Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”

What caught my eye at Thursday’s practice: Aug. 14

Kyron Watson takes down Brandon Bourbon during a one-on-one LB vs. RB drill on Thursday. Notice the ball bouncing on the turf to the left of the pile of bodies as well as how intense RB coach Reggie Mitchell (red) and LB coach Clint Bowen (blue) are during the drill.

Kyron Watson takes down Brandon Bourbon during a one-on-one LB vs. RB drill on Thursday. Notice the ball bouncing on the turf to the left of the pile of bodies as well as how intense RB coach Reggie Mitchell (red) and LB coach Clint Bowen (blue) are during the drill. by Matt Tait

Thursday's practice was one of the hottest of preseason camp so far for the Kansas University football team.... not that anyone was complaining.

As far as mid-August goes, what these guys have enjoyed the past couple of weeks, weather-wise, has been about as good as you could ask for.

Not a ton of things that jumped out at me out there today, but there were a couple of fun things that caught my eye and we saw a heck of a drill between the running backs and the linebackers.

It only lasted a few reps and was over just as it was starting to get good. Maybe that was by design.

Here was the gist: Ball placed at the 3-yard line about 3 or 4 yards away from the sideline. Running back takes the ball and goes one-on-one against a backer to try to score.

The running backs won the drill by a wide margin (and they probably should have...That's tough for the defensive guy to hold his ground in that tight of an area and keep the back from scoring.)

There was one significant highlight for the defense during the drill and it came from fast-rising freshman Kyron Watson. Paired up with senior tailback Brandon Bourbon, Watson laid a serious lick and also ripped the ball out and recovered it in the end zone.

The rest of the LBs went nuts when Watson returned to the line and the freshman from East St. Louis, Ill., pretty much took it all in stride. I'm telling you; this kid looks like a player.

It should be noted that Bourbon did just fine on his couple other carries. Like I said, the backs won the drill, but the Watson highlight might have been the biggest single moment.

One of the best and perhaps most overlooked moments of the drill was the showdown between KU assistants Clint Bowen, who coaches the linebackers, and Reggie Mitchell, who coaches the running backs. The two didn't actually jump into the drill (advantage Bowen in that one) but they flashed their intensity and passion throughout the session.

Both guys are such competitors that I'm certain they wanted to win the drill as much for their position group as any of the players. You can see that in the video that Benton Smith got toward the bottom of this blog. Good stuff.

By the way, this whole story should come as absolutely no surprise... Watson's Twitter handle tells all you need to know --- @KyroGee_HitRBs

Kansas University linebacker Kyron Watson, (6) center, tackles running back  Brandon Bourbon (25) during a team practice Thursday, August 14, 2014. Linebacker coach Clint Bowen is at left.

Kansas University linebacker Kyron Watson, (6) center, tackles running back Brandon Bourbon (25) during a team practice Thursday, August 14, 2014. Linebacker coach Clint Bowen is at left. by Mike Yoder

Here's a quick look at a couple of other things that stood out Thursday:

• Scouts, scouts, scouts and more scouts. It's pretty much become the norm for at least a couple of NFL scouts to be out at practice, so this may be the last time I write about it. Today's attendance was the biggest of the preseason, though, so they jumped out at me a little more. Based on the roster and the number of Jayhawks who could potentially get a shot at pro football, I'm guessing these guys are busier than they have been when they come to Lawrence.

• It looks like the offensive linemen might have got some new gloves. Either that or I'm just now noticing them. I can't imagine that would be the case, though, since these babies stood out because of the shiny, silver, metalic or chrome accents on the tops side of the hand and fingers. The shine is there on both black and white gloves. Can't imagine this will have anything to do with how the line plays this season, but you never know. Look good, feel good, play good is a mantra I believe in and I don't doubt for a second that these guys love those gloves.

• Speaking of the O-Line, after Joe Gibson ran first-team center for the past couple of days during the super-early offensive sequence that kick-starts most practices, junior Keyon Haughton was back with the 1's on Thursday. What's it mean? Who knows? Maybe this battle is still hot and heavy. Maybe it's a three-way contest with Jacob Bragg very much in the mix. Maybe it will come down to the final week or so of camp. KU coach Charlie Weis said earlier this week that he hoped to stop experimenting with the line after Saturday's open practice. I'm sure he will. I'm also sure that means very little of what we see in terms of which guy is running with which unit will mean too much on Saturday. Still, it doesn't take a genius to figure out which guys look better. Still too early to tell in that department for me. For what it's worth, the second unit in that early drill went like this: LT Larry Mazyck, LG Bryan Peters, C Joe Gibson, RG Apa Visinia, RT Brian Beckmann. The first team, as it is on the depth chart, was: LT Pat Lewandowski, LG Ngalu Fusimalohi, C Haughton, RG Mike Smithburg, RT Damon Martin.

Offensive lineman Keyon Haughton stretches while wearing the shiny gloves.

Offensive lineman Keyon Haughton stretches while wearing the shiny gloves. by Matt Tait

• While watching the linebackers for a few minutes, something hit me: Don't forget about Courtney Arnick. Just a sophomore, but in his third year in the program, Arnick is bigger than he has been in the past but still looks as fast and as quick as he was. He's played some linebacker and some nickelback during his first two years and seems to fit the mold of what the defense is looking for: fast, athletic guys who can make plays in space. With his decent experience, Arnick could easily be a rotation guy. He's listed second string behind Jake Love on the depth chart, but certainly will have his hands full contending with Watson.

• Another guy who falls in the “forget me not” category is Buck senior Victor Simmons. From safety to linebacker to Buck, Simmons has been used all over the place. It takes a disciplined player to be moved around so much and not break. Simmons looks as fast as ever, is rock solid and has incredibly quick feet. If he can pick up the nuances of his latest position, he could produce some positive moments this fall.

Finally, be sure to check out Benton Smith's videos of the day and the latest KU camp Podcast from Tom Keegan and me.

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What caught my eye at Wednesday’s practice: Aug. 13

It's been a lot of firsts for the Kansas University football program this week and Wednesday morning brought another: First day of two-a-days.

Session one kicked off early this morning at 9 a.m. and, appropriately, they kicked things off with “Let's Get It Started” from the Black Eyed Peas.

It's always interesting to watch the energy and vibe at these morning practices and I gotta tell ya, today's session didn't look any different than what we've seen in the afternoon the past several days.

By the time they suit up, get treatment, get taped up and all of that, you'd think they'd have no problem waking up and being ready. But you have to remember these are college kids and 9 a.m. comes pretty early. Heck, it comes pretty early for me most days. So good for them for looking sharp and being ready to get after it at the first morning practice of the season.

That's not a huge deal and they should be expected to do just that, but it's definitely possible that they could've been sluggish and, if they were, I didn't see it.

Here's a quick glance at what else caught my eye this morning. KU coach Charlie Weis will be available for a press conference at 11:45 a.m. and we'll have all kinds of nuggets and sound from that this afternoon.

• One thing that has impressed me most from the coaches in the early going is how they get prepared for practice. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in there behind closed doors when they're having their coffee and getting ready to hit the field. But during stretching and warm-up type stuff when they're just waiting for Scott Holsopple to get done with the players, they're coaching then, too. A lot of times it's just high-fiving the guys or slapping them on the helmet to make sure they're ready to go. But today I noticed that, in the name of efficiency, there was a lot of prep work being done. Particularly with John Reagan. Instead of just walking around or jamming to the music and waiting for them to finish, Reagan was talking to each lineman about what drills were up first and reminding them of little tips and tidbits that might help them get to work a little faster. Again, efficiency is the key word there and these guys don't appear to be wasting any time.

