Yes, D.J. Beshears is a 5-foot-9, 185-pound wide receiver with a natural ability to outrun just about anyone on the football field, given the proper hint of daylight. And sure, the Kansas University junior is constantly looking for creative ways to showcase his speed, whether it’s during a kickoff return, taking a handoff or catching a pass.
But make no mistake about Beshears: His game isn’t all about finesse and highlights. In fact, Beshears has been just as focused lately on putting a defender on his back as he has been with catching a touchdown pass.
“He’s a little Tasmanian Devil,” KU safety Bradley McDougald said. “He’ll run in and hit anybody. He doesn’t really care. He’s like a receiver with a linebacker mentality.”
Beshears figures to play more of a specialized role for the Jayhawks this fall. He’ll run back kicks like last year, when his 922 return yards set a KU single-season record and his 25.6 yards per return ranked second in the Big 12.
On offense, though, he’ll be utilized primarily as a wide receiver (10 catches, 69 yards, TD last season), and doesn’t figure to have an impact in the rushing game (55 carries, 206 yards, TD in 2010) because of KU’s depth at the position.
With a more specific role in mind, Beshears had the opportunity to fine-tune his game over the offseason. The result is a more physical Beshears with a football mentality that closely resembles the subject matter of old-school Metallica songs from the 1980s. Think dark images and punishment. Beshears said one of the best ways to catch the eye of wide receivers coach David Beaty in practice was to knock a defender on his back during running plays.
“There’s nothing like it,” Beshears said. “Just having that mentality that you can bring fear into another person on the field. It’s like a rush.”
Beaty keeps a list in the locker room that tracks how many times a KU receiver blocks a defender to the point that he falls to the ground and on his back. It’s an ongoing tally that will take place in fall practices, scrimmages and eventually in regular-season games.
After five fall practices, the leader in the clubhouse: Beshears, by a wide margin. He had eight knockdowns, while senior receiver Daymond Patterson was second with five.
“We’re competing for a spot, so you have to go hard every play,” said Beshears, who went to high school in Denton, Texas, but grew up in California’s Bay Area. “Coach (Beaty) is emphasizing that a lot. If you can’t block, you can’t play. I’m taking pride in that.”
Beshears is locked in a competition with sophomore Christian Matthews for the starting spot opposite Patterson. If Beshears doesn’t start, he’ll undoubtedly see his fair share of snaps, along with junior quarterback-turned-receiver Kale Pick. It’s fair to say Beshears is doing everything he can in practices to be considered a starter.
“If we’re doing a walk-through, D.J. is running 100 miles per hour. We have to tell him, ‘It’s a walk-through. That means you walk, D.J.,” Patterson said with a laugh. “But he still doesn’t understand that, so every day, we just kind of look at him like, ‘Why is one person running really fast, and we’re all walking?’ He’s not a really big guy, but he’s one of the most physical players I’ve ever played with at any level.”
Beshears has developed an aggressive reputation that has clearly stuck with the coaching staff.
“He’s really stood out,” KU coach Turner Gill said. “He’s done some good things, running routes, good hands, very fast, obviously strong. And he’s an excellent runner after he catches the football.”