Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
With six minutes left in Saturday's 31-14 victory over South Dakota and my mind starting to spin toward the upcoming deadline and all of the work that begins after the final horn sounds, I hit Twitter with a quick assessment of KU's season opener.
The exercise was simple and took about 10 seconds. After all, there was still live action to cover. So, without giving it too much thought, I handed out the following school-style letter grades for the KU football performance in six categories: Run Game (A), Pass Game (B), Run Defense (C+), Pass Defense (C), Special Teams (A+) and Overall (B-).
After looking back at the facts and stats and thinking more critically about how KU's opener unfolded, I decided I would tweak those grades a little. I also concluded that I would stick with most of them. And, as I waded through all of the “What game were you watching” comments I received on Twitter in the 12-20 hours following the game, the one thing that I kept asking myself was this: What were these people expecting?
I understand that South Dakota was an FCS team that the Jayhawks should have and could have beaten by more than 17 points. I also understand that there were plenty of elements of the opener that downright stunk. But there were also quite a few good signs, too. And to focus only on the negatives while disregarding the positives seems, at least to me, a little short-sighted and unrealistic. USD may have been an FCS team that most FBS schools would've handled with ease, but the Jayhawks were just a few months removed from a 1-11 season and, in their own right, are still very much a work in progress. Those grades (along with the ones I settled on, which you'll see a little farther down the page) were given out with a curve that took into account improvement from a season ago and reality.
With that in mind, here's a quick recap of how I saw it and what my grades meant.
Note: Please realize that what you're about to read is the reasoning behind my initial grades followed by a slightly modified version of a couple of them. I know some people just like to skim the bold print and then comment.
Run Game: A — No doubt in my mind that I'm sticking with this one. KU's offense line was physical all night and opened up solid running lanes for KU's stable of backs, which pounded away for 289 yards on 43 carries. If anything, the running game was not used enough and if they had leaned on it a little more, the spread might have been larger.
Pass Game: B — This one I'd change. I stand behind my belief that junior quarterback Jake Heaps deserved a B for his opening night performance. Heaps looked confident, in control, put his passes on the money and played smart throughout the night. What I failed to account for at the time of my Tweet was the fact that there's more to grading a passing game than just how the QB played. The wide receivers and tight ends also have to factor in and, for the most part, they left quite a bit to be desired. I thought the pass protection was OK, but it, too, can get better. I'd probably go C- in my revised grading of the passing game as a whole.
Run D: C+ – This is another one I'd lower. I thought USD quarterback Josh Vander Maten found far too much running room and the Coyotes' two-headed monster of tailbacks also ran well. Thinking back, KU coach Charlie Weis said last Tuesday that the offensive line was one of USD's strengths and, with nearly all five starters having solid experience and standing 6-5, 300 or better, I don't think the run defense was much worse than expected. I'd change this one to a C- as well.
Pass D: C – I'm not sure I'd change this a whole lot, if at all. Vander Maten completed just eight passes for 67 yards and faced a lot of pressure off both off the edge and up the middle, some of which led to a chunk of his rushing total. Beyond that, I thought KU defensive backs Victor Simmons, Dexter McDonald and Dexter Linton were among KU's best performers all night. The only bad play I can think of came on that third-and-19 early in the fourth quarter, when a USD wide receiver crept behind the secondary for a 37-yard gain and a first down. Get off the field there and the Jayhawks probably win 31-7, a margin that, no doubt, would've made several Jayhawk fans a lot happier today.
Special Teams: A+ – Not touching this one. Remember, my grades were based on a curve that took into account improvement from a season ago and reality. By that standard, every special teams unit was vastly improved and both the team and KU fans should be thrilled by what they saw.
Overall: B- – I think a straight C is probably a better overall assessment of the Jayhawks' opening-night performance and I'm sure if I had just said that on Twitter, most people would not have bothered to respond. I get that now. Next time, I'll wait until the game's over and I can better digest the total picture to pass out my grades. But, as you can, I didn't change them that much.
Like it or hate it, this is just one guy's opinion. But I do believe that first-game jitters/nerves and rust are both valid reasons for some of last Saturday's miscues. So now it's time to see what kind of improvement last Saturday's Jayhawks can make in time for this Saturday's huge match-up at Rice.
I've worked at the Journal-World since July 2007 and been covering KU football, at least in some fashion, since 2008, which means I've been making picks on college football games — at least on the record — for the past five seasons.
