Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
They used to say these sorts of things about the annual KU-K-State battles but then Kansas State up and got good and now it's the Jayhawks holding down the fort for Sunflower State futility.
The Toilet Bowl they called those games. But now it might have gotten worse.
This weekend, when KU plays at Rutgers, two of the worst programs in the so-called Power 5 conferences will be squaring off in a game that both sides have to be looking at as a winnable and welcomed vision.
One problem: The rest of the nation has caught on to just how bad these two programs are at the moment and they're not afraid to poke a little fun.
Earlier this week, ESPN.com put both KU and Rutgers in the weekly Bottom 10 rankings, with KU coming in at No. 2 (just behind, or is it ahead of, New Mexico) and Rutgers sitting at No. 8. The outcome of this game could easily have a major impact on those standings no matter which way it goes.
And then Thursday, on the front page of ESPN.com, a feature titled, "Kansas vs. Rutgers is the game you have not been waiting for," ran near the top of the home page, bringing attention to the current struggles facing Kansas football.
Anyone who has followed this program at all during the past five or so years knows exactly what's going on. And, although it might seem like piling on to some of the KU fans who hold all things Jayhawks near and dear to their hearts, this kind of attention is definitely fair, even though it might not be a whole lot of fun for the Jayhawks.
Heck, even CigarAficianado.com has a Top 10 worst college football teams feature, with the Jayhawks ranking first and Rutgers in the "others receiving votes" category.
The good news about these two teams squaring off this week is that one of them has to win. And whichever one does will likely buy at least a couple of weeks of avoiding such negative publicity. Who knows? Maybe a win will even springboard some confidence and get things going in the right direction a little more quickly.
Again, who knows?
For now, all we do know is that these rankings and this kind of attention, though cruel, is absolutely justified until further notice.
Let the game begin!
Throughout preseason camp and the start of the 2015 season, I've mentioned on multiple occasions how the Kansas University football coaching staff — and, because of them, the KU players — seems like a group that is willing to embrace the hard work required to rebuild things at Kansas.
What's more, they all appear to be unfazed by bad results, tough times and the outside perception of the program.
A lot of little things have led me to believe this, from a glimpse of how things are run at practice to the way things are said during press conferences and some behind-the-scenes nuggets that I've heard about life in the KU football complex these days.
However, Monday morning, on the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference, I heard one of the more concrete examples of this idea during KU coach David Beaty's five-minute phone call with the media.
Asked, after back-to-back home losses dropped KU to 0-2 in Beaty's first season as a Division I head coach, how he was handling the reality of the situation he had gotten himself into, Beaty as a beacon of positivity shined through.
The question: “About you, I'm just wondering how you're holding up. Obviously this has been a career goal, to be a college coach, for a long time. After you finally got the opportunity, what are the biggest changes you've seen in your routine and what you've had to do to prepare over the first two weeks of the season?”
Beaty's answer: “First of all, I'm holding up great,” he said with plenty of pep in his voice. “I'm still very, very excited about our football team. There's a lot of things that we learned about our team in the last two weeks that are gonna help us moving forward. You know, our goal, from the very beginning, has been to get just a little bit better every week. Even though the score doesn't show it, being 55-23, there was some things that we improved on in this football game.”
Beaty then went on to list a few of those areas of improvement, which included success in the turnover battle, on special teams and in the running game.
But, really, the specifics of his answer were irrelevant.
See, even though we're just two weeks into the 2015 season, the whole thing has come down to this for Kansas football. And, really, it's probably been about this all along: Success during the 2015 season will not be determined by wins and losses or point differential or anything like that. It's about survival.
At this point, even with Rutgers in two weeks seeming like a potentially winnable game on paper, it's unlikely that KU will win a game this season. That's not to say it can't happen. And that's not to say this team won't get better. I'm sure it will. But so will the other teams. And with KU starting from so far behind to begin with, that makes catching any of the other guys an almost impossible task.
Given that such thoughts seem to be universally accepted and are basically common knowledge on and around the KU campus, Beaty's positivity looks all the more impressive.
Like many of you, I've seen this whole thing unfold before. But I've never seen it look or feel quite like this.
I remember Turner Gill talking, after almost every loss, about how it was “just one game.” The problem with that logic after a certain point was that it wasn't just one game. It was an entire season. And then another one. And things never seemed to get better.
Enter Charlie Weis, whose loud personality and big bravado may have changed the sound of things but not the outcome. Weis, who rarely ever showed anything but extreme calm in the press conferences following losses, often sat there and said the same sorts of things as Gill, albeit in a different way — We just have to keep working and try to get better.
Both men did their best to remain poised and put forward a positive vibe. But neither were all that believable. Gill always looked to be in over his head and Weis always looked like he was trying to master the art of spin, therein making things sound, look and feel better than they truly were.
You won't get any of that with Beaty. And, frankly, I've been incredibly impressed by that.
It's not easy to remain positive — heck, it's not even easy to start from a position of positivity — when you're the one calling the shots and steering the ship for a program in as bad of shape as Kansas football.
But Beaty has. He's been honest and open and realistic and forthright from the very beginning and continues to be that way today, even after a couple of bad losses, one to an FCS team that pushed KU around and the other in blowout fashion to a team with which KU absolutely should expect to be competitive.
0-2 but no boo hoo. Just more of the same from Mr. Enthusiasm.
Don't get me wrong, Beaty's demeanor is not one of acceptance. He's not happy KU is 0-2 and he does not believe it's acceptable. But he definitely projects that he understands why they are, that he might even have been prepared for it to begin with and that he and the rest of his crew are willing to do whatever they have to do to keep working through it, good, bad or ugly.
“There's some things that we can build on,” Beaty said Monday morning. “But there's obviously some things that are giving us problems. The good news is, all of those things we saw on tape, those are all fixable. We just gotta be willing to step up and do 'em.”
This kind of attitude will not win games in 2015. But it could be the reason these kids stick around long enough and work hard enough to win games in 2016, 2017, 2018 and beyond.
Time will tell if that's the case, but while we wait, one black and white aspect of the program that will be easy to track is Beaty's disposition.
If he remains the same man and coach that he is today, I'll have no problem saying that this coach and this staff have a real chance of finally being the bunch that gets KU going again. If he doesn't and even he cracks under the weight and heavy load of lopsided losses piling up, it could be yet another bad sign for a program in desperate need of some positivity that Beaty tries to bring day in and day out.
Let the watch begin.
A little more than five minutes into Saturday's game, the Kansas University football team held a 10-0 lead, had picked up a couple of stops on defense, forced a turnover and looked sharp on offense.
For a brief period of time, Kansas actually looked like the better, more prepared team.
But things evened out dramatically during the next quarter and a half and ultimately tipped heavily in Memphis' favor before the fourth quarter even arrived. At that point, it was just another long night for a program that has seen so many of them during the past five seasons.
