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Friday, March 28, 2014

To correct drops, new receivers coach focuses on Jayhawks’ form

Kansas wide receiver Josh Ford (8) prepares to catch a pass inside the 20-yard line to set up an early 2nd-quarter touchdown for in KU's 31-14 win against South Dakota at Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013.

Kansas wide receiver Josh Ford (8) prepares to catch a pass inside the 20-yard line to set up an early 2nd-quarter touchdown for in KU's 31-14 win against South Dakota at Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013.

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Kansas receiver Nick Harwell looks to grab a pass during drills on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

For the past two years, it seemed, Kansas University wide receivers mimicked the stock market of Sept. 29, 2008 — one drop after another.

Eric Kiesau, hired in February to coach the Jayhawks’ pass-catchers, came into this job with eyes wide open.

“That was the whole thing I heard about from everybody before practice started,” Kiesau said of the rash of drops.

Kiesau came to Kansas from Washington, where he was offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach the past two seasons. Before that, he was receivers coach in his second stint at Cal for a season, and offensive coordinator at Colorado the five seasons before that.

During his career he helped to turn a walk-on (Colorado’s Scotty McKnight) into a school-record-breaking receiver and helped to develop a natural talent (Cal’s DeSean Jackson) into an NFL All-Pro receiver.

Based on the statistics of KU’s receivers the past two seasons, Kiesau could be in the early stages of the toughest challenge of his career. His history suggests he is not one to shy away from tough tasks. But this tough?

In 2012, not a single Kansas wide receiver caught a touchdown pass. In 2013, four players tied for the most wide-receiver TD catches with one apiece. Tight end Jimmay Mundine had the team’s other five TD receptions, not that he was immune from drops.

“The two biggest problems these guys had — and they all do it, so I don’t know if they were taught this in the past or what — it’s their hand placement and their eye placement,” Kiesau said.

He wasted no time in demonstrating the importance of eye placement. At the end of the first spring practice, he pulled junior-to-be Rodriguez Coleman out of line.

“I said, ‘Rod, close your eyes.’ I was about 5 yards away,” Kiesau said. “I said, ‘Catch this ball with your eyes closed.’ I threw it at him, it bounced off of him, and obviously he couldn’t catch it. Then I go, ‘Now open your eyes.’ I threw it at him and he caught it. I said, ‘That’s my point.’ You’ve got to look that ball into your hands. I think it’s 85 percent of balls are dropped because they take their eyes off it. They want to dart away. They’re starting to look up field.”

Mundine, the best playmaker in the passing game a year ago, appeared guilty of that often. Perhaps because of the lack of playmakers, he put too much pressure on himself to make plays and got ahead of himself.

“Your hands are the instruments you use to catch the ball, but you catch the balls with your eyes,” Kiesau reiterated.

Or, if your hands are in the wrong place, you catch the football with your eyes and then drop it with your hands.

“No. 2, is hand placement, how you place your hands,” Kiesau said. “A lot of these guys, they have their hands back here by their bodies (palms up, just in front of chest, like Josh Ford pictured here). There is no room for error. If that ball comes in and it goes through your hands, it’s going to bounce off your chest. You need to extend your elbows off your body, (then) there is a little bit of room where you can correct yourself and then use your body (extends hands well in front of body, fingers pointing up, almost forming a triangle, like the picture here of Nick Harwell) to secure the ball.”

Such techniques are taught at levels well below college, which doesn’t necessarily mean the instruction continues into a more advanced level.

“Pretty simple. But it’s a lot of things receiver coaches take for granted,” Kiesau said. “They just assume a guy can do it and do it correctly. If that’s our job, to catch the ball, I would refine that skill, make sure they know it and they get better at it. I always tell guys, ‘You can be the fastest guy in America. If you’re not catching the ball, you’re just a fast guy out there running around.’”

Football coaches love to use film with pupils to reinforce their words.

“Every one of these guys, when they caught the ball when I first got here, they were turning their hands over like this (palms up), literally two inches from their chests,” Kiesau said. “I’d stop the film: ‘Guys, tell me what’s wrong with this picture.’ They’re seeing themselves on tape when they drop a ball, where their eyes and hands are.”

It’s not just the bad plays the coach shows the receivers.

“We had one (catch), I probably spent five minutes on it, way too much time,” he said. “But it was a great picture of Rod Coleman, maybe in one-on-ones, great extension, and you see the whole room seeing the correction. When you can see the correction, it helps your learning curve go through the roof. They were like, ‘Oh, I understand. It makes sense now.’ But they’d never been taught this stuff. You can’t expect people to do stuff if they’ve never been taught it. Now that I’m teaching them, I can expect it out of them.”

In his first season as a wide receiver, former running back Tony Pierson led KU with 24 receptions and 333 yards. He missed five games to injury. Among wide receivers, Coleman was second with eight receptions and 208 yards. Kiesau praised the strides both fleet receivers have made, as well as the presence of Harwell.

“Will they be unbelievable?” Kiesau said of the all the players who make up the much-maligned unit he coaches. “I don’t know, but they’ll get better. It’s not going to happen overnight. You’re retraining a habit they’ve probably been doing forever. The first couple of days we had some drops. They’re getting a little better, but we need to get a lot better. We have a long way to go.”

