Posts tagged with Football

Say something nice about Kansas football: Discipline taking root

Kansas football teammates Keegan Brewer, left, and LaQuvionte Gonzalez, visit during weightlifting exercises Friday morning, June 24, 2016.

Kansas football teammates Keegan Brewer, left, and LaQuvionte Gonzalez, visit during weightlifting exercises Friday morning, June 24, 2016. by Mike Yoder

Setting rules and then dismissing anybody who doesn't follow them is not the way to establish discipline in a football program. Anybody could do that. It's easy. The tough challenge is taking players who lack discipline and finding a way to get them to change their behaviors.

The summer conditioning program plays a big part in instilling discipline and things seem to be going well on that front.

“What showed me we’re changing is the amount of guys I've had to punish at 5 a.m.," Kansas strength and conditioning coach Je'Ney Jackson said Friday. "Like today, I didn’t have anyone. Let's say we have 100 guys. There will be eight different times per week they have to be somewhere on time for me. So that's 800 different opportunities for them to miss one of those times. I bet we've had six all summer. Six! When I first (returned to Kansas), that first spring, we might have six per week. I went 55 days in a row where I punished guys at 5 a.m. Fifty-five days in a row!"

Tardiness or absence from a class, a tutoring session and a workout are examples of transgressions that could earn a player an early alarm clock setting.

"Coaches are holding them more accountable and they don’t want to come in here and get crushed at 5 a.m.," Jackson said. "What coach (David) Beaty is doing, it’s working. It really is working."

All program reversals start with instilling discipline. It's a first step that must be followed by many, many more, such as improved recruiting, smart game-planning and in-game adjustments.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Jayhawks’ run defense will improve

Kansas sophomore defensive tackle D.J. Williams works out with the Jayhawk football team during conditioning drills Friday, July 15, 2016.

Kansas sophomore defensive tackle D.J. Williams works out with the Jayhawk football team during conditioning drills Friday, July 15, 2016. by Mike Yoder

Frank Solich made his coaching reputation at Nebraska, where fleet running backs and powerful backs alike darted through holes blown open by corn-fed linemen.

That blueprint has worked well for Solich at Ohio University, which he has on a hot streak that includes going to bowl games in 6 of 7 years heading into this season.

Entering his 12th season at Ohio, Solich has a big, experienced offensive line, and all but two of the eight players who rushed for more than 100 yards last season back, including A.J. Ouellette, the leading rusher.

Based on the performance of last season’s Kansas defense, the Sept. 10 clash with the Bobcats in Memorial Stadium has all the earmarks of a blowout with the home team on the losing end.

A refresher on just how poorly the Jayhawks fared among 124 FBS schools against the run during an 0-12, 2015 season: 124th in rushing touchdowns (39), 123rd in yards per carry (5.67), 125th in yards per game (267.17).

Ohio’s rankings in rushing the football: 68th in rushing touchdowns (22), 76th in yards per carry (4.3), 50th in yards per game (180.85).

Solich doesn’t have an obvious choice to start at quarterback — always good news for the opposition — but all the candidates are dual-threats.

Obviously, KU stats were compiled against a brutal schedule, Ohio’s vs. a less challenging one.

Still, it’s a case of OU’s strength matching up against one of KU’s biggest weaknesses (another being pass defense), based on last season.

But last season’s defense won’t be taking the field, even though most of the names will be the same.

Other than Ben Goodman, all the starters from the defensive line were in their first year of Div. I football.

They all have grown in physique, confidence and football smarts. On paper at least, the D-line should be the most improved position group.

Sophomore Dorance Armstrong had a standout spring at defensive end. On the other side, Damani Mosby and Anthony Olobia have their junior-college transition year behind them. It’s the improvement in the middle of the D-line that creates the most hope that KU won’t get steamrolled to the extent it did a year ago.

D-tackles Daniel Wise and D.J. Williams both have been singled out as recipients of strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson’s Workout Warrior of the Week honor. (Reserve defensive end Josh Ehambe also was so honored).

Wise started seven games last season as a redshirt freshman and has added needed weight and emerged as a big leader on the defense. Williams, a prospect with impressive enough physical tools to receive scholarship offers from Oklahoma and Missouri, has completely transformed his work ethic, according to Jackson. He’s 6-foot-5, 306 pounds and agile.

Statistics don’t accurately reflect the contributions of a defensive lineman, so I thought it would be interesting to ask Williams to share his individual goals for this season.