Yes, the Jayhawks kept fighting and, yes, believe it or not, there were some signs of progress and improvement. But those were small and hard to see and KU, now more than ever, is staring at the very real possibility of finishing a season winless for just the second time in 126 seasons of KU football.
There's a lot of football left to play and there's no doubt that anything can happen. So it may be way too early to jump to those kinds of conclusions. But the opponents are only going to get harder and this team clearly has a ton of work to do to get to the point where it's competing with anybody.
The biggest silver lining for the Jayhawks right now, however, is that these guys understand that and seem unafraid of going through it.
Two things are now clear about this Kansas football team — the defense needs some serious work and the success of the offense, though improved and certainly more exciting, depends so heavily on the play of the quarterback, which, on Saturday, was less than stellar. Memphis was a solid team in 2014 and appears to have another strong team this season. But there's no reason that the Jayhawks could not have been more competitive against a team of that caliber, particularly after starting with a 10-0 lead. The fact that they weren't is one of the strongest signs yet of just how deep of a hole the program is in and just how difficult it's going to be to climb out of it.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Ke'aun Kinner can flat-out play and KU's going to need him to be great to have any chance during the rest of the season. The junior-college transfer who emerged as KU's best back after a solid spring and quality camp became the first Jayhawk since James Sims in 2013 to run for 100-plus yards in back-to-back games. Early on, it looked as if Kinner might wind up with 50 carries, as the Jayhawks handed it to him on five of the first six plays from scrimmage and 10 times by the 9:48 mark of the first quarter. KU backed off of that pace, largely because the deficit grew so quickly, but, even with the lopsided loss, Kinner, who finished with 113 yards and a TD on 16 carries, further established himself as a real talent.
2 – Although it didn't matter much toward the outcome, it was definitely a good sign that the Jayhawks improved in a couple of areas in which they struggled mightily in the opener. The tackling, as a whole, was better and KU came out of the gates much better, carving out a 10-0 lead and forcing an early turnover instead of falling behind 31-7 as it did last week. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the games are four quarters long and those gains, though encouraging, were not big enough to help deliver a victory.
3 – This two-kicker system seems like it just might work. Credit Nick “Yoda” Bartolotta for staying perfect this season on the “short” kicks. Bartolotta knocked in two more field goals and two extra points in Saturday's loss. But long-range bomber Matthew Wyman, who had another good day as the kickoff specialist, finally got a chance to show off his leg, hitting from 51 yards midway through the fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach. Given the struggles of the defense and the potent nature of the rest of their opponents, field goals probably aren't going to be that important for the Jayhawks this season. But should there come a time where the three-point try is crucial, it's good to see Kansas has it covered, short or long.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – As good as he was in the opener at times, junior QB Montell Cozart was equally that bad in this one. It wasn't all his fault, though. Cozart was running for his life for much of the game, as the protection in front of him consistently broke down. That forced him to make some bad throws or throw some balls away and also kept him from getting comfortable enough to make good throws when he did have time. Cozart completed just 46 percent of his passes (one week after completing 66 percent) and threw for 118 yards. Week 1 was a fantastic step forward for the junior QB, but it was against FCS competition. Week 2 was a step backwards and there's no telling where things will go from here.
2 – Even if Cozart had been Cam Newton, it might not have mattered given the way the defense played. For the second week in a row, the defense gave up big plays, big chunks of yards and a big point total, creating legit concern that this group is a long, long way from being anywhere close to ready to compete in the Big 12. Memphis racked up 651 yards on just 79 plays and averaged 8.2 yards per play. The 55 points came even with the Tigers giving up three turnovers. There were far fewer missed tackles, but the secondary played way too passive and the guys up front got pushed around by Memphis' bigger and more experienced offensive line.
3 – While the “earn it” philosophy is solid in theory, I'm not sure it's doing KU any favors at the quarterback position. In Week 1, Cozart was sent to the bench for two plays after getting banged up and freshman Ryan Willis went in to replace him. Beaty said after the game that Willis had earned the right to be the Jayhawks' No. 2 QB, a promising sign given KU's struggles at the position during the past few years and Willis' long-term potential as an answer. But then Saturday, during the fourth quarter of a game that was already decided, junior-college transfer Deondre Ford went in as KU's No. 2 guy. Beaty said after the game that Ford had out-played Willis during the week and, therefore, earned the opportunity. But based both on what I've heard and seen, I don't think Ford is the answer, now or in the future, so it seems at least a little strange that Beaty and company would not have wanted to get Willis some more live reps in case he is needed sooner rather than later. For the record, freshman Carter Stanley did not suit up for Saturday's game.
One for the road
KU's loss to Memphis in Week 2...
• Dropped the Jayhawks' all-time record to 579-600-58.
• Marked just the fifth non-conference home loss in 32 tries dating back to the 2003 season.
• Included a Kansas defense forcing Memphis to lose three fumbles in the game, the most loose balls recovered by a Jayhawk defense since also pouncing on three mishandles at Oklahoma State, Nov. 10, 2007.
• Featured KU giving up the most total yards of offense since Baylor rolled to 669 yards in 2014.
The Jayhawks (0-2) will have their lone bye of the 2015 season this week and will not play again until they travel to Rutgers for a Sept. 26 kickoff in New Jersey. Rutgers dropped to 1-1 with a 37-34 home loss to Washington State last weekend and will play at Penn State on Saturday night before hosting the Jayhawks.
Any time an offensive line can get the view that Bryan Peters (76), De'Andre Banks (62) and Keyon Haughton (70) have in the picture above, things are are going well.
That was absolutely the case for the Kansas offensive line in last week's season opener, which went down as a 41-38 loss for the team but should be considered a win for the offensive line, which included the three guys mentioned above along with tackles Jordan Shelley-Smith and Larry Mazyck in the starting lineup.
It's been a number of games, and years, really, since we've watched a Kansas football game and not noticed the offensive line in some way, shape or form. That's a good thing, by the way. Because, the way things typically go, the more that O-Lines are noticed, the bigger the concern.
Don't get me wrong, there were a few offensive linemen called for holding and there was even one false start, but those things happen. Nobody likes it when they do, but they do.
Three of the seven penalties enforced against KU in last Saturday's opener were called on the offensive line, with Banks and Haughton each whistled for a hold and Mazyck flagged for a false start. Again, these things do happen. And the best part about the previous sentence was that it did not show any repeat offenders.
Outside of the penalties, which I'm guessing was a fairly acceptable number in O-Line coach Zach Yenser's meeting room this week, the line was terrific.
It took care of junior quarterback Montell Cozart and kept him upright and able to move around and find receivers when required.
It blew open holes for Ke'aun Kinner and allowed him to rumble for 157 yards and 2 TDs in his Kansas debut.