During a couple of those years I finished with the best record of our entire staff and during the others I finished, well, without the best record.
Win or lose, it's always been fun to put my picks down on paper for our KUsports.com readers to praise or mock and, until recently, I thought it was only a few readers who mocked my picks. Turns out, there's a guy in our office, who sits a mere 8 feet away from me, who also thinks my picks are soft and always have been.
I learned this when we found out recently that our beloved KUSports.com picks were in jeopardy because the guy who usually runs them, Jesse Newell, is busy tracking our Pro Football picks contest (it's new this year and you should totally sign up) and can't keep tabs on both. That's when sports editor Tom Keegan, a man who's never backed away from a showdown or a dessert table, called me out and said we should do a one-on-one, battle of the generations picks challenge ourselves this year.
As we did before, we'll keep a running tally of our records throughout the season and, because it's just the two of us, we'll pick 10 games each weekend (every Big 12 game and a few others) and report back each week with a little banter that should make it interesting, if not outright ridiculous. A bonus victory will be awarded for any game in which one of us picks the correct score.
We'll inevitably wind up playing for something but we haven't pinned that down just yet. Could be strokes on the golf course, desk cleaning duties at the office or dessert from any number of Lawrence eateries.
Regardless of what we settle on, it's bragging rights we're both after.
So, with KU set to kick off the 2013 season vs. South Dakota at 6 pm tonight, here's the first installment of our teacher-vs.-pupil picks battle.
Week 1 Games:
Kansas vs. South Dakota
Oklahoma vs. West Virginia
BYU vs. Texas
Kansas State vs. Louisiana Lafayette
Texas Tech vs. Stephen F. Austin
Baylor vs. Buffalo
Oklahoma State vs. Texas-San Antonio
TCU vs. Southeastern Louisiana
Michigan vs. Notre Dame
Miami vs. Florida
Off the wall question: What's the coolest sports venue you've ever been to?
Kansas 45, South Dakota 13
Oklahoma 33, West Virginia 14
Texas 42, BYU 20
Kansas State 27, Louisiana Lafayette 17
Texas Tech 48, Stephen F. Austin 28
Baylor 63, Buffalo 10
Oklahoma State 41, Texas-San Antonio 19
TCU 45, Southeastern Louisiana 7
Michigan 30, Notre Dame 21
Florida 24, Miami 23
Answer: I've enjoyed watching sports at a number of great places and feel like I could pick any one of the classics here and be safe. Wrigley Field. Yankee Stadium. Rosenblatt Stadium for the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., for a Nebraska football game. All of those, and many others, would be worthy picks, but I'm going with one that's near and dear to my roots: Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo. The stadium is fantastic and I love the ramped end zone on the south side. But the setting behind it is what makes it my favorite. Boulder's famed Flatirons mountains are visible from many parts of Folsom and they hover over the stadium in the distance, making this place as picture-esque as it gets.
Kansas 41, South Dakota 10
Oklahoma 41, West Virginia 17
Texas 31, BYU 24
Kansas State 31, Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Texas Tech 55, Stephen F. Austin 21
Baylor 56, Buffalo 14
Oklahoma State 48, Texas-San Antonio 14
TCU 49, Southeastern Louisiana 10
Notre Dame 28, Michigan 24
Florida 28, Miami 21
Answer: Since I refuse to pander to the audience, I won't say Allen Fieldhouse. I'll say Estadio Universitario in Caracas, Venezuela, home of the city's popular baseball team, Leones del Caracas." The Spanish I learned from Seniorita Hess at Marquette came flooding back to me on that 1994 day when I needed to ask what would be the safest way to walk from where the cab dropped me to the stadium entrance. Students protesting the city's decision to hike bus fares were shooting bullets in the direction of the cops. I was told if I crossed the street I should be safe, so I crossed the street. The crowd was super into every pitch and it wasn't long before I figured out why. Many of the spectators at the sold-out stadium that holds 25,690 were making ball-strike wagers on the pitches, as well as bets on whether the team on the field would get out of the jam without letting in a run, etc.
By now, you've surely all heard that the Kansas University football team's first-string defensive line will be made up of four players who have been in the program for at least a year.
Saturday night, when the Jayhawks take the field for the season opener against South Dakota — 6 p.m. at Memorial Stadium — veterans Kevin Young and Keba Agostinho will handle the end spots, second-year Jayhawk Keon Stowers will start at nose guard and third-year sophomore Ben Goodman will be KU's top Buck, the hybrid defensive end/linebacker position.
