See quarterback. Hit quarterback.
This should be the primary directive from Tautvydas Kieras’ defensive coaches in the coming months — assuming an NFL team would sign the Mississippi State standout.
And why wouldn’t Kieras (6-foot-3, 271 pounds) find a home at the next level? At Mississippi State’s recent pro day, the Lithuania native aced every physical test, reportedly running a blistering 4.69 in the 40-yard dash, posting 24 reps on the bench press (225 pounds) and notching team-high tallies with vertical leap (35 inches) and broad jump (116 inches).
In other words, Kieras was genetically engineered to rush the quarterback. On paper, he’s the perfect antidote to the NFL’s prodigious passing age.
But ay the rub: Kieras, who inked a free-agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday, has been a “standout” on Mississippi State’s track and field team, as the school record-holder in the discus.
In fact, he’s never played a down of football in his young life.
As (reported) legend has it, Mississippi State professor Gary Templeton pushed Kieras into conforming his athletic gifts (raw power and explosion, great footwork) and intangible qualities (work ethic, discipline) to the machinations of football.
Templeton would marvel at Kieras’ unlimited athletic potential (and massive frame) and wonder, Why couldn’t he play in the NFL?
From there, Templeton found Kieras an agent and a workout center for NFL prospects. Slowly but surely, the “very coachable” Kieras (a “freak” athlete, in the eyes of one scout) would learn the minutiae of playing in the trenches (presumably as a pass rusher).
Hence, the productive pro day with the Bulldogs.
“Coaches were so surprised that I had never done stuff,” Kieras told the Hail State Beat blog last week. “They’d tell me to do something, first or second try I’d do it correctly. It might not look as fluid, but then the fifth or sixth time, I look like another football player … It helped me a lot, discus.
“It was just a couple practices,” Kieras added, “but I felt comfortable with it. Tell me to run, I run. Tell me to knock the guy out, I knock the guy out. I felt comfortable.”
NFL COMBINE RESULTS VS. TAUTVYDAS KIERAS
Here’s how Kieras stacks up against the defensive linemen at February’s NFL Scouting Combine:
40-YARD DASH: Second place (4.69), trailing only Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper
BENCH PRESS: Above-average (24 reps)
BROAD JUMP: Tied for 13th (116 inches), along with Florida’s Jonathan Bullard
VERTICAL JUMP: Tied for fourth place (35 inches), along with Noah Spence, Robert Nkemdiche and Shilique Calhoun
There’s an easy comp to Kieras’ situation: Ghana native Ezekiel ‘Ziggy’ Ansah walked on to the BYU football team, circa 2010, with no prior training in football. Three years later, after working tirelessly with the Cougars coaches, Ansah (6-foot-5, 271 pounds) would become a first-round pick with the Detroit Lions (No. 5 overall).
So, how did Ansah (14.5 sacks with the Lions last season) fare at his NFL combine back in 2013?
Ziggy topped Kieras in the 40 (4.63 over 4.69) and the broad jump (10 inches longer) … but lost out on the bench press (by three reps) and vertical leap (by one-half inch).
As told to Hail State Beat, Kieras said, “I thought, ‘If these (other linemen) can do it, I can do it.’ I can punch the baggie, hit the guy, run the route.”
Which brings us to the “See quarterback … hit quarterback” line from the top: Rushing the passer is a specialized skill, one that taps into a player’s raw physical skills.
But it’s also a learned craft, especially with world-class coaching (the Chiefs finished fourth in sacks last season).
As such, I’d have greater confidence in teaching a discus thrower how to instinctively play football … than the other way around.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.