And, as we had been told it would, the O-Line did a great job keeping up with KU's tempo and allowing the Kansas offense to play as fast as possible. KU ripped off 90 plays in last week's loss — good for seventh most in the country during Week 1 — and not one time do I remember seeing Cozart or the offense having to wait for the linemen to get set before getting a play off.
Generally speaking, offensive lines are like umpires and referees. When they do their job, nobody really talks about them and everything is right in the world. When they don't, all hell breaks loose and people have been known to pick on them for days.
The fact that no one in the local media asked KU coach David Beaty a single question about KU's offensive line following Saturday's loss or during this week's press conference shows you all you need to know about that group that spent much of the spring and almost all of preseason camp working together to develop the necessary chemistry to succeed up front.
In fact, the only thing we really heard about this group this week was an unsolicited tip of the cap by Beaty, who mentioned the big boys up front when asked on Saturday who stood out during KU's opener.
One of the groups that I'm really proud of is our O-line," Beaty said. "I'll be honest with you, in spring that group struggled pretty badly. So the fact that they're getting better, that gives me some hope moving forward that we've got a chance to get a little bit better even than that. So Zach Yenser and those guys have done a really good job with them."
As Beaty and company have said all along, "you're only as good as your next," so even with its solid Week 1 performance the Kansas O-Line must back that performance again in Week 2 if it hopes to continue receiving love from the KU coaches and fans.
If not... Well, you all know how umpires and referees are treated.
Saturday, in his first start of his junior season, quarterback Montell Cozart threw an interception early in the game that looked about as bad as an interception can look.
As he dropped back and looked left, Cozart did not even seem to hesitate and fired the ball right to South Dakota State defender Dallas Brown, who caught it and raced 53 yards to set up another SDSU score.
As these things go, the general perception was that it was a horrible throw by Cozart.
But a further look at the play reveals that it might not have been. Perhaps more importantly, a further look at the situation during the postgame press conferences reveals that Cozart may truly have morphed into that leader we've all heard he has become.
Here's a look.
Presented below are Cozart's words about the interception following the game:
"It was a screen play, an inside zone play with a screen out there and we were trying to go so fast. We had 'em. We had 'em. The nickel was lined up all the way in the boundary and he was running over to the trips (side with 3 receivers) and our receivers, when they see someone like that, they don't account for him in their blocking and so the guy just ran right over and ran in front of the screen, but that's on me. I've gotta see right through him and throw the ball out of bounds or just hand the ball off.”
Monday, on the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference, first-year KU coach David Beaty offered a different view:
“He obviously had a couple of key errors in the game that we'd love to have back," Beaty said of his junior QB. "But the thing of it is, it's never one guy's fault. Boy, it sure looks like it is on the surface but the guy that caught that interception, he was supposed to have been blocked and we missed him. It looks like it's Montell's fault but ball security is not just a quarterback and a skill player's job. It's the offensive line's job, it's the center's job, everybody has a role in it. And when we don't execute correctly, things can go awry.”
It's just one play. And even though it turned out to be a pretty big one, both in terms of the momentum of the game and in the final score, the most important part of the interception and the lessons learned from it might have been the leadership and accountability that Cozart showed when asked about it.
It would've been very easy for him to explain the breakdown and, even without throwing any of his teammates under the bus, pass the blame onto someone else. But he didn't. Instead, he owned up to his part in it and even went as far as to imply that he should've been good enough to overcome the mistake and adjust into a better decision.
He wasn't, the ball was intercepted and Kansas lost the game.
But you can bet that Cozart won some serious points with his receivers and coaches for the way he handled it like a true leader when asked about it.
That might not get you points or win you games, but it can go a long way toward helping turn a program around.
Trailing 31-7 with an eternity remaining in the second quarter of Saturday's 41-38 loss to South Dakota State, the Kansas University football team regrouped, restarted and waged a comeback that pulled them within three points twice during the second half.
Big deal, right? I mean, this was South Dakota State. It was at home. And losing is downright embarrassing.
That's certainly the national perception and one that many KU fans share.
No matter how you want to paint this one, there were definitely too many mistakes and plenty of areas to point to that are in need of drastic improvement.
The defense struggled early and missed far too many tackles. The offense, though much improved from recent seasons, still has room to grow. And whether it was penalties or missed assignments, KU still had far too many moments when it hurt itself and helped South Dakota State maintain the upper hand.
Nobody expected much from the Jayhawks this season anyway, but now, after Saturday's loss, it's even more clear just what we can expect and what areas Kansas needs to work on most.
With that said, let's jump right into the first “Day After” of the new season.
A loss is a loss and when it comes to an FCS opponent at home, it hurts a little more than most other losses. Nobody will deny that. And nobody will argue the fact that the Jayhawks should not feel good about Saturday's loss to the Jackrabbits. But the vibe coming out of the locker room following Saturday's setback was different than most any vibe I've felt coming from the program during the past five rough seasons. These guys — players and coaches — seem to understand clearly how difficult the task in front of them is. More importantly, they're not feeling sorry for themselves and seem more than willing to put in the work and battle through the rough times together. Together is the key there. And even though today it seems like a long time before this program turns the corner, there's an argument to be made that, in some ways, it already has.
Three reasons to smile
1 – The Kansas offense threw up 38 points an 576 yards of total offense. Anyone that says that's a disappointment is crazy. Yeah, it might have come against an FCS foe but at least it came. And it's been a long time since anyone has seen anything like that in Memorial Stadium. Although he was responsible for three of the game's most gut-wrenching plays, junior quarterback Montell Cozart backed up all of the talk about him being a different player this season and looked both more accurate and efficient throwing the ball and more willing and able running the ball. Plenty of room to improve, but Rob Likens and the offense definitely got off to a good start with KU's version of the Air Raid offense.
2 – Call them out for losing the game but give these guys credit for fighting back and not folding at the first sign of trouble. Plenty of KU players and teams in the recent past have done just that in situations like the one the Jayhawks faced on Saturday and I'm not sure there was a single coach or player who doubted that they could get back in that game, which they did. That's a great characteristic to have when facing any rebuilding project, but especially one as big as the one facing the Jayhawks.
3 – Nearly two dozen players who had no college football experience heading into Week 1 now have at least a taste of college football. That can only help going forward and given the fact that so many of those young dudes actually made a real impact vs. the Jackrabbits, that experience should have a solid affect on their confidence for the weeks ahead, as well.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – SDSU quarterback Zach Lujan played well enough to deliver a victory for his team, but KU's defensive backs definitely helped him out at times. There were at least half a dozen throws that featured fantastic coverage from the KU DBs but when the ball arrived they struggled to get their heads around in time to make a play. I'll definitely ask about the issue this week, as I'm very curious to see if the coaches thought it was as big of a problem as I did.
