With the Kansas University football team’s best performance of the season, to date, behind him, interim coach Clint Bowen indicated Tuesday afternoon that the program is making tangible progress in multiple areas.
The Jayhawks (2-4 overall, 0-3 Big 12) hope to continue that trend this Saturday at Texas Tech (2-4, 0-3), and Bowen addressed that, among many other topics, at his weekly press conference.
Here are some of the highlights:
• From now on, things should be pretty consistent as far as who is playing. Guys like sophomore defensive lineman Tyler Holmes, freshman defensive back Derrick Neal and junior defensive back Ronnie Davis are getting more reps. That gives KU more depth.
• It’s probably too soon to say if Neal will remain a defensive back his entire time at Kansas. “I can see him doing a few things for us.” One of those includes special teams returns.
• Bowen talks to players about day-to-day stuff. They don’t address the ongoing road struggles (the 29-game losing streak).
• On Texas Tech: They run an offensive system that can put you in stressful situations. They run the ball as much as they throw it, which is what they do best, and they spread out their personnel. It’s hard to hit the QB.
• On KU’s progress since he took over: The first thing the team needed was an identity. Players have bought into what the coaches talked about along those lines. They’re not completely there yet but they’re headed in the right direction. When people leave a game, they will say Kansas played extremely hard.
• At practices players are understanding the importance of urgency more.
• On new starting quarterback Michael Cummings: He made good, decisive reads and showed leadership with the offense against Oklahoma State. He displayed toughness and he’s not afraid to be vocal.
• Junior QB Cummings, with the way he played, earned the right to be the starter. The hope is he can now truly take control of the offense. His skill set is different from former starter Montell Cozart’s. Offensive coordinator John Reagan and the offensive coaches will form game plans around Cummings’ strengths.
• KU will continue to find ways to get senior receiver Tony Pierson the ball. (He lined up as a running back often against OSU). Bowen also was happy KU got senior receiver Nick Harwell and senior tight end Jimmay Mundine more involved, too, this past week. It was a game-plan decision.
• On senior “buck” Michael Reynolds: He is one of the guys for KU who has the ability to get to the QB, and it’s critical that Kansas does that. His ability changes a lot of things for the defense, such as in coverage. Against Oklahoma State, he just beat the man in front of him to rush the passer.
• Junior defensive tackle Andrew Bolton is showing progress, too. He is disruptive. He is getting fly-bys on QB sack attempts — three on the year where he has missed. But he is improving.
• Senior corner Dexter McDonald is healthy, as are all the other KU players on the two-deep as of right now.
• Bowen has been well received from many outside of the program, but he is more concerned about the players having success.
• One of KU’s biggest issues on offense is finishing blocks on the offensive line. They have to finish some people off if the offense is going to continue to improve.
• Going into the fourth quarter, Bowen could see the players getting excited on the sideline about finishing the game against Oklahoma State. To see those guys group up on their own and take ownership, it reinforced that they are starting to buy into what the coaching staff has preached since Bowen took over.
• Bowen likes running sprints with players at practices. And as far as chest-bumping and celebrating a big play goes, that is just his natural reaction.
• On KU’s secondary: senior corners JaCorey Shepherd and McDonald are having great seasons. Shepherd is putting together an all-conference type season. … Senior free safety Cassius Sendish and junior strong safety Isaiah Johnson are capable of more, and Bowen is happy with what they have done. Those two have special games in them. Fish Smithson is getting tons of reps, too, because he is playing so well.
• KU is playing in a grown-man conference. Once a team can knock you off the ball, it doesn’t matter what you scheme. Adjusting to that physicality and responding is a must.
• Smithson is very instinctive on the field. He understands the game well and reacts. That’s the best kind of player to have at safety.
• Players show up at the football facility ready to work. At the same time, Bowen wants them being themselves and being comfortable. Giving them the freedom to do that is important. That’s been one of the subtle changes, as well as creating energy and excitement in everything they do as a team.
— Listen to the complete press conference here: Bowen doesn't anticipate many more personnel changes
Clint Bowen’s second weekly press conference as the Kansas University football program’s interim head coach didn’t provide anything ground-breaking on what’s next for the Jayhawks (2-3 overall, 0-2 Big 12).
Bowen didn’t announce who will start at quarterback or divulge any other immediate changes. The depth chart, in fact, looked exactly the same as it did a week ago. But he gave some insight on the vibe within the football facilities those days, and shared a little bit about some of his philosophies on playing time.
Here are the highlights from Bowen’s Tuesday afternoon media session:
• The players did a great job in the first week of the transition from Charlie Weis to Bowen. KU played a “very good” West Virginia team on the road and he thought the players performed for four quarters, which was a goal.
