Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis all but salivated a year ago when he talked about how his dynamic scout-team duo was giving the first-team defense all it could handle daily in practice.
Weis couldn’t wait to unleash the Jake Heaps-Justin McCay tandem on Big 12 defenses.
Heaps also talked about the great chemistry the two developed on the scout team, and it wasn’t just talk. They backed it up in the spring game, connecting eight times for 99 yards and a touchdown. McCay’s leaping one-handed catch in traffic for months became frozen in memory like a statue that symbolized the impending return of a KU passing game that went into hibernation when Todd Reesing headed into the business world.
Now Heaps would have a better chance of finding McCay if the receiver were a participant in the federal witness-protection program.
Four games into the season, McCay has two receptions for 12 yards and a touchdown. Both catches came against FCS opponent South Dakota in the season-opener.
“Justin works extremely hard, and I know he wants to be great, and I know he has a desire to be great, and he’s going to continue working hard,” Heaps said.
Why is it so much more difficult to get open in a game than it was playing for the scout team?
Heaps went through his progressions, seeking an answer to that question, but nothing popped into his line of sight. It stumped him.
“I think that’s a great question,” Heaps said. “I think it’s a combination of things. I think it’s, one, the opportunity. It’s what the defense is giving us. Sometimes Justin isn’t my first read. Sometimes he’s deeper in the progressions. Things have to happen for me to get back to him.”
McCay’s playing time at receiver is fading, and his biggest contributions have come on special teams. What must be going through his head?
No way of knowing. McCay’s class schedule conflicts with the Wednesday afternoon time slot that select players are made available to the media, based on them being requested and approved by Weis. McCay has been requested for postgame interviews at least twice, but last was made available after the South Dakota game. If he stands out in practice, he’ll get more shots in the games. Will this be his week finally?
TCU is among the most physical teams in the country, and McCay’s greatest asset as a receiver is his physical style of play, both as a blocker and pass-catcher. If he doesn’t stand out today, it’s time to wonder if he ever will. He’s a junior, so a switch to defense would require a crash course. And what position? His length and athleticism would make him a candidate to play anywhere from the hybrd defensive end/outside linebacker position known as Buck in KU’s defense, to safety.
Failing that, we’re all left to wonder why Heaps’ favorite practice receiver of a year ago has been all but invisible during games.
“I really don’t know the answer to that,” Heaps said to a question that is asked every week. “I would love to give an answer and wave a magic wand and fix it, but at the end of the day, it’s all on opportunities, all on match-ups, all on how the game goes. You can’t force balls to people.”
So far, the match made in practice heaven hasn’t created any mismatches in games, and it’s time to wonder if it ever will.