2 – Missed tackles, missed tackles, missed tackles. There were a ton of them in the first quarter and a half and, I have to admit that surprised the heck out of me. It's one thing to be lacking numbers or depth, it's another thing to be missing in the area of fundamentals. It was just the first week and things were much better during the next two-plus quarters. So we'll reserve final judgement and see how things look in the next week or two. But this has to be a huge area of emphasis during the early days of Memphis week and I'm sure it will be.
3 – First-year KU coach David Beaty owned up to them in the postgame press conference and did not make any excuses or apologies for the way things played out, but I thought there were a couple of questionable calls that, had they decided to go the other direction with them, might have helped KU pull out the victory. The first came before halftime when KU not only chose to pass on a 42-yard field goal try that, if made, would've cut the lead to two scores (31-17) heading into the locker room. Even if going for it was the right call there, it was just fourth-and-three and a deep pass to the end zone might not have been the best play call. Another memorable instance came in the second half, when KU trailed 34-28 and had third-and-goal inside the 5 yard line. Same thing here: Not only did they not go for the touchdown on fourth down, but the play call on third down was not ideal, as Cozart was asked to run an option play to the short side of the field. Cozart's not a great option QB to begin with and the play went nowhere. KU settled for the field goal, which did pull the Jayhawks to within three, but going for it on fourth-and-goal might have been a better call. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20 so it was good to see Beaty call say he'd like to have a couple of those back. But the calls themselves could speak to the inexperience of this coaching staff. Just something to watch in future weeks.
One for the road
The Jayhawks' loss to the Jackrabbits on Saturday:
• Dropped KU’s all-time record to 579-599-58
• Pushed the Jayhawks to 71-48-7 all-time in season openers.
• The loss marked just the fourth non-conference home loss in 31 tries dating back to the 2003 season.
• KU's 576 yards of total offense are the most since racking up 615 yards on Florida International in 2007. The Jayhawks posted 576 yards of total offense against UTEP in 2009.
KU will play host to Memphis at 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Memphis, which enters as a double-digit favorite, kicked off its season last week with a 63-7 victory over Missouri State.
Well, it looks like I can cross off one thing from my list of pre-game duties for tomorrow's Kansas University football opener against South Dakota State, 11 a.m. at Memorial Stadium.
Instead of trying to get the earliest glimpse of what uniform combination the Jayhawks will be wearing when the specialists trot onto the field 90 minutes ahead of kickoff to get the warm-ups started, I'll be able to take one last look at the depth chart or make sure all of my devices are charged and ready.
That's because KU officially revealed its uniform of choice for the 2015 season opener today.
Here's a look:
It's #KUBlueFriday and we will be wearing BLUE on Saturday too! Check out our uniforms for Game 1 vs. South Dakota State!Posted by Kansas Football on Friday, September 4, 2015
A simple drive to Colorado by a country music star turned into a memorable moment for the Kansas University football program and the musician.
That was the way things unfolded Thursday afternoon, when country music's Jake Owen — of “Barefoot Blue Jean Night" fame — was on his way to Colorado for a Saturday gig at the Colorado State Fair.
Feeling the need to get off the road and stretch his legs for a while, Owen took to Twitter to announce that he'd love to find a place to workout during a pit stop.
Now, there's no telling how many people responded to the 34-year-old Owen, who has a whopping 1.7 million Twitter followers, but the official Kansas Football account was one of the respondents and that led to a memorable day for both Owen and the Jayhawks.
Stopped off in Lawerence, KS today on my way to Colorado...I'm flying solo. Looking for a good place to workout. Any suggestions?— Jake Owen (@jakeowen) September 3, 2015
A few minutes after the initial Tweet was sent out, the KU account responded with the offer.
@jakeowen we have a pretty state of the art facility we would share with you!— Kansas Football (@KU_Football) September 3, 2015
Owen quickly accepted and the meeting was on. In addition to hitting up KU's workout facility at the Anderson Family Football Complex — no word yet how long Owen worked out or whether strength coach Je'Ney Jackson or any of his staff got a crack at him — the country music star checked out a bit of practice and posed for a photo with first-year KU coach David Beaty, a big country music fan himself, and others with several players before getting back on the road.
After the whole thing was over, the KU football Facebook page posted the photo of Owen and Beaty with a quote from the country singer: “I'm proud to say that I am now a huge Jayhawk fan.”
Hey, every little bit helps. Too bad he won't be able to attend Saturday's game.
Air Raid Offense.
Just the name alone brings with it visions of long bombs, deep passes and footballs flying.
And while that might have been the way it was run in some of the more famous offenses that chose to run it, it does not necessarily mean that the team that utilizes it is going to air it out all the time.
Under first-year head coach David Beaty and first-year offensive coordinator Rob Likens, the 2015 Kansas University football team will run some version of the Air Raid offense this season. Our first look at it will come Saturday, when the Jayhawks play host to FCS foe South Dakota State at 11 a.m. at Memorial Stadium.
But a look back at what both architects of KU's new offense did during previous stops as offensive assistants at Cal and Texas A&M might provide a hint at a more balanced offense than one might expect.
The Kansas game notes claim that “Kansas' philosophy under head coach David Beaty and offensive coordinator Rob Likens is to run fast and put the ball in the air as much as possible,” but that might not be completely accurate.
The run fast part? Sure. Absolutely. Fast-paced, upbeat, relentless tempo will be a huge part of what KU's offense is all about under these two coaches.
But I'm not sure they'll look to put the ball in the air as much as possible. They might. But based on what I've been told about this offense, these guys are striving for a balanced attack that never lets up not a Mike Leach aerial assault that rarely runs.
Under OC Tony Franklin at Cal, Likens was a part of an offense that ran the ball 440 times and threw it 535 times during the 12-game regular season. That's an average of 37 runs and 45 passes per game and a run-pass split percentage of 45-55.
That's not exactly the stuff air-it-out dreams are made of.
Under OC Jake Spavital at Texas A&M, Beaty was a part of an offense that ran the ball 373 times and threw it 479 times during the 12-game regular season. That's an average of 31 runs and 40 passes per game and a run-pass split percentage of 44-56.
Again, not exactly a go deep and let it fly mindset.
Now, these numbers might be a little skewed because of lopsided scores and games against inferior opponents where the run worked and there was no need to throw too often.
But even with that being the case, those two offenses combined to call more runs than passes six times last season, with Cal doing it four times and A&M doing it twice.
Beyond that, it's not like Likens and Franklin or Beaty and Spavital are the exact same people and have the exact same minds when it comes to how to attack opposing defenses. But more often than not, guys who progress in the football coaching ranks tend to resemble and copy the guys they learned under.
Perhaps in time the Leach approach will be what the offense becomes at Kansas. Perhaps in time, when the pieces fit better and the coaching staff has had some time to get their own guys in here, that's the direction they'll head. But I don't think it'll be that way in Year 1 and I don't necessarily think it'll be that way at all.
Time will tell. And I, for one, will sure be interested to see what the final run-pass split looks like when Saturday's opener is over.