• I took a longer look at the linebackers and Bucks today and the thing that jumped out at me was their athleticism and mobility. So many of those guys can move, are light on their feet and can change direction very well for guys who play those positions. Michael Reynolds, Victor Simmons, Ben Heeney, Kyron Watson, Courtney Arnick. All of those guys and more really showed some good agility during the drill I saw them working. Gotta think that can only help when chasing down a ball carrier.

• So much of the early portion of camp is about guys getting shots and a couple of young guys on offense are definitely getting theirs. For the second day in a row, Joe Gibson worked in with the first team at center during the fast-paced offensive drill. Also working in with the first team today was freshman running back Corey Avery. I've thought this for a while and I think it more and more every day: Avery's going to play.

• Want to know how you get to be a captain in your first year in the program or a two-time Big 12 media days representative or one of the most respected guys on the team? Watch Cassius Sendish. The senior safety, who also happens to be one of the best dudes on the team, is one of the hardest working guys out there day in and day out. Talk about efficiency, Sendish looks to get every ounce he can out of every drill he does and never goes half-speed or takes a rep off. That kind of thing is contagious and really sets a good tone for the younger guys who are looking up to and learning from him. It's that kind of effort that's required to help rebuild a program.

More to come a little later on. For now, be sure to check out Benton Smith's video from this morning's practice.

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KU football unveils “Crimson Chrome” uniforms

A closer look at KU football's new "Crimson Chrome" uniform courtesy of freshman wideout Darious Crawley's Twitter account @DariousCrawley2

A closer look at KU football's new "Crimson Chrome" uniform courtesy of freshman wideout Darious Crawley's Twitter account @DariousCrawley2 by Matt Tait

The Kansas University football program late Tuesday night released yet another new-look uniform which will be worn during the upcoming season.

The uniform, dubbed Crimson Chrome features red pants, red jerseys, a red helmet (complete with a chrome face mask) with a huge Jayhawk head on the top and side and chrome numbers, letters and Jayhawks dotting the look.

The new uniform comes on the heels of last year's uniform explosion which allowed the Jayhawks to mix and match tops, pants and helmets for triple-digit uniform options.

This video, which shows the new red uniforms, uses the demo model. A KU spokesperson said the names would be on the backs of the Crimson Chrome uniforms when they're worn this fall.

As you can see, the players seem to like them a lot and have not missed any of the little details that make them unique.

Red uniforms have been popular with the KU fan base for a number of years, dating back to the success the Jayhawks had while wearing them in their Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in 2007.

In this photo from Jan. 3, 2008, Kansas University’s Darrell Stuckey, left, trails teammate Justin Thornton as Thornton brings an interception upfield against Virginia Tech during KU’s Orange Bowl victory.

In this photo from Jan. 3, 2008, Kansas University’s Darrell Stuckey, left, trails teammate Justin Thornton as Thornton brings an interception upfield against Virginia Tech during KU’s Orange Bowl victory. by Nick Krug

While the newest uniforms most certainly are red, they're more of a modern spin on the old classic, which begs the question.... What do the fans think?

Like 'em or hate 'em, love 'em or loathe 'em, score another one for KU's creativity. There are plenty of players and plenty of programs out there that would do just about anything to have this kind of flare to their gameday gear and so many options at that.

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What caught my eye at Tuesday’s practice: Aug. 12

KU coach Charlie Weis (back, in black) watches over his team during stretching drills at Tuesday's practice.

KU coach Charlie Weis (back, in black) watches over his team during stretching drills at Tuesday's practice. by Matt Tait

Pads were popping and it finally looked like the first day of football season at the Kansas University practice fields on Tuesday.

The Jayhawks, after four days of drills in jerseys, helmets and shells, strapped on pads for the first time and showed a different look.

Some guys maintained the quickness they showed during the first few days. Others looked a little more sluggish and, somehow, others looked a little faster.

In preparation for Day 1 in pads, the Jayhawks watched a video, during their morning meetings, about the proper tackling techniques and other safety precautions that go into full contact. Happens every year, but it's great to see the coaching staff put such serious emphasis on something so important.

Seeing some of these young guys in pads for the first time had me thinking that quite a few of them could play if called upon. The goal, of course, is for them to not be needed so they can save the year of eligibility and continue working on their bodies and minds as they make the transition from high school to college.

The most important part of this thought, though, is that guys like Jacob Bragg, Apa Visinia, Lay'Trion Jones, Daniel Wise and many others look a little more like the kinds of guys big programs start with year in and year out. That's good for the future and for the continued development of the program.

Here's a quick look at a few things that caught my eye out there on Tuesday:

• Maybe it was just being in pads that got him fired up, or maybe he was feeling particularly good. Either way, junior center Keyon Haughton was fired up out there. He kept beating on his chest, high-fiving everyone within reach and looking generally pretty charged up. It's dangerous to read too much into any one day, but two things came to mind: 1. Maybe he's playing very well and has a ton of confidence and just can't wait to keep rolling. Or, 2. Maybe he's feeling the intensity of the battle for the top spot at center and he was trying to get himself charged up for a big day. I suppose it's possible there could be a No. 3 in play here, too. Maybe he just loved the song that was playing.

• It's been said here, written all over the place and mentioned a bunch of times already, but today gave a really good look at the transformation of Charlie Weis. Most days, he's wearing a sweatshirt or some kind of pullover with his shorts and you can't really tell how much weight he's lost. Today, though, he had black shorts and a black short-sleeve shirt and he looked great. He's lost more than 80 pounds in the past several weeks and appears to be moving around much better than in the past. The only reason this is a big deal — other than for the Weis family — is because I truly believe that a team can benefit from this kind of example of hard work, dedication and achievement coming from the top.

• The fun-and-feel-good moment of the day came right after stretching as the defensive players were running to their side of the field for drills. While sprinting to his station, junior lineman Ben Goodman was jawing with current grad assistant Darius Willis, who was a Goodman teammate just last season. It was all in good fun, of course, and it just goes to show that there are a million different ways to motivate and Willis has found one.

• Evidently I've found my early obsession: Freshman running back Corey Avery. Really, really looking forward to seeing him play. Today, with the backs dressed in full pads, I noticed Avery seemed to run low with great balance. Easy to say during a drill. We'll see if it transitions to game day or if it even matters. My guess is it will on both counts.

• With Jimmay Mundine sidelined for a couple of weeks with an injury, the door is open for someone at the tight end spot to make himself a player the coaches can't keep off the field. Trent Smiley is listed second on the depth chart, but he's more of a blocking tight end anyway – and a damn good one at that. Ben Johnson and Jordan Shelley-Smith both have a chance to step forward, but don't count out Smiley altogether. He's got the experience, he's got underrated hands and he's a senior playing his last season of college football. I noticed him really doing a lot of leading today, both of the vocal nature and by example.

Today's Videos and Podcast:

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What caught my eye at Monday’s practice: Aug. 11

Freshman defensive lineman D.J. Williams goes through a drill with the rest of the D-Line during Monday's KU football practice.

Freshman defensive lineman D.J. Williams goes through a drill with the rest of the D-Line during Monday's KU football practice. by Matt Tait

We're getting closer to seeing what this team looks like in full pads...

Monday marked the first day with shoulder pads at KU football camp and, starting Tuesday, they'll be allowed to suit up in full gear.

Coaches have said for decades that the one sure way to tell if a guy can play or not is to get him in pads and then see. So many players look good running around in shorts and jerseys but then lose a step or more when they slap on the full attire.

As an aside, I've always wondered why the NFL combine doesn't take that into account and make the guys run the 40 and do those drills in full pads. To my knowledge, no football game outside of the lingerie bowl has been played with the athletes wearing underwear.

Anyway, I'm not saying a full transformation from great to good or good to bad will be the case with any of the Jayhawks, but you can bet that's when the real evaluations will begin.

