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Completed chat with KU football beat writer Matt Tait, who spent a couple of hours talking offseason football

May 3, 2013

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Matt Tait

Spring drills and the spring game have come and gone and KU football beat writer Matt Tait on Friday carved out some time to look at the most intriguing and important story lines of the summer for the Kansas University football program.

j_penka:

Do you see KU making a bowl game next year? What games do you think we will win?

Moderator:

Oops, sorry. No intro. Oh well... Let's just jump right in. We've got Matt Tait, we've got tons of KU football questions and we've got more than an hour to get to them. Thanks for joining us. Noooowwwww, let's get to the questions...

Matt Tait:

I'm glad we started with that one so we can get it out of the way. Seeing how it's May 3 — even if the weather outside doesn't feel like it — I think it's way too early to start making predictions about bowl games, win totals and any of that. There are still so many players yet to arrive and an entire preseason camp to get through. I usually don't like to make my predictions until late August.

That said, I'll tell you this: I wouldn't laugh in your face if you told me KU could win 6 games this year and I also wouldn't laugh in your face if you told me the Jayhawks would win just 2 games.

The range of possibilities is still so wide and will be until we get some consistency from the program.

I'll lock down a prediction a little later this summer, but for those looking for a spoiler alert, I'm leaning toward 4 or 5 wins.

Cairo_Jayhawk:

Assuming he plays in every game, does James Sims end the season as KU's all time leading rusher? I'm going to go crazy and say yes.

Matt Tait:

Sims, who rushed for 1,013 yards in nine games last season, needs a career best 1,360 yards this season to move past June Henley on the all-time rushing list.

I definitely think Sims has the ability to do this but I'm not sure he'll get the opportunity.

With Tony Pierson getting even more involved, Charlie Weis looking to lighten the load on his workhorse and the passing game expected to be much improved, I think it'll be tough for Sims to get enough carries to get the number of yards he needs.

If he doesn't get there, it won't be for a lack of effort.

Cairo_Jayhawk:

Texas A&M just announced a massive stadium upgrade. Many other programs have done the same in recent years. It seems like big time programs almost always play in big time stadiums. What is the word now on a significant upgrade to Memorial Stadium?

Matt Tait:

Same as it has been for a while. Steps are being taken, plans are being made and money is being raised. Getting the Rock Chalk Park project going was a huge hurdle for KU to clear and now that things are under way out there, the focus on football renovations can increase.

I still think we're a couple of years away from anything significant happening, but upgrading Memorial Stadium remains a priority and work (one way or the other) is being done to make that a possibility just about every day.

KanFan27:

Who do you think will be the biggest surprise player this year?

Matt Tait:

I'm not sure who qualifies as a surprise and who doesn't but I'll go with tight end Jimmay Mundine. He has matured, he's in the best shape of his life and he has a great rapport with QB Jake Heaps.

I think Mundine is primed for a HUGE season.

DSommersby:

How good can Jake Heaps be? Will our QB play be significantly better this season?

Matt Tait:

I think he can be an all-Big 12 caliber quarterback. I don't know about first team, but certainly 2nd, 3rd or honorable mention. He has that much talent.

Obviously, he's going to need some help. He's going to need the receiving corps to perform, he's going to need the offensive line to keep him upright and he's going to need the defense to help keep KU in games. But if those things happen, I think Heaps will be big-time.

He can move, he's got a big arm, he's incredibly accurate and he's tough. I like everything about his demeanor and how he carries himself out there.

I know most people feel a little gun shy about hyping up a former 5-star transfer QB for the second year in a row, but I don't think Heaps is in the same position Dayne Crist was in. It's a totally different story and they're two totally different players.

It'll be fun to see how it plays out.

SEsco10:

Has the kicking game looking?

Also any surprise recruits coming in?

Matt Tait:

It sounds like former Hutch CC kicker Michael Mesh will get every crack at being this team's place kicker, so, since he hasn't made it to town yet it's hard to say too much about the place kicking.

But with juco transfer Trevor Pardula already in town, the punting and kickoff areas have been significantly upgraded.