What began eight weeks ago with the first entry in this year's list of the 25 most crucial Jayhawks for the upcoming football season has reached its peak.
No. 1. Numero uno. The top dog. The head honcho.
It's no secret that left tackle is one of the game's most important positions at any level, but for this KU team, which features question marks at QB and all of the skill positions on offense, holding down the left side with some stability and consistency will be as critical as ever.
That responsibility belongs to a former tight end who's just one year into the switch to the offensive line, but the reports on Jordan Shelley-Smith from camp have been favorable.
Here's a look:
1. Jordan Shelley-Smith, 6-foot-5, 296-pound Jr. Offensive Tackle
Shelley-Smith's move from tight end to offensive tackle a year ago made sense for the player and the program.
His natural athleticism, including his footwork and agility, stand out for an offensive linemen. His next challenge was to put on weight, which he accomplished in impressive fashion.
Among other things, Shelley-Smith spent a long period of time setting his alarm clock for 3 a.m. so that he could have another protein shake.
He’s still in the process of getting his technique down and has earned the respect of the coaching staff by working so hard at it as well as by getting the rest of the blockers to fall in line.
At left tackle, Shelley-Smith bears the important responsibility of protecting the quarterback’s blind side. It’s imperative he does a strong job of that because no attractive option is available.
A lot is being asked of a player so new to his position and there is a reason for that. His coaches believe in him and his hunger grows in lockstep with how much they put on his plate.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
According to KU junior Damani Mosby, his first name means "tomorrow" in Italian, and for this summer's list of the most crucial Jayhawks there is no tomorrow.
We'll plug in No. 2 right now and come back with the top pick in about 30 minutes.
If you've been following the coverage all summer, you already know how important Mosby could be to this defense and this team.
If you haven't, here's a look:
2. Damani Mosby, 6-foot-3, 239-pound Jr. Defensive End
Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan has labeled Mosby the best player on this year's roster. Time will tell if that proves to be true, but the defensive end from Mesa College is definitely in the conversation.
Blessed with a solid blend of strength, size and speed, Mosby's impact as an edge rusher this season could be huge for the green Kansas defense that is filled with inexperience at nearly every position.
One thing about good pass rushers: They have a way of making even the most average secondaries look solid. And they also can spark the excitement in the stadium with a single play.
Mosby is not alone in carrying the burden of getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Seniors Ben Goodman (No. 12 on this list) and T.J. Semke (No. 22 if we had known Junior Visinia was going to leave the program) and junior Anthony Olobia (No. 13) will be right there with him every step of the way, helping to keep a steady presence on the edge and keep fresh legs in the game. But Mosby appears to have the best pure talent of all four of them and his potential seems to be the highest.
After a year off because of his transfer, Mosby is happy to be back and hungry for sacks.
He has known and recited the number of days remaining to the season opener since mid-June — 11 a.m. Sept. 5, Memorial Stadium — and you can bet that he'll be ready to come out of the gates with a memorable debut.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
We've reached the Top 3 of this year's list of Most Crucial Jayhawks for the upcoming season, and, given the fact that KU plays in the offensive madhouse that is the Big 12, it should come as no surprise that 2 of the 3 are defensive players at critical positions.
We'll unveil all three by the end of the day today and we'll start with No. 3, a juco transfer who has some mighty big shoes to fill at cornerback.
Here's a look:
3. Brandon Stewart, 6-foot, 171-pound Jr. Cornerback
In the Big 12 Conference, cornerbacks are tested like nobody else at an alarming rate. Week to week, game to game, snap to snap, if you don't have competent corners in this conference, you don't have a chance.
That's why the play of Stewart, a junior college transfer who nearly went to Cal but chose KU after taking some advice from his high school coach, is so critical for the Jayhawks this season.
Built to play the role he has inherited, Stewart has all of the physical and mental tools to succeed in the pass-happy Big 12. However, until he does it and does it with some consistency, KU fans will likely realize just how solid and steady the play of 2015 NFL Draft Picks JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald was in 2014.
In order for Stewart to perform at that level, he's going to have to prove he has what both of those guys had — confidence, an extremely competitive edge and a short memory. From the sound of it, he has all three. He carries himself like a veteran and talks like a guy who knows — doesn't think but knows — he's skilled enough to hang with some of the best offenses in the country.
What's more, Stewart takes pride in the growth he already has made under cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry. And, in the same vibe, Perry has talked openly about how proud he is of Stewart and his ability to take instruction and keep working.
Far from a finished product, Stewart surely will encounter some tough times out there this season. But if more good moments than bad show up early, his already-high confidence will continue to grow and that will help the entire KU defense.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
Number 4 on the list — and, no, we didn't pencil him into this position because he has the IV at the end of his name — is a player who could easily have the biggest impact of any Jayhawk on the defense.
A junior college transfer from Trinity Valley Community College, Bazie Bates IV not only brings good skills, size and confidence to the KU secondary but he's also stepping into a position that lost two starters from last year's squad in Cassius Sendish and Isaiah Johnson, both guys who played like long-time veterans.
Bates has some work to do to reach their level, but the physical ability is there.
Here's a look.
4. Bazie Bates IV, 6-foot-1, 186-pound Jr. Safety
It's not every year that a team is asked to replace all four starters in the secondary yet somehow comes away feeling OK about at least a few of the positions.
Credit juco transfer Bazie Bates for part of the reason the Jayhawks feel good about the crop of safeties they'll start the season with in 2015.
Known as a hard hitter and a tireless worker, Bates already has become a huge part of the KU defense, through his time with the team in the spring, summer and preseason camp.
One of Bates' biggest assets is his confidence. The guy simply believes he is a player and demonstrates that not by running his mouth and boasting anywhere he can but by playing hard and earning the respect of his teammates.
His experience as a cornerback at Trinity Valley CC gives him that extra layer of skill that turn him from your average safety surveying the field and looking for a play to come his way into a potentially huge part of this defense — and this season — because he is willing to go out and find a way to make a play.
I talked to Bates this spring about choosing the No. 24 and how he has some big shoes to fill given that former KU cornerback and sixth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, JaCorey Shepherd, wore that number the past couple of seasons (not to mention former KU safety Bradley McDougald, now making a name for himself with the Tampa Bay Bucs) and Bates said he liked that he was wearing a number that already had high expectations.
The guy is not afraid of anything and, with his natural athleticism and extreme confidence, his number and name are ones you can expect to hear called a lot this season.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
Just a few days after he officially was named this year's starter, it's time to check off the Kansas quarterback on our list of most crucial Jayhawks for 2015.
He's a name you're familiar with and one who has started — and even won — a few games during the past two seasons.
Here's a look.
6. Montell Cozart, 6-foot-2, 193-pound Jr. Quarterback
If we were certain that Cozart, who earlier this week was named the starter for the season opener for the second season in a row, would finish the season and start all 12 games, he definitely would be slotted in the No. 1 spot on this list.