With that in mind, here's a quick look at what caught my eye at Monday's practice....

Several KU defensive linemen wait for their turn in a drill at Monday's practice.

Several KU defensive linemen wait for their turn in a drill at Monday's practice. by Matt Tait

• It was defensive linemen that jumped out at me today and all in a good way. In a relative sense — understanding that these guys are naturally bigger than most other positions — I'd say the D-Line is probably the most lean and mean looking group of any out there. These guys are all significantly more cut and most of the newcomers, freshmen and juco guys alike, are starting from a fantastic spot. Here are a couple of specifics on what I'm talking about.

• Keon Stowers has continued to mold his body and he now looks like the kind of guy who could play defensive end or on the interior. He's big but in all the right ways, cut almost everywhere and looks to be in the best shape of his career. Perhaps the best part? He doesn't appear to be letting up.

• Andrew Bolton looks fantastic, too. No. 1, he looks healthy. Beyond that, he just has a different style about him. Maybe it's a different gear. Maybe it's his crazy powerful lower body that makes it look like he's working on a different playing surface. Or maybe it's just that this is the kind of player that's supposed to be at defensive end. Either way, he looks good and hungry.

• Ben Goodman, Tedarian Johnson and Michael Reynolds all look more lean, as well. Reynolds told me the other day that even though he's added weight and strength, he actually feels like he's faster. That's the kind of thing you want to hear at all positions.

• As for the newcomers, several of them are pretty impressive, too. Freshmen Daniel Wise, D.J. Williams and Lay'Trion Jones are big bodies who seem to be the ideal specimens for a guy like Scott Holsopple to mold. Both look like they could get out there right now. Obviously the mental part of things is a different story and may hold them back slightly, but who knows?

• As far as juco guys on the D-Line, Kapil Fletcher has a really nice blend of power and quickness and Anthony Olobia looks like a wild animal. His lower body just never stops moving and it looks as if he never goes less than 340 percent on any rep. It was just one day of watching him, so that might not be a fair assessment. But his energy impressed me today. I'll keep an eye on if that's the norm.

• A couple of non-D-Line things that jumped out today: Tony Pierson is going to be used all over the formations. I think I saw him in five different spots during the opening drill and that was just a quick-hitter, get the offense moving type of drill. Good luck to defensive coordinators who are trying to keep tabs on him.

• Keyon Haughton jumped over to left guard when Jacob Bragg got his shot at center. KU coach Charlie Weis said last week that Bragg would get a legitimate look and it appears he is. Haughton, who has played guard and center, gives the O-Line some nice options.

• Finally, a quick update on freshman running back Corey Avery, who I noted looked thicker than I anticipated the other day. It's because he is. The rosters were updated today and Avery is up 25 pounds from signing day, from 170 to 195. That's a good thing for him and KU football and also a good thing for me because he sure didn't look like a 170-pound player when I first saw him. Turns out I was right. That time.

As I mentioned, full pads tomorrow. Should give us all kinds of new things to look for. Check back then and be sure to check out Benton Smith's video of interviews with offensive leaders and the latest Spodcasters episode from Tom Keegan and me.

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What caught my eye at Saturday’s practice: Aug. 9

Quarterback Montell Cozart communicates with his offense during a drill at Saturday's practice.

Quarterback Montell Cozart communicates with his offense during a drill at Saturday's practice. by Matt Tait

Saturday marked Day 2 of preseason camp for KU football. Still no pads (per NCAA rules), but still plenty of action to take in during the 20 minutes of practice open to the media.

We're fortunate enough to get this kind of first-hand look at the team nearly every day throughout August, so there will be plenty of time to dissect newcomers and all of that other stuff in the coming weeks.

Today, what jumped out to me was the portion of practice that came right after stretching in which Montell Cozart (#2) and the first-string offense ran mock offense against no defense to get into the flow.

Obviously, it wasn't impressive because of the competition. But it was impressive because it (a) gave me an early look at how the offense will operate and (b) gave me a good look at how Cozart runs the team.

Both were promising. It won't mean anything if it doesn't translate to Saturdays this fall, but it's all we have to go on as of now.

First, the offense. With offensive coordinator John Reagan standing on the sideline and signaling in the calls, Cozart looked once to the sideline from the shotgun and then jumped up to the line of scrimmage to communicate with his offensive line and skill players. There weren't multiple looks over — though there probably will be — and it didn't appear to be mass confusion. One look, I've got it and go. Efficiency was a big word brought up throughout the offseason and that was definitely the word that came to mind when watching this drill. For the record, it was the same sort of pace and procedure when Michael Cummings (#14) jumped in with the second string.

Center Keyon Haughton (#70) and Cozart were the two big communicators, which tells me something about Haughton. Obviously he was here in the spring, so that gave him some time to get comfortable. But if he's winning that battle over Joe Gibson (#77) and Jacob Bragg (#55) right now, it must be because the coaches and players trust him. Good sign.

A couple more quick things about Cozart from Saturday:

• Perhaps the thing I liked most about what I saw was the way Cozart stayed on the field and high-fived all 10 other offensive players as they came off after the drill was over. That's leadership and really gives you the indication that Cozart's in it for the team not for himself.

• During individual throwing drills with QB coach Ron Powlus, Cozart had an issue with his helmet and when the equipment manager came over to fix it, you could really see the focus on his face as he continued the drill. In general, he's a happy, fun-loving guy and likes to smile and clown around. But when he's out there working to get better, it appears as if he's all business.

• I'm not saying Cozart's going to be an all-Big 12 quarterback and that KU's issues at that position are fixed immediately. But it's clear that the young man who has been put into a huge position, is taking this opportunity very seriously and is doing everything he can to make sure lack of focus and determination won't be the reason if things don't get better.

• Finally, since I missed Nigel King (#9) at Friday's practice, I made sure to get over to the receivers today and I was very impressed by what I saw. Again, King's a big boy and he stood out for his height among the group. But every one of those guys appears to be working much harder now than I ever remember seeing them work in the past couple of years. First-year WR coach Eric Kiesau clearly has made an impact and, going off of what little I've learned about Kiesau so far, I'm guessing he's far from done with his work. Their footwork looked much better, they ran drills harder and with more purpose and they all caught the ball with their hands, away from their bodies during every drill.

• The four freshmen receivers — Darious Crawley (#12), Bobby Hartzog (#5), Derrick Neal (#7) and Tyler Patrick (#4) — really stood out to me, as well. It's clear that they're not as polished as the upperclassmen, but man are they working. In some cases, they appear to be trying a little too hard (isn't that better than the alternative?) and Kiesau kept having to remind them to go hard but to remain under control. Not too surprising, especially for Day 2, but props to the young guys for getting after it. That's a credit to the coaches and the upperclassmen, who clearly won't accept anything less.

No access tomorrow, but the blog will be back up on Monday afternoon, so be sure to check back.

Here's a quick video Benton Smith threw together from some of today's interviews with the defense.

And, in case you missed it, here's a look at the What Caught My Eye blog from Day 1

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What caught my eye at Friday’s practice: Aug. 8

KU offensive coordinator John Reagan surveys the landscape of some stretching at the opening day of preseason camp Friday.

KU offensive coordinator John Reagan surveys the landscape of some stretching at the opening day of preseason camp Friday. by Matt Tait

The first day of practice for the Kansas University football team meant the first chance to get a look at the newcomers and made-over faces who make up this year's roster.

For some reason, I always find myself drawn to the offensive linemen during these deals. Could be because they're the closest unit to the gate, but I'm not really a lazy person. I think the more likely reason is that they've always been a group of such question marks and this year is no different.

More on that in a minute, but, first thing's first: newcomers Larry Mazyck and Devon Williams are a couple of huge dudes.

