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.
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.
As we approach the Top 10 of this summer's list, it's back to the defensive side of the ball, where the Jayhawks return a bunch of players with significant experience who are expected to enjoy a much more productive season in 2016 than the ones they produced in 2015.
Today's entrant might be at the top of that list, given the hope and expectation for him to deliver in Year 1 and the fact that it took him a little time to adjust and ease into things during his first season as a Jayhawk.
Stewart was by no means stellar during the 2015 season but he wasn't bad either. But because he plays one of the most visible and important positions in the Big 12, KU's going to need him to make a meaningful jump this season to improve its chances at snagging some victories.
Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.
This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.
Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.
Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.
11. Brandon Stewart, Sr. Cornerback
The emergence of potential star defensive end Dorance Armstrong figures to translate to less time for opposing quarterbacks to find a receiver, which in turn translates to the Kansas secondary not getting shredded as badly as it did a year ago.
That factor and greatly increased experience combine to make the outlook of the pass defense less hopeless than a year ago. A more sound season from senior cornerback Brandon Stewart would go a long way toward making that happen.
The Kansas coaching staff was excited to get a commitment out of Stewart, a junior college cornerback especially since he was arriving at mid-semester and could participate in spring practice in 2015. A little undersized, he graded out well as a prospect in every other area. Yet, cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry was quick to point out that junior college competition does not equate to that in the pass-happy Big 12. Perry used another junior college player who struggled mightily in his first year in the Football Bowl Subdivsion and ultimately developed into a first-round draft pick. It would take time, perhaps a whole season, Perry cautioned, for Stewart to show why the staff was excited to land him.
“I call him Crazy Legs,” Perry said at the time. “His legs are all over the place.”
His body needed to become more disciplined to execute the fundamentals of playing cornerback and as his first season progressed, Stewart did show subtle improvements. He will be counted on to take a bigger leap forward now that he has a full season of game experience and two springs behind him.
“Last year was just getting a feel for D-1, getting a feel for KU,” Stewart said. “It was all just a whole bunch of new stuff thrown at you all at once. So now it’s, “I know what to do and I want to play with confidence and and play fast because you know what’s going to happen and you have the feel for stuff. That’s when a defense can really start making plays and start doing things to turn this program around. ... I know from scrimmages we’ve gotten a lot better.”
Stewart sounded more confident than ever this past spring.
“I know it’s the Big 12, but I feel like this guy across from me, I feel like I can beat him,” Stewart said. "He’s mine for the day. You just have to play with that confidence.”
Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:
Say something nice about Kansas Football: Jayhawks in middle of Big 12 pack for Class of 2017 recruiting
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.
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.
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.
Rob Carolla, director of communications for the Big 12, distributed interesting NBA draft facts from the conference.
The Big 12 has had 28 lottery picks since 2000, which puts the conference second behind the ACC (31). Others: Big East 27, SEC 25, Pac-12 24, Big Ten 19.
The ACC also ranks first over the same period in first-round draft picks with 40, followed by the Pac-12 (33), Big 12 and SEC (28), Big East (24) and Big Ten (20).
Big 12 players drafted in the past 19 years: Kansas 28, Texas 17, Iowa State and Oklahoma State 8, Baylor and Oklahoma 7, Texas Tech 3, Kansas State 2.
Blake Griffin in 2009 and Andrew Wiggins in 2014 are the lone Big 12 players taken with the first pick of the draft. Three players were chosen with the second overall pick: LaMarcus Aldridge, 2006, Kevin Durant, 2007, Michael Beasley, 2008.
The record for Big 12 players chosen in one draft is 10, set in 2008 and tied in 2010.
The five Kansas players chosen in 2008 is a Big 12 record for one school in one draft. Brandon Rush was the first player chosen from the reigning national champions with the 13th pick, followed by Darrell Arthur (27th), Mario Chalmers (34th), Darnell Jackson (52nd) and Sasha Kaun (56th).
Although the Big 12 has had nine players or more taken in a draft three times since 2008, nobody expects anywhere near that total this season.
Draftexpress.com projects just four players: 5. Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), 23. Cheick Diallo (Kansas), 50. Wayne Selden (Kansas), 54. Isaiah Cousins.
The consensus seems to be that Perry Ellis won’t hear his name called in tonight’s draft, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. It would enable him, with the help of his agent, to select the team that best fits his talents, the roster that gives him the best shot at making the team.
It will be interesting to look back in 10 years to see which KU player eligible for this year’s draft plays the most NBA minutes. My guess: Ellis. Your guess?
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.
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.
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.
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.