Pardula has a huge leg and loves to compete.

I think the kicking game will be among the most improved units — if not the most improved unit — on the team this fall.

Rockn_Chalkn_KU:

Matt -- can't tell you enough how much we appreciate your work. Keeping Jayhawk sports news addicts appeased is a noble cause!

With so many talented running backs in the mix this year, do you think Coach will have problems getting playing time to Cox and Bourbon? Related to that, do you think he'll pull out the red shirt for one of the guys?

Matt Tait:

I get this question a lot and, while I understand it, I don't think it'll be a concern. James Sims was an absolute work horse last year and I think KU can easily lighten his load without affecting his performance.

Cox and Bourbon won't get a ton of carries (Cox got 91 last season and I think his total will be right around that number again) but at least one of them (maybe both) will be an important part of the offense.

Think of it this way:

Sims goes for quality over quantity
Pierson gets a few carries but more catches
Cox & Bourbon pick up the rest of the workload

InBillWeTrust:

Is a wide receiver going to catch a touchdown this year?

Matt Tait:

It's crazy that this is a fair question, but we all know it is. I'll say yes. The receivers I've talked to about this have said that goose egg from last season has driven them throughout the offseason.

My guess is a WR grabs a TD in the season opener and then we can put this to bed. Justin McCay thinks it'll happen in the first quarter of the first game.

If so, it'll just reinforce what a fluke and crazy thing last year's 0-fer was.

InBillWeTrust:

I would like your opinion regarding Jake Heaps first season as the quarterback at KU. You can answer all of them simply by stating over or under. Obviously they are all going to be guesses...

47.7% completion percentage?

1313 passing yards?

Touchdown/Interception ratio 4:9?

Zero wins against Division 1 opponents?

Matt Tait:

I know I already addressed Heaps, but this is another easy way to do it, so here goes:

1. Over -- Heaps' biggest strength may be his accuracy
2. Over -- In 12 games, he'd need just 110 yards per game to go over your total
3. Over -- I think Heaps can reach 15-20 TDs and, if he does, that would mean he would throw 36-45 INTs under your ratio. Not gonna happen. My guess is his TD/INT ratio will be in the 3:1 range. 18 TDs, 6 INTs????
4. Over -- Who knows how far over, but you can't go under zero, right?

Good question, though.

acsgreens:

Matt- I miss the days of James McClinton causing all holy hell on the d-line. O-lines had to gameplay for him and that often didn't work. Do you see a player like that this year, possibly Combs or Martin? Good to have ya back. Also, favorite hole at Alvamar, either side.

Matt Tait:

I don't think you're alone here, acsgreens. It's been a lean few years for the KU D-Line, but I think that'll change this year. Combs will be a force and he should make a huge impact, but I think you're right on with Chris Martin. The dude is a monster and he has a motor that doesn't quit. It's hard to say what kind of numbers he'll turn in, and I think a big reason for that is because he might be one of those guys who opponents have to double team a lot. If that's the case, his numbers may be down, but his impact will be up. Make sense?

I think you'll really like watching Martin play. He's been a blast to cover already and he's at the top of the list of guys I'm looking forward to watching this fall.

Matt Tait:

Oops. As for the last part of your question, I really like both finishing holes, 9 and 18, on the public course. 9 because it's pretty straight forward and 18 because it's a nice looking hole and tough. I'm also a fan of 2 and 8.

Boouk:

Who do you think will start alongside Ben Heeney at LB?

Matt Tait:

All things being equal, I like newcomers Marcus Jenkins-Moore and Samson Faifili. Now, neither of those guys are here yet, so that makes the prediction tough, but I think both are physical dudes, who can run and like to bring the pain.

If that's the case, and those guys can get up to speed quick enough to start, that's going to put the entire unit in great shape. Think about it: If those three start, then you've got four guys — Jake Love, Darius Willis, Prinz Kande and Schyler Miles — with legit experience backing them up.

That's where the coaching staff is trying to get with every unit - front-line talent backed up by depth, talent and experience.