But when you're talking about a program that has benched its QB mid-season for five consecutive years and a player who, himself, was benched five games into a season just one year ago, you have to at least consider the fact that he might not make it all the way through.
The hope inside the KU program is that the new offense, which in many ways was tailor-made for Cozart's strengths, will fit the junior from Bishop Miege so well that he'll look like a different player and have that KU offense humming again. The proof will be in the pudding, though, and we obviously need to see that happen before counting on it.
I've written before, though, that Cozart seems like a different guy. His maturity has kicked in and he is taking a much more business-like approach to this whole thing. That can't hurt.
He has the tools to be a big-time player — strong arm, great athleticism, solid speed and tremendous work ethic. Now he just needs to show that he's not afraid to take some hits and can be accurate with the pass in this new Air Raid offense.
His coaches and teammates seem to be very high on where he's at right now and Cozart himself, as he always has been, is full of confidence. If he can translate those things into good numbers, this offense might have a chance to be productive. If not, we might see true freshman Ryan Willis or juco transfer Deondre Ford before the season's over.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
By now, you've all surely heard that Kansas University junior Montell Cozart has been named the Jayhawks' starting quarterback for the 2015 season.
So what does this mean for the team, for Cozart, for first-year coach David Beaty and for the upcoming season, which kicks off 12 days from today at Memorial Stadium?
For the team, Cozart stepping under center to start the season provides a veteran presence that comes with eight starts and 14 appearances the past two seasons. A good chunk of that experience might be easy to forget, but it's still far more experience than anyone else on the roster brings and, at least right now, I think having that sort of steady hand at the game's most important position can help the rest of these new, unproven guys around him feel a little more comfortable out there.
For Cozart, heading into another season as the Jayhawks' starter gives him a chance at redemption. Cozart is a great teammate and he's all about what's best for the team, but getting benched last season during the fifth game of the year was a blow to his confidence and a blow to his pride. That's a thing of the past now and, rather than dwelling on it, Cozart is using it as motivation for this season. Having gone through that once, he knows now that he doesn't want to deal with that feeling again. Everything he's done this offseason was with that in mind. Whether it's enough to produce different results remains to be seen, but having that drive him definitely can't hurt.
For Beaty, the decision to go with Cozart will go down as his first big move as the Jayhawks' head coach. Granted, it doesn't take huge stones to pick an experienced veteran over a bunch of guys who have never played a down of Division I football, but given that it's the quarterback position and that KU fans were so down on Cozart after his performance through five games last season, it would've been easy for Beaty, who loves to be liked, to get ahead of himself and try to please people by picking one of the newcomers. He didn't. And he based the battle on who performed the best and who earned the job. That's a solid foundation from which a first-year head coach can build. And, whether Cozart at QB works out or not, it gives us a good look at how Beaty thinks.
Finally, as for how the pick of Cozart will impact the 2015 season, it's probably pretty irrelevant. For all the reasons mentioned above, Cozart seems to be the right choice and gives KU the best chance to have success on offense. But because of a lack of depth and so much unproven talent, it's harder than ever to say that one player will have a huge role in how many games the Jayhawks win or lose. True, the quarterback often has the biggest impact of any player on any roster. And, true, if you don't have a quarterback you shouldn't expect to win much. But this team doesn't figure to win much anyway, so why not give Cozart one last look to see if the new offense and a little maturity made him a different player. If the answer's yes, they might have their guy for next season. If the answer's no, then moving on from there won't be any harder anyway.
Based on the work he's put in, his veteran status and the fact that he proved to be the best of the bunch — most notably the most consistent — throughout fall camp, Cozart deserves the chance he's getting.
Now it's up to him to prove he's a different player than the one we've seen in the past.
Throughout the offseason, spring ball and preseason camp, one of the biggest buzz words surrounding Kansas football has been competition.
On Friday, during a practice that was split between the practice fields and the turf at Memorial Stadium, we got a heavy dose of competition from start to finish.
Whether guys were competing for balls during seven-on-seven type drills or new faces were working in new spots in an attempt to see how so and so would hold up with the ones or so and so would react to running with the twos, all kinds of competition was on full display during the 90-plus minutes the media was invited to watch.
We did not get to stay until the last Jayhawks left the field, but it looked like they were just working on ball security and cool down stuff when we were asked to leave. And it was incredibly valuable in the fact that it really gave us a good look at how certain guys compete and how far some guys have come since we saw them in the spring or on Day 1 of fall camp a little more than two weeks ago.
Here's a quick look at what caught my eye on a gorgeous Friday morning in LFK:
• It definitely looks like a two-man race for that starting QB job and I definitely think junior Montell Cozart is the clear leader. Deondre Ford keeps getting reps and opportunities with the second unit, but, overall, Cozart looks more consistent. During the seven-on-seven stuff in the stadium on Friday, the entire 20-30 minute session included Cozart and Ford with the ones and twos on one end of the field while freshmen Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis worked the same stuff at the other end of the field.
• Right after stretching and special teams stuff that opens practice, the Jayhawks went into their fast start offense vs. defense stuff and it was by far the most competitive I've seen it. On the first three snaps, the offense got the better of the D when Cozart hit freshman wideout Steven Sims with a perfect pass in the back corner of the end zone and Ford followed that up with a bullet over the middle to freshman tight end Jace Sternberger for another TD. On the next play, senior tailback De'Andre Mann slipped through the middle for a touchdown. All of the snaps were taken from the 8 yard line. From there, perhaps thanks to the barking of defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, the defense stiffened and turned the offense away on three consecutive snaps to end the period. The first was a run stuff. The second was an incompletion by Ford. And the third was an interception by freshman Tyrone Miller, who picked off Ford's pass for tight end Kent Taylor in the back of the end zone.
• Speaking of Bowen, I freakin' love how often he yells at the KU defensive backs to “MAKE A PLAY.” Every time the ball is in the air, Bowen truly believes one of those DBs should go get it. A lot of times they'll get there to break it up or create some chaos, which clearly is good, but Bowen is not truly happy unless they intercept it. That's a great standard to set and when it does happen, he lets everyone around know how happy he is. Then he moves on to the next play and forgets all about it. Good stuff.
• One interesting thing from an early QB drill came in the form of OC Rob Likens and head coach David Beaty both riding the QBs for not putting enough air under their passes on deep balls. Beaty had to jump in and stop the drill at one point to light the QBs up and Likens just kept yelling, “more air, more air.” One thing that jumped out about it the most was that both of them were emphasizing that they're not trying to throw 50-yard passes. In fact, Likens said 35 yards max. Just more proof that this offense figures to be about shorter passes to play makers in space and the quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly. No surprise there.