No Marquel Combs. No Ty McKinney. No Andrew Bolton. And, of course, no Chris Martin.
Three of those four newcomers whom many believed would make up the starting front four when KU signed them last winter are still with the program but only two of them figure to play this season. Martin was dismissed from the team after a run-in with the law in May and Bolton is expected to red-shirt so he can get 100 percent healthy in time for 2014.
I know there's some disappointment from KU fans over the fact that Combs — the No. 1 ranked juco player in his class according to ESPN.com — is not in the starting lineup, but I don't think the book on Combs' career as a Jayhawk has been anywhere close to written yet.
If anything, the fact that Combs starts the season as a second-stringer behind Stowers should be encouraging for KU fans not discouraging. The idea when Combs was signed was for him to come in and upgrade the defensive line and the pass rush immediately, which, based on the way the line had played the past couple of seasons, seemed like an automatic.
But a funny thing happened between the West Virginia game that ended 2012 and the end of fall camp in August of 2013. Agostinho and Young, both seniors, got healthy, got angry and got serious about not letting someone take their spots during their final seasons of college football.
That's a good thing. After all, these guys have combined for 69 appearances and 36 starts during the past three seasons. And, sure, that experience came on some pretty bad defenses but, good, bad or indifferent, experience is among the most important factors in college football and these guys have it.
We don't know yet how productive either player will be this season. But we do know this: KU coach Charlie Weis plays the guys who deserve to play, the guys who look the best, work the hardest and give the Jayhawks the best chance to win. And he stays that way from week to week, which means that if Combs or McKinney or anyone else listed with the second team or lower outshines the others on game day, they'll begin to see more snaps as the season moves along.
Obviously, Combs has not done enough in practice or in the film room to convince the coaches that he's worthy of a spot on the first team. At least not yet. But what if that's because the games have not been played yet and the part of the season that really counts has not yet begun? What if Combs simply is a gamer, a guy who looks OK in practice but wows everybody when the lights come on? If that's the case, he'll play plenty and, whether he starts or not, will hardly matter.
It's hard to know what to expect, but my gut tells me that what I just described is exactly what Marquel is.
The best news? We'll find out in just a couple of days.
It's game week. Finally. And after watching most of the rest of the college football world open its season last week — pretty wild that North Dakota State spoiled a season opener for another Sunflower State team on Saturday night, eh? — the Kansas University football team gets to join the action this week.
In the next few days, as our access to KU coach Charlie Weis and the players who will determine the outcome of the season opens up again, we'll analyze the match-up with South Dakota — 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium — and examine just how ready the Jayhawks seem for their second season under Weis.
For now, though, while we wait for that and the game, I figured I'd give you a quick look at the Top 13 things I'm looking forward to finding out about the 2013 Kansas football team.
1. Can Tony play like Tavon? — We all know that Weis studied tons of film of former West Virginia star Tavon Austin. And we also know that KU junior Tony Pierson is lightning fast and insanely electric with the ball in his hands. So how will the East St. Louis, Ill., native be used this season? Slot? Wide? Backfield? Running Back? Deep Threat? All of the above? I know we won't — or at least shouldn't — see too much of the answer to this question in Week 1, but it sure will be fun to track as the season progresses.
2. Does King James keep his reign? — James Sims has led the Jayhawks in rushing for three straight seasons and during each season, somebody else was supposed to be the reason the Irving, Texas, native came back to the pack. He never has. Will Sims, who has an NFL future and a shot a KU's all-time rushing title, continue to be the man in the KU backfield or will the other KU backs share a significant portion of the load?
3. The emergence of Ben Goodman — When it became final that Chris Martin had been booted from the team, I could not help but think what a huge blow that was to the Kansas defense. But then I watched fall camp and saw sophomore Ben Goodman up close and personal and started to think that maybe the Buck position will be all right after all. Based on the conversations I had with the KU players and coaches, I think Goodman is poised for a monster year and will make the loss of Martin a lot easier to take.
4. What about that secondary? — Is this, with Kevin Short, Dexter McDonald, Cassius Sendish, Brandon Hollomon and JaCorey Shepherd blanketing opposing wide receivers, finally the year that we don't have to watch the KU D-Backs give 10-to-15 yard cushions at the line of scrimmage?
