Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
Minutes after the nation's No. 1 prep prospect, Andrew Wiggins, announced that he was heading to Kansas, many KU fans and national writers took to Twitter to share their joke about Jayhawk fans having yet another reason to wish for football season to pass quickly.
True or not, don't expect the members of the KU football team themselves to be too upset about it. In fact, more than a dozen Jayhawk football players also jumped on Twitter following Wiggins' announcement to share their excitement over the newest big-time basketball recruit landed by Bill Self.
Here's a sample:
Head coach Charlie Weis:
Congrats to Coach Self, staff and team. Wow. Welcome Andrew to the Jayhawk family. Rock Chalk!
Wide receiver Josh Ford:
congrats to #KUbball and @CoachBillSelf on signing the #1 recruit in the nation Andrew Wiggins #RockChalk
Safety Isaiah Johnson:
Damn KU just picked up the number one basketball player!! #BIG I feel like #kufball and #kubball will do some exciting things this year !! #rockchalk
Defensive end Michael Reynolds:
Big recruiting classes for #kufball and #kuball this year !! #JayhawkNation
Quarterback Jake Heaps:
Great day to be a Jayhawk! Congrats to @22wiggins on his decision. A great feeling knowing where your going to be playing ball!! #RockChalk
Defensive tackle Marquel Combs:
KU Basketball is about to (be) crazy this year !!
Linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore:
Damn.. Bill self a Wizard how he put this class together! Big time Football recruiting class! Big time Basketball recruiting class! Great day to be a Jayhawk
Assistant coach Dave Campo:
Congrats to Coach Self and staff on a great recruiting year!!! Rock Chalk!!!”
Linebacker Schyler Miles:
WIGGINS TO KU!
Defensive back Dexter McDonald:
Wiggins got 80.3K followers lol how can you not get a check thts already official lol
Defensive tackle Keon Stowers:
Wiggins to KU lets go!!
Linebacker Victor Simmons:
Dude isn't even here yet and already got a fake account.
Long snapper Reilly Jeffers:
@22wiggins hey welcome to the family #rockchalk #kubball and #kufball
The list goes on and on. So, as you can see, there's not a whole lot of animosity from the football players about their basketball counterparts signing the best prep player on the planet.
In fact, they seem pretty excited to welcome him to town and, from December through March, to watch him play in Allen Fieldhouse.
One of the biggest reasons I think these guys aren't worried about Wiggins' arrival — other than the fact that the football team largely is made up of pretty good dudes — is the fact that these guys are realists. They understand, embrace and accept that in order to get people interested in what they're doing on Saturdays this fall, they have to go out there and win games.
The Andrew-Wiggins-to-Kansas news that overjoyed Jayhawk Nation at 11:09 a.m. today and continues to send waves of happiness throughout Lawrence brings to town the latest can't-miss, one-and-done college hoops prospect.
Regardless of your opinion on OADs, the addition of Wiggins, a 6-foot-7, 190-pound wing from Huntington, W.V., who can do a little bit of everything, not only makes the Bill-Self-led Jayhawks the favorite to win a 10th straight Big 12 title but also puts Kansas firmly into the preseason Top 10, perhaps even the Top 5. Not bad for one of last year's No. 1 seeds that lost all five starters, many of whom played key roles on the Jayhawks' run to the national title game in 2012, as well.
More important than any fact about where KU will be ranked or what KU can accomplish during the 2013-14 season is the fact that adding Wiggins to the incoming class and the returning roster gives Self an incredible amount of flexibility and a seemingly endless list of options.
As Self likes it, the competition for playing time will be stiff this coming season, which not only means the Jayhawks are loaded, but also means they're going to get better. Picture this: a deep and talented crop of Jayhawks new and old battling against one another for minutes every day during practice. There will be no fear about going too hard, only fear about not going hard enough.
Wiggins, who is projected by many to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, will certainly be pencilled in as a starter from Day 1.
The rest of the starting lineup remains to be seen, but, again, there are a bunch of different options for Self.
Here's an early stab at what the opening night starting lineup could look like, followed by a look at KU's reserves:
PG: Naadir Tharpe, jr.
SG: Wayne Selden, fr.
SF: Andrew Wiggins, fr.
PF: Perry Ellis, soph.
C: Joel Embiid, fr.
PG: Frank Mason, fr.
SG: Conner Frankamp, fr.
SF: Brannen Greene, fr.
SF: Andrew White III, soph.
PF: Jamari Traylor, soph.
PF: Landen Lucas, RS-fr.
PF: Justin Wesley, sr.
Don't forget that Memphis forward Tarik Black is visiting KU today and, should he choose the Jayhawks, he would offer Self yet another option in the starting lineup. Perhaps something like this:
PG: Naadir Tharpe, jr.
SG: Wayne Selden, fr.
SF: Andrew Wiggins, fr.
PF: Perry Ellis, soph.
C: Tarik Black, sr.
What all of this tells me is (a) KU will not have to worry about a lack of athleticism next season; and (b) Naadir Tharpe better be ready to take on a leadership role because he'll be playing with a bunch of youngins.
As many of you may know, I've loved Tharpe's leadership traits since his freshman season and I think he took a real step forward in that department last season. Give him another summer to go to work and adjust to the feeling that this is his team to lead and I think he'll be primed for a fantastic junior year.
Remember, Tharpe was at his best last season when he served as a facilitator, and with these lineups and the offensive weapons KU will have coming off the bench, it will be pretty clear that getting the ball to the right guys will be Tharpe's No. 1 job next season.
• CINCINNATI BENGALS — May 10-12
Tanner Hawkinson, OL
Like several other NFL teams, the Bengals open rookie mini camp Friday, when fifth-round draft pick and former Kansas University standout Tanner Hawkinson officially will begin his pro career. Because he was drafted, there is a lot less pressure on Hawkinson at mini camp than there is on the rest of his former KU teammates who are trying to make their respective rosters as undrafted free agents. Still, Hawkinson is competing for playing time and, in some ways, the coaches might be harder on him than the rest of the Jayhawks trying to break into the league. Hawkinson will begin his Bengals career wearing the same number (72) he wore in college.
• CHICAGO BEARS — May 10-12
Tunde Bakare, LB
Josh Williams, DE
The Bears gave free-agent contracts to 10 undrafted players following last month's draft, and, because they are a team that doesn't often load up on these types of players, that does not bode well for the chances of former Jayhawks Bakare and Williams. What the duo does have going in its favor is this: None of those 10 free agent contracts went to players who play their position. Bakare, though a bit undersized, brings a unique skill set to camp. He's a physical monster with good speed and an even better motor. Williams started his career at Nebraska and I've heard on more than one occasion that sometimes guys are picked up or given chances because of the coach or the program they played for.
• DETROIT LIONS — May 10-12
Marrongelli is one of a handful of players invited to the Lions mini camp without a contract. The good news is the versatile and intelligent lineman got the invite. The bad news? The Lions actually signed three undrafted free agent offensive linemen and drafted one in the third round. As was the case going in, Marrongelli seems like a long shot to make the Lions' roster.
• JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS — May 3-5
Duane Zlatnik, OL
The former KU guard was one of nearly 50 rookies in attendance at the Jaguars rookie mini camp last week. Given those numbers alone, Zlatnik faced a tough challenge of standing out in a crowd that included No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel. He got his reps, though, and did so wearing No. 68 (he wore 67 in college). Zlatnik has the size, strength and skill to get noticed but must show consistency. I talked to more than one person during Zlatnik's KU career who said the Rossville native was the best O-Line prospect on the team. If Zlatnik sticks around, his next chance to prove that is at the Jags' OTAs, which begin May 13.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS — May 10-12
Dayne Crist, QB
Bradley McDougald, S
Toben Opurum, DE/FB
For the second year in a row, a member of the KU football team participated at the by-invitation NFL combine yet went undrafted. Although wide receiver turned safety Bradley McDougald fully expected to hear his name called during the seven rounds of the draft, landing in Kansas City as an undrafted free agent signee puts him in pretty good position. The Chiefs are thin at safety and McDougald has the skills and confidence needed to make a quick impact. Two of McDougald's KU teammates will be joining him at K.C.'s mini camp, and both Crist and Opurum offer interesting story lines to keep an eye on. We all know that Crist's lone season at KU was a disappointment, but he still has the tools — size, smarts, arm strength, maturity — that NFL coaches look for at the game's most important position. Considering the fact that he's competing for a roster spot with two career back-ups (Chase Daniel and Ricky Stanzi) and another undrafted free agent in Tennessee's Tyler Bray, Crist, with a good camp, could find himself getting a chance behind Chiefs starter Alex Smith. As for Opurum, it remains to be seen whether he'll work as a defensive end/linebacker, a fullback or both. That, alone, is worth tracking and his versatility could keep him around long enough for the coaching staff to get a look at him in both capacities.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS — May 10-12
Greg Brown, CB
Like McDougald, Brown was impressive enough during his career and his pro day to earn a free-agent contract from the Chargers after this year's draft. That doesn't guarantee him anything other than a chance. And it might get him a couple. Not only does the contract indicate that the Chargers see something in Brown that they like, but San Diego also has a rich history of success with undrafted free agents, with names like Antonio Gates, Malcolm Floyd, Mike Tolbert and Kris Dielman going from draft castoffs to NFL starters.
According to Jerry Palm of CBSsports.com, the 2013 season will be another rough one for the Kansas University football team.
It's not that Palm projected the Jayhawks to win just one or two games — he may, but that's not what's in the news today — but rather that Palm projected that 9 of the 12 teams on KU's schedule for the upcoming season will qualify for bowl games when everything is said and done.
That projection includes two of the three non-conference opponents KU will face this season, as Palm has Rice (Sept. 14) slated to play in the Hawaii Bowl and Louisiana Tech (Sept. 21) slotted into the New Orleans Bowl.
The only members of KU's schedule not picked by Palm for the postseason are South Dakota (Sept. 7), Texas Tech (Oct. 5) and West Virginia (Nov. 16).
Both Tech and WVU made bowl appearances in 2012, when 11 of the 12 teams KU faced wound up in bowl games.
Such is life in the Big 12 Conference, where powerhouse programs like Texas, Oklahoma and, lately, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor, pop up on the schedule week in and week out. There are no down weeks in conference play, particularly for a team like KU, which is still in the middle of a rebuilding project, and that fact makes the road to respectability even tougher to travel for KU coach Charlie Weis and company.
I guess, in a way, the 2013 schedule might actually set up better for KU than last year's slate. Time will tell. But the good news — if you're looking for it — is that KU will face two of Palm's three projected non-bowl opponents during the first four games of the season.
It's been said before, and even proven to be true around here, but getting off to a good start drastically can change the way a season unfolds.
The fun begins in less than four months.
Realignment Today: Does the ACC’s granting of rights agreement mean realignment is finally finished?
During the past couple of weeks, I've been asked a few times when I was going to do another conference realignment update in the wake of the ACC announcing its granting of rights agreement that will run through 2026-27.
I certainly understand the interest, and, yes, the ACC news was huge for the realignment landscape. But by huge we're talking huge in the sense that it may have put an end to the movement for the foreseeable future.
Throughout the wild and crazy past three years of realignment, we've talked a lot about how this move or that response might be the key to realignment and full-on pandemonium. But it seems clear to me that the ACC locking up its members for such a long period of time makes things as stable as they have been in years, at least throughout college athletics' major conferences.
Could something still happen? Sure. Anything's possible. We've seen and experienced that too many times throughout the past few summers to sit here and say that this means, with 100 percent certainty, that things are done. But while it might not be 100 percent certain, it seems as if it's as close as it can get – maybe 99.9 percent.
There are those out there who believe that the granting of rights agreements don't mean jack. I've heard from them countless times throughout my coverage of conference realignment and, while I understand where they're coming from, I'm much more inclined to believe the college administrators in multiple conferences who have told me that such agreements are worth their weight in gold.
With that thought in mind, it makes sense to deduce that things will be quiet for a while now that the ACC is solid again. And I gotta admit, my hat's off to that conference for getting it done. I really believed the ACC was flirting with disaster.
After all, for the past year or so the ACC's vulnerability has been seen as the one domino that could send the whole thing tumbling once again. If this ACC school or that one left for this conference or that one, then others would be forced to react, both those schools left in the ACC and the other conferences trying to keep up.
Finally, it looks as if the Big 12 can tell people it's happy at 10 teams and the rest of the world can actually believe them.
So what does that mean for the future? Well, from what I can gather it means this: Proceed with caution.
I've had enough talks with enough people throughout the Big 12 to understand that the league will never again be caught off guard. Every time the conference's athletic directors get together or every time its governing body meets, the topic of realignment and/or expansion comes up. Sometimes it's just for 2 minutes to make sure things are still on track and other times it's for a little longer, with conference officials bringing key questions or concerns to the table for discussion. Consider it Big 12 officials staying on top of things rather than waiting for things to play out before rolling up their sleeves.
And consider that yet another legit sign of the strength and vitality of the Big 12.
A recent article from CBS Sports indicates that the Big Ten and commissioner Jim Delany had talked to as many as six schools during recent months about the idea of expansion. The article claims that the talks were of a serious nature and that things may have heated up considerably had the ACC not locked up its members with the GOR.
Who knows? It's very possible that there's some truth to that and also possible that the whole thing is just more posturing by the man who many believe started the realignment madness in the first place.
Either way, thanks to the ACC, we don't have to find out.
Delany did not disclose the names of the schools he talked to and I can't imagine that he ever will. Was KU one of them? I suppose it's possible, perhaps even likely, but from everything I've been told, it sure doesn't sound like KU had any kind of contact with the Big Ten about realignment.
Now, it's important to remember that contact can be made in both official and unofficial manners. Maybe KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger never talked to Delany about realignment, but maybe a friend of a friend of a friend at KU did.
Again, we'll probably never know and we'll probably never need to.
From where I sit, that's the best news to come from realignment in years.
I didn't write this to proclaim that realignment is over once and for all. None of us are naïve enough — any more — to actually think we're done with this demon for good. It'll come up again, most likely whenever someone gets upset with the way things are run in their conference and certainly whenever these various granting of rights agreements close in on expiration. But for now, it seems as if we can safely get back to mowing the lawn, enjoying cook outs and diving into other elements of sports coverage in the summer instead of tracking the madness of conference realignment.
Time will tell. And you know we'll stay on top of it.
Now, get out there and enjoy this weather.... Oh, wait.
Last year, KU coach Charlie Weis spent the month of May touring the state to drum up support for his new football program. This year, Weis is taking his show farther afield.