HAWKS1:

Hi Matt~ Thanks for the off-season updates and this question session. As poor as our special teams were last year, do you see much improvement ahead this year? I am concerned with the Special Teams by Committee coaching format. Bowen didn't do well at all last year and he is part of the "committee"(why?). The Special Teams play is so important, I wish more emphasis were placed on it by Coach Weis. What can we look for as far as performance: a reasonable field goal distance we can expect. Punt average and coverage personnel. Punt return personnel. Extra Point reliability etc. We really need to be solid in the special teams department to win close games.

Matt Tait:

You nailed it with regard to the importance of special teams, but I think you're off a bit in your conclusion that the committee approach is Weis putting less emphasis on special teams.

If anything, giving every coach a part of special teams makes special teams more important throughout the team. No longer is one coach responsible for the success or failures of the team... it falls on the entire staff. I like it. And this is not the first time I've heard of a team doing it this way.

As for your specific questions, I don't think there will be any limitations on special teams in any way. I think Weis won't hesitate to line up for field goals, anything from 30 yards to 50 yards, and I think the kickoff and punt teams have been upgraded significantly with the addition of Trevor Pardula.

Upgrading overall team speed, which they have done, also should have a positive impact on special teams.

thekuinthe512:

Matt - Who in the Big XII do we have a legitimate chance of beating to break the streak?

Matt Tait:

I think there are a few teams you could put on the list, but I'd say the best chance may come in the Big 12 opener --- Texas Tech at home on Oct. 5. KU took the Red Raiders to double OT at their place in 2012 and Tech has yet another new coach this season.

Boouk:

Will Tony Pierson play more WR or RB in 2013?

Matt Tait:

He'll play more RB, but I wouldn't be surprised for a second if he finished with more catches than carries.

I think it's going to be awesome to watch what they do with Pierson. They'll line him up in the backfield and hand it to him. They'll line him up in the backfield and motion him out. They'll line him up in the slot and motion him into the backfield. They'll line him up on the outside and let him go deep. They'll throw it to him in the flat. They'll run reverses with him. Heck, they may even run reverses with him and let him throw it.

Can't wait to see it all!

jayball09:

Whats the ticket office say about new season ticket purchases and renewals?

Matt Tait:

Good question. I haven't checked yet. I need to do that. I know season ticket sales were up last season, but that's pretty common in Year 1 of a new head coach. It wouldn't surprise me if they were up again this year, given the improvement that's taking place, but the team also was 1-11 last year so you certainly can't take climbing season-ticket sales for granted.

I'll look into it and let you know. They may not be able to give me much in the way of numbers until later this summer, but I'll get some info as soon as I can.

300milestoGoodland:

At what point does Cummings get moved to WR?

Matt Tait:

Man, I don't know. It won't be any time soon. They've all but said that and you've gotta remember, other than Heaps (who hasn't actually played a game in nearly two years) Cummings is the only QB on the roster with actual game experience. That'll likely be the case heading into next season, too, and we've all seen, at one time or another, the importance of a quality back-up.

I won't say never, but I'd be pretty surprised if Cummings ever moves to a different position.

DrGraydog:

Can Coach Weis and Coach Campo say at this point in time that they are pleased with the speed of their units?

Matt Tait:

I don't think either one would say they're exactly where they want to be in that department, but I think both would tell you that they're pleased with the progress and the improvement in that area. This team was faster this spring than the team they put on the field last fall, which was faster than the team they put on the field last spring.

As long as they're addressing and upgrading team speed every year, they're moving in the right direction.

KanFan27:

Where does Schyler Miles stand on the team? Last year he was viewed as the future of our defense and now we never hear about him. Has he not panned out or is he just quietly making progress and biding his time?

Matt Tait:

Schyler was injured for most of the spring and actually played hurt for most of last season. He hasn't been forgotten and shouldn't be counted out. He still has a ton of talent and a nice mix of size, strength and speed. As long as he can get healthy and stay healthy, he'll still be a part of this team's plans at linebacker.

jayhawk4alifetime:

With all the junior college signees coming into the mix and many of them on the cusp of earning starting roles, how do you sense the holdovers are taking the possibility of losing their positions? Is there animosity at all or has the entire team bought into the "win at any cost" mentality and put their egos aside?