Both appear to have plenty of work ahead of them to crack the starting lineup, but the size is there. Now it's about picking up the offense, getting in better shape and fine-tuning things like quick feet, perfect fundamentals and whatever other instructions line coach and offensive coordinator John Reagan wants to throw at them.

Here's a quick look at some other things that caught my eye at Friday's practice. Don't worry, there'll be plenty more of these this month. It was a little overwhelming out there today with so many new and exciting faces and places to watch. Remember, we're only invited in for the first 20 minutes, so these blogs won't have a ton of details about position battles or X's and O's.

• It was absolutely no surprise, but the first line of the stretching and sprinting drills was made up of some of the team's strongest leaders. Keon Stowers, Ben Heeney, Cassius Sendish, JaCorey Shepherd, Jake Love, Tre' Parmalee, Ben Goodman, Ngalu Fusimalohi, Pat Lewandowski, Nick Harwell, Brandon Bourbon and even punter Trevor Pardula, stretched across the field and were the first to lead the team into the 2014 season.

• One of the newcomers who jumped out at me (OK, OK, mostly because I couldn't wait to get a look at him) was freshman running back Corey Avery. The Dallas native who stands 5-foot-10, 170 pounds looks bigger than I would've expected and seems to be pretty well put together. I can see why there's talk of him getting on the field right away.

• Back to the linemen for a second... I wrote the other day about John Reagan's coaching style and it was pretty much the same. Hands-on, specific details, engaged in the action. One difference, though. In the spring, Reagan looked a little more patient. Today, you can tell that the switch has been flipped to in-season mode. Mistakes were less tolerated and not paying attention was severely frowned upon. Makes sense to me. That's the only way to see who gets it and who doesn't.

• As for some more specifics about the position, I love watching Joe Gibson work. He's got great feet and incredible work ethic. I can tell why everyone thinks he's going to be a player. And props to him for not pulling back now that he's a scholarship dude. If anything, he appears to be going harder to prove that he's worthy of it. Fusimalohi and Smithburg look like the seasoned veterans they are (even though Smithburg told me this spring that it's crazy that people see him as one of the experienced ones); Pat Lewandowksi looks a little stronger and there was some real emphasis being put on powering their way five yards down the field.

• I forgot that former Jayhawk Darius Willis is now on the coaching staff. Great to see him out there. He's a GA for defense and he's always been a guy who knows how to light up a room.

• Because he's the quarterback and because it's required, I took a couple of peeks Montell Cozart's way today. Didn't see a whole lot but what I did see stood out. His confidence is very evident. The guy believes he's right where he belongs and carries himself like a player who's ready for what's ahead.

• Another newcomer who stood out was East St. Louis, Ill., linebacker Kyron Watson. He's a load (6-0, 220). He fills out his No. 6 jersey and uniform very well but still looks light on his feet and shows good instincts. Wild that the two newcomers who jumped out at me today both wear No. 6. And, no, they weren't next to each other, they were on opposite fields. Just a coincidence, I guess.

• As for the drills we were able to see, the defense appears to be dying for the season to get here. A lot of energy on that side of the ball, and when there's not, they do it again to make sure they're at max hype. After one drill, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen called the first-string D back over to the sideline to make them take the field again because it looked like he didn't think they did it with enough fire the first time. It's that kind of attention to detail that has to be there for this talented group to achieve its goal of being the best in the Big 12.

• One last thing that caught my eye (technically as I was leaving practice) was the first look at the new decorative fence being put around the south end at Memorial Stadium. Here's a crude photo of the progress. The chain link fence will eventually be gone. It looks pretty sharp in person.

Work has begun on the installation of the black, decorative fence that will enclose the south end of Memorial Stadium this fall.

Work has begun on the installation of the black, decorative fence that will enclose the south end of Memorial Stadium this fall. by Matt Tait

More nuggets from practice tomorrow, so be sure to check out KUsports.com throughout the month for blogs like this, videos from Benton Smith and podcasts from Tom Keegan and me.

Oh, yeah. One more thing. Coach Weis does still get the second song of the day and today it was Who Says You Can't Go Home by Bon Jovi.

Also, be sure to check out Benton Smith's videos from Day 1 and the leaders of KU's secondary...

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Tracking the progress at Memorial Stadium, Part III

With fall camp set to open at the end of the week, construction on the new turf going down in place of the old track at Memorial Stadium is nearing its completion.

Construction crews began installing the turf on Thursday morning and are expected to tie together the final touches this week. .

There's still some work to be done, with regard to stitching in the lines and markings off of the playing field and adding the new Big 12 logo to the turf and the new black, decorative fence that will surround the south end, but the bulk of what's going to be there on Saturdays this fall is in place and you can really start to see what it will look like.

It's important to remember that, what it looks like today and what it will look like on game days is completely different. On game day, there will be benches out there, equipment out there, players out there and all of the other things that make up a Saturday college football atmosphere.

Finishing off the turf is an involved process that includes both hot glue, adding the rubber that gives the surface its softer feel and sewing together the pieces that measure five yards wide and anywhere from 30 to 50 yards long.

Here's a quick look at some of the most recent photos of what's going on over at Memorial Stadium:

This one from late Sunday evening offers a good look at all the green that now surrounds the playing surface at Memorial Stadium:

The latest look at the turf installation project at Memorial Stadium.

The latest look at the turf installation project at Memorial Stadium. by Matt Tait

Here are a few from Richard Gwin from late last week as the project began:

Jim Kaltmayer rolls out turf in an area previously covered by running track, Thursday, July 31, 2014, at Memorial Stadium. Installation of the turf — one of the final steps in a six-week stadium upgrade — began early Thursday and is expected to be finalized over the weekend.

Jim Kaltmayer rolls out turf in an area previously covered by running track, Thursday, July 31, 2014, at Memorial Stadium. Installation of the turf — one of the final steps in a six-week stadium upgrade — began early Thursday and is expected to be finalized over the weekend. by Richard Gwin

Workers lay down new turf in areas previously covered by running track, Thursday, July 31, 2014, at Memorial Stadium. Installation of the turf — one of the final steps in a six-week project that began with the removal of the track — began early Thursday and is expected to be finalized over the weekend.

Workers lay down new turf in areas previously covered by running track, Thursday, July 31, 2014, at Memorial Stadium. Installation of the turf — one of the final steps in a six-week project that began with the removal of the track — began early Thursday and is expected to be finalized over the weekend. by Richard Gwin

Workers roll out turf in areas previously covered by running track, Thursday, July 31, 2014, at Memorial Stadium. Installation of the turf — one of the final steps in a six-week stadium upgrade — began early Thursday and is expected to be finalized over the weekend.

Workers roll out turf in areas previously covered by running track, Thursday, July 31, 2014, at Memorial Stadium. Installation of the turf — one of the final steps in a six-week stadium upgrade — began early Thursday and is expected to be finalized over the weekend. by Richard Gwin

And a couple more from me during a trip up there last week:

A shot from the top of the west side of Memorial Stadium during the early stages of the turf installation project.

A shot from the top of the west side of Memorial Stadium during the early stages of the turf installation project. by Matt Tait

A closer look at the extra layers of turf at the back of the south end zone at Memorial Stadium.

A closer look at the extra layers of turf at the back of the south end zone at Memorial Stadium. by Matt Tait

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Most Crucial Jayhawks: No. 2 - WR Tony Pierson

Here's the second-to-last installment of our series that examines the Jayhawks who stand to have the biggest impact for KU football this fall:

Kansas receiver Tony Pierson leaps into the endzone as he leaves Texas linebacker Steve Edmond on the turf during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas receiver Tony Pierson leaps into the endzone as he leaves Texas linebacker Steve Edmond on the turf during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

No. 2: Tony Pierson, Senior WR

We know what Pierson is all about and we know how good he can be. The same was true for some of the defensive backs who landed on this list yet they ranked much lower.

