MEQUON, Wis. – Fall is finally upon us, although the leaves haven't turned color and the humidity is still in the air. Nevertheless, Concordia Wisconsin's Football team has reported for camp and is ready to improve upon last season in a variety of positions. CUWFalcons.com takes a look at the offensive side of the ball and received answers to some questions from offensive coordinator Henny Hiemenz.
Tenette's talent gives Falcons ability for explosive plays
Sophomore Isaiah Tenette (Sacramento, Calif.) provided the fans many opportunities to cheer last season with his ability to juke opponents out of their shoes, whether in the running game or as a returner. He was named All-NACC as a kicker returner during the 2016 season and returned a kickoff for a touchdown, to go with a team-high 351 rushing yards while scoring twice. Last year he was listed as a running back on the roster and has since been moved to the wide receiver position for the 2017 campaign, but that doesn't mean he won't be used in a variety of different positions.
Question: With running back Logan Hass having graduated, who was the bigger running back on last year's roster, and Isaiah Tenette being the flex between a wide receiver and running back, what are the expectations you see for Isaiah? Will there be another running back combo situation like last year or will it be mainly Isaiah getting most of the carries?
Hiemenz's Answer: "Ideally, Isaiah is a receiver edge runner guy. We used him late in the year (2016) in the backfield really because we had to. Our hope is that we have a traditional tailback or two step up that can be that primary person so that Isaiah is free to do what he is good at, which is play in space."
Nixon's third year as a starter gives the Falcons experience and leadership at QB position
Senior Aaron Nixon (North Prairie, Wis.) is entering his third year as the starting quarterback for the Falcons. Nixon threw for 2,740 yards and tossed 21 touchdowns, compared to 12 interceptions in the 2016 season. He is also one to provide big plays, evident in his NACC and CUW record setting performance against Benedictine where he passed for 551 yards while throwing five touchdowns. In Nixon's nine games as a starter, he averaged 304.4 passing yards per game and completed 63.1 percent of his passes.
Q: Does Aaron Nixon have any more pressure on him because he has that experience and because the team is so young?
A: "I'm actually hoping it's kind of the opposite. I'm hoping that we can be a little bit more balanced than we were last year and I think that helps him. We struggled up front at times last year and we never had a true answer in the backfield, so I think if we can be better in those departments then that's going to make his life easier in general."
Young players look to make an impact on offense
During the 2016 season, the offense relied on experience and leadership at the skill positions. The upcoming campaign poses a new challenge for CUW as only one underclassman saw significant playing time at any skill position. Isaiah Tenette led the team in rushing (351 yards) and was fourth in receiving (28 receptions for 257 yards) last year and the top returning wide receiver is junior Ryan Wagner (Mukwonago, Wis.) who hauled in 10 passes for 126 yards. The Falcons will be looking for a lot of new faces at the wide receiver and running back to provide them with big plays.
Q: What challenges does having a young team pose for you as the offensive coordinator and do you maybe scale things back scheme-wise and simplify the playbook early in camp?
A: Yes, we have to play base football longer in the early part of camp. The number one thing you have to do is figure out who can play for you now. You can't do that if you are overwhelming them information and different techniques. We have to put the base stuff in and watch them play for a while until they start to gel and figure out who the guys are, and then you can expand a bit more. We typically have our installation for camp, which is two weeks or so, done prior to starting. I have three days of installation, then we are going to take it day-by-day and see if we are ready for the next stuff.
Falcons looking to improve with three returning starters on the offensive line
Seniors Connor Wagner (Mesa, Ariz), Ben Bednarek (Sycamore, Ill) and Tyler Martinkus (Lockport, Ill) are all returning for the Falcons with experience under their belt. The offensive line gave up 34 sacks over 10 games (3.4 per game) last season and this group is ready to improve upon their mistakes and solidify as a unit. Their expertise will allow the younger players to adjust faster and make the offense stronger as the season progresses.
Q: At times last year, the offensive line struggled giving up some unwanted sacks. Do you feel this area needs to get better with the experienced starters returning?
A: I think again, that goes back to the quarterback and protecting that part of it more. When we broke down our sacks from last year during our initial team meeting, we talked about changes that can be made. That was a huge issue, maybe 30 percent of that is on the offensive line and there's a big chunk of those errors on the quarterback, and a few of those are on the running back. We talked about having more of a true running back in the backfield, who is also good at pass blocking. It's kind of all of those things combined, but the offensive line is just a part of that.