Since his departure from Fayetteville in 2017, Dan Enos further bolstered his reputation as a quarterback whisperer by turning potential into reality for his offensive leaders at subsequent stops in Alabama, Miami and Maryland. Now the question becomes how well the highly credentialed offensive coordinator can replace Kendal Briles and if the change pays dividends not only for Arkansas football in 2023, but ultimately for KJ Jefferson’s future NFL career, as well.
Since 2015, quarterbacks under Enos have annually averaged 2,781 passing yards, 63.2% completion rate, 23 passing touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Their improvement is most clearly seen in the below stats for quarterbacks in their first year under Enos compared to the previous year:
- 67.6% more passing yards
- 19% increase of completion percentage
- 91.8% increase of touchdowns thrown
- 31.6% increase of yards per pass attempt.
Potential Impact on KJ Jefferson
Given KJ Jefferson has already operated at a near All-SEC level the last couple years, it’s far-fetched to think he could improve by the same margin, but even a 15% improvement on Jefferson’s 2022 stat line of 2,676 yards, 67.3% completion percentage and 21 touchdowns to 4 interceptions would put him in rare air.
At Arkansas, Enos’ crowning achievement is the job he did with Brandon Allen in 2015, but nationally it’s his work with former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa during his incredible 2018 season. With Enos as his quarterbacks coach, Tagovailoa completed 69% of his passes for 3,966 yards, 43 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in his sophomore year. Just the past two seasons in Maryland, his younger brother, Taulia Tagovailoa, has thrown for 3,860 yards on 474 attempts and 3,008 yards on 391 attempts.
Indeed, Taulia currently ranks the following in Maryland football school history:
- 2nd in total pass attempts in a season (474)
- 1st in completions in a season (328)
- 1st in passing yards in a season (3,860)
- 1st in completion percentage in a season (69.2%)
- 1st in passer efficiency rating (151.06)
- T-1st in touchdowns thrown in a season (26)
We have seen Jefferson take over with his legs and create momentum plays and with the wide receivers room Sam Pittman has created through the portal with incoming impact transfers Andrew Armstrong, Isaac TeSlaa and Tyrone Broden, Enos may be able to open a whole new realm of abilities for Jefferson and his strong arm. If history is any indication of the progress quarterbacks have made under Dan Enos, Jefferson could be in for a career year throwing the ball and some postseason awards to boot.
Jefferson’s innate ability of running the football when needed, paired with the historical increases of Enos’ in his first year at each school (with the exception of his one season in Miami), I believe Jefferson is in for a career year on the gridiron.
Comparing Dan Enos to Kendal Briles
Dan Enos runs a pro-style offense that uses tight ends more than we have been accustomed to under Kendal Briles. Briles, in order to run the ball effectively, uses concepts derived from Air Raid philosophies.
“My background is really with the West Coast (offense), which a lot of guys are,” Enos said in 2019. “In today’s day and age and the experiences I have, the spread offense is certainly mixed in there big. At Alabama, we did a tremendous job with our RPOs last year. So that was like a whole new world for me, opening up that avenue and getting to some of the creative things we did with that.”
Enos also renamed his offensive philosophy as “Spread Coast,” in which he has mixed the short passing game of the west coast offense with the multi-receiver sets of the spread.
Briles looks to spread defenses out wide, which leaves gaps in the middle of the field for backs to hit explosively. Enos, however, enjoys having the extra blockers in the middle on the line scrimmage.
“I think we’re going to start to see a lot less of the hurry up and get downfield and shotgun spreads and all that, there will be an element of that on occasion,” Arkansas radio personality John Nabors said on his podcast. “But I think it’s going to be a lot more power and a lot more strength and a lot more physicality.”
Don’t expect Enos’ style this time around to be the same offensive style he spearheaded during his original stint in Fayetteville. There will definitely be more ground-and-pound running game up the middle with double tight end blockers, but Enos has shown since leaving Arkansas that he is not timid about putting the ball in the air.
Orchestrating a multi-tight end set allows for disguise of sorts. Tight ends are allowed to chip block, while also being a part of a pass play. Ultimately, this should be a good thing for Jefferson’s career.