KU recently announced the dates of an eight-city regional tour that includes stops at several major KU alumni bases and begins today in Denver.
Dubbed the Kansas Football Preview Party, Weis and special guests from the KU athletic department will talk about the state of the program and the upcoming season at happy hours and luncheons open to the public. There is a charge — $10 to $20 — for most of the events, but the first two, Thursday in Denver and May 8 in Houston, are free.
PS: I know this wasn't very football related, but I still thought it was worth throwing out there so people in these areas would be able to go if they wanted to. So let's do a KU football chat Friday morning sometime to make up for it. Be looking for the link in a while and submit your questions early.
Now.... Here are the details from each of Weis' scheduled visits:
Denver: May 2, 2013
Stoney's Full Stream Tavern will host a Happy Hour event from 6:30-8:30 p.m. (MT). Food and drink will be available for purchase. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend. There is no charge for this event.
Houston: May 8, 2013
The Armadillo Palace will host a Happy Hour event from 7-9 p.m. Food and drink will be available for purchase. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend. There is no charge for this event.
Dallas: May 9, 2013
The Dallas Market Center will host a Happy Hour event from 6:30-8:30 p.m., in the Hall of Nations room. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend.
The cost of the event is $15.00 per person and includes food. A cash bar is available. Tickets can be purchased via http://www.kuathletics.com/sports/m-footbl/springtour.html.
St. Louis: May 15, 2013
The St. Louis Marriott West will host a Happy Hour event from 6:30-8:30 p.m. A cash bar and appetizers will be available. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend.
The cost of the event is $20.00 per person and includes food and two drink tickets. A cash bar is also available. Tickets can be purchased here.
Wichita: May 16, 2013
The Wichita Marriott will host a luncheon from 12-1 p.m. Registration for the event begins at 11:30 a.m. The seated luncheon, featuring Athletics Director Dr. Sheahon Zenger and head coach Charlie Weis, starts at noon.
The cost of the event is $20.00 per person and includes a plated lunch. Tickets can be purchased here.
Liberal: May 16, 2013
The Seward County Events Center will host a dinner event from 6:30-8:30 p.m., in the Ag Building. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend.
The cost of the event is $10.00 per person and includes food and drinks. Tickets can be purchased here.
Chicago: May 21, 2013
The Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel will host a Happy Hour event from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend.
The cost of the event is $20.00 per person and includes appetizers and non-alcoholic beverages. A cash bar is also available. Tickets can be purchased here.
Topeka: May 22, 2013
The Ramada Inn Downtown Convention Center will host a Happy Hour event from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend. There is no charge for this event. Food and drink will be available.
Moments ago the identity of the NFL Draft's 38th Mr. Irrelevant was revealed, marking the end of a seven-round affair that saw KU offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson get picked by Cincinnati with the 23rd pick in the 5th round.
Bradley McDougald, the other Jayhawk most likely to get drafted, was not picked (something that really surprised me), but may be in better shape now than if he had been selected with one of those late picks in the seventh round.
Motivation. Being passed over by every team for seven straight rounds no doubt will put a chip on McDougald's shoulder and he'll enter mini camp ready to prove the world wrong.
He'll get to pick his team instead of the other way around. McDougald will get a chance to make an NFL roster and now, instead of taking the hand that's dealt to him, McDougald and his agent get to survey the landscape, look at rosters and take the free agent offer from the team that gives him the best shot to make a squad. This worked well for both Chris Harris and Steven Johnson (both with the Denver Broncos) and has worked well throughout the years for several undrafted players.
As many as 10 other former Jayhawks are likely busy looking for work right now and it's my guess that nearly all of them will at least be invited to a camp and signed as an undrafted free agent.
Joining McDougald as the most notable names on this list are: QB Dayne Crist, DE/FB Toben Opurum and CB Greg Brown.
Call me crazy, but given their luck with Jayhawks in recent years, I wouldn't be surprised for a second if the Broncos went back to the well one more time and added a Kansas free agent.
I've got phone calls and feelers out in all directions and this stuff usually happens pretty quickly once the draft ends, so check back right here for updated free agent info on KU's remaining NFL hopefuls.
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
• 7:02 p.m. - Bradley McDougald Tweets that he has agreed to a free-agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. Tweet: "Just agreed to a free agent deal with the KC Chiefs... Thank you for all the love and support, time to go to work!"
• 7:46 p.m. - Cornerback Greg Brown Tweets that he has agreed to a deal with San Diego. Man, there's something about KU defensive backs and the AFC West. Tweet: Blessings have fallen! HUMBLE BEGINNINGS! TAKING MY TALENTS TO SAN DIEGO!!!!!! #CHARGERS
• 8:20 p.m. - Defensive end/Fullback Toben Opurum Tweets that he gets a shot with Kansas City. The Chiefs drafted K-State FB Braden Wilson, so Toben's best shot at making the squad may come on defense/special teams. Tweet: #Chiefs mini-camp invite... All I asked for was an opportunity.. Leggo
• 8:29 p.m. - QB Dayne Crist Tweets that he, too, will get an opportunity with the Kansas City Chiefs. Crist, along with McDougald and Opurum, will report to rookie camp on May 9. Tweet: God is great, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to get back on the field! Rookie Camp for the Chiefs May 9th can't come soon enough!
• 8:32 p.m. - Offensive lineman Trevor Marrongelli just updated me via text message. Said he got an invite to camp from the Detroit Lions just after 8:00 p.m. and that he was weighing his options.
• 8:36 p.m. - Linebacker Tunde Bakare just sent me a text and said he was invited to camp with the Chicago Bears. Probably won't make it as a pure linebacker, but I like Tunde's speed and physicality on special teams.
For the second year in a row, last Saturday's Kansas University football spring game featured a strong performance from a new quarterback to whom KU fans, coaches and players alike have tied their wagon for the upcoming season.
So, for the second year in a row, I wrote about the quarterback.
Last year it was Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist who looked sharp, decisive and, frankly, different, in leading the more talented Blue squad to a runaway victory over the White. And last Saturday, it was BYU transfer Jake Heaps who did the same.
As we all know, Crist's spring game performance turned out to be one of his few highlights during a disappointing season. I don't think we'll be saying the same thing about Heaps by December.
Throughout the spring, the one question I was asked more than any other was, 'How does Heaps look?' Each time I gave an answer that painted a picture of a talented QB who could make a difference for the KU offense.
That question, however, was surpassed by another during the couple of days since the spring game, with the more cynical but certainly understandable, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, but didn't we say the same thing last year?' becoming the more popular inquiry.
I'll be honest; I did. I even went back and read what I wrote about Crist after the 2012 spring game. Here's a taste:
More important than the final score (45-0) or the statistics (Crist was 11-of-19 passing for 156 yards, no interceptions and no TDs) was the fact that Crist showed everyone in attendance that the Jayhawks were running a different, more efficient offense. No play better illustrated that than sophomore running back Tony Pierson’s 88-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. As Crist walked to the line of scrimmage, he surveyed the defense and identified the middle linebacker, a staple of Weis’ offense. Not seeing the set he wanted, Crist called an audible and Pierson did the rest.
I don't remember much about last year's game — that's why I went back and read my story — but I do remember enough to know that what I saw from Heaps on Saturday was much different than what I saw from Crist 12 months ago.
From what I remember, Crist looked good — big, strong and smart, a far cry from anything KU had put under center for the previous few seasons. Heck, in many ways, Crist even looked better than Todd Reesing.