• Speaking of Steven Sims Jr., the 5-foot-10, 165-pound wideout from Travis High in Houston, we keep hearing his name thrown out by the coaches and it now seems abundantly clear that the young fella is going to play and play a lot. He might even be working his way into a starting role. His camp has been that good. He's so smooth in everything he does and looks almost like a veteran at times. The TD catch he made early on showed off his leaping ability and his routes are so smooth and his hands are so sure. He's No. 16 on offense. Get used to seeing him.
• Another young guy who looks like he's going to play right away is Kingfisher, Oklahoma tight end Jace Sternberger. He looks so athletic and, like Sims, so sure-handed. Sternberger worked some with the first team and his role will definitely increase if Kent Taylor or Ben Johnson were to miss time. But even if they don't, with this up-tempo offense, Sternberger will get his time on the field and it definitely looks like he's earned it. He's a great kid, too. One of my favorites from this recruiting class when I was talking to these guys back before they signed.
• Funny highlight from the seven-on-seven stuff: At one point when a team manager batted down a pass from one of KU's quarterbacks with a giant pad, linebackers coach Kevin Kane got so fired up he ran over and high-fived the manager like he was one of his defensive players who just made a play. I guess, in that case, he was.
• Beaty talked a little about this after practice but it definitely jumped out to me during practice — freshman linebacker Osaze Ogbebor is a bundle of effort and intensity. Beaty referred to him as a puppy dog with boundless energy and it shows up constantly at practice. Whether he's tipping a pass, battling for a break-up or diving to try to secure an interception he really has no shot at getting, Ogbebor is always moving and rarely caught standing still.
• Cornerback Brandon Stewart has had a great camp but I noticed one thing that he (and everyone else on the team) does not need to do. On a pass to the flat during seven-on-seven drills, the ball was clearly going to be incomplete and yet Stewart still wrapped his arm around the receiver's waist, even though it had no impact on the play. The official — in this case, director of high school relations Gene Wier — threw the flag. Although it didn't cost Stewart on Friday, those types of little mistakes could kill any hopes of KU competing if they keep happening during the season.
• UAB transfer Quincy Perdue, who looks like he's currently holding down a spot with the second team, may have emerged as the big body wideout this team needs to get the tough yards. On one third-down play during seven-on-seven stuff, Perdue ran a dig route and then fought back to the ball to make the catch. He battled three defenders in his area to come away with the catch and used his strong hands to rip the pass out of the air to complete the conversion.
• One thing that has really started to stand out about Beaty is how often he gives one-on-one attention to his players. He's never afraid to pull a guy aside for a quick one-on-one conversation and he always has the look of a coach who not only really cares but also really wants to get his point across and make sure the kid gets it. It's rarely loud and never done to show the kid up. And it comes after good plays just as much as it does after bad plays. That kind of attention is huge toward the buy-in that we've heard these guys talk so much about.
• Finally, one thing I really enjoyed seeing was offensive GA Connor Embree, a former KU wideout, working to get extra reps for the receivers between plays. Much like an extra outfielder who goes out between innings and warms up the left or right fielder, Embree was firing passes — today they were toward Bobby Hartzog — to the receivers in the drill while the offensive coaches or defensive coaches were making a quick adjustment. It wasn't much more than two or three throws at a time and it wasn't every time. But it was a perfect example of stealing reps and working when others aren't that Beaty and company have talked a lot about during camp.
• Another big scrimmage awaits the Jayhawks on Saturday. Tomorrow could be the day when some jobs are handed out and battles are decided. We're not invited but we get Beaty again on Monday, so hopefully we'll know more about some of these competitions real soon. Enjoy your weekends!
Thursday's practice started with a bit of patriotism for the Kansas University football team, as rear admiral Mark W. Darrah of the United States Navy spoke to the Jayhawks about leadership and the importance of operating as a team.
Although the guest speaker sounds like something that would be right up first-year coach David Beaty's alley, it was actually Darrah who requested the opportunity to address the Jayhawks.
Back in the area for a series of speaking engagements, the Shawnee Mission Northwest High and Ottawa University graduate reached out to Beaty about attending a practice and talking to the team while he was here.
“I thought it went well,” Darrah told the Journal-World at practice. “I just talked about the need to be a team and how having success isn't about the individual. I also told them that the tone that coach Beaty has set is the right tone.”
That tone, as has been well documented, is based on effort, discipline, accountability and energy. Lots and lots of energy.
Darrah, who was decked out in his white Naval uniform and given a pile of KU gear before he left practice, reminded the Jayhawks that in good times and bad their energy can mean a lot to a lot of people.
“There are people out there sitting on the edge of their seats bleeding with them and wanting them to win,” Darrah said. “Guys in combat zones all over the world are tuning in to see if their team is winning.”
Darrah, who will serve as an honorary captain at Friday's Kansas City Chiefs exhibition game, said the last message he wanted to leave the team centered on how a lot of the lessons he learned as a high school and college athlete helped pave the way for his decorated career.
“Some of these guys will wind up in the military after they're done playing here,” he said. “And hopefully they'll take the lessons they're learning today with them. I just spent a few minutes out there listening to (Beaty), but I can see it and hear it in his voice. He's got it.”
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye at Thursday's practice:
• I watched a pretty fun drill with OC Rob Likens and the quarterbacks for a little while. It was a simple one-man drill in which the QBs simulated a snap, executed a little zone read handoff and then rolled to their left to throw at a net with three targets. As they rolled out, Likens called out which target they were supposed to hit and then offered commentary on their throws. I didn't see any of the QBs actually hit any of the targets — top right, middle or bottom left — but there were plenty of throws that came close and Likens seemed to have a blast messing with them during and after the drill.
• Speaking of quarterbacks, Keaton Perry was wearing a Go-Pro camera on his helmet for Thursday's practice. We'll try to get ahold of some of the footage and post it here or in a different blog later. I'm sure it looks pretty cool.
• It's too hard to know what any of this meant, but there were some new tackles working with the first team offense during the fast-start, 11-on-11 action that unfolded right before we left. Clyde McCaulley (previously the back-up to Jordan Shelley-Smith) and walk-on Larry Hughes (the second string right tackle on Wednesday) played left and right tackle, respectively, with the first unit on Thursday. Shelley-Smith went through position drills at his normal spot earlier in the day so maybe this was just a way to give him a rest or a way to give these guys a chance to work with the lead group in case the need arises during the season. Either way, both dudes certainly looked decent as the first-string offense got the best of the D when they were out there. The winning play in the drill came on a sweet fade pass from Montell Cozart to Tre' Parmalee for 25 yards. On the next possession, Deondre Ford hit Quincy Perdue for a first down to the give the offense back-to-back victories in the drill before the defense stood tall and sacked Cozart in Round 3 (don't worry, no actual hitting was done) and forced a drop by tight end Kent Taylor on a very good looking throw by Ford in Round 4.