5. Can they kick it? — Weis brought in a whole bunch of new kickers during the offseason and Matthew Wyman, the walk-on who appears to have won the place kicking job, looked great during the preseason. But will Wyman be able to trot onto the field on fourth-and-eight from the 28-yard line and knock a 45-yarder through the uprights? And, perhaps more importantly, will he be able to do it with the kind of consistency that keeps Weis from thinking twice in those kinds of situations?
6. Will the No. 9 jersey be next season's hot seller? — If so, that'll likely be because junior quarterback Jake Heaps had a fantastic 2013 season and won the hearts of many KU fans. I like Heaps. I love his demeanor, I think he's very talented and, more important than that, I think his teammates and coaches think he is as well. By the time it's all said and done, I think Heaps has what it takes to be on one of the all-Big 12 postseason squads in December.
7. What about that offensive line? — Weis is on record saying he thinks the offensive line could be better in terms of physicality and toughness, but the Jayhawks are being asked to replace a ton of experience with Tanner Hawkinson, Trevor Marrongelli and Duane Zlatnik gone from the lineup. Heaps will only be as effective as his line allows him to be, and because of that Aslam Sterling, Ngalu Fusimalohi, Pat Lewandowski, Mike Smithburg and Zach Fondal are among the most important players on the entire roster.
8. How long until a wide receiver catches a touchdown? — As bad as KU's passing game was in 2012, I'm still amazed every time I think about that stat that showed that no KU wide receivers caught a touchdown pass all of last season. That's just incredible. I don't think there's any way KU comes anywhere close to matching that stat in 2013, but the entire offense likely would breathe a serious sigh of relief if that bagel in the TD column disappears sooner rather than later.
9. How fast can KU's fast-break defense be? — It's no secret that KU spent much of the offseason reshaping its defense to be better equipped to keep up with the high-octane offenses in the Big 12. But can the Jayhawks actually play as fast as they'll be asked to play with so many new faces on the field and the majority of the defensive coaching staff signaling in from the sideline on Saturdays?
10. What will this team's identity be? — Last year's Jayhawks, which were better than their 1-11 record indicated, became known as a team that would fight like mad until the final horn week in and week out but never really carried the confidence it took to win in the Big 12. So what will this year's team be known for? With so many new players who bear confidence as their middle name, will the 2013 Jayhawks add a little swagger to that never-say-die mentality?
11. Who will be this year's big surprise? — Last year, sophomore linebacker Ben Heeney certainly walked away with this award, as he went from a special teams guy who couldn't get a look on defense to the third-leading tackler in the Big 12 Conference. The rugged and relentless Heeney won't surprise anyone this year, but, inevitably, someone will. Early favorites to take the honor in 2013 include: WR Rodriguez Coleman, LB Samson Faifili and S Isaiah Johnson.
12. Will the Jayhawks pull of a big upset? — Last season, the overmatched Jayhawks took Texas to the final seconds and Texas Tech to double-overtime on the road. Will this year's squad have that one game where it plays out of its mind and shocks one of the Big 12 powers?
13. Will the Jayhawks roll in Week 1? — I've always thought that you can tell a lot about a team in the opener when it's facing an opponent that it should dominate. The Rice game in Week 2 will be huge for the big picture of KU's season, but I think we'll get a pretty good indication of how things will go based off of the Week 1 result against South Dakota. If KU rolls to an easy victory in the 41-10 range or something similar, it will be a good sign that significant progress has been made. But if the Jayhawks struggle and win 31-17 (like they did against South Dakota State in 2012) or 42-24 (like they did against McNeese State in 2011), I'm a firm believer that it could be a sign of things to come. Sure, you can chalk up a closer-than-expected contest in the opener to nerves or rust, but when a team is superior in just about every area — as appears to be the case with KU vs. USD — anything less than a comfortable clobbering will be cause for concern.
So what does it all mean? I learned a long time ago that making predictions based on players you have or haven't seen is a dangerous business, but what's wrong with living dangerously from time to time? Everyone wants to know — or guess — how many games KU can win in 2013 and, with the season opener less than a week away, now is as good a time as any for me to toss out my best guess.
I've got the Jayhawks finishing 5-7 this season with victories over South Dakota, Rice, La. Tech, Texas Tech and West Virginia and losses to Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State, TCU and Kansas State.
You know what they say about a team that wins five games, though, right? If you can get to five, you can get to six. Who knows? But whether I'm close to right or horribly wrong, I do think this is going to be a very entertaining season and I'm looking forward to covering it.
