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Most Crucial Jayhawks: No. 1 - QB Montell Cozart

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Here's the last installment of our series that examines the Jayhawks who stand to have the biggest impact for KU football this fall:

Kansas backup quarterback Montell Cozart breaks out of the pocket as the Baylor defense closes in during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013.

Kansas backup quarterback Montell Cozart breaks out of the pocket as the Baylor defense closes in during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. by Nick Krug

No. 1: Montell Cozart, Sophomore QB

Cozart need not look far to see upgrades to the Kansas offense.

Coordinator/offensive line coach John Reagan. Wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau. Slot receiver Nick Harwell. Anticipated steps forward from Rodriguez Coleman and Tony Pierson.

Yet, only one man can make all of those upgrades come together to result in a significantly improved offense and Cozart is that man.

Rushed into a starting assignment for three games in his true freshman season, Cozart still is described with the other P-word, potential. If by season’s end he embodies the most desirable P-word, productive, Kansas could have a far more interesting 2014 season than most anticipate.

Cozart’s smooth speed and quick cutting ability combine to make him a serious running threat capable of sapping a defense of its aggressiveness. But can he walk that fine line and run aggressively enough without unnecessarily exposing himself to injury?

Just as importantly, can he use his quickness to evade tacklers to extend plays, all the while keeping his eyes down field seeking an open target?

As a freshman, Cozart looked too eager to avoid getting hit and at times stepped out of bounds prematurely, leaving first downs on the field.

Now that the defense needs to respect the KU quarterback’s running ability, that creates extra space for the running backs, a potentially big factor.

Facing heavy heat thanks to a shaky offensive line, play-calling heavy on slow-developing plays, and receivers who had trouble getting open, Cozart had a rough first season as a passer.

He appeared too willing to throw the ball away and completed just 36.5 percent of his passes and averaged just 3.6 yards per pass attempt. His next touchdown pass will be his first. Some of that poor production could be traced to his youth and inexperience. In high school, he never faced such fast, well-coached defenses. It takes even the most promising players time to adjust.

Cozart doesn’t need to be the next Todd Reesing. He just needs to give Kansas about what Kerry Meier gave the Jayhawks at quarterback in his red-shirt freshman season, with better luck on the injury front.

Meier completed 56.5 percent of his passes, averaged 6.5 yards per pass attempt and threw 13 touchdown passes with 10 interceptions. He also rushed for rushed for 344 yards and five touchdowns. Those aren’t all-conference numbers, but they’re a major upgrade over a year ago and a nice start toward a productive career for Cozart, the most pivotal player on the roster.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2014:

No. 25 - LB Jake Love

No. 24 - DB Greg Allen

No. 23 - DB Cassius Sendish

No. 22 - OL Zach Fondal

No. 21 - WR Justin McCay

No. 20 - DL Ben Goodman

No. 19 - K John Duvic

No. 18 - DB JaCorey Shepherd

No. 17 - DB Isaiah Johnson

No. 16 - TE Jimmay Mundine

No. 15 - DB Dexter McDonald

No. 14 - RB Brandon Bourbon

No. 13 - OL Keyon Haughton

No. 12 - OL Damon Martin

No. 11 - DL Keon Stowers

No. 10 - RB De'Andre Mann

No. 9 - WR Rodriguez Coleman

No. 8 - DL Andrew Bolton

No. 7 - DB Kevin Short

No. 6 - OL Larry Mazyck

No. 5 - Ben Heeney

No. 4 - Michael Reynolds

No. 3 - Nick Harwell

No. 2 - Tony Pierson

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