• Oklahoma State has some youth but is playing at a very high level, having only lost to Florida State.
• KU held WVU to a field goal on four first-half drives. On each of those, the defense gave up one big play, then settled back down.
• Kansas held the WVU offense in check in the second half. (The Mountaineers’ only TD came on a kickoff return.) Players showed they would compete for four quarters. There are no moral victories, but that was positive.
• There is no negativity or animosity between the relatively successful defense and the at times inept offense.
• KU will make a decision on one of its three quarterbacks this week: sophomore Montell Cozart, junior Michael Cummings and sophomore T.J. Millweard all will get a chance to prove themselves at practices. They’re all in this to win, too. KU has backups at other positions who get pulled, but that doesn’t get written about. The players understand they are all working together.
• The offensive coaches are looking for anything they can do in the system, with their personnel to make sure they can sustain drives and move the ball down the field.
• Bowen talked with the offensive coaches and coordinator John Reagan without getting in their face or in their business about it, following another slow day for the KU offense. There are some things Bowen thinks could help the offense out.
• One offensive solution for Kansas would be making sure senior receiver Tony Pierson gets his touches. There will be an effort to make that happen. A lot of time at WR, him getting the ball is dependent on other people.
• Junior receiver Nigel King had his number called at the right times on Saturday. Bowen didn’t see any extra focus on Pierson from WVU leading to King’s productivity.
• As a defensive coach, you have to stop/take away the run first. That makes life difficult offensively if you can’t throw the ball and loosen up the defense. That has been one of KU's major issues. KU’s offense has to find a way to make defenses honest.
• This is college football. It’s fair to your team to have the mentality that if one guy is playing better, he will play Saturday. Competition is never-ending. It doesn’t stop.
• Junior RB De’Andre Mann was injured at WVU. But he will be fine, and is expected to play.
• Everyone thinks it is simple to run down and cover a kickoff, but that is a decision-making process on the fly. KU has to get better in that aspect of the game in order to not give opponents an edge.
• Being a true freshman corner, like Matthew Boateng, is like carrying a big, red flag around with you. Offenses will pick on him, but he will develop. Boateng has a bright future.
• On the unexpected in his first week: Game day was a little more exciting and his heart was pumping, but he has been in the business long enough to feel very comfortable.
• On KU’s running backs: Corey Avery, a true freshman, is holding up well. Mann checked out pretty well after getting hurt. They have freshman Joe Dineen, too, and there are things they can do to take the burden off of the “two starters.” Pierson lining up in the backfield is always an option.
• Avery is handling things well. He has some “God-given ability” and has some size and natural instincts to run the ball.
• Millweard has been at No. 3 on KU’s QB chart for a reason. Cummings and Cozart better fit what the offense wanted to do from a game plan standpoint each of the previous weeks of the season, and that is why Millweard has been No. 3 on the depth chart to this point.
• Senior corners JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald came through against some pretty good wide-outs at WVU. They didn’t need help in coverage. They handled their business and that was a big part of why KU was successful in the second half.
— Hear the complete Q&A: Bowen: Competition will determine who plays for KU
When Kansas University’s offensive veterans look at quarterback Montell Cozart, they don’t see the guy who struggled to an 11-for-27, 89-yard passing outing at Duke, with two interceptions.
That wouldn’t do anyone involved a bit of good. Cozart’s teammates know the QB left the road blowout disappointed, feeling as if he alone had let down the entire program
So when the Jayhawks look in the 19-year-old’s direction, they choose to see a young, confident sophomore signal-caller with the ability to bounce back for KU (1-1) against Central Michigan (2-1) on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
It doesn’t get much rougher than a 41-3 loss, so senior wide receiver Nick Harwell said there was only one reasonable way for the offense to respond: keep things upbeat.
In the days since Kansas returned home, Harwell has focused on motivating and inspiring, instead of tearing down.
“I just told (Cozart) to keep pushing, keep going forward,” the senior captain said. “We’ve got a saying that goes: Keep choppin’ wood. Keep working hard and work on things we did poorly last week and hopefully this week will be better.”
That’s coming from a talented offensive weapon who only had two catches for nine yards against the Blue Devils. KU coach Charlie Weis said Duke didn’t shut Harwell down, offering instead that Cozart was the one to blame for the receiver’s lack of production.
The same claim could be made by senior receivers Tony Pierson (two catches, 17 yards) and Justin McCay (two catches, eight yards). But, like Harwell, they know supporting their QB is the proper solution right now.
McCay has told Cozart to keep his head up, and trusts that he will, because the receiver sees him as a competitor.
