (3,188).
Perhaps the quality of Kiesau’s coaching is best understood by comparing Cal’s passing offense numbers for the last three years with the list of injuries sustained by wide receivers during that period. Not only was it a challenge at times to find enough healthy bodies to play, it was also necessary to bring those athletes into each game with an understanding of the offense and the goals for the game. Cal's passing yardage production in face of those challenges give evidence of Kiesau's coaching proficiency.
Now, with the commencement of 2005 football in spring practice, Coach Kiesau faces a new set of challenges. 6 returning wide receivers (4 sophomores, 1 freshman, 1 junior) will be joined – in August - by a very talented set of true freshmen. With so little experience at the D-1 level, every minute of practice and application of coaching skill becomes crucial.
Of the group, only David Gray has (at present) both size and height. Jesse Canada is the only other receiver in the group who exceeds 6-0 height. What the new group does bring are athletic talent and speed.
We asked Coach Kiesau what kind of progress he has seen this spring.
"We are starting from ground zero. We're starting over. I am re-teaching everything like they've never heard it before. So we're learning everything, from route mechanics to how to get in and out of breaks, to blocking, to releases, learning the offense terminology - everything.
"We're trying to re-teach it like they've never heard it before because they are so young. I don't want to miss any detail, or take anything for granted.
"That said, there's been a lot of progress so far.
What stands out for you in the kinds of progress being made?
"Our routes have become a lot cleaner, more efficient. The DB's in our conference are so good and can react so quickly that you've got to be very efficient moving into and out of your breaks, you can't have any wasted movement. We've been drilling on that every day, and the routes have definitely improved.”
What did you see when you first walked on the field at the beginning of spring practice?
“The whole group was a little rusty the first couple of days, and kind of looking around, saying ... ‘Hey, where are all the older guys?’”
"Now they realize the older guys are gone, they're realizing that they are the wide receivers this year. 'It's just us, nobody else.' It’s a bit of a shock they had to get used to.
"It was kind of a light that just turned on. They don't have the comfort zone of playing behind a Geoff McArthur, a Chase Lyman, or a Burl Toler, guys who have been around forever. Now they have to step up and start producing. So I think it took them a day or two to figure that out."
Among the spring wide receivers, Noah Smith stands out as a guy who can really achieve separation from defensive backs.
"Yes, like we were saying earlier, he's really cooking it when moving into and out of his breaks - he's so fast. He has gotten really good at separating. Now we just have to get him to concentrate on the football. We're still seeing times when he'll get a good separation, get a perfect ball, and then drop it. Then he'll come back three plays later and make an acrobatic catch. So he knows how to catch - it's really just a matter of gaining consistency.
You have some very talented young guys joining the team this fall, but there's a huge learning curve at this level of football - and only a few weeks in fall camp to train the young guys. Doesn't that mean that these guys who are here now, they are the core of the wide receivers for this year?
"Yes, for sure, they’re the core.
"Just look at guys who are coming in, look at the whole group this fall, we’ll have ten guys, nine of them are freshmen and sophomores. They're babies. That's why we're starting over.
“And when they come in for fall camp, that's why I'll be doing the exact same thing, starting at ground zero, teaching like they've never heard it before, because that will reinforce the learning for the guys who have been here for a while, and the new guys, they hear it from ground zero.
"So my hope is, in those nine guys, we get five or six of them who will be our core for the next three of four years – guys like Chase, Geoff, Burl, and Makonnen were in the past.”
How do you get these guys ready for summer when they work together without benefit of coaching?
"What I'm trying to do is do the same drills over and over for each individual so that I can say ... "When you guys come out fro summer practice, and you want to warm up, do those drills. You've seen a lot of progress in spring ball, don't lose that progress over summer. "
"So the hope is they will do those drills - and then go on into the seven-on-seven work that they do together."
You'll have some of the incoming freshmen out here also, during summer. So do you look for the older guys to teach the new guys some of the basics?
"Absolutely. And teaching can really reinforce your own learning."

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