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Seven best quotes from Charlie Weis today

Kansas head football coach Charlie Weis answers questions from media members during a press conference  on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014 in Mrkonic Auditorium. Weis addressed preparations for the Jayhawks' upcoming home game against Central Michigan and also the play of quarterback Montell Cozart, which he hopes to be improved by this weekend.

Kansas head football coach Charlie Weis answers questions from media members during a press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014 in Mrkonic Auditorium. Weis addressed preparations for the Jayhawks' upcoming home game against Central Michigan and also the play of quarterback Montell Cozart, which he hopes to be improved by this weekend. by Nick Krug

If the Kansas football team can’t snap out of its funk this weekend with a victory against a Central Michigan squad coming off a 37-point loss and likely coming to town without its best player, it’s quite possible today was Charlie Weis’ final Tuesday presser.

If that’s the case, I’ll miss the candid, entertaining sessions.

Even coming off a 41-3 loss at Duke and doing his best to check his sarcastic tongue, Weis didn’t give boring answers to the questions sent his way.

Some of his statements understandably don’t sit well with administrators and athletes, but for reporters, Weis’ candor is a dream come true.

My seven favorite answers from what could be his final Tuesday presser:

1 — Question: “What was the Duke defense doing that shut down (Nick) Harwell?”

Answer: “Montell (Cozart) shut down Harwell. Duke’s defense didn’t shut down Harwell.”

That’s 100 percent accurate. KU’s vastly improved receiving corps doesn’t have the numbers to show it because, in order, a) Cozart isn’t finding open receivers; b) He often misses them when he finds them; c) He’s too entrapped by rushing defenders to see them.

Not many coaches would respond in such a colorful way and would be too fearful of hurting the quarterback’s confidence.

2 — Question: “This may be kind of a simple, dumb question, but ...”

Answer: “Go ahead. Dumb is right up my alley.”

That’s not ersatz humor so often uttered by coaches. You know, C material that gets A laughs. Instead, it was genuinely funny, especially coming off a 41-3 loss to Duke, a game in advance of which he had sounded “confident, bordering on cocky,” to use a phrase he recently used on another topic.

3 — Question: “You already mentioned (running back Corey) Avery, but first road game for a bunch of your freshmen and obviously a lot of them got out there, too. Just the whole experience, what do you think of how those guys handled the road trip?”

Answer: “Well, Avery doesn’t act like a freshman, so it’s tough for me to look at him like a freshman. I think there are different guys you look at different ways. There are a couple guys that looked like they were more looking at the opposing stadium, and really it wasn’t a very intimidating place now. There were about 25,000 people there. They’re far away from you. It wasn’t loud. So there really was nothing to be intimidated about.

“I mean, you’re playing against a nice, solid team. They’re not great, but they’re a nice, solid team that’s turned the corner and they’re winning, so you’re going to have to play well, so really there should have been — field was in great condition, weather didn’t turn out to be an issue, but I mean, really you could look for reasons. There really isn’t one. We’ve gone to places where a freshman walks in and says, ‘My God.’ You walk in and there are 88,000 people there or 100,000 people there, and some of them get overwhelmed, but that game, that should not have been the case.”

It would be difficult to find another coach who just lost to a team by a 41-3 score refer to the victor as, “a nice, solid team. They’re not great, but they’re a nice, solid team.” What does that make Weis’ team? Well, at least 38 points worse than “nice” or “solid.”

4 — Question: “We saw how well your team played in the first quarter with the emotion against Southeast Missouri. Is that a big key for you guys, just playing with that emotion in a home game coming up?”

Answer (second half of it): “The problem really started between the quarterback and the center, okay, and before you know it, you’re punting and you never even gave your team a chance.

“Put it like this: I’m glad there are lights out there because when the practice is over, the quarterback and center are going to hang out together for quite some time. I don’t know what time tutoring starts, but hopefully they’ll be in in time for tutoring. We (coaches) can’t be out there because that would exceed the four‑hour day.”

Weis paints a nice picture with words and in this case what I pictured was being forced to stay after school to pound chalkboard erasers to clean them, scraping used gum off the bottom of desktops, etc.

5 — Question: “How much did having (suspended running back Thomas) Rawls and not having Rawls have to do with the two different outcomes (a decisive victory against Purdue; a blowout loss to Syracuse).”

Answer: “I mean, he’s a 100‑plus yard rusher every single game, and looking at, following the issues that are going on, I’d be kind of surprised if he played this week. Sign me up for that.