“I know for myself I would like to catch more balls and do more for the team,” McCay said, “but he can only do so much. He’s only a quarterback. I think he does a good job, and we’ll be fine.”
Obviously, every player on the team felt down about the Duke outcome. But Pierson said the Jayhawks had put it behind them by Sunday, and he trusts that Cozart just suffered through a bad afternoon in Durham, North Carolina.
None of the QB’s offensive cohorts want him worrying about that performance anymore. Pierson said they think he will be back on track against Central Michigan.
“Montell is confident in himself,” Pierson said, “and he’s just gonna keep on coming in each day and just working hard.”
Senior tight end Jimmay Mundine, who has just three catches for 17 yards through two games, said there are simple things holding back KU’s offense (145.5 passing yards a game) right now, and although those issues have made the Jayhawks look bad, they are correctable.
Mundine didn’t want to get into the specifics of the problems, but said Cozart isn’t the only Jayhawk responsible for fixing them.
“He’s got growing to do, just as well as I do and other guys do,” the senior tight end said. “We’re still all figuring this out. This (was) Week 2 and we’re just excited to get back out there and redeem ourselves for last week’s performance.”
Receivers Pierson, Harwell, McCay and Nigel King have combined for just 16 receptions so far this season. Harwell said while the receivers haven’t had as many pass-catching chances as they expected, they know they’re capable of more and they will do their part to help Cozart salvage this season.
“I’m definitely confident in how we play,” Harwell said. “We have very little dropped balls. I just feel like if we continue to catch most of what is thrown to us, then we’ll do well.”
The countdown to Kansas University's spring football game is down to four days now.
Coach Charlie Weis addressed the annual showcase and other topics Tuesday morning with the media.
Here are some of the highlights from the Q & A session, in bullet-point form:
• The format for the spring game will be four 15-minute quarters, with a running clock, except for last two minutes of each half. KU has enough players to split the roster into two different teams and not just do offense vs. defense. Unless a rash of injuries breaks out, they will be able to do two different teams.
• Weis has a rule for the spring game that should make for an exciting second half, instead of players just going through the motions. He won't unveil the rule until Saturday, but it is all planned out.
• At a couple of positions, there are two players considered first-string options: left tackle and nickelback. Senior lineman Pat Lewandowski and senior defensive back JaCorey Shepherd will be on the Blue team in the first half, while senior lineman Zach Fondal and sophomore defensive back Greg Allen will play on the White team. At halftime, those players will swap teams, so they will have played with both the first and second units.
• If during the game, due to injury, they have to trade some players, Weis will "set the terms" of the trade.
• Spectators won't see a red jersey on the quarterbacks on Saturday. Only one player will have a red (no contact) jersey on, and that will be senior receiver Tony Pierson. The quarterbacks will be "live" on each play. Weis has never done that before. When the QB keeps the ball, you never know how many yards they would have gained on a run when they are wearing red and the defense can't tackle them. The QBs have been hit, sacked plenty of times this spring. The goal is for them not to get hit. … Pierson has been hit, too. The coaches went over the pros and cons, but they determined Pierson has had such a good offseason the last thing they want is for him to get injured on the last day of spring football.
• Weis told offensive coordinator John Reagan not to hold back any plays he wants to run during the spring game. This isn't like planning for a game, when you're preparing for an opposing team with certain plays. The whole playbook is available.
• Kansas has more talent and more speed right now than it has had in the past two seasons under Weis. Wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau told Weis Tuesday morning that KU's starting three wide receivers — Pierson, senior Nick Harwell and junior Rodriguez Coleman — all would have been on the two-deep last season at Washington (Kiesau's previous employer). That shows KU has made some serious improvements at that position alone.
• Pierson was nursing some tightness in his hamstring at practice Saturday, which was open to the media. He wasn't going as hard as he has been able to. … Pierson is working at both kickoff and punt returning. Returning punts isn't easy. "You have to be a little bit of a psycho" to take that job and do it well.
• Harwell is working at both return spots, too, as is junior defensive back Kevin Short. "We have some interesting candidates." You don't want to lose a valuable player in the return game, but if that guy can help change the game, they want to have him out there.
• Weis will make "common sense" contributions when talking offense with Reagan. It's been interesting this spring for Weis to see so much more of the team now that he's not running the offense. It's been good. It gives Weis the opportunity to challenge the staff and make everybody better.
• When Weis arrived and got rid of so many players from previous coach Turner Gill's team, he was taking a bad team and making it worse. He did it for the right reason, but he didn't factor in how limited a roster KU would be left with. Now the roster is pretty full. The infrastructure has been rebuilt and now KU has a predominantly junior and senior team. Usually those are the teams that win. … When they got rid of so many guys, they had to fill holes with junior college players. They couldn't count on freshmen to fill the gap.
