Kansas football assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen knows this spring will be critical in the overall development of the 2015 Jayhawks, even if there are more things on his to-do list than can possibly be accomplished for a young, rebuilding unit.
After going through just four practices, Bowen — also the safeties coach — sat down with the media Wednesday to discuss the state of the defense.
Here are some of the highlights:
• The up-tempo approach of KU’s new Air Raid offense also benefits the defensive side of the ball.
With NCAA rules dictating how much time players can spend on the field, coaches have to find ways to get in as many plays as possible in the short amount of time they are out there.
“With what they’re doing offensively, it allows it to just play out naturally.”
• When installing the defense this spring, there are one of two ways to approach it:
No. 1: Put in a few things and master those.
No. 2: Examine as much of it as you can “real fast” and hope enough of it sticks.
The Jayhawks went with the latter, and are putting in as much as they can early, teaching it and getting it all on video. They recycle through that install again so the players can retain more each time through.
“It allows you to practice situational football a lot faster — right away, going into your first scrimmage.”
The Jayhawks will get into these kind of situations in the next few practices: third downs, red zone, two-minute drills.
• Through four practices, Bowen wasn’t ready to say any particular individuals have stood out, because the defense really has to start over as a group with the talent it lost from the 2014 season (see: Ben Heeney, JaCorey Shepherd, etc.).
The players that are here need to take pride in giving the unit an identity.
“At this point in time, I think they’re all in the same boat of trying to figure it out.”
Bowen just wants them being physical, playing hard and learning.
• On the roster as a whole, and on the defensive side of the ball, KU lacks depth. Bowen feels pretty good about what kind of 2-deep chart they will have, but the trouble comes beyond that.
Sub-packages, like nickel or dime defenses?
“Those things are out right now.”
Bowen says you don’t want to wear out all of your top players by making them play different packages.
So this is the mindset they ned to embrace:
“Only 11 of them can play at one time, so as long as we’ve got 11, we’re good.”
• With the new defensive coaches on the staff, they are all getting used to each other’s approaches and tendencies.
“We’ve got a great group of guys on the staff, and everyone’s working for the common goal.”
• Bowen and new co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry were acquaintances before, knew each other. Now that they’re working together they’re meshing.
Bowen said defensive back coaches have an “alligator hunter mentality”: There’s no such thing as a “pretty good” alligator hunter.
“That’s where you live as a DB coach. I think we always live on edge.”
Perry is intense because a mistake in the secondary means a TD for the opponent. You have to coach with a paranoia about yourself when working in the secondary.
• Junior corner Brandon Stewart, who just arrived on campus before the spring semester started, seems to have some skills: good feet, awareness, instincts and “can run a little bit.”
• The departure of would-be senior safety Isaiah Johnson was “a disappointment, but not a surprise.”
• Now that David Beaty is here leading the program, it’s easier to communicate with high school coaches in Texas.
A lot of those high school coaches in Texas are legitimate friends of Beaty’s. That helps in recruiting.
• As new coaches get to know each other, that’s usually an easy transition because they’re all in this profession to improve their program and help the players develop.
A lot of KU coaches are still in the process of relocating their families to Lawrence, buying houses and those types of things, so more of that camaraderie that comes with the job will show up even more once everyone is settled.
Believe it or not, spring football starts at Kansas University this week.
It might even be pleasant outside by the time the Jayhawks start practicing on Thursday.
With 15 spring practices coming up before KU's spring game on April 12, head coach Charlie Weis fielded questions from the media Monday morning. Here are some of the highlights in bullet-point form:
• Everything is settled with KU's staff, and the schedule for spring is all set. They kick it off on Thursday with practice, then have another on Sunday. They'll have four before spring break. Their fifth practice will be on Sunday, March 23, when they get back from spring break. Then they're at it regularly until the spring game. KU would like to start spring football later, but they would miss out on seeing some junior college players at the end of April.
• There are a handful of walk-ons who will participate in spring football.
• On working in new coaches: You have to do some extra work. When Weis was an assistant, he always wanted to be one step ahead of the posse. Being that it's a new system going in for the offense, WR coach Erick Kiesau, who joined the staff less than two weeks ago, won't be too far behind. Even though terminology has been meshed between Weis's system and the one new coordinator John Reagan ran at Rice, there is enough newness to it that it should be easy for Kiesau to catch up.
• The most important thing Kansas needs to do is score more points. Weis wants to identify this spring the guys who can make plays on offense and figure out by August how to put them in position to do that on a regular basis. They definitely will hand it off a lot, but KU needs passing game efficiency and production, too.
• On timeline for picking a starting QB: Weis won't mandate who plays; he will have some input with Reagan, but the competition has to play out. ... It's never a good thing if it goes deep into August — that means you don't have a QB. Usually the cream rises to the top, and he thinks that will happen.