Matt Tait:

I'm not hearing a lot of whining about it and, frankly, the coaches don't really care if there is any. Their job is to put the best players on the field, the guys that give the team the best chance of winning.

I think the guys who have been here understand that and, rather than pouting about it, they've responded to it by going to work to try to keep their spots and/or stay relevant. That's all you can ask for.

The bottom line is this: They all know they're not going to play if they don't work and produce. In that way, it's very obvious that the culture change that people always talk about with new coaching staffs has taken place here.

300milestoGoodland:

Who will be our Ty McKinney or Brock Berglund saga recruit this year?

Matt Tait:

In a perfect world, there would not be one this year or ever again. But we all know this isn't a perfect world.

I know the coaches expect everybody in the class to report to campus in June, but I also know that LB Marcus Jenkins-Moore is taking a ton of classes this semester to make sure he can make it. No word on how those classes are going, but it seems like Jenkins-Moore is working his butt off and very driven to do what he needs to do to get here.

That's probably worth tracking, though.

ralster:

Matt, just asking your opinion since you cover KU football personally: which side of the ball will be "better", offense (Heaps+McKay join Mundine+RBs) or defense (some juco talent pending arrival...)? Since there are many 'unproven' new starting QBs in the BigXII, I like to think we got a chance to be competetive in conf. play. I hope Campo has more talent to work with this year, at least we have the stability of staff and d-scheme carrying over (some experience...). Thanks.

Matt Tait:

This is a tough, but solid, question. Here's why:

I think there may end up being more talent on defense, but we all know that, playing in the Big 12 can be tough even on solid defenses.

With that in mind, I'll go with the offense. For one, I think Heaps and company will be sharp, move the ball and put up points. But for two, I think the offense may seem like a much better product simply because it'll be compared to last year's offense, which was, at times, tough to watch.

Make sense?

Don't get me wrong, though, I think the defense has a chance to be very good. More talent, more speed, more nastiness... Should be fun.

TopekaGuy33:

Thanks for a the great football information you give us, I can't get enough. I know everyone was hoping that Marquel Combs would be here early and it didn't work out that way. Do we have anything to worry about here? I would hate to get excited about landing one of the top ranked JUCO players in the nation and have it not happen.

Matt Tait:

It's a fair question and I certainly understand your concern. Fortunately, though, I can tell you that I don't think you have anything to worry about with Combs.

From what I understand, it wasn't a matter of passing or not, he just needed one more class since a few credits they were expecting to transfer did not end up transferring.

Here's the really good news, though. Rather than just taking that one class and getting on with it, I've heard that Combs is taking three classes this semester, with the other two being classes that will help him stay ahead once he gets to KU.

Strange things happen, but I think Combs is on track and will be here in a little more than a month.

jaydee909:

Matt, with the exception of the offensive line where we lost three starters, I just cannot see where we should not be improved in every area. Of course, this is dependent to some extent upon getting production from transfers who have not played at this level previously. Having Heaps is huge who has shown the ability at BYU and I think he can flourish under Weis,

Am I being too optimistic?

Matt Tait:

I don't think you are.

One thing you gotta remember is this team was 1-11 last year. 2-10 the year before and 3-9 the year before that. It's not too hard to show vast improvement when that's where you're starting from.

I remember doing a similar exercise with Tom Keegan immediately after the West Virginia game, when we discussed each position and predicted whether they'd be better or worse in 2013. We said better at almost every spot and that was before the bulk of the recruiting class had been filled.

I'm not telling you that so that you take our word for it -- that might be a dangerous idea. I'm telling you that so you can see, when considering additions and subtractions, that it makes sense to expect KU to be much improved at most positions this fall.

We'll see.

InBillWeTrust:

Will KU have more NBA Draft picks this summer, or wins this football season?

Matt Tait:

Haha! At first I thought this question was garbage, but I like it. Nice job!