But Jake Heaps actually played good.
A year ago expectations were so low (at least from the realists) and the program was in such bad shape that even the mere presence of players who looked better on the field made it seem like things were headed in the right direction.
The eye test won't fly this time around. And that's why it's important to emphasize that what Heaps showed last Saturday was far more than the ability to be KU's quarterback. He showed he can play.
Even Heaps admitted that he was far from perfect during the spring game. He finished 20-of-28 for 257 yards and four touchdowns, but also took a couple of sacks, short-armed a throw or two and said there were moments that the tempo could have been better, which he put squarely on his shoulders.
But it's not fair to use Heaps' personal standards to judge his play in this one. We all saw his ability for ourselves and there was plenty to like.
In the past 16 months, I've probably seen Heaps throw 5-10 times, including once in last year's spring game, where he was 7-of-10 for 116 yards and the game's lone TD. Saturday's performance was by far — allow me to add a little emphasis to that, BY FAR — the most impressive I've seen him look.
• He threw with confidence. You can't get the ball out in less than three seconds on half of your plays without (a) knowing what you're doing or (b) believing that what you're doing is right.
• He threw lasers. Half the time Heaps threw he released the ball before his receivers (most often chemistry-compadre Justin McCay) had even come out of their breaks. Just about every time the ball was on a line and looked as if the receiver had no choice but to catch it.
• He showed decent mobility, proved he could throw on the run and was wildly accurate. That last one might be his biggest strength.
• And, most importantly, he carried himself the way any fan, coach or teammate would and should want a quarterback to carry himself — with fire, focus, purpose and fun.
See, Heaps is passionate playing the game of football and will do anything to make sure he can play it for as long as his body allows.
I enjoyed my year of covering Crist and think he's one of the better dudes to come through the KU football program. But I didn't always sense his love of the game the way I get it from Heaps. I think it was there, but it didn't always surface. Call it pressure, call it fear, call it a guarded personality or call it self-doubt. Whatever it was, I think it severely prevented Crist from lining up and letting it all hang out. That won't be a problem with Heaps.
So, if you want the truth, it wasn't so much Heaps' final numbers or the fact that he lit up KU's second string defense for four TDs and a 71 percent completion percentage that impressed me. It was the way he did it.
Heaps is not Todd Reesing. He's not as exciting, not as electrifying and certainly not as much of a rebel gunslinger. But he can play. And for the first time since Reesing graduated, Jayhawk fans may find themselves falling in love with their quarterback again this fall.
The weather outside might not be a good indicator, but, yes, we are just a few days away from KU football's annual spring game at Memorial Stadium.
-- Despite today's wintry weather, the good news is that the forecast calls for sunny and 60s on Saturday, so hang in there --
In many ways this spring has flown by, partly because of the early start, partly because of the week off for spring break and partly because it overlapped with March Madness. Regardless, I've been busy stockpiling all kinds of notes and quotes to help get us through the months of May, June and July with some fun and interesting football coverage.
So just because spring drills are about to end, don't think for a second that our coverage will.
I'll have plenty more this week about the final week of spring practice and a preview of Saturday's spring game, which will kick off at 1 p.m. and is free to the public.
For now, though, here's a quick look at the format for the game, which will feature a roster division that leans toward a passing team on one side (blue) and a rushing team on the other (white). I like the way they've split it up. Should make it interesting no matter which side has the ball.
Here's how it will all go down:
There will be four 15 minute quarters with a running clock, with the exception of the final two minutes of each half, where normal game clock rules will be followed. Outside of that, the clock will stop only for injuries, timeouts or at the referee's discretion.
A coin toss will decide who gets the ball.
Possessions to begin each half and after scores will start at the 30 yard line.
No kickoffs. (This is to avoid unnecessary injuries)
There will be an abbreviated halftime of 13 minutes (NFL format).
Punt/punt return will end when the returner fair catches the ball, picks up a rolling ball or when a defender downs the ball. Normal rules apply for touchbacks.
On field goals, if the ball hits the ground, the play will be blown dead.
Red jerseys worn by the quarterbacks will protect QBs in the pocket only. In other words, if they run, they're free to be hit. (Don't expect Jake Heaps to take off to much, if at all.)
Game MVPs will be announced after the game. The team will join the band for the alma mater after the game.
All in all, it's a pretty decent format for a game that has the potential to be both competitive and entertaining. I have no problem with some of the rules put in place to avoid injuries. Sure, you want to entertain the fans that show up, but not at the expense of getting someone hurt.
There will be plenty of opportunities for the crowd to enjoy what it's watching, both on offense and defense.
I'll leave you (for now) with a quick look at some of the marquee names on each squad.
Annual KU football coaching clinic mixes good entertainment with wealth of knowledge and coaching advice
The Kansas University football program wrapped up its annual coaching clinic on Saturday with the back end of a two-day clinic that drew dozens of college and high school coaches from around the area and focused on everything from X's and O's to the way KU coach Charlie Weis and his staff run the program.
The clinic was structured in a way that allowed every coach that attended a chance to interact with KU's coaching staff in small groups and also allowed time for the coaches to give presentations on a variety of topics that focused on their areas of expertise.
Defensive coordinator Dave Campo talked coverage concepts. Recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello shared with the coaches ways for them to help their athletes get recruited. And so on and so on.
All of the coaches who spoke at the event showed genuine enthusiasm and did not mail it in in any way. In fact, several of them seemed legitimately bummed when the time ran out on their Saturday sessions. Here are but a few of the more interesting and/or entertaining points:
• Weis kicked things off bright and early Saturday morning with a brief overview of who he was, where he came from and where he was headed. His message was simple and he repeated it often: “You have to change with the times and be able to adapt you to your personnel not your personnel to you. It's a big difference, fellas.”
Weis, who emphasized a football coach's role as a teacher, said he first learned that extremely important lesson from the first coach who ever hired him in Morristown, N.J.
“When I understood that football is nothing other than the subject you teach, that's when I really became a football coach,” Weis said.
• Linebackers coach Clint Bowen, who diagramed run fits and discussed them in terms of concepts the way Campo described Read, Mix and Cloud coverage concepts, shared with the coaches in attendance some words of wisdom he first heard from former KU defensive coordinator Bill Young.
“The more times you can say always and never the better chance you have,” Bowen said.
Most of the material covered by both Campo and Bowen focused on generalizing your defense and the buzz words within it to make it as easy as possible to adjust quickly from one look to another.
• Offensive line coach Tim Grunhard, in wrapping up his session, made a genuine plea to the coaches in attendance to come up and hang out in the summer from time to time. Grunhard, who coached for six years at Bishop Miege High, said he never got the feeling during that stretch that KU's coaching staff reached out to the prep community, and he's proud to be part of a staff that values that and sees its importance.
• Strength and conditioning coach Scott Holsopple may have stolen the show by talking with great enthusiasm about the ins and outs of his job and laying out not only his personal philosophies about strength training but also outlining a year in the life of the KU football program. He talked fast and covered everything, from what the Jayhawks do and how often they do it during spring, the offseason and in season to what they do on a daily basis and why it's important.
At the end of Holsopple's talk, which went 10-15 minutes longer than scheduled, several coaches in attendance were so fired up that they turned to one another and simply said, “Let's go get a workout in.”