“Every time someone comes in my hole, it’s not open. Just make sure that hole’s not open,” Williams said. “That’s my No. 1 individual goal. Another individual goal would be not getting tired, trying to keep that endurance. I really don’t like coming out of the game because I really didn’t get that many snaps (last year). I’m trying to get as many as I can before my time is up.”

Those are terrific goals, one centered on on-field performance, the other on conditioning. Still, no position requires more depth than D-tackle. Huge men who so often have to wrestle with two blockers at once need to rest. That’s where junior-college transfers Isi Holani and DeeIsaac Davis enter the equation.

Holani looked too overweight during the spring to project as a player who could help as soon as the fall. He looks as if he’s shedding pounds at a good rate.

Occupying blockers so that linebackers can come up and make the tackles is one job for D-tackles. Then it’s up to KU’s linebackers making tackles closer to the line of scrimmage than a year ago. Marcquis Roberts has healthier knees than at this point last season and brings quickness and toughness. Joe Dineen, with the first full year of his life as a linebacker behind him and added strength should make a leap forward.

So even though Ohio will be favored against Kansas in Week 2, an upset is possible if the Jayhawks’ run defense improves even more than I suspect it will.

Yet again, I said something nice about Kansas football. Step up to the plate and take your best cuts at shining optimism on a team coming off an 0-12 finish.

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Say something nice about Kansas Football: Jayhawks in middle of Big 12 pack for Class of 2017 recruiting

Kansas cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry shakes hands with officials at Southlake, Texas.

Kansas cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry shakes hands with officials at Southlake, Texas. by Richard Gwin

It’s too depressing to look behind to see where Kansas ranks in various Big 12 football categories. So why not look ahead? It will brighten the mood.

Rivals.com ranks Kansas fifth among 10 Big 12 teams in Class of 2017 recruiting thus far and 42nd in the nation.

Big 12 teams with national recruiting rankings for the Class of 2017: 5. Oklahoma, 24. (tie) Iowa State and Oklahoma State, 32. Texas Tech, 42. Kansas, 44. TCU, 46. Texas, 57. West Virginia, 66. Kansas State, 94. Baylor.

Aside from the encouraging ranking for Kansas, two interesting elements of the rankings jump out. First, Iowa State obviously made a great hire in wooing Matt Campbell from Toledo, where he went 35-15. Second, Baylor’s recruiting has taken a huge hit in the wake of the rape scandal and subsequent firing of head coach Art Briles.

Rivals lists a dozen verbal commitments — not counting those who then changed their minds — including one four-star recruit and seven three-star commitments.

Four-star: Michael Lee, DB, New Orleans, 5-foot-10, 162 pounds.

Three-star: Akayleb Evans, DB, McKinney, Texas, 6-2, 180; Troy James, DE, Baton Rouge, La., 6-4, 268; Travis Jordan, ATH, Marrero, La., 6-1, 185; Reggie Roberson, WR, Mesquite, Texas, 6-0, 175; Jamie Tago, DE, Garden City, 6-3, 245; Robert Topps, DB, Chicago, 6-2, 182; Dominic Williams, RB, Dallas, 5-9, 186.

Two-star: Jay Dineen, LB, Lawrence, 6-2, 225; Kyron Johnson, LB, Arlington, Texas, 6-1, 195; Takulve Williams, WR, New Orleans, 5-11, 180.

It won’t be easy for Kansas to keep all 12 recruits because it’s common for football recruits to change their minds when more established programs come knocking, but it’s an impressive list nonetheless, although an incomplete one because it’s so early.

A pair of highly rated Texas offensive linemen had committed to KU only to change their minds, so work needs to be done to recruit more high school blockers in order to break the cycle of relying on junior college O-linemen, never a sound strategy.

First-year running backs coach Tony Hull has opened up Louisiana for Kansas and his reputation already is paying off. Meanwhile, head coach David Beaty and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry to continue to tap their Texas ties for talent.

At defensive end, Anthony Olobia and Damani Mosby both are seniors, so the need for immediate help made it necessary to land a junior college recruit. Tago, who plays at Garden City Community College, is the only junior college recruit among the 12 committed recruits.

Recruiting clearly is on the gradual uptick at Kansas. There, I said something nice about Kansas football, yet again. Your turn. Deliver.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: All but two starters return on defense

Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) returns a fumbled ball by Texas Tech deep into the Red Raiders' territory during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) returns a fumbled ball by Texas Tech deep into the Red Raiders' territory during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

The good news/bad news lament of coaches of losing teams in every sport at every level in every era hasn’t changed: “The good news is we have everybody back. The bad news is we have everybody back.”