• Speaking of Cozart and Parmalee, the Bishop Miege connection appears to be alive and well with those two former Stags. Cozart looks for Parmalee a lot, which makes sense given the fact that Parmalee is often open, runs reliable routes and catches everything throw his way. I know Parmalee isn't going to excite the masses, but he may turn out to be a solid contributor this season based on his veteran status and tireless work ethic alone.
• It's a 10 a.m. practice on Friday and the media is invited to attend the entire thing. We'll be out there so look for an extended practice recap tomorrow afternoon sometime.
Entering the offseason, the identity of the player who would lead KU football in receiving during the 2015 season was a huge mystery and a tough question to answer.
It might not be quite as difficult any more.
Thanks to the addition of Virginia Tech transfer Joshua Stanford, who has stood out in preseason camp for his play, polish and poise, gave KU a proven player who had been through the rigors of college football Saturdays before.
Stanford certainly is no lock to lead the Jayhawks in receiving — mostly because the position has so many other bodies — but he is the most experienced player in a young group and his performance in camp has turned plenty of heads.
Here's a little deeper look:
8. Joshua Stanford, 6-foot-1, 200-pound Jr. Wide Receiver
If they handed out nicknames after just a couple of weeks, the Virginia Tech transfer might be given the moniker Joshua “All Business” Stanford.
All he has done since arriving on campus this summer is elevate the look of the KU receiving corps with his intense work ethic, impeccable route running, strong hands and solid understanding of what it takes to play and produce at this level.
Injuries cost him half of the 2014 season at Va. Tech, where he logged more than 200 snaps at wideout and played in six games and made three starts.
So far his addition to the roster has helped the Jayhawks' young and unproven receiving corps by giving the rest of the group a quality leader who has produced at a high level. First-year KU coach David Beaty said Stanford's skill might only be surpassed by his character and leadership ability and, by all accounts, he is a quiet guy who has no interest in beating his chest or talking about himself. He's here to play for the team and for his faith and he's going to work as hard as possible to make both proud.
Having already graduated from Virginia Tech, Stanford has two years of eligibility remaining and, according to Beaty, should make an immediate impact and help the KU passing game right away, big numbers or not.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
They don't make days like Wednesday in August in Kansas very often and the Kansas University football team benefited from the beautiful conditions big time.
Just over the midway point of preseason camp, KU on Wednesday ran through its 12th day of camp and 14th practice at the turf fields next to Memorial Stadium.
A crew of referees was on hand to officiate the scrimmage that closed practice (we weren't able to stick around for that) and things were particularly spirited in the fast-start offense-versus-defense period that followed the special teams work.
The first-team offense outdid the defense in the first series, with Montell Cozart hitting Ke'aun Kinner out of the backfield for a short pass to convert a first down.
And the defense, which stopped the offense on four out of five plays, got the better of the battle when the second unit was out there.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye:
• It's cool to see all of the coaches walking through the line high-fiving players and getting them mentally ready for practice during stretching and warm-ups. This isn't entirely uncommon, as both of the previous staffs had guys do this every day. But this staff has every coach doing it and that seems a little rare.
• Offensive coordinator Rob Likens outed himself as a Montell Jordan fan, as he broke into a hip little dance while scribbling down practice notes when Jordan's “This Is How We Do It” came on the loud speaker. If we're doing a Dancing with the Coaches theme here, I'd give Likens a solid 7 for the moves which he cut short to focus on the notes.
• Here's a quick sign of progress: During the punt return drill this spring, the coaches constantly had to remind the up men both before and during the live reps to yell to the blockers in front of them “caught it, caught it, caught it.” Today, they didn't have to do that once. Not only were the guys yelling — loudly — but they didn't have to be reminded to do it once. It's a little detail, but those things can add up big time and are at least an indication that things are being taught and retained.
• No real shake up with the two-deep at offensive line, though there was one new name in the group. The first string remained the same and went like this (from left to right): Jordan Shelley-Smith, Bryan Peters, Keyon Haughton, D'Andre Banks and Larry Mazyck. The second team (from left to right): Clyde McCaulley, Jacob Bragg, Joe Gibson, Jayson Rhodes and Larry Hughes. Rhodes moved from tackle to guard and Hughes, the other “Big Larry” was a new addition to the two-deep. Who knows if that was just a one-time thing to try him out or if he's earned that spot but it's worth noting.
• South Carolina transfer Marcquis Roberts, who came to KU with injury concerns, looked good again on Wednesday and really showed his leadership skills. He's loud, intense and does not seem to care that he's been in Lawrence for just a handful of weeks. It looks as if he understands that the KU defense needs a strong presence in the middle and he's willing to be that presence.
• During the offense-defense fast start period, it was very evident that KU's defensive front is going to fly to the football in running situations. All six guys really chased the play and tried to stretch things out. It worked a handful of times and they were also gashed once by Ke'aun Kinner, who looked impressive running inside because of his quick footwork and barely noticeable change of direction.
• We'll try to find out how today's scrimmage went during our interviews tomorrow. The Jayhawks jump back out there Thursday afternoon for practice No. 15 and then we're welcome to watch the entire 10 a.m. practice on Friday. For those who might have been wondering, media access to practice on Tuesday was cancelled during the day. That's why there was no What Caught My Eye report from yesterday and also why we're getting extended time on Friday. I'll take it.
We'll stick with offense as we jump into the Top 10 of this year's summer series, where a true freshman at one of KU's deepest positions cracks the list.
It's a little early to know exactly what kind of role he'll have and player he'll be, but given the nature of the position he plays and his raw skills, it's easy to see how Taylor Martin could be very important to this team during his first season in Lawrence.
Here's a look:
9. Taylor Martin, 5-foot-10, 180-pound Fr. Running Back
Running back, for the past few seasons, has been not only one of the most productive and talented positions on the Kansas football roster but also one of the deepest.
That again appears to be the case this season, with veterans Taylor Cox and De'Andre Mann returning to a backfield that includes juco transfer Ke'aun Kinner and Wichita State transfer Ryan Schadler.
And then there's true freshman Taylor Martin. The blazing fast back from Dallas' Dunbar High might not start the season atop the depth chart, but with his solid frame, good vision and track speed, there's definitely a chance that he could factor into the Jayhawks' run game before the season is finished.
Martin rushed for 1,500 or more yards during each of his final three seasons at Dunbar. He added 71 touchdowns during that time. Fast like Kinner and tough like Mann and Cox, Martin could win up getting some regular work in the backfield at a position that typically uses three or four backs during a season because of the pounding that running backs take series after series and game after game.
Martin lands on this list simply because of the injury history of Mann and Cox, who both have Big 12 playing experience but also are both coming off of injuries that cost them valuable time during the 2014 season.
If Mann and Cox are able to make it through the season, Martin could very well wind up a red-shirt candidate. But if the need arises for another back to get into the mix, Martin could wind up with a very important role in the Jayhawks' offense.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015: