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Auburn WRs improving under Eric Kiesau but 'still got a long ways to go'

By Tom Green | tgreen@al.com

5-7 minutes

Auburn receiver Shedrick Jackson (11) catches a pass against Arkansas during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)AP

One month has passed since Bryan Harsin shook up his inaugural coaching staff four games into the season.

Harsin fired wide receivers coach Cornelius Williams on Sept. 26, a day after Auburn’s come-from-behind win against Georgia State, and replaced him with Eric Kiesau, the former Boise State assistant coach who signed on as an offensive analyst with the Tigers in the spring. Kiesau has overseen Auburn’s wide receivers for three games now, with a bye week sprinkled in to continue to focus on development at the position, and Harsin has so far been pleased with the progress of the receiving corps and his decision to promote the veteran assistant to that on-field role.

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“I think that room has improved through the work and their work and their attention to detail in certain areas in the wide receiver room that’s helped those guy make some strides,” Harsin said Wednesday during the SEC coaches teleconference. “Still got a long ways to go, but I think there’s been improvement there.”

Kiesau inherited a position group that was both inconsistent and lacking in established experience when he took over a month into the season. Auburn replaced its top-three receivers from last season — with Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove all opting for the NFL Draft this past spring — and did not return a single receiver with more than 11 career receptions heading into the year.

The team’s two most experienced players at the position were senior Shedrick Jackson, who spent most of his first three seasons primarily as a blocker at receiver, and Georgia grad transfer Demetris Robertson, who joined the program shortly after the start of fall camp. The rest of the room was filled with unproven — albeit talented — underclassmen such as Ja’Varrius Johnson, Kobe Hudson, Ze’Vian Capers, Elijah Canion, Malcolm Johnson Jr. and Tar’Varish Dawson Jr. Through the first four games, though, the group struggled with misalignments, drops and other errors that lowered Auburn’s ceiling on offense.

As a 21-year coaching veteran with 13 prior seasons of experience coaching the position — including three as wide receivers coach under Harsin at Boise State (with another as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach) — Kiesau brought a level of experience to the role that the younger Williams lacked. He also brought a distinct level of understanding of what Harsin expected and needed from the wide receiver room for this offense to be successful.

“Coach Kiesau brings a lot to the table from an experience standpoint of coaching that position, from a knowledge standpoint of just being able to sit in the room and provide value as an assistant coach for the coordinators and for what we’re trying to do offensively,” Harsin said. “…I give coach Kiesau a lot of credit: he stepped in. We talked about it before -- a quarter through the season there, and he’s able to step in there and kind of get things the way that he needs it in that room in order to maximize the potential of those guys at the wide receiver position.”

In the three games since Auburn made the change at wide receivers coach, the Tigers’ receiving corps has seen some up-and-down performances. Auburn had five dropped passes in its thrilling road win against LSU, and that was followed by a season-worst seven drops — four of them from the wide receiver group — in a lopsided loss to rival Georgia.

The group then bounced back with a quality showing on the road against Arkansas, as Auburn returned home with a double-digit victory and its first win against a ranked opponent this season. Against the Razorbacks, the Tigers’ receivers made explosive plays in the passing game and were more assertive in attacking the ball when targeted.

“Those guys were very consistent the last time we played,” quarterback Bo Nix said. “They made just the routine plays over and over and over. A bunch of them made plays after they caught the ball, which was good to see, and we know those guys can do it and now they’re just starting to put that kind of stuff on film and do that for our offense. When those guys play well, usually we play well. That’s kind of what we’ve seen throughout this year.”

Now, fresh off a bye week in which Auburn largely focused on itself and reestablishing fundamentals, Kiesau and his group will look to build off that performance against Arkansas when No. 18 Auburn hosts No. 10 Ole Miss on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Rebels have been improved defensively in recent weeks, but they still rank 88th nationally in passing defense (241 yards per game), 82nd in yards allowed per pass attempt (7.6) and 93rd in passes of 20-plus yards surrendered (26).

“We’re still working on (getting the most out of the receivers),” Harsin said. “We’re still working through those things, but I have seen improvement over the past few weeks, and hopefully that continues.”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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The offense has improved every week since Ga State.  Kiesau would probably be OC if he hadn’t been pursuing the Boise State job.  Hopefully the WR play continues to improve and the offense becomes more explosive.

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17 minutes ago, Win4AU said:

The offense has improved every week since Ga State.  Kiesau would probably be OC if he hadn’t been pursuing the Boise State job.  Hopefully the WR play continues to improve and the offense becomes more explosive.

He can now be part of the game planning too, which can only be a positive in my eyes.

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6 minutes ago, toddc said:

He can now be part of the game planning too, which can only be a positive in my eyes.

I think he was always adding to game plan via analyst role.

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1 hour ago, Hank2020 said:

I think he was always adding to game plan via analyst role.