I'll go with KU football. If it's just McLemore and Withey who get picked, I think it's a lock. But even if Elijah or Releford get taken in the second round, I still feel good about taking football.

Watching both play out should be fun to follow.

NHJayhawk:

Matt:

Would the Big 12 look west for expansion to schools like New Mexico and Colorado State since going east does not look probable now.

Matt Tait:

No way. They're already reluctant to add teams and make the slices of pie smaller for every team, but there's no way they'd thin things out with teams that don't bring much value to the table.

I think the league will stay at 10 before it takes teams of that nature. BYU? Maybe. But I can't see anyone else that way that would make any sense. And I'm not sure BYU really makes much sense either.

DSommersby:

Football all starts in the trenches...with that said how will our offensive and d-lines look this year? Do we have enough of the talented "Big Uglies" to really compete? How is our depth and what is the word on players still coming in from JUCO and other locations?

Matt Tait:

Both lines have received help from the incoming recruiting class and I think it's the kind of help that you'll notice right away.

There could be two, three, maybe even four starters on both sides of the line in this recruiting class and, as long as those guys can play, that helps out the team depth because guys who have starting experience now slide in as your back-ups.

Neither line is quite on par with the rest of the Big 12 yet, but they're improving and making major strides.

Moderator:

We've got time for a few more questions. Great stuff today... Let's keep it rolling before Matt has to get out of here.

DSommersby:

Agree, good to have you back Matt.

Who is your favorite go to coach to interview and current favorite player? Who in the past has been your most enjoyable player to talk to? Favorite restaurant and favorite bar in Lawrence? Finally, give me the five most key layers for the upcoming season?

Matt Tait:

Man! Talk about getting your money's worth. I'll give you credit for packing a lot into a little space. Here ya go:

1. Favorite coach? Other than Weis, I love talking to Campo. Grunhard's very entertaining most of the time, too, but I really enjoy talking to all of the coaches. They all give good insight and, for the most part, seem interested in helping us out with the stories and angles we're trying to develop.

2. Favorite player? That's a little tougher because there are so many, but I've really enjoyed talking with Chris Martin. He's intense. He's funny. He's confident. And he says what's on his mind. I also really enjoy talking with Jake Heaps, Cassius Sendish and Justin McCay.

3. Past player? If you know me at all you'll know that my answer is Chris Harris. Always a good quote, always a good mood, always a smile. I also really enjoyed Kerry Meier.

4. Favorite restaurant and bar? Too tough to commit because it depends on the mood and/or the company. Let's say this, though, there aren't many places in Lawrence that I don't enjoy.

5. Five key players (in no order): Heaps, Chris Martin, Marquel Combs, Pat Lewandowski, Ben Heeney

freudhawk:

Two questions:

Do you have a sense of what Weis thinks is the biggest hurdle this team has to overcome before they are competitive?

What do most fans not realize about this team or Coach Weis that is important for us to know?

Matt Tait:

Solid question. Not sure I can give great answers, but you deserved to have this asked because it's so solid.

1. I hesitate to speak for him, but my guess would be depth. It's one thing to have a decent or solid first unit, but to truly be competitive you've gotta stack talent on top of talent. I think that's one of the biggest challenges facing the coaching staff right now and one of the reasons they're hitting the recruiting so hard early on.

2. He's honest. Rarely does Coach Weis say something just to say it or to spin something in his favor. It happens, but not as often as it does with other coaches. Most often, if you ask him something, he's going to give you an honest answer and tell you exactly what's on his mind. He's great to work with.

Reuben_J_Cogburn:

Matt...two questions

I watched them every game last year, and it was impressive. I want to believe that Sims and Pierson are the real deal and will prove it to the rest of the country this season

Will the loss of our starting, veteran O-Linemen be much of a detriment to their respective seasons?

And are they truly, every bit as good as we think they are?

Matt Tait:

I think their talent translates to any and every team in the country. Both guys are legit talents and I think they'll both have big years.

Too early to tell about the O-Line, but I think you'd be crazy if you weren't at least a little worried about it. I think the line may be tougher and I think there will be better depth, but experience means a lot, too, and it'll definitely be less experienced than last year's O-Line.

In some ways, this year's group could be better, but they have to go out and prove that before we can say they are better.

phoggedin:

Hi Matt,

Thanks for all your work on KU football. I think everyone believes that KU will be improved this year, but at the same time, almost every preview I've seen has the Jayhawks a distant tenth in their predicted standings. How likely is it that the improvement will translate into something besides a last-place finish? (Feel free to use the prediction wheel in your answer!)

Matt Tait:

I don't think the analysts are going to be comfortable putting KU higher in the standings until they finish 9th or higher first. I know that seems obvious, but it falls under the category of "show me first"

Since you asked for the percentage wheel and since we all love it:

1. 10th - 49 %
2. 9th - 33 %
3. 8th - 12 %
4. 7th - 5 %
5. 6th or higher - 1 %

AZJHAWK94:

Nothing shows the outward appearance of a new era like new uniforms. Any inside word that Adidas plans to sharpen KU's look this year as Jake Heaps leads the Hawks back into national relevance?

Matt Tait:

Haven't heard anything. Sorry. But I will say that if there's a chance to change it up or have some fun, KU will probably do it. Weis understands how important that stuff is to the players — and to recruiting — and he'll be the first to push for anything that'll help.

DSommersby:

Who will be the leaders of this team? In the past we had gamers like Reesing, Kerry Meier, Stuckey, Rivera, McClinton...do we have any guys who can develop into big game players and leaders for this coming team?

Matt Tait:

Heaps is already there. He's a great leader and now just has to add great player to his resume to qualify for your list.

Others who could qualify:

Keon Stowers
Chris Martin
Jimmay Mundine
Marquel Combs
Cassius Sendish

pbouldenv:

If you could instantly improve two areas of the team (i.e. o-line, wr, secondary, QB etc.), which would they be?

Matt Tait:

Another solid question...

Probably WRs and Secondary. You have to score points to keep up in the Big 12 and you also have to be able to defend the pass.

KanFan27:

How much do you think confidence really plays into number of wins? The past few years KU has had a serious lack of confidence. They would hang with teams, but then get behind and you could actually watch them get worse and worse as the game went on. Our orange bowl team had guys with swagger. Not tons of talent but overloaded with confidence. I think that some of our new guys especially MJM and Combs have a lot of that confidence and swagger. How much do you think their loud mouths and cocky attitudes will effect others? Hopefully it will spread throughout the team and create a team that competes for 4 quarters.

Matt Tait:

I think that's the best part about the huge number of new guys coming in.

Plenty of guys who have graduated the past couple of years have had talent, but those guys had all been around losing too long to climb out of the hole.

These guys that are coming in only know winning and the recent struggles of the KU program won't have any bearing on how they play or who they are. They're confident dudes who believe they're talented and tough enough to win in the Big 12 and I think that attitude from so many guys who will play key roles will go a long way toward helping things turn around.

Reuben_J_Cogburn:

Good to see you back at it, Matt.

Who do you pick as an untouted sleeper during this next season and why?

Matt Tait:

Offense: WR Rodriguez Coleman
Defense: S Greg Allen

300milestoGoodland:

With one full year under his belt. Does Scott Holsopple our strength coach have the kids look like a real football player or is there no real change?

Who is our next Carl "the Butcher" Nesmith?

Matt Tait:

The Scott Holsopple impact continues to be HUGE. Guys made major progress during Holsopple's first season with the program, but many of those same guys continue to make big-time progress and the team, as a whole, looks nothing like it did just two years ago.

By now, people know who Holsopple is, but I don't think he gets nearly enough credit for what he does and what he's done. The guy is amazing and, if they get this thing turned around, he'll deserve as much credit as anybody.

Moderator:

Great stuff once again. Thanks to everybody for submitting questions for Matt today. We'll try to do quite a few of these throughout the offseason so you can get your football fix during the summer months. If we didn't get to your question today, hang onto it and submit it next time. Thanks again for participating and have a great weekend!

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