After covering Kansas University's spring football practices for the past three-plus weeks, I've heard more about clean slates and fresh starts than a parole board.
The Jayhawks have overhauled their coaching staff when KU kicks off this fall it will have just two assistants from a year ago and have seven junior college transfers and 12 red-shirt freshmen listed on their final spring depth chart.
While everyone I've talked to rants and raves about the Jayhawks' about-face from last fall, I just started covering KU and have no point of reference. Instead, I offer the outsider's point of view from the inside.
After attending all of the Jayhawks' 15 spring practices, I can testify to the fact that they are spirited. I saw very little bickering between players and/or coaches and only a couple of minor skirmishes that are common in football.
One of the telling moments of the spring, though, was when a defensive player bounced running back Reggie Duncan off the Memorial Stadium turf during a non-contact drill. As Duncan, understandably upset, jumped up to get in the defender's face, defensive coordinator Tom Hayes' voiced boomed across the field.
"Reggie," Hayes bellowed, "I'll take care of this."
Satisfied, Duncan returned to the huddle, while Hayes reprimanded the defensive player and sent him to the sideline.
KU's new coaches demand and expect respect. From Johnny Barr begging for perfection in his southern drawl to Travis Jones who doesn't look far removed from his playing days at Georgia sprinting across the field to laud a player for a job well done, these guys apparently love to coach.
Yes, there is a sense of pride and professionalism among the Jayhawks, but questions remain, as well: Who will be KU's starting quarterback come fall? Will the offensive line be able to come together? Just how improved is the defense?
I wouldn't worry about the last two questions. The offensive line appears to be as talented as it is big with the starters ranging from 6-foot-4 to 6-7 and weighing between 285 and 305 pounds.
The defense also has looked strong this spring, even without returning senior starters Andrew Davison and Nate Dwyer. Red-shirt freshman Travis Watkins and junior newcomer Charlie Dennis have been wreaking havoc at defensive end, the Marcus Rogers-led linebacking corps has been flying all over the field and the secondary has been stifling.
Which brings me back to the question that has been hanging over the Jayhawks all spring: Will sophomore Zach Dyer or red-shirt freshman Mario Kinsey stand under center?
Allen has to make a choice between the Zach Attack and Super Mario sounds like a kid making a decision at an arcade, doesn't it? and I certainly don't envy him.
Both players have their pros and cons, but I'd have to give the nod to Dyer.
The kid can throw accurately he was 17-of-29 passing for 172 yards in three spring scrimmages and run well, but his biggest asset is his decision-making ability. I don't think Dyer will cost KU a game because of making a bad read, forcing a pass or overthrowing a wide-open receiver.
That's not a knock on Kinsey, who certainly will be a special player in the not-so-distant future, maybe even as early as October. He's a slippery runner with a cannon for an arm. Allen said before the spring session that Kinsey could throw the ball 70 yards. I've seen him do it.
But Kinsey still is making freshman mistakes, which the Jayhawks won't be able to afford with this season's monster schedule. It seems to me, he is too quick to give up on plays and take off on his own and not quick enough deciding when to pitch while running the option.
Given time to mature, though, this guy will be fun to watch.
If the quarterback position isn't a liability and players like Duncan, Harrison Hill, Termaine Fulton and Byron Gasaway are as explosive in the fall as they've looked this spring, KU fans could be pleasantly surprised.