Perhaps the best part of Holsopple's session was not the behind-the-scenes look at how KU football operates, but the way he tailored his talking points to what could best help the coaches in attendance. Throughout the hour-long Q&A, Holsopple kept going back to the fact that he wanted this to be worth these guys' time and wanted to help them get as much out of it as they could, stuff that they could learn and take back to their programs and utilize.
• Friday night's portion of the clinic included two guest speakers, legendary Florida high school coach George Smith and Smith Center, Kan., high school coach Roger Barta. Before the room broke up into buzz sessions by positions, the two coaching giants held court on everything from their humble beginnings in the business to detailed
More than a couple of coaches, including Campo, told me Saturday that the hour-long session run by those two guys was as cool a moment as they had enjoyed in coaching in a long time.
• In addition to the individual time with KU's coaching staff, the coaches at the clinic were invited to watch Friday's regular practice and a 90-play scrimmage on Saturday.
Tuesday marked the first practice of the spring that was open to the media and instead of the usual 20 minutes of stretching and warm-ups, KU coach Charlie Weis opened the door and pulled back the curtain for the entire hour-and-40-minute session.
A good chunk near the end was spent on special teams, but, with this team, even that was an area worth watching.
With that in mind, here's the first (and maybe only) edition of “What Caught My Eye” from spring drills. Grab a chair and get comfortable.
• New year, new leaders. In addition to the bounce in their step and hope in the air (none of that was there during the final few weeks of the 2012 season), it's always interesting to see what a new team looks like during spring drills. Who steps up and leads. Who is most vocal? Who leads by example? All of that and more is easy to spot during an open practice. But the easiest way to find out who the leaders are is to watch the stretching lines. Usually the guys closest to coach Holsopple are the biggest leaders and, on Tuesday at least, that seemed to hold true. The first line included quarterback Jake Heaps, linebacker Ben Heeney and running back James Sims. A couple of surprises on the first line included Keba Agostinho, Randall Dent, Dexter Linton, Jacorey Shepherd and Ron Doherty. A few of those guys are seniors, but a few are not. Nothing earth-shattering there but it was the first thing that jumped out.
• The Coach Weis song of the day seems to be back, at least for now, and today, the practice DJ stacked a Bruce Springsteen song on top of a Bon Jovi song. Talk about buttering up the head coach.
• Darius Willis, who now wears No. 52, looks substantially bigger than I ever remember him being. Willis, whom Weis said recently is pushing Heeney for first-string reps at middle linebacker, looks mobile, physical and ready for a bigger role again. In short, he's everything I thought he would be when he first arrived from Buffalo.
• One of my favorite drills of the day was a drill in which five receivers ran different routes on the same play, with each one receiving a ball at the same moment. The drill was made possible by the fact that all three KU quarterbacks — Heaps, Michael Cummings and Blake Jablonski — along with QB coach Ron Powlus and one of the managers dropped back and threw to a designated guy. While this unfolded for nearly 10 minutes, Coach Weis sat in a golf cart in the end zone and coached both the receivers and the quarterbacks. The way the receivers and running backs ran routes at different depths reminded me of the fountains at the Belagio in Las Vegas dancing to the music.
• Speaking of routes, I thought it was very cool to see the different ways Tony Pierson was used. I don't think for a second that we saw even one-fifth of what KU will ask of Pierson this season, but what we did see was the dynamic junior speed back running routes all over the field. Short. Long. Seam. Post. Corner. If he and Heaps can develop some chemistry, he'll be a nightmare for opposing defenses this fall.
• Another dude we've heard about who truly has gotten bigger is red-shirt freshman tight end Jordan Smith. The guy's lower body looks like a tank. Didn't watch him a ton in route-running and pass-catching drills, but he's bulked up, no question about it.
• We didn't get to see much of the offensive or defensive lines during live action, so I'll stick with the linebackers and secondary. The first string looked like this: Courtney Arnick, Heeney and Jake Love at linebacker, with Shepherd and Cassius Sendish at corner and Greg Allen and Dexter Linton at safety. When the team went to its nickel package, Dexter McDonald checked in at nickel back. When they went dime, Allen, Linton, Shepherd, McDonald, Sendish, Tevin Shaw, Willis and Heeney were all out there.
• Remember that talk of accountability that we heard from these guys at the start of spring drills? It's legit. I heard more guys calling out other guys today than I can remember all year last year. Nothing major and nothing nasty. Just guys yelling at other guys after a dropped pass or for jogging instead of sprinting. No bad blood, no whining, just players responding to a little push from another teammate. Pretty cool to see, really.
• One of the most exciting sessions of the day was the one-on-ones, where wideouts or running backs lined up against a defensive backs and ran routes. Overall, the offense seemed to get the better of the defense during this one. By my count, the offensive player got the best of the defense 19 out of 31 times. That included nine of the first 10, though, so the DBs made a decent comeback late in the drill.
• Got my first look at new defensive backs coach Scott Vestal in action. He's intense. The guy really has a motor and he has a set of lungs to match. Really like his style and passion.
• We saw some pretty extensive special teams work and, of all the return men, Tre' Parmalee and JaCorey Shepherd stood out as the most impressive. Both had multiple long returns and looked incredibly shifty no matter where they were on the field.
• Speaking of special teams, it was cool to see the punting and kickoff drills because that gave us a good look at new kicker Trevor Pardula. I know it was just one practice, but I'd be shocked if Pardula didn't have both jobs locked up already. He's solid and consistent on kickoffs — something that even teammates paid attention to and responded with, 'We need that,' — and he can really boom his punts. On a couple of occasions, Pardula's punts inspired Weis to say the following: “Woo Hoo Hoo Hoo.” Huge upgrade.
• As for field goal kicking, it appears there's still some work to be done there. Pardula was decent and veteran Ron Doherty had his moments, but nobody stood out the way Pardula did in the other aspects of the kicking game. That's not all bad news. Remember, Hutch Juco walk-on Michael Mesh is still coming this summer and he should have a good shot of winning the job.
• Pardula did deliver when it counted, connecting on a 38 yarder to close practice. Had he missed it, the team would have run. Instead, they celebrated. Want another sign of progress? Last year, this was the drill that Weis had his team do over again because it didn't celebrate the made kick properly. No such problem Tuesday.
I just received a news release from KU that forced me to do a double-take. Turns out what I thought I read the first time actually was true.
KU has become the first NCAA program to incorporate virtual-reality training into its regular routine of preparing its student-athletes for competition.
The full release is posted below. It sounds to me like this is a potentially very cool development and certainly keeps KU on the cutting edge and at the forefront of college athletics when it comes to training practices and facilities.
Here's the release:
Kansas Athletics became the first NCAA institution to partner with EON Reality, the world's leading interactive 3D software provider, in the creation of software to eventually be used in a virtual reality football simulator. The simulator utilizes EON Reality’s popular Icube and will enable student-athletes to simulate an actual game for training and teaching purposes.
“This state-of-the-art training will greatly benefit our student-athletes and makes Kansas a leader of virtual reality in sport,” Kansas Director of Athletics Sheahon Zenger said. “We constantly seek responsible and innovative ways to help our student-athletes and this cutting-edge technology brings a great opportunity to our football team.”
Once the software is fully developed, student-athletes will be able to step into a 10 feet by 10 feet room and be immersed into simulated-game action. The experience makes the user feel as if they are standing on an actual playing field, complete with crowd noise, realistic game speeds and football player avatars running real plays.