Well, the Kansas defense doesn’t have everybody back, but other than end Ben Goodman and tackle Corey King, the Jayhawks return all of their key contributors.

Yes, they are returning from an 0-12 team that ranked dead last among 128 Football Bowl Subdivision squads in points per game (46.1) and total defense (560.8 yards per Saturday).

Given that, Kansas fielding an average Big 12 defense is not a realistic goal, but improving on last season’s performance is a given.

Goodman and linebacker Marcquis Roberts were the only players with extensive starting experience, Roberts’ coming at South Carolina.

Goodman and nickel back Tevin Shaw were the lone returning starters from 2014. (Counting as a returning starter requires starting half of the games from the previous season.)

If returning pass rushers Dorance Armstrong, Anthony Olobia and Damani Mosby (combined 12 starts opposite Goodman) count as one entry, KU has nine returning starters on defense. Armstrong has added 16 pounds of muscle and consistently stood out throughout the spring.

A look at career starts for KU’s defensive players: Roberts (25), Shaw (17), Courtney Arnick (14), Fish Smithson (11), Joe Dineen and Brandon Stewart (nine), Tyrone Miller and Daniel Wise (seven), Marnez Ogletree (six), Greg Allen and Armstrong (five), Bazie Bates and Olobia (four), Mosby (three), Chevy Graham (two), Derrick Neal (one).

Having so many experienced players enables the defensive staff to teach at a faster pace and pack more into each practice.

There you have it. Yet again, I said something nice about Kansas football.

Your turn. Bring it.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Culture of keeping each other accountable taking root

Kansas football team members react to a series of weightlifting reps by teammate Ryan Schadler during an early morning workout Friday morning, June 24, 2016.

Kansas football team members react to a series of weightlifting reps by teammate Ryan Schadler during an early morning workout Friday morning, June 24, 2016. by Mike Yoder

Strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson and the rest of his staff put in multiple 15-hour days a week this time of year, but somehow the days don’t seem as long to them as they did last summer.

“I love coming in here every day and grinding every day because they’re giving everything they’ve got,” Jackson said.

The most encouraging aspect of summer conditioning so far, Jackson said, is that the players are doing some of his work for him.

“The thing that is so different in this team is truly how hard they are straining,” Jackson said. “We train four days a week. They’re out there in the heat for a long time and guys are pushing so hard, but the best part about it is they are holding their teammates to the right standard, so if it’s not done the right way, I don’t have to jump them and tell them to go over and do it again. By the time that guy gets done with his rep, he’s got four or five guys telling him, ‘That wasn’t good enough. Go back and do it again.’ And we haven’t had that. Before that what we had was, ‘What do you mean that’s not good enough?’ We haven’t had any of that. A guy tells him it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough. And they do it until it’s good enough. That has been a huge difference in this team.”

Establishing a culture of accountability won’t change the raw talent level, but will increase a program’s ability to compete deeper into games against more talented teams as the bond among players grows stronger. Even if just small strides can be made every year in terms of raw talent among recruits, the culture of accountability will enable the better athletes to improve at a faster rate.

How did the change from a year ago happen?

“I think the biggest thing is your best players decide they’re sick of falling below the standard,” Jackson said. “And they’re sick of working as hard as they work and then seeing other people not do it. So now it’s come to a point of, ‘Hey, if I’m going to work this hard, I’m holding you to that same standard.’ And us as coaches say: ‘Hey, if your teammate calls you out in a constructive way, then I’m going to have a problem with you going back at that guy.’ That’s what we’ve had to instill in them: ‘Hey, if you’re not being a man and you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do to help your teammates and to be a great teammate, then someone’s got to tell you you’re not at that standard.’ ”

Kansas picks last or close to it on the Big 12 recruiting trail, so it must do an excellent job of developing talent to close the gap. That was a huge key to the rise of the program when Mark Mangino was head coach and Chris Dawson was strength and conditioning coach, a role he now fills for Kansas State. That can’t happen without the culture of accountability about which Jackson genuinely is excited.

There you have it, I said something nice about Kansas football. Your turn.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Offense returns more experience than a year ago

Kansas running back Ke'aun Kinner (22) makes his way in for a touchdown during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Ke'aun Kinner (22) makes his way in for a touchdown during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Just one Big 12 school has failed to reach 30 offensive touchdowns in each of the the past four seasons. It was the same school every time.