Kiesau said he looks forward to the challenge and will try to create an environment that makes the receivers look forward to going to work.

“Playing receiver should be fun, catching balls and having a lot of fun doing it,” he said. “It shouldn’t be, ‘Oh, here it comes.’ You shouldn’t be scared of it. Go get it. If not, go play DB and back-pedal.”

Comments

Charlie B. Gonesoon 4 months ago

This is fundamental football that anyone that's ever ran a pass catching drill would've been taught. I can't believe it's taken two seasons and a coaching addition to notice this. Since they were all positioning their hands wrong it almost sounds like they were being coached to catch that way.

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Brett McCabe 4 months ago

The picture of Ford actually upsets my stomach. I saw this form, and balls bouncing off shoulder pads, all season last year. In fact, I actually thought that guys were being taught a new way to catch footballs because I saw it so often.

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Titus Canby 4 months ago

I'm with you Charlie. How could any coach not see that? Kids learn to catch that way in high school, if not earlier. Show them tape of Tony Gonzalez catching the ball. Best form I've ever seen.

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Aaron Paisley 4 months ago

You'd be surprised at how often even HS coaches don't know the fundamentals of a position because they either never played football or they never played the position they're coaching. It really wouldn't surprise me if a lot of these guys were never taught proper fundamentals of the position coming up.

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Aaron Paisley 4 months ago

What does your rant have to do with a lot HS coaches not teaching fundamentals of a position because they don't know them?

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John Miller 4 months ago

“Playing receiver should be fun, catching balls and having a lot of fun doing it,” he said. “It shouldn’t be, ‘Oh, here it comes.’ You shouldn’t be scared of it. Go get it. If not, go play DB and back-pedal Best Quote I've seen in a while

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Mark Lindrud 4 months ago

If you are scared of the ball you are in the wrong sport lol.

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Aaron Paisley 4 months ago

Once the WR's learn how to catch, teach them how to run a good route. Just like having all the speed in the world means nothing if you can't catch, having the best hands means nothing if you can't get open. They also need to be taught how to improvise when the play breaks down and to come back to the QB instead of keep going upfield.

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Ron Prichard 4 months ago

“The two biggest problems these guys had — and they all do it, so I don’t know if they were taught this in the past or what — it’s their hand placement and their eye placement,” Kiesau said.

They were like, ‘Oh, I understand. It makes sense now.’ But they’d never been taught this stuff. You can’t expect people to do stuff if they’ve never been taught it.

I read these quotes and couldn't believe what I was reading. How can a coach (our prior wide receivers coach) be a position coach at the Division I level and not coach, or at the very least correct, these things? I'm literally stunned at this. That is ineptness at the highest level. It's unbelievable.

I will--grudgingly--give some credit to Weis for making the change from someone he obviously had some loyalty to, but at the same time, it sounds like this change should have been made long, long ago.

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Jason Keller 4 months ago

I find it hard to believe that a group of division I receivers have to be trained so intensely on how to catch a football. This is supposed to be the big leagues. We are the level right before the NFL and we can't catch the damn football.

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Mark Lindrud 4 months ago

I've coached recievers before. Fundamentals are first as far as catching the ball. Guys who didn't catch never saw the field, period. You would be amazed at how many guys catch with their hands close to the chest and carch with their chest more often and end up being drops. I'm glad we've got a coach who's seeing this stuff, but Weis was coaching receivers last year and didn't catch this?

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Dirk Medema 4 months ago

Charlie just interjected a little the last few games. He wasn't coaching WR's. It is probably that time that led to the changes we've seen. It would have been nice to somehow have changed things last year or earlier, but the reality is that it wasn't happening mid-yr.

Charlie apparently was hoping that Ianello's recruiting would overrule his position skills, but this article explains a lot about the last decade.

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Len Shaffer 4 months ago

I'll echo what everyone else here has said. I find it astounding, mind-boggling, inexcusable, any other extreme word/phrase one can come up with, that this has to come out now. What on earth were the coaches doing the last couple of years?!?!?

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Bryce Landon 4 months ago

I don't know, but if results don't improve this season, heads need to roll.

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Tony Bandle 4 months ago

Maybe someone should have turned on a TV on any Sunday during the NFL football season the last two years and taped Megatron, Fitzgerald or DeSean!!

Lord love a duck...just when I think I can't read anything dumber about our football program...........!!

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Mark Lindrud 4 months ago

I have gone to high school games on Friday nights and seen better catching from slow undersized kids who will never make it beyond high school.

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Erich Hartmann 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Ya, and speed up the game to Div.1 gamespeed & QBs, and a lot of poor WR techniques will get exposed: bad hands, bad cuts, bad route running, bad busted-play instincts...not just for the "slow" high school kids.

Makes me think of the Al Davis-era Raiders, always obsessed with fast WRs, who usually couldnt catch worth a damn. (Tim Brown could have used some help...).

Look, if KU converted half the dropped passes last season, we just dont know what type of impact that could have had...drives kept alive, defense resting longer, games closer, more FG or TD opportunities. We'd feel like a football team instead of Clowns of the BigXII.

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Randy Bombardier 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I have an idea. How about running sprints for every dropped pass. Doing stairs for every fumble. Steak for wins. Bologna for losses. Kinda like the real world.

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Lucas Town 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I think Mangino did all of those things and look what he was able to accomplish.

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