• Evaluating in the spring: By the fourth day, they are going full speed. That Thursday before spring break when all the players are thinking about their break "I'm gonna wear them out." Players will start to prove their worth then.
• On senior QB Jake Heaps: What he has that no one else has is experience. That goes a long way. And while that's a plus, when Reagan sits down with the staff, they will pick a starter based on who puts them in position to score touchdowns.
• There is no way right now to know how much a player has progressed from the end of the season to now. ... Quarterbacks are usually hard workers, so you usually don't have to worry about them improving.
• Sophomore QB Montell Cozart overthrew a lot of receivers when he played last fall. That was probably nerves. A lot of that comes with being a freshman. That's not an excuse, but a fact. Cozart was recruited to play QB, and there is good competition. Whoever wins the position will have to earn it. Cozart is a QB; KU is not necessarily interested in moving him to another position if he doesn't end up being the starter.
• Running back is a deep position for KU. But there are a lot of players with a lot to prove. It should be a position with a lot of talent. That's what it looks like at this time.
• On WR transfer senior Nick Harwell: You try not to get so excited when you see his competitiveness and ability. He doesn't get beat in drills and wants to go against the best defender every time. He is the kind of competitor Weis is used to dealing with.
• Kansas is "pretty salty" on the defensive line. KU has a plan in place. There is a solid 2-deep-plus. Weis isn't saying they're the '85 Chicago Bears, but they are solid. He'll stay in their ears about how people outside the program think they're bums.
• Junior defensive lineman Andrew Bolton's not the guy you want to fight. Because you will lose. Bolton is what football players are supposed to look like. Weis is looking forward to his two years at KU. He is raw, hasn't played in a year. There will be some growing pains.
• Weis never thought he would be the WR coach. That was a temporary fix. He can't imagine with his "nimbleness" he would have been out there displaying techniques too well.
• Weis didn't come to Kansas to retire. He came here to turn it from a losing program to a winning program. Now that he doesn't have offensive coordinator responsibilities, he thinks he is in the best place to make the program reach its peak. He had to "fire" the offensive coordinator, because the Jayhawks weren't scoring enough points. He wanted to bring someone in, Reagan, who is used to scoring in the 40s.
• Shutting down senior WR Tony Pierson was the right thing to do last fall. They might bring him along slowly in the spring due to his concussion history. He will have to get hit sometimes but they don't want it to be a free-for-all. At the end of the year, Pierson didn't want to have to sit. But it wasn't his decision. Three games in, he was on his way to 1,000 yards. When he got slammed vs. Texas Tech, that was basically the end of his season. He could be very productive this coming fall. He's clearly the fastest guy on offense.
• Who can be leaders for KU on offense? Senior RBs Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox could be in that position. But Harwell's personality makes him a natural fit. He is on his teammates when they slack off. That's a pleasure to be around.
• Redshirt freshman O-lineman Joey Bloomfield could play guard or tackle. He'll probably start off inside at guard, and KU will give him a good look.
• Junior Kevin Short is listed as a NB/CB. He has potential to be a weapon in the secondary.
• On junior RB Darian Miller's off-field/personal issues that came up last fall. It's best to keep it that way — personal/private. KU wants to keep working with him as they would with anybody. The best thing for him will be to have his issues as minimal as possible by the fall.
• Junior "buck" Marcus Jenkins-Moore might look a little rusty/slow in the spring. Only because he is coming off a knee injury. He will look a lot different by the fall. He will actually get better as time goes on and not wear down.
• On moving senior Victor Simmons to buck: They are trying to get more small guys on the field. Not more big guys. They need a guy like Simmons on the field, and part of the game plan.
• Sophomore kicker Matt Wyman has all the tools to be a top line kicker. But a 50-50 kicker is no good for anybody. That game-winner he made last season was both a good thing and a bad thing. The team won, but then he thought he was good and forgot what got him there. The job isn't automatically his, but he can make every kick and is capable of being a higher-percentage kicker.
• KU has a chance to have more edge pressure next season. Ideally, they don't want to have to blitz all the time to get pressure. KU might have a couple more guys to make that happen in 2014.
• Weis doesn't look at redshirt freshman O-lineman Joe Gibson (from Rockhurst, in Kansas City, Mo.) as a walk-on. He is a guy who could play here and be a scholarship player before he leaves KU.
• Junior O-lineman Damon Martin will start at one position or another. He has improved and he is the strongest of all the linemen. He could play tackle or guard. If the three guards are the top five linemen on the team, one of them will play tackle. None of the five best linemen will be sitting on the bench. The guys that need to be on the field can learn to play different positions if necessary.
• Returning senior TE Jimmay Mundine is clearly the best player at his position. Redshirt freshman Ben Johnson hasn't played a down, but he has a huge upside and has a chance to get on the field. Johnson and Harwell were the two players always making noise on the practice squads.
— Click here to listen to the full Q&A session: Weis addresses media prior to start of spring football