Consider Enos’ last four offensive units have averaged 5.2, 3.8, 4, and 3.9 yards per carry. Then, when focusing just on quarterback runs, the averages have been less inspiring. Since 2018, quarterbacks under Enos’ tutelage, with the exception of his brief stop as running backs coach at Cincinnati, have averaged 77 rushing yards per year (5.9 yards per game). The high was a 190-yard rushing season by Tua Tagovailoa in 2018.
What it Means for KJ Jefferson
KJ Jefferson, meanwhile, has rushed for 640 yards and 664 yards the past two years, respectively. It will likely be a good thing for his longevity and health if this total goes down in 2023 because no matter how truck-like a running quarterback may be, the wear and tear almost always catches up in the end as we saw with Jefferson’s injuries in 2022.
Expect Jefferson to attempt fewer runs with far more set plays called by Enos as opposed to going through the run-pass options Jefferson so often did in Briles’ scheme. Under Briles, quarterbacks constantly process reads that filter into the RPOs while making instant decisions whether to hand the ball off or make snap throws to the receiver.
Enos’ offensive sets may have a sliver of RPOs from his time at Alabama, but most often run plays are designed and called initially from Enos himself, not determined in the middle of the play.
When progressing through a pass play, Jefferson will only need to read the defensive backs in order to find the open route. This will be a simpler system than Jefferson has run in the past, when there were 2-3 decisions to be made right at the snap. Jefferson, while under Enos, will be able to let the plays develop before determining what the right read should be. After all, the goal Enos has for his offensive units is “look complex and remain simple.”
Still, expect some called running plays since this will be the first time Enos has had a true runner at the quarterback position. Jefferson, meanwhile, has yet to have a college coach so skilled at teaching quarterbacks how to go through downfield progressions.
Enos will also be able to provide positives for Jefferson’s draft scouting by allowing him to progress through defenses, focus more on his arm and accuracy, and lean away from the run. Quarterbacks such as Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts — successful runners — still must be able to make consistent plays with their arms.
Dan Enos in the Red Zone
In the past two seasons at Maryland, Enos’ teams scored touchdowns on 62% of their trips to the red zone, compared to 64.8% for Briles at Arkansas over that same span. After some of the head-scratching calls in 2022, however, some fans would have expected this number to be lower.
Along with the poor play calls (Trey Knox’s direct snap under center at Mizzou) and poor execution (let’s not forget the horrendous fumble for 6 in Dallas), Arkansas just seemed to flounder in the red zone way too often.
Expect the Hogs to become a more efficient team in plunging into the end zone in part because the offensive line as a whole should be better equipped to pursue significant pushes up the middle that weren’t as prevalent in Briles’ wider spread formations.
Also, Jefferson should be better in the red zone because Enos should help shore up the accuracy issues in the short-to-intermediate areas that have plagued Jefferson in the past.
Once the Enos hire was announced, it seemed as if Arkansas football fans let out a collective “ho hum” sigh. Some wanted another offensive coordinator, some were upset Briles was told to pick up the pieces and move on and some just didn’t know what to think quite yet.
When it comes to quarterback development, Enos is every bit as proven as Briles is, just with different tactics that could serve KJ Jefferson especially well in what will likely be his final season with the Razorbacks.
Since 2015, Enos’ quarterbacks have averaged a 62.5% completion percentage, including four seasons of 63.5% or better (63.5% in 2015 at Arkansas, 69% in 2018 at Alabama, 69.2% in 2021 at Maryland, and 67% in 2022 at Maryland).
Offensive units have flourished under his control and almost always get a significant first-year bump. Enos has helped teams score 20.7% more points than the year before he arrived.
Of course, Briles was no slouch with the great offense produced in 2022, but Enos’ history shows there shouldn’t be any downturn in 2023. And if Enos helps Jefferson stay healthy the entire season, expect the Arkansas football program to fully recapture its mojo after what seemed to be a season in purgatory.
|PPG before Enos
|PPG in Year 1 of Enos
*In this short stint, the offense never jelled and Jarren Williams, the preseason starter for the Hurricanes, lost his job to N’Kosi Perry. Both quarterbacks continued to split reps throughout the season, and Manny Diaz ended up firing Enos as the offensive coordinator.
More on KJ Jefferson under Dan Enos as opposed to Kendal Briles at 10:35 below:
For a contrarian take on the Dan Enos hire, check out Tommy Foltz’s column:
More coverage of Arkansas football and Dan Enos from BoAS…