The student-athlete will be able to experience game action of any play desired. The virtual reality football simulator is at the forefront of a growing trend of applications using virtual and augmented reality within the sports industry.
“At the elite level, everyone is pretty much the same when it comes to size, speed and strength,” said Brendan Reilly, Co-Founder of EON Reality Sports. “What separates an average team from a great team is how they perform from a cognitive standpoint – reading plays, understanding coverages, reducing mistakes and making quick decisions, etc.
“The teams that do these seemingly little things right usually wind up winning. Virtual Reality has been proven to dramatically increase a user’s experience level. The end goal is to speed up the experience level of an athlete and essentially have freshmen operating at the same cognitive level as a senior.”
Let me start out by saying that the whole idea for this blog entry was born from the simple belief, of this writer at least, that North Carolina coach Roy Williams is a good person.
Having grown up in Lawrence and hung around with his son, Scott, I know this to be true. He’s a kind, compassionate, genuine man with an intense love of basketball and a highly competitive spirit.
Fans of Kansas University basketball know this, whether they’ve spent the past 10 seasons rooting against him or not. As the old saying goes, or at least went, Ol’ Roy had more desire to win in his little finger than all of the Kansas basketball fans in the world combined. Before the divorce, KU fans loved that about him. As time goes by and more distance is put between his 15 seasons in Lawrence and the present day, I think KU fans will slowly begin to remember that.
The scene at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday certainly made that seem possible. With thousands of KU fans in the stands waiting for the Jayhawks, Williams was cheered when UNC took the floor for its open practice session.
So what does any of this have to with Caronlina’s first-round match-up against Villanova on Friday at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.? That, too, is simple. It’s my contention that the basketball gods simply are not that cruel to put one man through losing to his former school on the biggest stage in the world twice in the past 12 months and three times in the past five years. It was cruel enough of the committee to put the potential match-up out there, but the gods will intervene.
Roy left. He did what he had to do for himself and his family. And, truth be told, had most of you been in his position, you would’ve done the same thing, whether you’re willing to admit it or not.
But he has paid his debt to the Jayhawk Nation. After getting drubbed by Kansas in the national semifinals in 2008, Williams stuck around for the title game against Memphis and wore a Jayhawk sticker on his shirt. For that he was crushed by the UNC fans, and when the two schools met again in last year’s Elite Eight in St. Louis, he had to relive the whole experience while suffering through another heartbreaking loss to his former school at the same time.
Every time he's been asked, Williams has had nothing but positive, heart-felt things to say about KU and his time here.
So when is enough enough?
North Carolina, which enters the game as a four-point favorite, may have more talent than Villanova. The Tar Heels may be a bit under-seeded — third in the ACC and a berth in the conference tournament title game usually gets you more than an 8 seed — and may have the luxury of having at least a few players who have experienced the NCAA Tournament and its intense pressure in much bigger games and venues. But I don’t think they’ll win.
Forget just playing the hunch, though. Villanova has real talent. Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono was a unanimous selection on the Big East’s all-rookie squad and the Wildcats have a size advantage inside, led by senior forward Mouphtaou Yarou (6-foot-10, 255 pounds) and sophomore bruiser JayVaughn Pinkston (6-7, 260). In addition, the Wildcats are the better defensive team, are better free-throw shooters and have a more quality wins. Forget about the 20-13 overall record. In the past 59 days alone, ‘Nova knocked off Louisville and Syracuse in back-to-back games and also snagged victories over Marquette and Georgetown. That’s victories over a No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament and 11 total games (4-7) against NCAA Tournament teams. UNC? Not a single victory against a team currently in the Top 25.
I think Villanova wins. I think Roy goes home sad. But, when it’s all said and done, I don’t think it hurts as bad as losing to Kansas — again.
For the most part, it seems that fans of Kansas University basketball are a pretty superstitious bunch.
Whether that's derived from the great tradition at the school that dates back decades or the recent success, it seems that “signs” are everywhere and can be taken from just about anything, especially during March.
There are, of course, reasons behind many of the superstitions and they seem to straddle both sides of the fence. Some fans like when KU gets a No. 1 seed and is considered one of the favorites. Others prefer the Jayhawks to be the under-the-radar bunch with less attention and therefore less pressure placed on them.
And then, of course, you've got the thousands of fans who wear the same gameday shirts, sit in the same seats or watch the games at the same establishments, all in the name of keeping the peace.
With that in mind, I couldn't help but wonder how being picked by the experts to reach the Final Four makes most KU fans feel. Nervous? Excited? Proud? Satisfied?
Earlier today, I saw an ESPN.com Insider column titled “Experts Final Four Picks” and naturally I was compelled to click on it. It's always fun to see who other people are picking and why, regardless of whether they're named Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps or Donald Duck and Dave Grohl.
It's not that I'm searching for the answers. I'm a firm believer that nobody out there has even the slightest clue how things are going to go, and that's what makes the Big Dance so wonderful and so captivating every year no matter where it's played or which teams are playing. Besides, I've got my own bracket, thank you very much, and I feel pretty good about how it looks — at least today.
But, still, it's interesting to see what others are thinking and saying about the four teams who will advance to Atlanta. Here's a quick rundown of the “Experts Picks” from ESPN.com.
As you can see, two of the five included Kansas. My question to you is this: Does that make you feel better, worse or the same about the Jayhawks' chances?
(PS: I'm still searching the web for more “expert picks” and will add them to the bottom of this list as I find them so check back often.)
Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, VCU, Indiana
Title: Louisville over Indiana
Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, Kansas, Indiana
Title: Louisville over Indiana
Final Four: Louisville, Gonzaga, Kansas, Indiana
Title: Louisville over Indiana
Final Four: Louisville, Gonzaga, Florida, Miami
Title: Louisville over Florida
Final Four: Louisville, New Mexico, Florida, Miami
Title: Florida over Louisville
Final Four: Louisville, Wisconsin, VCU, Indiana
Title: Louisville over Indiana
Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana
Title: Ohio State over Michigan
Final Four: Louisville, Gonzaga, Florida, Indiana
Title: Louisville over Indiana
Final Four: Louisville, New Mexico, Georgetown, Miami
Title: Louisville over Miami
Final Four: Louisville, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Miami
Title: Louisville over Miami
Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, Georgetown, Indiana
Title: Louisville over Indiana
Having trouble filling out your bracket?
Maybe this can help. I stumbled upon it the other day via Twitter — where else? — and I've probably tried it four or five different times since discovering it.
In a word, it's awesome. But in greater detail, it's the Wall Street Journal's Blind Bracket exercise. To the best of my understanding, it's an actual bracket pool, with prizes available and the whole bit. I haven't actually entered it yet, but it seems like an interesting way to increase your odds of winning something this March.
Here's how it works:
Just as you do in a normal bracket, you pick each round, game by game, but instead of knowing the identity of the teams you're picking, you're simply given two profiles and asked to pick one. The profiles, which come complete with fake names such as “Boom Boxes” or “The Ice Cube Trays,” include six categories, a brief summary, seed and RPI ranges and vague conference affiliation, such as mid-major or high major.
Values are assigned to each of the six categories — basically, the 1-5 star system, with five being the best — and that's how you determine which team you're picking.
You go through blindly the entire way, picking 32 games in Round 2, 16 games in Round 3, 8 games in Round 4, 4 games in Round 5, 2 games in Round 6 and, of course, the title game.
