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Posts tagged with College

Here’s how Charlie Weis’ juco gamble is looking so far

I talked earlier this year about how Kansas football coach Charlie Weis should embrace risk with this year's football team. If you remember, one high-risk, potentially high-reward tactic was loading his latest recruiting class with 19 junior-college scholarship players.

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt confer during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013.

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt confer during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. by Nick Krug

So is the gamble paying off? Because we now have the Week 1 depth chart, let's look at where each of those 19 players are now.

Starters (8)
• Ngalu Fusimalohi (LG)
• Mike Smithburg (RG)
• Zach Fondal (RT)
• Dexter McDonald (RC)
• Isaiah Johnson (SS)
• Samson Faifili (WLB)
• Cassius Sendish (FS)
• Trevor Pardula (KO, P)

Offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi participates in practice Friday, August 16.

Offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi participates in practice Friday, August 16. by Mike Yoder

Co-starter (1)
• Kevin Short (RC)

KU had significant offseason losses at offensive line and in the secondary, so it's not too surprising that six of the nine starters above fit into those two position groups. Looking at it now, Weis most likely identified those two spots as his team's biggest needs coming into the year, and so far, the new guys have produced enough in practice to give themselves the first shots at playing time.

Second team (5)
• Darrian Miller (H)
• Rodriguez Coleman (Z)
• Tedarian Johnson (LE/T)
• Brandon Hollomon (LC)
• Marquel Combs (N)

The surprise on this list — so far — is Marquel Combs, who was ranked the No. 1 junior-college player in the nation last year by ESPN.com. Though he still should get playing time as part of the defensive line rotation, it's at least a bit surprising he hasn't performed well enough to step into a starting role. If Combs turns out to be a better player in games than in practices, as Matt Tait suggests, then there's obviously a possibility he could move his way up the rotation in the coming weeks.

Injured/Will take red shirt (1)
• Marcus Jenkins-Moore (LB)

An offseason knee injury kept Jeninks-Moore — a juco teammate of Combs' — from competing for a starting spot at linebacker.

Likely red shirts (2)
• Andrew Bolton (DE)
• Mark Thomas (WR)

Kansas University defensive lineman Andrew Bolton stretches during practice on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, at the Jayhawks’ fall camp. Bolton, a juco newcomer, has star potential once he knocks off some rust, according to his coach on the KU defensive line, Buddy Wyatt.

Kansas University defensive lineman Andrew Bolton stretches during practice on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, at the Jayhawks’ fall camp. Bolton, a juco newcomer, has star potential once he knocks off some rust, according to his coach on the KU defensive line, Buddy Wyatt. by Nick Krug

Bolton is recovering from a knee injury, so Weis said his preference was to red-shirt him this year. If he was fully healthy, he appeared to be a guy that could have helped the Jayhawks' D-line immediately.

No longer on roster (2)
• Chris Martin (Buck)
• Pearce Slater (OL)

Martin would most likely have been KU's best pass-rusher this season had off-field issues not led to his dismissal from the team. Slater, meanwhile, is listed on the roster of his old junior college (El Camino College) after spending a few days this fall practicing with the Jayhawks. Had he stuck around, he would have competed for a starting spot at tackle.

Here's the full breakdown of KU's 2013 juco scholarship players:

KU's 2013 scholarship juco players.

KU's 2013 scholarship juco players. by Jesse Newell

Almost half of the junior-college guys have earned starting spots, while nearly three-fourths are expected to contribute Week 1 against South Dakota.

Though not all of the juco guys have been success stories, you'd have to think this kind of roster overhaul is what Weis envisioned — and hoped for — when he inked so many experienced players a year ago.

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Examining grips with KU’s Jake Heaps, Michael Cummings

In baseball, most pitchers throw fastballs in a similar way; two-seamers are thrown with the two fingers on the seams, while four-seamers are thrown with fingers going across the stitches.

That made me wonder: Are quarterbacks the same way? Is it "one size fits all" when it comes to gripping a football?

For help with those questions, I consulted the two people on Kansas University's campus that should know best: starting quarterback Jake Heaps and backup QB Michael Cummings.

I started with Cummings, who admitted he hadn't thought much previously about the way he gripped the football.

Cummings' grip.

Cummings' grip. by Jesse Newell

"It just feels comfortable, man," Cummings said. "I know when I was younger (around 5), I used to put my thumb over the laces, because my hand was kind of small."

Cummings' grip as a 5-year-old QB.

Cummings' grip as a 5-year-old QB. by Jesse Newell

Cummings said he believed the most important part of a grip was getting one that had a "natural feel." He also said a key was for the pointer finger to be the final body part to touch the ball and even admitted he had a callus on his first finger from throwing.

"That stuff hurts, too," he said.

KU quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus doesn't talk about grips with his players, Cummings said, instead focusing more on the mechanical work of passing like getting the proper footwork.

"Just try to throw with your body, not just your arm the whole time," Cummings said. "It lets you put more oomph on the ball than just throwing with all arm."

A few minutes later, I made my way over to Heaps, who said he'd had the same grip since the first time he'd picked up a football.

Heaps grip.

Heaps grip. by Jesse Newell

Heaps says it is important to have one's hand on top of the football, because the pointer finger — the last contact point with the ball — gives the ball its rotation.

Heaps demonstrates how the ball releases off his pointer finger.

Heaps demonstrates how the ball releases off his pointer finger. by Jesse Newell

Heaps also believes having the pointer finger high on the ball helps give him more control. Some QBs in the past have even gone to the extreme with this, with Heaps giving the example that Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw put his pointer finger on the point of the football when he threw.

Heaps demonstrates Terry Bradshaw's grip.

Heaps demonstrates Terry Bradshaw's grip. by Jesse Newell

Mechanically, Heaps said it was important to avoid two pitfalls. One is "cupping" the ball, which means putting one's hand too far over the top, which makes it difficult to snap the ball for good rotation.

"Cupping" the ball.

"Cupping" the ball. by Jesse Newell

The other potential mistake is getting one's hand too far underneath the ball, which again can be a sign of poor mechanics.

Underneath the ball.

Underneath the ball. by Jesse Newell

Heaps said it was important to maintain a "nice U-shape" with your hand, which allows a QB to get the proper release and rotation.

A "nice U-shape."

A "nice U-shape." by Jesse Newell

After talking with both QBs, I was interested to compare their grips.

It turned out there were quite a few differences.

As you can see from this comparison, the two view comfort in different ways. While Heaps' hands remains tight toward the top of the football, Cummings' hand has an extreme spread. Notice also the different placements of the players' middle and pinky fingers.

Comparing Heaps' and Cummings' grips.

Comparing Heaps' and Cummings' grips. by Jesse Newell

So who has the correct grip? Heaps says there's no right answer.

"If you’re going to a (quarterback specialist) that’s trying to get you to grip the ball differently, then you probably should go to someone different," he said. "Everyone grips the ball differently. It’s not how you grip it ... it’s whatever you’re comfortable with."

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