“But I’ve got my own guys’ issues on and off the field. I don’t wish bad on anyone else, but I think that the kid is a legitimately front‑line player. I think he’s really good. So would it have affected them, yeah, it probably would have affected them.”

Regardless of whether it was his intention, Weis pretty much let it be known he thinks it wouldn’t be right to play Rawls, given his off-the-field issue. In fairness, all he said was that he didn’t think he would play, so I’m taking a little bit of a leap there.

Rawls was scheduled for a Tuesday court appearance on larceny and credit-card fraud charges, dating to an April 8th incident at a casino. Rawls, who rushed for 155 yards in a 38-17 victory against Purdue on Sept. 8, is accused of stealing a woman’s purse and using her credit cards.

Rawls, the Chippewas’ best player, was arrested by Saginaw Chppewa Tribal Police the day after his big game. Who would have ever guessed casinos employ video surveillance. I mean, with all that money changing hands, what a shock!

6 — Question: “The problems on third down, is that just another example of the passing game needing to be more efficient, or is there anything more to that?”

Answer: “Well, it really was the passing game on every down. Third down gets magnified. If you’re not throwing and catching, if you’re not throwing and catching, third down gets magnified because now you’re punting. It wasn’t like every third down was third and 12. We had third and and 4s, we had plenty of manageable situations right there, but our efficiency in the pass game was not good, and it’s definitely magnified on third down.”

Good point.

7 — Question: “Referencing what you said earlier about some guys playing a pretty good game, was Michael Reynolds one of those guys?”

Answer: “No, I would not put him in that group of people that played really well. ... I think when Michael Reynolds was rushing the passer, he looked good. When he wasn’t, he didn’t look very good. You’re not going to get me to say, ‘Yeah’ on very many players you could bring up right now.”

Given the final score, that’s appropriate.

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Offensive line needs better performance at Duke

Durham, N.C. — The last 27 times Kansas has played a football game outside of Lawrence, it has lost. Upsetting Duke today could do more than make for a pleasant flight home for the players.

“I think coming back here it would change a lot for us,” right tackle Damon Martin said.

For one thing, the concrete proof that would come with a victory on the road against a team coming off a big season would convince every Jayhawk that he is playing for a better team. It also would convince a fan base starving for a positive sign that this is a team worth watching for four quarters.

To pull off the upset, the KU O-Line in general and Martin specifically must deliver a better four-quarter performance than in the 34-28 victory against Southeast Missouri State last Saturday.

Offensive coordinator/line coach John Reagan gave his line a better grade in the first half than the second.

“I think that’s fair,” said Martin, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound junior from Arlington, Texas. “We stopped executing in the second half.”

Martin, who in the spring made the move from guard to right tackle, had a particularly rough game.

“I still feel like I think like a guard sometimes, which could be a bad thing, but might not be that bad,” Martin said.

And then there was the play that was just plain bad. Near the end of the first half, Martin stood over a loose ball for a brief eternity and belatedly fell on it.

What happened?

“I don’t know,” Martin said. “Just a brain (freeze, but smellier), I guess. At least I got on it.” Seeing him standing over the loose ball was one of the stranger things you’ll ever see in a football game.

“It was a weird play for me, too,” Martin said. “People were yelling from the sideline, and I realized people were running at me, so I made sure I got on it really quick. I don’t know what was going through my mind. It was weird. It won’t ever happen again.”

Martin said the ribbing he received for the play during a film session, “wasn’t too bad, but everyone made sure I knew to get on the ball: ‘If you see the ball, get on it.’ So from now on, that’s what will happen.”

Larry Mazyck, a 6-8, 360-pound junior-college transfer from Washington, D.C., played some at right tackle and could ultimately take the position from Martin if the former guard doesn’t upgrade his performance from last week.

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Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk’s confidence not lost in translation

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk of Ukraine competes during the U16 Eurobasket 2013 first-round match between Ukraine and Latvia at Palace of Sport in Kiev, Ukraine, on Aug. 8, 2013.

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk of Ukraine competes during the U16 Eurobasket 2013 first-round match between Ukraine and Latvia at Palace of Sport in Kiev, Ukraine, on Aug. 8, 2013.

The man working the television camera looked to the media relations staff for help and asked for a microphone check. After Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk was asked to say "check" into the mic, he leaned forward over it and softly said, "Boo!" with a little smile.

Nothing about the 17-year-old basketball star from Ukraine suggested he was uncomfortable or in any way overwhelmed.

Whether he brings enough strength, skill and athleticism at such a young age to earn significant playing time on a loaded Kansas team remains to be seen, but if he doesn't, it won't be because he doesn't believe in himself.