After it's all over, your picks are recorded and the site spits out the completed bracket.
The first one I did yielded the following results: Final Four – Duke, Gonzaga, Florida and Indiana, with Duke topping Florida in the title game. I'm not crazy about those picks, considering none of them are in my actual bracket picks, but maybe that's a sign that I should reconsider before making it official. As for KU, I picked the Jayhawks to the Elite Eight in my blind bracket and had them losing to Florida. Not bad.
Anyway, if you want to try your luck, here's the link. Enjoy!
Friday is a big day for several former Kansas University football players hoping to make a name for themselves with pro scouts.
The Jayhawks annual Pro Timing Day will run from 10:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m. and will feature all of the same types of drills that took place at the NFL Combine last month.
Two Jayhawks who participated at the Combine — Tanner Hawkinson and Bradley McDougald — are expected to go through a few of the drills to try to enhance their Combine numbers. The rest of the Jayhawks expected to compete are guys who are hoping to enhance their draft stock and/or prove that they're worthy of free agent contracts following April's draft.
During the past few years, this event typically has drawn representatives from 6-12 different NFL teams. However, because of the fact that longtime NFL assistant coach Charlie Weis is now KU's head coach — not to mention longtime NFL coach Dave Campo as the defensive coordinator — this year's pro day is expected to draw interest from nearly twice that many teams, perhaps more.
A good showing Friday in the 40-yard dash or the bench press or vertical jump test does not guarantee these guys anything. Many of them already are on the radar of NFL teams because of their postseason all-star game performances. Others are hoping Friday is the day they wow the scouts. After all, it only takes one team to like you, as former Jayhawks and undrafted free agents Chris Harris (now a starter with the Denver Broncos) and Steven Johnson (a special teams regular with Denver) have proven.
Here's a quick glance at the guys who will participate:
Tunde Bakare, LB
Skinny: Hard-charging linebacker determined to make it in honor of his brother, Omani, who passed away a few years ago.
Top skills: Speed. Physicality. Determination.
Prediction: Bakare's mix of speed, power and drive should earn him an invitation to a camp as an undrafted free agent.
D.J. Beshears, WR
Skinny: Undersized wide receiver who made a living using his power and speed to roll through and by defenders.
Top skills: Speed. Toughness.
Prediction: If he tests well, Beshears may get a look as a kick returner but is most likely destined to seek playing time in another league, perhaps the Arena League or the Canadian Football League.
Greg Brown, CB
Skinny: “Lockdown Brown” never quite lived up to that nickname in college but it wasn't for lack of opportunity. Faced the Big 12's best week-in and week-out for two straight years and that should him ready for what's ahead.
Top skills: Closing speed. Athleticism. Vision.
Prediction: I like Brown's chances to make a roster and think he'll have to do it the same way his good friend Chris Harris did — as an undrafted free agent.
Dayne Crist, QB
Skinny: Crist's trouble at KU are well-documented, but just because he struggled during his second senior season does not mean he's out of the mix to make an NFL roster. He did well in postseason all-star games and if he tests well, which I fully expect he will, someone may be intrigued enough to give him a shot.
Top skills: Size. Arm strength. Football IQ.
Prediction: I think Crist's skill set along with an endorsement from Charlie Weis allow him to catch on somewhere. He won't be drafted, he might not make a team, but I think he'll get a shot and I could see him being a practice squad guy with the potential to move up.
Tanner Hawkinson, OL
Skinny: Four-year starter at tackle has a solid mix of size and athleticism and is very much on the NFL radar.
Top skills: Footwork. Consistency. Athleticism. Versatility. Intelligence.
Prediction: If Hawkinson were just a bit stronger, he'd be a second- or third-round pick. As it stands, I think he'll go in the fourth or fifth round. The scouts I've talked to like what he brings to the table.
Trevor Marrongelli, OL
Skinny: Anchor of KU's line last season at center, who also has experience playing guard. Undersized by NFL standards, but a tireless worker who'll give it everything he has.
Top skills: Intelligence. Versatility. Work ethic.
Prediction: Great dude, but my guess here is that Marrongelli ends up being just another solid college player and puts his degree to work.
Bradley McDougald, S
Skinny: The move from wide receiver to safety changed McDougald's future. As a receiver, he would've had, at best, an outside shot at getting picked up by an NFL team. As a safety, he's a likely draft pick.
Top skills: Athleticism. Strength. Power. Hands.
Prediction: It's hard to say if McDougald will be selected in April's draft before or after Hawkinson, but I definitely believe he'll be picked. And I also believe he'll go on to have a solid NFL career.
Toben Opurum, DL
Skinny: Still relatively new to defense, but has good strength and plays at a high speed.
Top skills: Versatility. Intelligence. Motor.
Prediction: Opurum may not have a true position on defense in the NFL, but there still exists the possibility that the former KU running back could catch on as an NFL fullback.
Daymond Patterson, WR
Skinny: Electric play-maker in the open field who uses speed and quickness to make up for what he lacks in the way of size.
Top skills: Elusiveness. Speed. Confidence.
Prediction: Patterson may get a look as a punt or kickoff return specialist.
Kale Pick, WR
Skinny: All-around good athlete who was one of the hardest working guys on the team throughout his college career and benefits as a WR from previous QB experience.
Top skills: Intelligence. Hands.
Prediction: Pick could be viewed as an intriguing prospect because he is so reliable.
Mike Ragone, TE
Skinny: Former Notre Dame player who played one season at KU and stayed healthy for the first time in ages.
Top skills: Blocking. Toughness. Heart.
Prediction: Ragone will give it all he has but his body may not be where it needs to be to land a roster spot.
Lubbock Smith, S
Skinny: Longtime contributor in KU's secondary battled injuries throughout his career but always kept battling.
Top skills: Physical. Relentless. Versatile.
Prediction: Smith's a better athlete than he's given credit for but whether that translates to the NFL is another question.
Josh Williams, DE
Skinny: Former Nebraska defensive end started every game during his lone season in Lawrence.
Top skills: Size. Intelligence.
Prediction: Williams figures to be invited to training camp.
Duane Zlatnik, OL
Skinny: Widely regarded as one of the strongest players on KU's roster, Zlatnik was flat-out dominant at times during his junior and senior seasons.
Top skills: Strength. Mean streak.
Prediction: Size, strength and experience alone should get him a look.
The Cincinnati Bearcats officially broke them in for the rest of the world to see earlier Wednesday during their 61-44 victory over Providence in the Big East Tournament, and the expectation is that the Kansas University men's basketball team will do the same during its opening game of the Big 12 Championship on Thursday.
We're talking the uniforms that sent the college basketball world into a frenzy a few weeks ago, of course, as the odd and somewhat bold pattern dreamed up by the folks at adidas certainly has changed the way college basketball teams look on the floor.
As the top seed in this year's Big 12 tourney, the Jayhawks will wear the white version of the wild look. According to most — fans I spoke with, Twitter-dwellers and other writers — the white uniform is the less outlandish of the two, with the blue version bearing the brunt of most of the criticism.
While the initial fan reaction, at least according to Twitter, seemed to reveal that the new look was universally despised by KU fans, a couple of quick phone calls on Wednesday painted a much different picture.
First, I called Jock's Nitch in Downtown Lawrence to find out just how well the uniforms had been received by the public. What I was told surprised me. According to general manager, Ryan Owens, the store sold out of all of its shorts — both white and blue — and even sold more than a few of the jerseys.