Kansas scored 27 offensive touchdowns in 2012, 22 in 2013, 25 in 2014 and 22 in 2015. Texas posted the next lowest single-season total during that span with 34 offensive touchdowns in 2014.

Although those KU numbers are ugly, that does not violate the title of this blog. Those numbers are facts and facts are indisputable and can’t be categorized as either mean or nice. They are kindness-neutral.

Given the horrific nature of the numbers, saying something nice about the Kansas offense presents quite the challenge.

Here goes:

Heading into the 2015 season, Kansas did not have a single player on the roster who had scored a single offensive touchdown in 2014. All the players who had accounted for the 25 six-pointers were unavailable for action, whether it be from exhausting their eligibility, suffering an injury or in the case of Corey Avery, doing something to earn a dismissal: Avery (six), Nick Harwell (five), Michael Cummings (four), Jimmay Mundine (three), Tony Pierson (three), Justin McCay (two), Nigel King and Trent Smiley (one).

Heading into this coming season, 6 of the 10 rushing touchdowns return (Ke’aun Kinner five, Montell Cozart one), as do half of the 12 receiving touchdowns (Steven Sims and Tyler Patrick two, Shakiem Barbel and Bobby Hartzog one.)

Departed players who reached the end zone via rush or pass reception: Tre’ Parmalee four, Taylor Cox and Darious Crawley two, De’Andre Mann and Kent Taylor one).

So 12 touchdowns return and 10 are gone. That’s not a good number, but it’s far better than not having a single player who creased the end zone the previous season returning to the offense, as was the case heading into 2015.

So even though Kansas still is the safe bet to have the least productive offense in the Big 12, it should be better than last year’s anemic attack, in part because the offensive line will bring a little bit more experience.

Enough better to reach the 30-TD milestone for the first time since producing 35 in 2011 when Turner Gill was head coach, Chuck Long was offensive coordinator and the roster was filled with recruits from Mark Mangino and Gill? Possibly.

There, I said something nice about Kansas football.

Your turn.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Faster tempo showing up

KU football recruits head into the weight room Friday morning at the Anderson Sports Complex as KU football practice starts early in the morning as the players go through a rigorous session for conditioning.

KU football recruits head into the weight room Friday morning at the Anderson Sports Complex as KU football practice starts early in the morning as the players go through a rigorous session for conditioning. by Richard Gwin

Kansas head football coach David Beaty's desire to increase his team's tempo seems to be taking root. Spring practices picked up the pace, and after I spent 45 minutes watching the Jayhawks work with weights Friday, the thing that stood out most was how swiftly it all happened with no standing around and waiting.

"You have to match what you're trying to do on the field," KU's strength and conditioning coach Je'Ney Jackson said. "You have to match the head coach's philosophy with the way you train. So now they don't know any other way but to do anything at a high rate. No one should ever be idle. Once you get done with one exercise, usually you're going to another exercise. So we're constantly moving, constantly moving."

Red-shirt sophomore defensive tackle Daniel Wise, the team's reigning Workout Warrior of the Week, makes sure all the new faces know there is only one speed during workouts and that speed is pedal to the metal.

“We have to change the momentum around on the team, pick up the pace,” Wise said. “Some new guys coming in may not know what to expect and you have to let them know from Day 1.”

As team speed increases through recruiting, the fast-pace at which Beaty wants to play will result in more big plays. For now, fast or slow, the players' job is to do everything as fast as they can.

“Yes, sir, that’s how it is," Wise said. "That’s how it’s going to be on the field too in the Big 12. Tempo, tempo, tempo. So we have to practice tempo, tempo, tempo. As soon as coach Jackson came in he instilled that tempo. As soon as coach Beaty came in he instilled that tempo. Tempo walking around in the meeting room. Tempo in the weight room. Tempo on the field. Tempo all the time.”

The pace is picking up.

There, I said something nice about Kansas football. Your turn.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Dorance Armstrong the real deal

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (46) runs through drills during practice on Tuesday, April 11, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (46) runs through drills during practice on Tuesday, April 11, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

For years, I have been guilty of looking for the slightest reason to believe that help is on the way for Kansas’ too-often invisible pass rush.