I would think on field coaches would have way more input though.

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11 hours ago, Win4AU said:

The offense has improved every week since Ga State.  Kiesau would probably be OC if he hadn’t been pursuing the Boise State job.  Hopefully the WR play continues to improve and the offense becomes more explosive.

I think eventually he will be OC

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A caller on the brain drain after the ark game said that wr drills changed the week prior to the game.  The wideouts were told to run to windows with defenders draped around them and thus had to catch passes under pressure.

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4 minutes ago, AUDevil said:

A caller on the brain drain after the ark game said that wr drills changed the week prior to the game.  The wideouts were told to run to windows with defenders draped around them and thus had to catch passes under pressure.

what were they doing before? 

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28 minutes ago, auskip07 said:

what were they doing before? 

I don’t know and I don’t know how typical practices are run, but this particular high school coach said he’s never done it but would be incorporating it on his team.

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5 minutes ago, AUDevil said:

I don’t know and I don’t know how typical practices are run, but this particular high school coach said he’s never done it but would be incorporating it on his team.

It makes sense    If your WR's are having trouble catching with coverage   then  create a drill with coverage so they can work on it.    

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1 minute ago, auskip07 said:

It makes sense    If your WR's are having trouble catching with coverage   then  create a drill with coverage so they can work on it.    

Here's the segment at the 4 hour 23 minute mark, they discuss in depth what this coach heard happened. 
 

 

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Hated how it went down with our previous WR coach, both for him personally and from a PR standpoint, but I like what Kiesau brings to the table. Hard to not see it as a big upgrade IMO

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2 minutes ago, Potatooooooes!! said:

Wonder if he could be our OC at some point? Is he that good?

 

5 hours ago, DAG said:

I think eventually he will be OC

 

4 hours ago, bigbird said:

Me too. He'd be a good one, IMO

 

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The wr's are simply getting better as that get playing experience as most players do. The same with the tight ends and the d ends and young defensive backs. You will see this from the linebackers next year and when we eventually have a new qb. It's how football works. 

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2 hours ago, Potatooooooes!! said:

Wonder if he could be our OC at some point? Is he that good?

I bet CBH wanted him to be it. I have a feeling this was way for him to get some grounding in the SEC, but I would not be in the least bit surprise both our coordinators move on and CBH bring in people within his circle. I think at this point he needed the best available to provide some SEC credibility which Bobo and Mason does bring to the table. 

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11 minutes ago, cole256 said:

The wr's are simply getting better as that get playing experience as most players do. The same with the tight ends and the d ends and young defensive backs. You will see this from the linebackers next year and when we eventually have a new qb. It's how football works. 

If that were the case, everybody would get better with just playing experience. No, the new wr coach actually knows what he's doing here and he has the vision and knowledge in how to prepare the players, more than the old wr coach.

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15 minutes ago, Timeslider 6 said:

If that were the case, everybody would get better with just playing experience. No, the new wr coach actually knows what he's doing here and he has the vision and knowledge in how to prepare the players, more than the old wr coach.

There are no absolutes in anything but saying if that was the case everybody would just get better isn't a rebuttal at all. Wr's is the youngest group on the team and throughout all of football, actually all of sports guys get better when they get playing time. 

Just like Bo has been getting better as he's getting acclimated.

And that also helps, more accurate balls. Or you can believe the coach gave them "knowledge" and "vision" to catch better

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3 minutes ago, cole256 said:

There are no absolutes in anything but saying if that was the case everybody would just get better isn't a rebuttal at all. Wr's is the youngest group on the team and throughout all of football, actually all of sports guys get better when they get playing time. 

Just like Bo has been getting better as he's getting acclimated.

And that also helps, more accurate balls. Or you can believe the coach gave them "knowledge" and "vision" to catch better

He helped them develop their focus and concentration, it's the small things that contribute to a talented wr catch the ball and this isn't a "rebuttal", it's a fact. You're right about the absolutes, that's why guys get absolutely better when they have coaches that know what they are doing.

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10 minutes ago, Timeslider 6 said:

He helped them develop their focus and concentration, it's the small things that contribute to a talented wr catch the ball and this isn't a "rebuttal", it's a fact. You're right about the absolutes, that's why guys get absolutely better when they have coaches that know what they are doing.

Nothing you stated was a fact.  But ok

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23 minutes ago, cole256 said:

There are no absolutes in anything but saying if that was the case everybody would just get better isn't a rebuttal at all. Wr's is the youngest group on the team and throughout all of football, actually all of sports guys get better when they get playing time. 

Just like Bo has been getting better as he's getting acclimated.

And that also helps, more accurate balls. Or you can believe the coach gave them "knowledge" and "vision" to catch better

I have no iron in this fire but believe the actual is most probably in the middle of both points. Agree WR’s are getting more experience, and I also believe coaching is making a difference, both in WR’s and in Bo.

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