Asked what he does best as a basketball player, Mykhailiuk answered with one word: "Everything."

Asked what position he considered himself, he said without hesitation that he's a guard. He will join a crowded field on the perimeter that includes small guards Frank Mason, Devonté Graham and Conner Frankamp and wings Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre and Brannen Greene.

Kansas coach Bill Self typically likes to play four bigs and five perimeter players, but there is nothing typical about the depth of this team, even by Kansas standards.

Oh well, it's better to have too much depth than not enough.

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Seven ways Kansas must improve to have any shot at upsetting Duke

Kansas receiver Justin McCay can't quite get to a pass as Southeast Missouri State cornerback Reggie Jennings covers him on an end zone pass during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas receiver Justin McCay can't quite get to a pass as Southeast Missouri State cornerback Reggie Jennings covers him on an end zone pass during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Seven things that must improve significantly from Week 1 to Week 2 to give Kansas any shot at pulling off the upset against Duke, which opened as a 20-point favorite:

  1. The pass rush has to force Duke quarterback Anthony Boone to hurry. In victories against Elon and Troy, Boone has completed 66.2 percent of his passes for an average of 6.96 yards per pass with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He rushed for 47 yards in a 34-17 victory against Troy. Boone threw as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns last season, so he can be rushed into mistakes. Southeast Missouri State quarterback Kyle Snyder had way too much time to pick out receivers in KU’s shaky 34-28 victory.

  2. The secondary has to do a better job. Dexter McDonald played so well that he earned Big 12 defensive player of the week honors with two interceptions and two pass breakups. He was such a force that SEMO quarterback Kyle Snyder stopped throwing anywhere near him. Smart move. Safety Isaiah Johnson and cornerback JaCorey Shepherd didn’t have their best games and Snyder’s fourth-quarter shredding of the defense was extremely unsettling.

  3. KU’s four-man pass rush must improve significantly. If the Jayhawks can’t apply pressure against an FCS offensive line, when can they? Sure, blitzing can cause panic in the pocket, but that also leaves holes in the coverage. It has to start up front and it didn't against Duke.

  4. Quarterback Montell Cozart will need to put a better touch on longer passes to reward Harwell for busting open so often. Harwell gives a defense a huge headache, but if Cozart can’t hit him consistently when he breaks open for potential big gains, the defense can pack it in to take away runs and short passes.

  5. The offensive line needs to do a better job of providing Cozart time to scan the field. Snyder had more time to throw than Cozart did. Typcially, in the trenches is where FBS schools have the biggest advantage against FCS teams. That wasn’t the case Saturday, which is a huge concern. De’Andre Mann praised the run-blocking, so that hasn’t been a problem so far.

  6. Obviously, KU needs to finish better. In its past three games, including at Iowa State and at home vs. Kansas State at the end of last season, Kansas has been outscored, 62-10. What’s going on? Is it a stamina issue, a lack of in-game adjustments, a shortage of the mental toughness needed to bounce back when things start going the other way? Every area needs to be examined to find the answer or answers.

  7. Cozart showed significant improvement, which makes it all the more important to keep him healthy. Even so, Cozart could stand to put a little more pressure on the defense as a running threat. There were a couple of plays that he could have turned it up field for potential first downs and did not. The quality of the opponent takes a huge leap forward Saturday, so KU will need to use every means possible to keep pace.

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In search of minutes for Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk of Ukraine competes during the U16 Eurobasket 2013 first-round match between Ukraine and Latvia at Palace of Sport in Kiev, Ukraine, on Aug. 8, 2013.

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk of Ukraine competes during the U16 Eurobasket 2013 first-round match between Ukraine and Latvia at Palace of Sport in Kiev, Ukraine, on Aug. 8, 2013.

Question: What is more difficult for a 17-year-old basketball player to achieve: Making the Ukrainian national team or cracking Kansas University’s 2014-2015 perimeter rotation? Answer: We’ll soon find out.

Former NBA coach and broadcaster Mike Fratello, head coach of Ukraine’s national team, told Kansas coach Bill Self he didn’t see how incoming KU freshman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk could compete well enough against “men” to make the roster for the FIBA World and expected him to play for the junior national team. Mykhailiuk exceeded Fratello’s expectations and made the roster. Good sign. Great accomplishment.

It will be quite the accomplishment if Mykhailiuk, 17, can earn playing time on KU’s loaded perimeter.