Wait. There's more. Somewhere around 15-20 folks even put their name down to snag dibs on the first batch of shorts in Owens' second order. One of them was someone many of you might know — Mario Chalmers.
Chalmers, through Twitter, asked Owens to hold a pair of the white shorts for him.
Overall, Owens said he believed the younger generation liked the look a lot more than most, but also said that he was surprised by the reaction to the blue uniform when people saw it in the store.
“They're different, there's no doubt about that,” he said. “It's definitely something out of the box. But when people get into the store, they actually wind up liking the blue more.”
Rather than stopping there, I thought I'd make a quick call to KU, too, to find out how the new duds had been received on campus. It turns out the reaction was nearly the same. The KU Store, which is connected to Allen Fieldhouse, sold through all of its shorts, both colors, and has made a dent in the re-order, as well. KU Store also sold most of its youth jerseys in both blue and white.
According to the people at adidas, the motivation behind unveiling the wild look was to shake things up during the most fun time of year for college basketball.
After dabbling with something different during last year's postseason with the fluorescent colors worn by schools like Baylor and Louisville, adidas simply wanted to be make another splash in the market and show off something fun on a huge stage.
One person I talked to at KU said they had heard that this specific style of uniform had been selling like crazy across the country, too, with Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Baylor, UCLA and Louisville — all adidas schools — joining the Jayhawks in wearing the wild look this postseason.
The whole thing is part of a huge marketing campaign by adidas, complete with mannequins in the windows of Dick's Sporting Goods stores as well as spreads in the East Bay retail magazine as well as Slam Magazine.
KU coach Bill Self said the Jayhawks' plans were to wear them for one game and that he didn't think it would go beyond that. He did leave the door open for an encore performance, though, by saying that it depended on how well they played in them.
It did seem pretty certain that KU would not be wearing them in the NCAA Tournament.
KU will open postseason play tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Kansas City, Mo., against the winner of tonight's West Virginia-Texas Tech game.
Because last Saturday was my first chance to get a quick glance at KU's new-look football program, my "What caught my eye" feature ran a little long.
So here's the second part of a list of things that stood out to me as I took in about an hour of KU's third practice of the spring — and first with pads.
If you missed my video from last Saturday's Hannah & Friends clinic, be sure to check that out. The Jayhawks and participants really seemed to have a great time. Many of them are still talking about it today. Also, if you missed Part I of what caught my eye, go take a look at that, too.
If you're all caught up, here's Part II:
• Got my first look at the newly formed offensive line and I liked a lot of what I saw. One thing that really struck me was the fact that while the current starting five was working its way through drills — Pat Lewandowski, Mike Smithburg, Dylan Admire, Ngalu Fusimalohi and Aslam Sterling — four guys with starting experience (Randall Dent, Gavin Howard, Damon Martin and Riley Spencer) were standing by watching them. There's a lot to be determined still with this group, but I like its potential and depth.
• Speaking of Lewandowski, I think he could be a real surprise this season. It looks like he's got great feet — perhaps even better than last year's left tackle, Tanner Hawkinson — and he's a fierce competitor. The only thing holding him back from being truly ready in the past was his size. But now that he's up to 290 pounds, he appears to be coming along nicely.
• Freshman running back Colin Spencer was involved in the offensive sets the Jayhawks ran during Saturday's practice and I think that's a sign of things to come. I wouldn't make too much of it, but I also wouldn't dismiss it. It's a crowded backfield and there's a ton of talent in front of him, but Spencer's a solid athlete with big-time speed. If he can pick up what they're throwing at him, I think he'll have a role in the offense.
• Long snapper John Wirtel, who announced on signing day that he was walking-on at KU next season, was in attendance watching practice with his family. Seemed like nice people and I was impressed more than once by the way Wirtel's eyes were wide open while taking in what was unfolding in front of him. Recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello came over to the family during a break to welcome them. That was cool to see, too.
• There was no “Coach Weis Song of the Day” on Saturday, but there was a different familiar sign from last season — the exercise bike. Saturday, defensive back Tyree Williams and linebacker Schyler Miles were logging miles on the bike. Miles we knew about, Williams was new.
• JaCorey Shepherd, the junior wide receiver turned defensive back who wore No. 25 last season, has switched over to No. 24 this year.
• It was nice to see former Jayhawks, Maxwell Onyegbule (player) and Louie Matsakis (coach) back in crimson and blue, too.
Before I get into the specifics of what I saw at Saturday's KU football practice, let me explain one thing.
We were told before the spring began that the media would get one day to go out and watch practice but we don't know yet when that day will be. Saturday, those of us who attended KU's Hannah & Friends football clinic at Anschutz Sports Pavilion were lucky enough to observe an hour of KU's third practice of the spring, the team's first in pads.
The clinic itself was great. It was really cool to see so many of these players get into working with the people with special needs. Lots of smiles, lots of laughs, lots of fun. That made the hour of practice a bonus, but it definitely was great to get a look at some of the new guys, which was where I spent most of my time during the practice session.
I just wanted to get that explanation out of the way so you would know that the “What Caught My Eye” feature would not be as regular of a thing this spring. But I hope for it to return full bore in August.
For now, here's what caught my eye from Saturday's action:
• Junior college transfer Tedarian Johnson is a freaking truck. Most recruiting services had him listed at 260 pounds throughout his recruitment, but the guy is a legit 290. And he moves well. I don't know how he'll fit into KU's plans on its suddenly-deep defensive line, but his size definitely caught me by surprise.
• All of that talk about junior defensive tackle Keon Stowers as a leader seems legit. You could see it even during the clinic with the Special Olympians but it really showed up during drills in practice. I think part of the reason Stowers has emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, is that (a) he battled injuries last year and could not play to his potential, (b) he didn't want to overstep his bounds and wanted to be respectful of last year's seniors and c) KU really needs leaders on defense. Stowers is one of the real good dudes on this team and it's cool to see him stepping up.
• KU coach Charlie Weis was not afraid to get after these guys — none of the coaches were. I heard a lot of yelling and sensed a lot of urgency from the staff during individual drills. I think they're trying to set the tone for the season early and, by doing that, are reminding these guys that losing is not acceptable. I didn't hear names or see numbers, but at one point I even heard Weis yell, “He's gonna take your job.” Nothing like some good, ol' competition.
• Although limited, Saturday's practice gave me my first extended look since last year's spring game at how QB Jake Heaps works. And even that was not that great of a representation of who he is and how he operates since we all knew then that he could not play in 2012. I really like his demeanor. He's a natural leader, carries himself with confidence and crispness and seems to be a really easy guy to want to follow. We didn't see a ton of throws so that'll have to wait for another day, but there's no question that this is his team and his offense.
Here's a quick video I put together from today's KU football clinic with about 100 Special Olympians. The event, which was organized by Hannah & Friends, the not-for-profit charity dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with different abilities founded by KU coach Charlie Weis and his wife Maura, included the team and its participants running through 10 different skills stations and an hour-and-a-half of drills, laughs and smiles.
The new KU student group, Hannah & Jayhawk Friends, which, Maura Weis said is the fastest growing organization on campus, also helped make Saturday's fun happen.
After the clinic was over, I got to stick around for an hour of the Jayhawks actual practice and saw some new looks and new faces, so I'll have more thoughts from that later today.
For now, enjoy the video from a great event!