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Gunner Kiel Will Have More On His Plate In 2015

The Bearcats signal caller was exceptional for a first time starter when he was healthy in 2014. But there were some clear limitations to how Gunner Kiel ran the offense. Gunner did some things exceptionally well as a red shirt sophomore, but that doesn't mean that there is not room for growth from his debut season.

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Eddie Gran talks about how much Gunner Kiel is going to have on his plate this year at the 2:15 mark of the clip embedded below.

It’s a brief moment during the interview, but it's enlightening when you consider the context of the offense. The offense that the Bearcats run is for all intents and purposes a "pro style" offense. That term is, at this point, completely meaningless. The best and most successful NFL coaches have borrowed so liberally from the best and brightest of the college game that you can see a lot of "college concepts" in the NFL if you know what you are looking for. The Bearcats passing game is still rooted in the most ubiquitous passing game of them all. The route concepts are not that difficult or foreign to most quarterbacks, but there are nearly endless variations born of sight adjustments from both the receivers and the quarterback himself.

On most of the Bearcats plays the receivers have the option to read the defense on the fly to find the vacated areas of the defense. That is something that both the receivers and Gunner Kiel got very good at doing in 2014. When Gunner made his debut against Toledo the Rockets really challenged the Bearcats to make plays over the top on man coverage. John Heacock bet that Gunner would not be able to make accurate throws into tight windows under duress coming off what amounted to a 3 year lay off. He bet wrong.

The lesson that the Bearcats opponents took from that opening game was simple, its better to make the Bearcats try to move the ball down the field 5 and 10 yards at a time than it is to let them do it in 25 to 50 yard chunks. After Chris Moore destroyed the secondary of the future National Champions when Ohio State dared the Bearcats to beat their quarters coverage* every UC opponent had a rethink. UC didn't really see those looks again until the Virginia Tech game.

*which is for all intents and purposes man to man against vertical routes

What the Bearcats saw instead was lots and lots of 6 and 7 man zone concepts. We knew coming into the year that Shaq Washington would destroy whoever was unfortunate enough to match up with him in those zones. What we couldn't know was how quickly the rest of the receivers would take to the sight adjustments. Or for that matter whether or not Gunner Kiel would be on the same page as them. It turns out that it wasn't much of a problem.

Knowing that Gunner could handle the complexity of this kind of offense after the snap Eddie Gran and Darrin Hinshaw are about the load up on the complexity before the snap. Deyshawn Bond will still be making the bulk of the offensive line calls in 2015, but it sounds like the rest of the offense is being handed over to Gunner Kiel to run as he sees fit. That is an exciting proposition for a couple of reasons.

One is that giving Gunner the keys to the Ferrari should allow the Bearcats to play even faster. Remember the mantra from the Ohio State game.

There's serious intent here. The motto of the week, which Hinshaw repeated during quarterback meetings each afternoon, is "when in doubt, play fast."

The Bearcats did play fast in 2014, certainly much faster than they had during the Butch Jones era. But they were noticeably more deliberate as the season wore on. Part of that is the injuries to Gunner Kiel, without him the offense slowed because the continuity wasn't there. Another part of that was the lack of defensive depth, particularly along the line. UC simply didn't have enough bodies capable of playing at a high enough level. Tubs would love to have a 9 or 10 man defensive line rotation, in 2014 he really had about 6. The depth will be better this season, its the quality that is the question mark now.

By far the most overlooked part of the pace discussion is that Gunner didn't have free reign to call plays. He had the authority to make checks at the line of scrimmage based on alignment. What he didn't have the authority to do was to kill plays and switch to a new one. Based on what Eddie Gran is saying he will have that power this season, and that is a really exciting prospect for Gunner Kiel and this Bearcats offense. Gunner will have a lot more options, many more decisions that he has to make for UC in 2015. His track record suggests that he is up for the task, but we are months from finding out for real.