The reason is simple: Because of the head injury that plagued him throughout 2013, we have firsthand knowledge of what this team looks like with Pierson and what it looks like without him. The team with No. 3 in uniform has a chance. The team without him, at least in the past, looked lost.

Although KU's struggling offense upgraded in half a dozen different ways during the offseason — new coordinator, more dynamic quarterback, new top receiving option, new-look offensive line, etc. — many of the new pieces in place remain unknowns.

Pierson is not.

We've seen the impact he can have on a game, even when he's been considered one of the few weapons in the KU huddle. We've seen the respect that opposing defensive coordinators have for him and, in turn, to what lengths they've gone to take him out of the game. And we've seen what a game-changing weapon Pierson's straight-line speed can be for the Jayhawks.

The key for Pierson this season will be to stay healthy and to utilize all of that. If he can, he makes everyone else on the field more dangerous and gives the KU offense a chance to not only get creative and crafty but also to succeed.

Whether he's catching balls down the field, over the middle, in the slot or out of the backfield, Pierson could become one heck of a security blanket for sophomore QB Montell Cozart, who will be asked to make a few plays on his own, but, more importantly, will be charged with getting the ball to KU's playmakers as quickly as possible.

Weis said recently that Pierson, like No. 3 choice on this list Nick Harwell, would be a guy that KU's offensive coaches build their gameplan around each week. That's good news for KU and KU fans and all the more reason Pierson staying healthy remains one of the bigger keys to this season.

If there's any justice, Pierson will stay healthy and will have the kind of season he's been building toward since he arrived. There haven't been many Jayhawks, past or present, who have the kind of skill set Pierson possesses. It would be a shame if he were here for four seasons and never got to unleash his full potential.

Perhaps this is the season.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2014:

No. 25 - LB Jake Love

No. 24 - DB Greg Allen

No. 23 - DB Cassius Sendish

No. 22 - OL Zach Fondal

No. 21 - WR Justin McCay

No. 20 - DL Ben Goodman

No. 19 - K John Duvic

No. 18 - DB JaCorey Shepherd

No. 17 - DB Isaiah Johnson

No. 16 - TE Jimmay Mundine

No. 15 - DB Dexter McDonald

No. 14 - RB Brandon Bourbon

No. 13 - OL Keyon Haughton

No. 12 - OL Damon Martin

No. 11 - DL Keon Stowers

No. 10 - RB De'Andre Mann

No. 9 - WR Rodriguez Coleman

No. 8 - DL Andrew Bolton

No. 7 - DB Kevin Short

No. 6 - OL Larry Mazyck

No. 5 - Ben Heeney

No. 4 - Michael Reynolds

No. 3 - Nick Harwell

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Jayhawks set as 100-1 long shots to win Big 12 football title

What do Kansas, NC State, Boston College, Wake Forest, Iowa State, Indiana, Maryland, Purdue and Illinois all have in common?

Sure, they're colleges whose basketball programs have carried the torch for the entire athletic department during recent years. But that's not it. All of those programs — and a few others — are facing triple-digit odds to win their conferences during the upcoming football season.

Kansas, which has won just three Big 12 Conference games in the past five seasons, is tied with Iowa State at 100-to-1 to win the Big 12.

Those other programs are 100-to-1, 200-to-1 or even 300-to-1 depending on the overall strength of the teams at the top of their conferences.

Obviously, this is not news. Everyone knows that the Jayhawks are in the middle of a rebuilding process with the football program, one that puts its priority on finding a way to win A COUPLE of conference games before worrying about winning the whole thing.

Still, in case there are some of you out there who buy into the phrase "misery loves company," I figured it wouldn't hurt you to see that there are other college football programs facing the same uphill climb as Kansas.

Here's a look at the rest of the odds — from Bovada.lv — for the power conferences heading into the 2014 college football season.

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the ACC Championship
Florida State 4/11
Clemson 10/1
Louisville 10/1
North Carolina 10/1
Miami 12/1
Virginia Tech 12/1
Duke 20/1
Georgia Tech 25/1
Pittsburgh 40/1
Syracuse 66/1
Virginia 66/1
NC State 100/1
Boston College 200/1
Wake Forest 200/1

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the ACC Atlantic Division

Florida State 1/6
Clemson 13/2
Louisville 13/2
Boston College 33/1
Syracuse 33/1
NC State 40/1
Wake Forest 100/1

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the ACC Coastal Division

North Carolina 8/5
Miami 3/1
Virginia Tech 3/1
Duke 7/1
Georgia Tech 8/1
Pittsburgh 25/1
Virginia 25/1

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the Big 12 Championship

Oklahoma 2/3
Baylor 11/4
Texas 7/1
Kansas State 10/1
Oklahoma State 10/1
TCU 14/1
Texas Tech 28/1
West Virginia 66/1
Iowa State 100/1
Kansas 100/1

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the Big Ten Championship

Ohio State 10/11
Michigan State 15/4
Wisconsin 9/2
Nebraska 11/2
Michigan 9/1
Iowa 14/1
Northwestern 40/1
Minnesota 66/1
Indiana 100/1
Maryland 100/1
Illinois 200/1
Rutgers 200/1
Purdue 300/1

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the Big Ten East Division

Ohio State 2/5
Michigan State 13/5
Michigan 5/1
Indiana 33/1
Maryland 50/1
Rutgers 100/1

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the Big Ten West Division

Wisconsin 6/5
Nebraska 3/2
Iowa 5/1
Minnesota 12/1
Northwestern 18/1
Illinois 33/1
Purdue 100/1

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the Pac 12 Championship

Oregon 11/10
UCLA 11/4
USC 5/1
Stanford 6/1
Arizona State 12/1
Washington 14/1
Arizona 25/1
Oregon State 33/1
Washington State 50/1
Utah 66/1
California 200/1
Colorado 200/1

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the Pac 12 North Division

Oregon 1/2
Stanford 13/4
Washington 6/1
Washington State 12/1
Oregon State 14/1
California 50/1

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the Pac 12 South Division

UCLA 5/4
USC 7/4
Arizona State 3/1
Arizona 10/1
Utah 33/1
Colorado 50/1

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the SEC Championship
Alabama 7/5
Auburn 5/1
South Carolina 5/1
Georgia 6/1
LSU 13/2
Florida 12/1
Ole Miss 14/1
Texas A&M 25/1
Mississippi State 40/1
Missouri 40/1
Tennessee 50/1
Arkansas 100/1
Kentucky 200/1
Vanderbilt 200/1

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the SEC East Division
Georgia 8/5
South Carolina 8/5
Florida 13/4
Missouri 10/1
Tennessee 14/1
Kentucky 50/1
Vanderbilt 50/1

NCAA Football 2014-2015 Season - Odds to win the SEC West Division

Alabama 5/7
Auburn 4/1
LSU 5/1
Ole Miss 9/1
Texas A&M 14/1
Mississippi State 16/1
Arkansas 33/1

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Most Crucial Jayhawks: No. 4 - DL Michael Reynolds

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

Kansas junior Michael Reynolds eyes TCU's quarterback  Trevone Boykin (2) on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, during the teams' game in Fort Worth, Texas.

Kansas junior Michael Reynolds eyes TCU's quarterback Trevone Boykin (2) on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, during the teams' game in Fort Worth, Texas. by Richard Gwin

No. 4: Michael Reynolds, Senior Buck

You can't help but get the feeling, when thinking about senior defensive lineman Michael Reynolds, that the past four years have all been building toward this one potentially masterful moment.

Reynolds, a Wichita native who arrived on campus with a ton of promise and potential but very little else, has taken baby steps forward as a football player and made major strides as a man. No longer the immature, goof-around-and-have-a-good-time talent, Reynolds now is determined to be a factor on a defense that stands to be pretty good. If he is — and if, in turn, the defense is — the Jayhawks will have many more chances to win games than they would have otherwise.