• Looking at the WR spot, KU will lose four players after this season. Realistically, they will have to go half and half recruiting to replace those holes — half high school and half junior college. The same goes for KU's O-line and defensive backs, too
• KU's offensive line has had continuity this spring. The guy who is the strongest is junior Damon Martin, so he's at right tackle with senior Mike Smithburg next to him. The coaches were ready to adapt when they had a bunch of talented guards. Some shuffling got the most talent on the field.
• There are tiers at the QB position, as far as the depth chart is concerned. If they had to play an actual game in two weeks, it would be between senior Jake Heaps and sophomore Montell Cozart. And it wouldn't be a bad thing if they both played because they do different things. The coaches are ready to gear themselves toward who will be the main guy. The longer KU goes without naming a starter at QB, the tougher it will be for the competition to prepare.
• Kansas doesn't want to take senior linebacker Ben Heeney off the field, but he will have to rest at some point. Junior LB Schyler Miles is close to junior Jake Love as far as the depth chart goes, and who will replace Heeney at times.
• At the spring game, Weis would like the fans to have some fun. Come halftime the game will get very interesting. He would like to be in the second half with the players having a little pressure on them to win. Weis also wants the offensive operation to show efficiency. … Several players will get an opportunity to play a lot more snaps than they have at practices this spring. It gives them an opportunity: Let's see what you've got. Of course, they want to come out injury-free, too.
• The biggest accomplishments this spring, defense and offense: With junior defensive lineman Andrew Bolton's play on the end, senior defensive lineman Keon Stowers can play inside. … The defense is now in its second year, and that gave the players an opportunity to turn it loose. Most of the guys are retuning guys. ... On offense, most of it was getting the system installed. The players need to be used to running a no-huddle offense.
• Cozart has completed a high percentage of his passes this spring. The one thing he brings that is unique is his feet. He has a chance to be a really good player.
• Sophomore QB T.J. Millweard, who transferred from UCLA, is the newest member of that QB group and he is coming off his best practice to date. Whether he makes his way up the depth chart this year or next, Weis knows he will keep working to get there. His mental aptitude is there and he has to catch up physically.
• Next week, in the days following spring game, players will hear from the coaching staff about where they stand.
• Kansas has a number of older guys who are experienced. Because of that, they won't pick captains until right before the season begins. It's tough to be a leader when you're not playing, so the guys who end up captains will be front-line players.
• Harwell is a natural leader. Weis is glad they have him. He's a hard worker, the wide receivers follow him and he jumps on everybody. "Thank you, Miami of Ohio."
• Weis does believe that if you have two quarterbacks you don't have one, but that's not the case if you use them in different ways. KU would feature one set of plays with Heaps and another set when Cozart is on the field.
• Weis said to the team last December: It's time. Kansas football has been down for five seasons. The No. 1 thing is these veterans have to get KU back to winning. That's the first major hurdle for the program to get over. Then you shoot for the moon. Players can't worry about the expectation on the street or in the media. They have to set their own bar and can't settle for anything but attaining their goals.
— Listen to the press conference in its entirety by clicking here: Charlie Weis talks spring game, KU football depth
Spring break is over at Kansas University, and the football team got back to spring practice Sunday night.
Coach Charlie Weis spoke about the team's progress up to this point Tuesday at Anderson Family Football Complex, before the team's afternoon practice.
Listen to audio from the Q & A by clicking here: Weis updates progress of spring football
Here are some of the highlights, in bullet-point form:
• Coming back from spring break, Weis was pleased with the tempo at Sunday night's practice. Usually guys get into a routine and thats how you thrive. They had a week off and guys traveled all over the place, but everyone was here. They met and practiced until 10 at night. As far as the practice itself, it wasn't the sharpest at all times. And the offense had its best practice yet. Putting in a new offense against a more experienced defense, the defense had been ahead of the offense this spring. That changed at Sunday's practice. Clint Bowen is calling this "not positive Tuesday" after the defense got burned too many times.
• There has been clear separation amongst multiple quarterbacks this spring. Both the players and coaches see where that is but they're not going to come out and say that at this point. Today, for a good portion of practice, Heaps won't get any reps. That will force everyone's hands. The other players won't have that security blanket of the most experienced QB in the system being there. … The separation is solely based off performance. They've taken things like experience and thrown them out the window. A lot of it comes at the line of scrimmage. Quarterback and everyone else are looking for a signal from the sideline.