Let the games begin.
As hard as it is to believe it's already here, the Kansas University football program's fall camp wrapped up Friday and the Jayhawks are now headed into full preparation mode for the 2013 season.
What that entails are two different weeks of preparation for Week 1, Sept. 7 vs. South Dakota at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
The first week, Sunday through Friday, will be what KU coach Charlie Weis called “a dress rehearsal.” The Jayhawks will go through the entire week as if they were playing a game on Saturday. That way, the newcomers will get a feel for what it's like and the veterans will get a quick refresher. The goal is that both will dial up their focus that little bit extra.
After that it will actually be game week. Most of the college football world opens next weekend, but the Jayhawks have an opening-week bye this year. Their other bye is in late September between the non-conference and Big 12 portions of their schedule, but, if you ask me, they got lucky having the first week off. It gives Weis and his staff just a little more time to get all of these new faces ready for what's ahead.
With that in mind, I figured now was as good a time as any to throw up my best guess at the post-camp, two-deep depth chart for this year's Jayhawks. I was out at practice whenever they allowed us to be this month, which proved to be a very helpful tool in predicting the depth chart. In addition to seeing the players live and up close, I also saw two full practices, which gave me a better look at who was competing where, who was playing hardest and how the reps were divided up.
I'm sure some of this is incorrect, but, based on what I've seen and been able to gather from talking with the players and coaches, here's how I see things shaping up two weeks away from the season opener.
Weis will release the real version on Sept. 3, which, if how fast August flew by is any indication, will be here before we know it.
– OFFENSE –
Darrian Miller/Taylor Cox
- DEFENSE –
– SPECIAL TEAMS –
Just a couple of quick notes explaining some of my thinking:
• Weis said on Friday that Combs was not yet a starter, that's why I put him second team on the inside.
• I didn't see a ton of kick return drills during the past few weeks and Weis said they're still looking over things there, so those guesses may be way off.
• Sendish at nickel is the preferred position for him, but if they needed to I don't think the staff would hesitate to slide him in at safety.
• Assistant DBs coach Scott Vestal told me recently that Brandon Hollomon was gonna play a lot and that he's one of the top flat-out competitors on the roster.
• Cummings gets the nod over Cozart behind Heaps because we heard he had a solid camp and he has the experience edge. But Weis raved about Cozart during his press conference on Friday so he may still be in the mix in some way, shape or form.
• Even though I've got Faifili ahead of Love at Will LB, I think both will play a ton.
• So many of these positions have solid rotations in place, particularly on defense, which is good considering Dave Campo recently said that, when you're facing offenses that play 90-plus snaps in a single game, you can't just play two corners or two linebackers the whole game, you've gotta have depth. And it looks like KU has more of it now than at any point during the past three or four seasons.
Friday morning marked the start of the final day of fall camp and the final day of media access to practice for the 2013 season.
With that in mind, I tried to treat the 20 minutes I was out there as more of a retrospective session and did my best to try to remember what guys looked like on Day 1 of camp on Aug. 8 and what they look like today.
Everything was on the table for this exercise, as I tried to examine who changed physically as well as who changed mentally. Because so many of these guys came into camp in excellent shape, dissecting the physical aspect was tougher, but there were a couple of guys that stood out nonetheless.
• One of the biggest gainers, in my opinion, was right tackle Zach Fondal. Fondal not only looks to be in better physical condition than when he got here, but he also looks much more comfortable in his surroundings – almost like a veteran in some ways. I've heard that Fondal's a pretty straight forward kind of guy, so his progress is not all that surprising and definitely a good sign. At least from what I saw, he worked with the ones throughout camp and I think it's important to remember — as everyone wonders about the future of Pearce Slater — that Fondal is a juco guy himself and has played his share of football. If he is the starting right tackle, it's not like they're plugging in a freshman over there. Still, though, there's a lot of time remaining between now and the first game to sort that all out.
• Another guy is one who has not received much mention this month — safety Tevin Shaw. I remember being wildly impressed by Shaw's physical make-up last year at this time and although he does not look much bigger, he looks much more toned and cut and seems to be a lot more confident out there in everything from footwork to running through the drills. It'll be interesting to see what his role is this year. Remember, this was a guy who moved over from running back after committing to KU. Probably a good move.