I look at the schools who recruited the player. Or I see the quick first step or the long arms and convince myself that this is an athlete built to harass quarterbacks. Usually it’s a junior-college or graduate transfer, sometimes one straight out of high school, who fools me. I hype him because I believe he will change things. And nothing changes.

Naturally, the proof will come on 12 autumn Saturdays, but it looks as if the Jayhawks actually do have a legitimate Big 12 pass-rusher with the potential to become the secondary’s best friend for the next three seasons.

I can’t recall a KU coaching staff being as excited about a defensive end as this staff is about sophomore Dorance Armstrong since transfer Charlton Keith, whose final year of eligibility came in 2005. Based on his size -- they both stand 6-foot-4, and the thicker Armstrong already weighs more than Keith as a senior — Armstrong has an even higher upside.

The staff considered Armstrong the top signee of the Class of 2015 and nothing about his serious approach and coachability, promise shown as a true freshman (3.5 sacks as a part-time player), and ability to take on pounds without losing speed has changed anyone’s mind.

Armstrong already has packed on 16 pounds of muscle in the past year, has shown an ability to develop pass-rush moves, plays with fire and has speed that will impress NFL scouts a couple of years down the road.

If Armstrong does develop into an NFL prospect, he will get paid to play a year earlier than he would have if he had gone to a powerhouse program that would have put a redshirt on him as a freshman. Maybe the staff can use that to entice another talented recruit.

Armstrong said no to Illinois, Michigan State, Texas Tech and several other programs to come to Kansas. That’s impressive recruiting by KU and sound coaching to get him to the point he appears to have reached already.

There, I said something nice about Kansas football. Your turn.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Speedier Joe Dineen primed for big junior season

A frustrated Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. (29) shows turns away after a Texas touchdown during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas.

A frustrated Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. (29) shows turns away after a Texas touchdown during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

Linebacker Joe Dineen not only had a productive season as a sophomore at a brand-new position for him, he showed during the spring that it pays to work hard during the offseason.

Dineen improved his speed noticeably, which will put him in position to make more plays on runs and perform better in coverage.

A rising junior out of Lawrence Free State High, Dineen played quarterback and safety in high school and depth issues during his freshman season forced a temporary move to running back. He found a home in the middle of Kansas' defense and has emerged as a leader for the defense.

Dineen put on weight during his first two seasons, which kept him from getting faster. He has grown accustomed to carrying the weight and has trained so hard that his latest stop-watch time and spring playing speed has coaches excited about his prospects for the coming season.

Dineen's personality and quarterback background make him a perfect mentor for Maciah Long, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound incoming freshman who played QB at Houston North Shore High. KU recruited him to play linebacker, where new linebackers coach Todd Bradford, a highly regarded football mind, will teach him the position and Dineen will be there to encourage him to fight through growing pains.

KU plays with two linebackers and seniors Marcquis Roberts and Courtney Arnick bring an abundance of experience, so if Long needs time to learn the position without burning a year of eligibility, KU can afford to go that route.

There, for the fourth consecutive Monday, I said something nice about Kansas football. Your turn.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Lone Star state recruiting paying off

SportsDayHS.com ranked the top 100 high school football recruits in North Texas and three of them already have committed to Kansas. Fortunately for the Jayhawks, one of them is a running back.

Kansas will need to have a little luck to make it through the season with enough healthy backs and the best of the lot, Ke’aun Kinner, has just one year of eligibility remaining. All of that makes the recruitment of Dominic Williams from Parish Episcopal in Dallas a huge one.

A 5-foot-9, 186-pound shifty back with breakaway speed, Williams has transferred to Independence High in Frisco, Texas, for his senior season. He rushed for more than 2,400 yards and 30 touchdowns in each of his past two seasons.

Dominic Williams is ranked nationally by Rivals as the 31st-best running back in the Class of 2017. To put that in perspective, consider that the No. 29 running back is headed to Michigan State and the No. 30 is bound for LSU.

Kansas was the first school to offer Williams a scholarship, which gave the Jayhawks the edge on schools that offered later, including Arizona State, Illinois, Purdue and SMU.

Kansas also has received commitments from top 100 North Texas recruits Jared Hocker, a 6-5, 295-pound offensive lineman, and Reggie Roberson, a 6-0, 180 wide receiver.

Recruiting appears to be ahead of last year’s schedule, as evidenced by 4 of the 6 verbal commitments receiving three-star rankings from Rivals.

There, for the third consecutive Monday, I said something nice about Kansas football. Your turn. Are you up to the task?

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