• Weis spent a lot of time on two days during spring break watching the scrimmage from before break in detail. On Sunday he talked with the coaches and told them what he saw on video, and asked where he was right and where he was wrong. On video, there is a lot with which to be pleased. But Weis didn't want the defense to feel good about itself because it was ahead of the offense. On Sunday the offense ran some plays to exploit some defensive vulnerabilities.
• Senior Jake Heaps is one of the leading candidates at QB. Because he is the most experienced, you would expect him to run the offense better than everyone else. Taking him out of the equation at Tuesday's puts more pressure on the other quarterbacks. The coaches want to see how each candidate responds. It's just as if someone got injured. Weis wanted to do that to create more pressure in the QB competition. When you're trying to see five players, it's hard to get everyone enough reps.
• Weis is letting the offensive staff put in the offense. Weis knows the system and the plays, but there are things in the system that need to be executed. They want to make sure they're not only installing plays but also executing before they get ahead of themselves.
• Senior Brandon Bourbon has transitioned back into a running back-only position. That has helped them tremendously at the position. … When personnel groupings are called out at practice, guys know now who is in what group, even if there isn't a physical depth chart for everyone to see.
• Senior receiver Tony Pierson has seen a little bit of contact at practices. Weis "isn't stupid enough" to let Pierson go through practices without getting hit. He got hit and came off the field and told Weis that was the best thing that has happened to him.
• At wide receiver, they could talk about senior transfer Nick Harwell. But the guy who has had a good spring — the best camp of anyone on offense, in fact — is junior Rodriguez Coleman. They're throwing the ball to him a lot. The defense focuses in on Pierson and Harwell. Coleman gets a lot of one-on-one because of that. If you don't have anyone who is getting open on the single receiver side, that's a problem. Coleman is getting open.
• Junior Kevin Short is playing at corner in practices. Both senior Dexter McDonald and senior JeCorey Shepherd are pretty good players at corner. Now they can put all three of those guys out on the field at once.
• Sophomore defensive back Greg Allen might be the most pleasant surprise on defense.
• Freshman tight end Ben Johnson has been getting a lot of reps. He's ready, willing and able, even though he hasn't played yet. He did a nice job on the show team while red-shirting last season, but now he's with the big boys. He really seems to get better at every practice, and that's because he is gaining confidence.
• With installing a new offense, they don't want to go too fast. If they have a bunch of plays, and they're not good at any of them, there is no growth. Now when they start to run certain plays, they can expect production. When they're on the field, they're on the clock. They've only got four hours on a practice day to work with the players. On the off days, coaches figure out how much installation they need, and how much repetition they need.
• On the offensive line right now, there are about eight players they think they could go into a game and win with right now. They would like that number to be 10. Going into the season you want a backup at each position. At most of the positions right now, there is a clear No. 1 and a clear No. 2. Not all positions, but most.
• Sophomore QB TJ Millweard is very sharp, mentally. He went through a year of not playing as a transfer. He has knocked off a lot of that rust. Mentally, he could go run the KU offense right now. Physically, he will have to prove he can do so.
• On defense, you can tell there are a lot of seniors. On offense, there are a lot of guys who weren't playing last season for KU. With the production they have had in the passing game the past two seasons, that might be a good thing. KU might be thin at a few positions on offense, but their front-line players are good enough to win with.
• Weis expects guys to come back in the spring strong and ready to play because of strength coach Scott Holsopple. He knows the line between caring for them and pushing them. He's the true "love-hate" coach. Holsopple has a lot more access to the players than anyone on the football staff. He has been critical to the team's development.
• On the defensive line, junior college DE Kapil Fletcher, walking through the door, should be more ready than high school players. There is a "fearsome foursome" of freshmen coming in. Weis just said this morning, "Let's not rule anybody out." They don't know until they get here whether they are ready for prime time. Weis tells every player coming in there is no reason to assume they will have to red-shirt. They have a chance to work themselves in on the two-deep.
• Senior WR Justin McCay is right behind Coleman right now. McCay had his best practice on Sunday. He plays a different style than Coleman, and he needs to use that to his advantage.
• Heaps hasn't changed one bit. That's one of the biggest things you could say about this guy. He's got great leadership on top of everything else. He's excited with the newness of the spring and the offense. With the lack of production last season, there is reason for him to be excited about a new system.
• Senior LB Ben Heeney has been great at practices, working his butt off. He is clearly one of, if not the leader, of the defense.
• They just met as a staff yesterday about recruiting. Weis went through about 30 guys who the staff wanted to offer. … Weis doesn't offer now until they get a transcript in. Weis wants to know the odds of a player graduating are very high. There are reasons guys don't get offered other than what kind of skills they possess.