Just for fun, let’s take a look at how the perimeter minutes might get distributed had Mykhailiuk not been recruited to Kansas and then try to make time for him by subtracting minutes elsewhere.

Three perimeter positions times 40 minutes equals 120. Add 10 minutes for when one of the perimeter players slides to the power forward position, meaning 130 minutes are split among the following six players: Small guards Frank Mason, Conner Frankamp and Devonte Graham and big wings Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre and Brannen Greene.

Obviously, these guesses are all way premature and mean nothing, which doesn’t take the fun out of the exercise. Give 25 minutes to Mason, 15 to Frankamp and 15 to Graham. That leaves 75 minutes for the three big wings. Give 30 minutes to Selden, 30 to Oubre and 15 to Greene. It’s difficult to picture Mykhailiuk cutting into the minutes of Selden or Oubre.

That leaves Greene, a skilled scorer with a big body and a reputation as an underachiever at the defensive end. Nothing motivates the way playing time does, so if Greene has the maturity to realize how much he must improve his defense in order to play and has it in his body to play much better D, he could become the team’s most improved player. And if a 17-year-old can beat him out, then that 17-year-old is one serious talent. Any way you look at it, KU has tremendous perimeter depth, regardless of how the minutes are distributed.

The question of how to pronounce Mykhailiuk's name no longer is a mystery, but the readiness of his game remains one.

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Miami becomes third school to bench Jake Heaps

Nobody wanted it more and studied harder than Jake Heaps at three different Football Bowl Subdivision schools. But landing a starting quarterback job requires far more than trying. The University of Miami became the third Heaps school to hand the football to someone else, the only difference here being that he lost the job before winning it.

True freshman Brad Kaaya beat out Heaps, Hurricanes coach Al Golden announced Sunday. The easy answer for why Heaps, who has a strong enough arm to zip passes into tight spots, didn’t become a productive college quarterback is to point to his lack of mobility. But it’s more than that.

How quickly the mind reaches the conclusion as to when and where to throw the ball can predict success every bit as well as the quickness of a quarterback’s feet and the velocity of the ball that flies out of his hand.

Heaps always looked like a guy who had trouble pulling the trigger, a fatal flaw for that position. That’s a quality not easily scouted at a quarterback combine, where physical tools are emphasized. Heaps came out of high school ranked by recruiting services as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback prospect in part because of what he did at camps.

Heaps has played or at least practiced for five different offensive coordinators and has watched three different quarterbacks chosen as start over him at various stages of his career: Riley Nelson at BYU, Montell Cozart at Kansas and now Kaaya at Miami.

Heaps’ best statistical season came at BYU as a freshman (57.2 completion percentage, 6.05 yards per pass, 15 touchdown passes, nine interceptions), his worst at KU as a junior (49 percent, 5.42 yards per pass, eight TD’s, 10 interceptions).

Heaps told the Miami Herald he is not considering transferring and that he does not think missing the team’s second scrimmage because of elbow soreness had anything to do with the coach’s decision. At the moment, he is listed at No. 2 on the 'Canes' quarterback depth chart.

Under ideal circumstances, Kaaya, because he is a true freshman, and Cozart, because he didn’t play the position regularly until he was a junior in high school, would be holding the clipboard, learning the ins and outs of the job and refining mechanics, before leading teams. That’s why both schools presented good opportunities for Heaps. So it doesn’t appear to be a case of Heaps choosing the wrong schools, rather a case of not quite having the right stuff.

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Charlie Weis praises Montell Cozart’s decisions

In a football program loaded with depth, sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart would be in an understudy role, holding a clipboard, trying to improve at a steady pace.

Kansas doesn’t have that luxury, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the coaching staff is demanding rapid growth from the QB who turned 19 Monday. If Cozart plays well enough to hold the starting position for the rest of his career, he’ll be far better at this time his senior year than he is now.

Where is he now?

“The best thing for me with Montell is I just see him getting better every day,” third-year head coach Charlie Weis said. “From the quarterback position, when you start having highs and lows, that’s what you really get concerned about. He’s growing in confidence every day.”

Weis hasn't made the mistake he made with Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps in terms of creating ultra-high expectations. He did make one statement Wednesday discussing Cozart that will be criticized because Weis has a 4-20 record. If his record were 20-4, he would be praised as funny, colorful, frank and a "real character," when asked about the role nervousness played in Cozart's poor performances at the end of the season.

“I probably made a mistake," Weis said. "I probably should have gone to the brown pants for the past couple of games, but because we played him, we’re in a different position now than if we hadn’t played him. ... I’m so glad we did."