Reynolds is so crucial to this team because of the position he plays and the role that success there can have. KU coach Charlie Weis has said for a couple of years now that the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Reynolds has natural pass-rush skills. He showed that better than ever last season, when he finished with 37 tackles (10 for loss) and a team-best 6.5 sacks. More important than those numbers, however, Reynolds showed he was able to stay on the field for more than just obvious pass-rush situations and that helped shape him into a more complete player.

Add to that positive step the fact that he's being driven by senior urgency and has taken on more of a leadership role and it's easy to predict that this could be Reynolds' best season yet.

There are so many things to like about the way Reynolds plays the game. He's explosive. He's passionate. He has good hands and a great motor. And he carries himself with a ton of pride.

If he turns in his best statistical season and those other things continue to rub off on teammates, particularly along the D-Line, Reynolds could have as big of an impact on this team as just about any player in crimson and blue.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2014:

No. 25 - LB Jake Love

No. 24 - DB Greg Allen

No. 23 - DB Cassius Sendish

No. 22 - OL Zach Fondal

No. 21 - WR Justin McCay

No. 20 - DL Ben Goodman

No. 19 - K John Duvic

No. 18 - DB JaCorey Shepherd

No. 17 - DB Isaiah Johnson

No. 16 - TE Jimmay Mundine

No. 15 - DB Dexter McDonald

No. 14 - RB Brandon Bourbon

No. 13 - OL Keyon Haughton

No. 12 - OL Damon Martin

No. 11 - DL Keon Stowers

No. 10 - RB De'Andre Mann

No. 9 - WR Rodriguez Coleman

No. 8 - DL Andrew Bolton

No. 7 - DB Kevin Short

No. 6 - OL Larry Mazyck

No. 5 - Ben Heeney

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Most Crucial Jayhawks: No. 6 - OL Larry Mazyck

Here's this week's final installment in our summer series that examines the Jayhawks who stand to have the biggest impact for KU football this fall. Check back beginning Monday for Nos. 5-1...

No. 6: Larry Mazyck, Junior OL

Until a couple of months ago, I had never heard of Larry Mazyck. But today, we've got him as one of the most crucial players on KU's roster for the upcoming season. The reason? His position.

Nothing has been announced or set in stone yet, but there's a strong sense that Mazyck will get a great shot to be the starting left tackle for the Jayhawks this fall. If he can, with all 6-foot-8, 340 pounds of him, life will be a heck of a lot easier for quarterback Montell Cozart than it might have been before Mazyck's arrival.

The Iowa Western lineman comes to Kansas after plans to attend Maryland fell through. He earned juco All-American honors last season and, although he'll be a little behind the rest of the linemen in camp when it gets going, I'm guessing first-year offensive line coach/offensive coordinator John Reagan will do his best to bring him up to speed quickly. You just don't look at a man that big — some reports have suggested that he might even be closer to 375 or 380 pounds — and tell yourself, 'Huh, how nice. Sure would be good if he could play.' Instead, you walk over to him, shake his hand, welcome him to the team and then start working like crazy to get him ready.

Mazyck has competition. Before his arrival, senior Zach Fondal and junior Pat Lewandowski were battling for the starting left tackle job. Both will still be in the mix, and, just as we saw last season with guys like Keba Agostinho and Kevin Young not being all that willing to give up their hard-earned spots to the hot-shot newcomer, you can bet everyone competing with Mazyck will be bringing it.

But if the light comes on quickly for Mazyck and he settles into KU's scheme and works well with the rest of the starting O-Line, you can call it a safe bet that Mazyck will be the left tackle out there on Sept. 6, when KU welcomes Southeast Missouri to town for the season opener. If that's the case, the prospects for this new-look O-Line will be a lot better.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2014:

No. 25 - LB Jake Love

No. 24 - DB Greg Allen

No. 23 - DB Cassius Sendish

No. 22 - OL Zach Fondal

No. 21 - WR Justin McCay

No. 20 - DL Ben Goodman

No. 19 - K John Duvic

No. 18 - DB JaCorey Shepherd

No. 17 - DB Isaiah Johnson

No. 16 - TE Jimmay Mundine

No. 15 - DB Dexter McDonald

No. 14 - RB Brandon Bourbon

No. 13 - OL Keyon Haughton

No. 12 - OL Damon Martin

No. 11 - DL Keon Stowers

No. 10 - RB De'Andre Mann

No. 9 - WR Rodriguez Coleman

No. 8 - DL Andrew Bolton

No. 7 - DB Kevin Short

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Fox Sports conducts anonymous player poll at Big 12 Media Days

The guys and gals at Fox Sports Southwest conducted an anonymous player poll of all Big 12 football players in attendance at Big 12 media days earlier this week in Dallas.

The results, which they published Tuesday, had a little more KU football flavor than I expected.

Here's a quick look at the questions and the noteworthy KU answers. Check out the link for the rest of the answers.

1. Who is the Big 12's best team?

Not surprisingly, KU received no votes.

2. Who is the Big 12's most overrated team entering 2014?

Somewhat surprisingly, KU received 3 percent of the votes here, which means exactly one of the 39 players polled mentioned KU. If there's one thing I would think Kansas would avoid being called it's overrated. But, hey, to each his own. No explanation was given.

3. Which Big 12 coach would you most like to play for?

Players were not allowed to say their own coach here and KU coach Charlie Weis received 3 percent of the votes, with one player saying: "The first game we played KU, he was the first coach who ever found his way through the crowd and found me. He shook my hand and told me I did a good job and it was just shocking."

4. Which coach would you least like to play for?

Weis tied with TCU coach Gary Patterson for the top honor here, with each receiving 18 percent of the votes, or the nod from seven different players. The lone explanation here was brief: "He just hasn't been that successful."

5. Which Big 12 school has the best fans?

As you might have guessed, KU received no votes.

6. Which Big 12 school has the worst fans?

This one might sting a little for some of you, as 40 percent (16 players) voted Kansas in a runaway. It doesn't sound like KU's reputation for having the Big 12's worst football fans came from their vulgar behavior or nasty ways. Quite the opposite, in fact. Said one player: "Their fans don't show up. They're a basketball school." ... "They're too into basketball." ... "The stands were like half full."

Check out the full results for more on which programs the players themselves think have the best, and worst, players, coaches and fans in the Big 12.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks: No. 8 - DL Andrew Bolton

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

White Team quarterback Michael Cummings pitches the ball to a teammate as Blue Team defensive lineman Andrew Bolton closes in during the second half of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

White Team quarterback Michael Cummings pitches the ball to a teammate as Blue Team defensive lineman Andrew Bolton closes in during the second half of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

No. 8: Andrew Bolton, Junior DL

There was a lot of hype surrounding Bolton last summer because, at 6-foot-3, 285 pounds and with a penchant for getting to the quarterback, Bolton represented the kind of player KU had not seen in a while.

Big, strong, explosive and focused on nothing more than chewing up QBs, Bolton would have been a big addition for the defensive line. An early injury kept him off the field during his first season in Lawrence, but the year off might have been a blessing in disguise for the Hinds (Mississippi) Community College transfer.

See, instead of being rushed out there at less than 100 percent, the time off gave Bolton a chance to heal. While he was healing, he also took full advantage of the opportunity to work on his body, absorb the playbook and watch and learn what life is like at the Division I level.

With such knowledge now his, the expectations are again high for Bolton, who figures to hold down the left side of KU's D-Line while defensive coordinator Clint Bowen and D-Line coach Buddy Wyatt play around with the flexibility the other guys up front provide.

We talked to Bolton briefly during fall camp last year and the only thing I remember is that he was a quiet guy. He seemed a little shy when dealing with the media and it would have been a shame if any kind of uncertainty about his place at this level or this school showed up on the field in 2013.

He's been here a year now. He knows the coaches, he knows the scheme and he's at least seen what big-time college football looks like. It's now his turn to be a part of it. And if he's ready and able, KU's defense has a chance to be a heck of a lot better immediately.

KU coach Charlie Weis had this to say about Bolton at Big 12 media days in Dallas earlier this week:

"Bolton came in banged up and really wasn't ready to go. And he's a big, physical, bruising type of guy that I would have liked to have played last year. I'm glad we didn't."

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2014:

No. 25 - LB Jake Love

No. 24 - DB Greg Allen

No. 23 - DB Cassius Sendish

No. 22 - OL Zach Fondal

No. 21 - WR Justin McCay

No. 20 - DL Ben Goodman

No. 19 - K John Duvic

No. 18 - DB JaCorey Shepherd

No. 17 - DB Isaiah Johnson

No. 16 - TE Jimmay Mundine

No. 15 - DB Dexter McDonald

No. 14 - RB Brandon Bourbon

No. 13 - OL Keyon Haughton

No. 12 - OL Damon Martin

No. 11 - DL Keon Stowers

No. 10 - RB De'Andre Mann

No. 9 - WR Rodriguez Coleman

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Most Crucial Jayhawks: No. 10 - RB De’Andre Mann

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

New KU running back De'Andre Mann on his official visit to Kansas.

New KU running back De'Andre Mann on his official visit to Kansas. by Matt Tait

No. 10: DeAndre' Mann, Junior RB

There's a good chance that many of you don't know a whole lot about De'Andre Mann. You should change that. Because there's a real chance that the 6-foot, 200-pound junior-college transfer from Hartnell College could lead the Jayhawks in both rushing yards and exciting plays this season.

Mann, the player KU coach Charlie Weis had no desire to sign until he saw him play, owns a solid combination of size, speed, power and elusiveness. He's big enough to run through tacklers, fast enough to run around them and determined enough to come in and compete for carries immediately. He would not have picked Kansas if he didn't think he could be a factor here.

That's not a knock on seniors Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox, freshman Corey Avery or any of the other players that will make up KU's backfield this season. It's more a sign of Mann's extreme confidence. The guy's here to make some noise and his focus is on playing football and helping the team win, nothing more, nothing less.

Bourbon will get the first and best chance to prove he's worthy of being the top dog and he might win the job and be huge for the Jayhawks this fall. But remember, even with James Sims operating as the lead back during the past four seasons, there was room for guys like Darrian Miller and Taylor Cox to put their stamp on the KU ground game. With Miller gone and Cox trying to bounce back from multiple injuries, Mann could be in great shape to inherit that type of role and never look back.

If he can, that will do wonders for the entire KU offense. Not only would it help ease the burden on Bourbon, but it also would be huge for sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart, who likely will need help from all areas of the offense to settle in and become comfortable running the show. The talent's there for Cozart to be solid, but without the backs being reliable, the receivers and tight ends getting open and making plays and the line giving him time to think, his talent might not matter.

Mann's will. Even if he's not the leading rusher by season's end and even if he shares carries with a talented group that could even include senior Tony Pierson toting the rock a couple of times per game, I believe that Mann's skills and build will allow him to stand out on a regular basis.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2014:

No. 25 - LB Jake Love

No. 24 - DB Greg Allen

No. 23 - DB Cassius Sendish

No. 22 - OL Zach Fondal

No. 21 - WR Justin McCay

No. 20 - DL Ben Goodman

No. 19 - K John Duvic

No. 18 - DB JaCorey Shepherd

No. 17 - DB Isaiah Johnson

No. 16 - TE Jimmay Mundine

No. 15 - DB Dexter McDonald

No. 14 - RB Brandon Bourbon

No. 13 - OL Keyon Haughton

No. 12 - OL Damon Martin

No. 11 - DL Keon Stowers

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Most Crucial Jayhawks: No. 12 - OL Damon Martin

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

Kansas offensive lineman Aslam Sterling (77) and Damon Martin (73) bemoan a missed first down attempt by the Jayhawks against Iowa State during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas offensive lineman Aslam Sterling (77) and Damon Martin (73) bemoan a missed first down attempt by the Jayhawks against Iowa State during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

No. 12: Damon Martin, Junior OL

After cruising through a couple of seasons as an under-the-radar talent with tremendous potential, the time has arrived for Martin to become the man.

With so many older, more established lineman playing ahead of him during the past couple of years, it's easy to see how Martin could have just blended in. He had some good moments, started a few games and always was one the coaching staff pointed to as a guy who could become a player. If he's able to do that this year, it will do wonders for the Jayhawks' offenseive line as a whole.

Up until the arrival of spring ball, Martin had spent his career playing guard. However, with the KU O-Line facing a more pressing need at the tackle positions, Martin was bounced outside and spent the entire spring playing right tackle.

Seems like a good fit to me. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Arlington, Texas native is definitely big enough and strong enough to handle edge rushers. And we've talked for a while about how he always seemed to have the kind of build that lent itself to being good with his feet. While those three factors are crucial for tackles, Martin is still learning a new position and there's no question there could be growing pains.

There are a couple of reasons to believe Martin will succeed at his new spot. First, he's comfortable on the right side already, having started the final four games of 2013 at right guard. Second, he's not going to be overwhelmed when he gets out there because he's seen it all before. His first career start came at Oklahoma in 2012 and he has played in 13 games during the past two seasons, the natural progression for a guy who red-shirted in 2011.

Getting a jump on the shift from guard to tackle in the spring surely helped, but how well Martin handles his new role remains one of the bigger questions and more important factors in determining just how successful the Jayhawks will be this fall.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2014:

No. 25 - LB Jake Love

No. 24 - DB Greg Allen

No. 23 - DB Cassius Sendish

No. 22 - OL Zach Fondal

No. 21 - WR Justin McCay

No. 20 - DL Ben Goodman

No. 19 - K John Duvic

No. 18 - DB JaCorey Shepherd

No. 17 - DB Isaiah Johnson

No. 16 - TE Jimmay Mundine

No. 15 - DB Dexter McDonald

No. 14 - RB Brandon Bourbon

No. 13 - OL Keyon Haughton

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Tracking the progress at Memorial Stadium, Part II

It's been almost two weeks since our last look at the progress at Memorial Stadium, where construction crews are working to remove the track and lay down asphalt and turf in its place.

Not a ton has changed in terms of the aesthetic of the stadium, but the drainage asphalt has been put down around the perimeter and that allows you to see a clearly defined area where the turf soon will be.

Not as dramatic as the last look, but still interesting nonetheless. The project, which began June 25, is slated to take 6 weeks and should be done in time for the beginning of fall football camp, which opens Aug. 8.

For now, there's still a construction-grade chain link fence around the south end of the stadium so no sign of the new decorative fence that will replace it. But I'm guessing that will be one of the final steps in the project.

Here's a few angles of what's new....

View from the southeast corner of Memorial Stadium:

This look, shown from the southeast corner of the stadium, gives a good idea of what the drainage asphalt looks like all the way around the field.

This look, shown from the southeast corner of the stadium, gives a good idea of what the drainage asphalt looks like all the way around the field. by Matt Tait

View of the West sideline:

Here's a look at the west sideline, where you can clearly see the area that will soon receive the new turf.

Here's a look at the west sideline, where you can clearly see the area that will soon receive the new turf. by Matt Tait

Elevated view of the entire stadium:

Elevated view of the entire field.

Elevated view of the entire field. by Matt Tait

View through the fence behind the south end zone:
(This one is particularly cool because a good chunk of the asphalt you see used to be track)

View through the fence behind the south end zone.

View through the fence behind the south end zone. by Matt Tait

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Most Crucial Jayhawks: No. 14 - RB Brandon Bourbon

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

Kansas University running back Brandon Bourbon (25) rushes against South Dakota State on Sept. 1, 2012, at Memorial Stadium. Bourbon, a fourth-year junior, says he feels better than ever after an injury-riddled start to his KU career.

Kansas University running back Brandon Bourbon (25) rushes against South Dakota State on Sept. 1, 2012, at Memorial Stadium. Bourbon, a fourth-year junior, says he feels better than ever after an injury-riddled start to his KU career. by Richard Gwin

No. 14: Brandon Bourbon, Senior RB

It's been a long road for Brandon Bourbon to reach the top of the depth chart.

Between injuries, which he's endured during most of his seasons at KU, and James Sims getting carries ahead of him, Bourbon, the former four-star prospect who at one time had committed to Stanford, has logged just 63 carries during his first four seasons in town and had a tough time finding any kind of rhythm amidst his sporadic playing time.

While outside factors have contributed to that in the past, Bourbon will have no one to blame but himself if things don't change in 2014.

He enters fall camp as the team's top back, largely because — of all things — he was the healthiest returning running back from last year's team. Winning the starting job and becoming a factor in KU's new-look offense will not be easy, but Bourbon seems more at peace with life and football today than he has in the past four years and does not seem to be threatened by the presence of a stable of talented and hungry backs at his position.

Taylor Cox, De'Andre Mann and Corey Avery — and maybe more — figure to be Bourbon's main competition for carries this season, but if Bourbon were to hold them off for the lead dog role played by Sims during the past four seasons, it would do wonders for this team's diversity on offense.

With each back in the system being a little bit different, having one horse to handle the tough carries and be a consistent force could keep the others fresh and allow first-year offensive coordinator John Reagan to get creative in how he uses them.

Provided he stays healthy, Bourbon is fully capable of handling such a role. His blend of size, power and speed gives him great potential, and his career, to this point, has been highlighted by his big-play prowess.

I talked to Bourbon this spring about the opportunity ahead of him and, although he loved Sims and bonded with him like a brother, he said he was thrilled he was gone because, for the first time in his career, he really felt like there was an opportunity for him to be the guy.

We'll see how it plays out, but Bourbon taking the reins from his good buddy would be a big boost for the KU offense.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2014:

No. 25 - LB Jake Love

No. 24 - DB Greg Allen

No. 23 - DB Cassius Sendish

No. 22 - OL Zach Fondal

No. 21 - WR Justin McCay

No. 20 - DL Ben Goodman

No. 19 - K John Duvic

No. 18 - DB JaCorey Shepherd

No. 17 - DB Isaiah Johnson

No. 16 - TE Jimmay Mundine

No. 15 - DB Dexter McDonald

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LeBron James’ decision to head home brings uncertainty for Andrew Wiggins

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, left, congratulates Andrew Wiggins of Kansas who was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the number one pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, left, congratulates Andrew Wiggins of Kansas who was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the number one pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

After a 10-day wait that was magnified into feeling like 10 years because of the 24-hour news cycle, we found out Friday that LeBron James is headed back to Cleveland after four years, four trips to the Finals and two titles in Miami.

None by Sports Illustrated

After the inevitable reactions of 'Wow, he really did it,' from basketball fans around the world, the first thing that likely came to the minds of KU basketball fans was this: What does that mean for Andrew Wiggins?

The short answer? Wiggins probably should not get too comfortable in those Cleveland duds. He may be on the move via the trade winds and it may be happening very quickly.

Not only does LeBron hold down the majority of the minutes and stats at the small forward position, but there's strong speculation that veteran shooting guard Ray Allen will follow James to Cleveland, which would crowd up things at the 2-guard spot, too. The shooting guard spot is the place Cleveland management seems to think Wiggins will ultimately succeed and bringing on Ray Allen doesn't kill that idea but it adds quality depth and allows them to explore the idea of adding big man help.

There's been some talk in the past week about the Cavs possibly moving Wiggins, last month's No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, to Minnesota in exchange for all-star big man Kevin Love.

None by Marc J. Spears

If Love will go (and why wouldn't he?) and the Timberwolves are OK with getting Wiggins in return for a guy they'd probably lose anyway (and why wouldn't they be?), then this is something that could happen in a hurry.

The first reports from NBA insiders were that the Cavs have already offered Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett and a first-round pick to Minnesota for Love, but the general belief there is that such a package won't be enough and the T'Wolves will demand that Wiggins is included in any deal they do.

Perhaps the biggest sign that it might be in the works comes from James himself, who, in an essay penned at SI.com, talked about the Cavs' roster and did not mention Wiggins. It's possible the former Jayhawks' omission was simply out of respect for the process since Wiggins has not yet signed with Cleveland, but there's also a better than good chance that James knows something about Cleveland's willingness to explore moving Wiggins to bolster the roster.

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.

"LeBronWatch" might be over but "WigginsWatch" is just beginning.

Welcome to the NBA, Andrew.

Read LeBron's full essay about heading home to Cleveland here.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks: No. 16 - TE Jimmay Mundine

Here's this week's final installment in our series that examines the Jayhawks who stand to have the biggest impact for KU football this fall. Look for Nos. 15-11 next week, beginning on Monday.

Kansas tight end Jimmay Mundine (41) eludes TCU's Sam Carter (17) for a touchdown in the second half of TCU's 27-17 victory over KU on Oct. 12, 2013.

Kansas tight end Jimmay Mundine (41) eludes TCU's Sam Carter (17) for a touchdown in the second half of TCU's 27-17 victory over KU on Oct. 12, 2013. by Richard Gwin

No. 16: Jimmay Mundine, Senior TE

Voted second-team preseason all-Big 12 by several publications that cover the Big 12, Mudine will be the first to tell you that finishing there would be a disappointment.

The senior leader from Denison, Texas, has been labeled with tremendous potential since he arrived in Lawrence and now, with his final season of college football right around the corner — and pro football aspirations still present in his mind — Mundine is hellbent on proving that he's been worth the talk.

The presence of wide receivers Nick Harwell, Tony Pierson and Rodriguez Coleman, as well as mobile quarterback Montell Cozart, should spread the field as much as possible and give Mundine all kinds of room to work in the middle. Provided he can put the drops that plagued him in 2013 behind him — and there's no doubt in my mind that he will — Mundine could be in for a monster season.

He'll need help, of course. The offensive line will have to hold up long enough to give Cozart time. And Cozart, still a rook in a lot of ways, will have to show he can both get the ball to Mundine where he needs, wants and likes it and have enough command of the offense to put pressure on opposing defenses and take advantage of making them have to cover the entire field.

With his big body, strong base and good athleticism, Mundine is a potential match-up nightmare for opponents, too big for corners to cover and more athletic than many expect. Even with all of the drops and losses during the past couple of seasons, Mundine always maintained that his never was a confidence issue. He didn't get down on himself too much and instead chose to focus on the next play, the next game, the next chance to make a key grab. That mentality should serve him well this season, when he'll likely hit the field with a nothing-to-lose mindset.

Mundine's a hard worker with a great attitude and strong drive. Winning and succeeding mean a lot to him. Senior urgency can be overplayed at times, but, in this case, I think it's a potential gold mine for the KU offense.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2014:

No. 25 - LB Jake Love

No. 24 - DB Greg Allen

No. 23 - DB Cassius Sendish

No. 22 - OL Zach Fondal

No. 21 - WR Justin McCay

No. 20 - DL Ben Goodman

No. 19 - K John Duvic

No. 18 - DB JaCorey Shepherd

No. 17 - DB Isaiah Johnson

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