Weis then referenced two shortcomings that stood out from Cozart's rookie year.

"He acknowledges the fact that he was nervous and he threw some balls away or he’d run out of bounds," Weis said. "You won’t see him running out of bounds now unless it’s a wise decision. He’s been making a lot of good decisions for a relatively inexperienced guy. I’d like to think that things are definitely moving in the right direction with the ball in his hands.”

The true test regarding such decisions, obviously, will come against defenses capable of putting the quarterback under duress. Based on what Weis has seen in practice so far, he's comfortable sending Cozart onto the field in any and all uniform hues.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks: No. 1 - QB Montell Cozart

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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Most Crucial Jayhawks: No. 3 - WR Nick Harwell

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

Kansas receiver Nick Harwell pulls in a pass in the end zone during warmups prior to start of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Kansas receiver Nick Harwell pulls in a pass in the end zone during warmups prior to start of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

No. 3: Nick Harwell, Senior WR

Only someone who doesn’t want the Kansas University football offense to climb out of the Stone Age would dare to compare the hype surrounding transfer wide receiver Nick Harwell to that of quarterbacks Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps.

The two quarterbacks last tasted stardom in high school. Harwell ranked second in the nation in receiving yards per game (129.55) as a sophomore at Miami of Ohio, behind only Western Michigan’s Jordan White and ahead of Baylor’s Kendall Wright and Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon.

All it took was watching one spring practice to see how Harwell achieved such greatness. The first word that jumps to mind is efficiency. It fits the way he crisply runs his routes, the way he turns and runs with no wasted body movement after catching the ball. His head doesn’t move as he motors down the field, bringing to mind a race car that handles turns so precisely. He has sure hands and the strength to shed tacklers.

Harwell ran into trouble off the field at Miami and by all accounts has conducted himself in Lawrence in the manner of a guy who knows the path to the NFL could be forever blocked if he doesn’t stay out of trouble.

He has drawn the praise of the coaching staff for riding younger receivers when they don’t take their jobs as seriously as he does.

He has a chance to be KU’s most dynamic offensive player since Todd Reesing.

Kansas has suffered back-to-back seasons with the most maligned group of wide receivers in the nation. With Harwell leading the way, that won’t be the case any longer.

New offensive coordinator John Reagan will show his creativity by getting the ball to Harwell in a variety of ways, so that he can pump life into an offense that slipped into hibernation mode when Reesing bolted and hasn’t yet awakened.

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

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Most Crucial Jayhawks: No. 5 - MLB Ben Heeney

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

Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney reaches for Rice running back Charles Ross during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney reaches for Rice running back Charles Ross during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. by Nick Krug

No. 5: Ben Heeney, Senior MLB

Some in the dwindling KU football fan base, when not grousing about football not getting enough ink, like to gripe that they’re sick and tired of all the “hype” stories written about a football program that has gone 9-39 in two seasons apiece under Turner Gill and current coach Charlie Weis. Bemoaning the “hype” stories has become particularly fashionable these days.

Nobody levels that charge regarding stories about senior middle linebacker Ben Heeney, entering his third season as a starter. Heeney has accomplished so much that projections aren’t necessary when discussing what he could do in the upcoming season. It’s all right there on the athletic department’s website, “captainheeney.com,” devoted solely to promoting the best player during a Charlie Weis era that’s off to a 4-20 start: Two-time, second-team All-Big 12; team-leading 88 tackles as a junior, despite missing two games with a knee injury; third in the Big 12 with 112 tackles as a sophomore, the same season he ranked fifth in the conference with 12 tackles for a loss.

But the way Heeney and his coaches look at it, those numbers are about yesterday and were compiled for teams that generated so little buzz their fans couldn’t have been cited for a noise ordinance in a monastery. In order for Kansas to improve enough to win more than last season’s three games, all the key players must improve significantly and Heeney is not exempt from that. He’s fast, tough and relentless. Yet, he still needs to harness that attitude and talent in a way to avoid getting out of position to make plays. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen addressed that need for improvement with one of the more memorable quotes of the spring.

“I think he can make another jump,” Bowen said. “Even a year ago, I think he left a lot of plays on the field, stuff that we’ve talked about. I’ve compared him many times to the dog that sits on the porch. When the car goes by, he can’t help himself. He runs and bites the tire. But sometimes if he would just slow down a little he might not get run over.”

He continued, saying that if Heeney could play, “a little bit smarter, (become) a little better at reading and reacting, he could even show up on a few more plays. I think he could even have a better year than he did a year ago.”

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

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