• Juco transfer Isaiah Johnson seems so solid and so polished in so many ways that I almost failed to mention him during this camp. Luckily, he caught my eye today. He has great size, seems very confident and puts off the vibe that he knows what he's doing at all times. But the biggest thing I noticed about him today is his burst. He goes from 0-60 in a hurry. One minute he can be jogging and the next he'll be at top speed. Pretty impressive. And certainly something I would think coaches would want from their safeties.
• In all, I made it out there for every open practice this month and was able to watch two entire sessions, last Friday during an open practice for the media and last Saturday during fan appreciation day. Although many of the things we saw were the same each day — stretching, individual and positional drills, etc. — the opportunity to see these guys not only up close and personal but also for a consistent and extended period of time really gave me a good feel for who can do what physically and which guys were all-business, better leaders, class clowns, etc. I tried to bring you as much of that as I could throughout the month and am sure that having that information stored somewhere in my brain will aid me in my coverage of this team this season.
• My final camp thoughts are this: It's easy for guys to say they're working harder than any other college football team in the country and I'm sure at least 90 percent of the teams out there think that's true. But it's another thing altogether to go out there and back that up. It didn't matter if it was bright and early at 9 a.m. or in the hot sun of the afternoon, these guys, for the most part, went out there and busted their butts every day. Part of the credit for that goes to Charlie Weis and his coaching staff and strength coach Scott Holsopple, and part of the credit goes to the players themselves who seem to realize that playing college football is a privelege and a rare opportunity that most people don't get. I did not see many of them — if any — taking it for granted and I really get the sense that these guys are tired of the losing and want to do whatever their bodies will allow to get things turned around. How that attitude translates into performance and wins on the field remains to be seen. But fans of the program should know that their guys flat-out worked this offseason.
KU will practice again this afternoon and then continue practice next week before jumping into full game-prep mode for South Dakota the following week. Because of that, I won't be out there like I have been this month but I will still be at every possible media opportunity and our entire KUsports.com staff will bring you the best coverage possible throughout the upcoming season.
It was business as usual on the practice field for the Kansas University football team this morning.
But a person standing on the sidelines watching made this morning's session unique.
T.J. Millweard, a red-shirt freshman quarterback at UCLA who has decided to leave southern California, was in town on an unofficial visit and appears to be considering Kansas as his next destination.
According to reports, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound former three-star QB who ranked as the 23rd best quarterback in the country in the 2012 recruiting class, has decided to leave UCLA to finish his career at a school closer to his hometown. Millweard went to high school in Fort Worth, Texas, but also lived in Kansas City for some of his life and has family members with ties to this area.
Millweard sat out the 2012 season and will have to sit out the 2013 season after transferring. Wherever he ends up, he'll have three years of eligibility remaining following the transfer year.
Here are a couple of recent updates on his decision to leave UCLA:
Here's a look at the rest of what caught my eye at Wednesday morning's practice:
• Found myself looking over the offensive line again and, although we've talked a lot about Pearce Slater and Zach Fondal, I want to give Brian Beckmann and Joey Bloomfield their due, as well. Those two young guys have legit size and look to be in very good shape. It's hard to know how much they will impact the O-Line in 2013, but you can bet that both are a big part of KU's suddenly bright future on the offensive line.
• I noticed that newly named scholarship athlete Connor Embree, a wide receiver last season and in the mix for kick return duties this season, spent most of the morning working with the running backs. Embree is listed with the third string at the F position behind Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon, so it makes sense that he would be over there working with Bourbon, who continues to look really sharp as camp comes to a close.
• Both the running backs and wide receivers spent some significant time working on getting off of press coverage at the line of scrimmage today. Guys were beat up with pads as they broke out of their stances and were taught to use their arms to keep defenders' bodies, hands and arms off of them as they tried to get into their routes.
• With just one more practice session to view remaining before KU goes into preparation for the upcoming season mode, I thought it would be wrong if I didn't point out how much I enjoy how many of these coaches get down and work with their players during drills. Clint Bowen, Buddy Wyatt, Scott Holsopple, Ron Powlus, Scott Vestal, Jeff Blasko and several others, put all they've got into making these guys better every day. Sometimes, especially with Bowen, it looks like they could still be out there playing. It remains to be seen how much all of this work will pay off but there's no question that this football team and the entire coaching staff have worked their butts off this offseason to try to get things turned around.
No media availability tomorrow, as that's faculty appreciation day. Then, we'll wrap things up Friday morning with one more look at the team on the field. After that, the countdown to Sept. 7 can officially begin.
He may not have been wearing full pads like the rest of his KU teammates, but cornerback Kevin Short was at today's practice.
Short, a juco transfer from Fort Scott C.C., has been waiting all summer to get to Lawrence and doing a solid job of keeping people updated on his progress through Twitter.
He arrived in Lawrence on Monday night and went through his first practice Tuesday afternoon. He'll be in shells for the next two days and then will suit up in full pads starting Friday.
Although he did not go full speed and full contact in everything he did on Tuesday, Short still showed plenty in the way of athleticism to get a decent read on what type of player he is.
First of all, he's one of those guys who just looks like a natural athlete. Long, lean, with long arms and a solid frame, he looks to me like the kind of guy who could be a difference maker. I watched him in some individual drills, too, and those revealed that he's got quick feet, moves his hips and changes direction well and looks pretty effortless while doing it.
It'll be interesting to see how quickly he can get up to speed on the KU defense and what kind of role he can have when the season opener rolls around in a little over two weeks.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye at Tuesday's practice:
• Chalk this up in the good news category, juco offensive lineman Zach Fondal looks like a different player than he did when he arrived a few weeks ago. In addition to continuing to work with the first team O-Line at right tackle, Fondal has trimmed down and toned up and is starting to look more and more athletic and comfortable each day.
• Speaking of the O-Line, it's just pre-practice drills, but the same five guys have been running those together for the past several practices. It may be too soon to tell if any of those battles have been won but it would not surprise me if they had. From left to right, it goes: LT Aslam Sterling, LG Ngalu Fusimalohi, C Pat Lewandowski; RG Mike Smithburg, RT Zach Fondal. The group running immediately behind those guys includes: LT Gavin Howard, LG Randall Dent, C Dylan Admire, RG Bryan Peters and RT Brian Beckmann.
• Christian Matthews and Josh Ford ran early drills with the No. 1 offense again on Tuesday, with Justin McCay and Tre' Parmalee running with the second team. Ford is a good athlete with great size who could be an interesting option at the X spot for KU this season, whether he's with the first team or second team.
• One local note to point out, offensive lineman Jamal Brown, a Lawrence High graduate and the son of former KU great Gilbert Brown, has dropped a few pounds throughout camp and continues to work hard. Brown still has a ways to go to get to the point where he could be in the mix, but the mere fact that he's still out there working is cool to see. He's probably dropped 10-15 pounds during camp.
• Finally, a musical note to send you off with. While the team was stretching, with the music blaring over the loud speaker, a song came on that popped linebacker Samson Faifili out of his stance and into scream and bounce mode. The song, “Let's Do It Again” by J Boog had a very island flavor to it and got both Faifili and Fusimalohi pretty fired up. Always cool to see the human, non-football side of these guys.
*Note: Day 11 of fall camp was Sunday but it was not open to the media, that's why this blog skips from Day 10 to Day 12.*
It looked like Medicine Ball Monday out at the KU practice fields this morning, as three different position groups used different sizes of medicine balls during pre-practice drills.
The offensive linemen used them to practiced what appeared to be cut blocks; the defensive backs used them to simulate getting off blockers and scooping up fumbles; and the linebackers used them for what looked like some kind of footwork drill.
This morning marked the start of Day 4 of five scheduled two-a-day practices and it was another incredibly pleasant morning weather-wise. With temperatures expected to climb back into the 90s throughout the week, these guys are going to have their hands full in terms of dealing with the heat. Some years 90s would sound good in August but this year that's going to seem like the 100s since we've been working with 70s and 80s throughout the month.
Today also begins the final week of fall camp, with the Jayhawks scheduled to finish up camp on Friday and then move into heavier preparation for the upcoming season, which is now less than three weeks away. As most of you surely know, the Jayhawks have one of their two byes on the opening weekend of college football, so while many teams are preparing for Aug. 31 openers, Kansas is getting an extra week.
Hard to believe how soon that will be here.
Enough about that, though, here's a quick look at a couple of things that caught my eye this morning. Coach Charlie Weis has his final fall camp press conference at 11:45 a.m. today so check back throughout the day for all kinds of updates and information. I'm not sure and I'm certainly not holding my breath but it's possible that we'll get an updated version of the depth chart today.
• There was no music at this morning's practice. Instead, Coach Weis got on the players about bringing the energy themselves. It sounded like there was some kind of reason for keeping the hip-hop/rap lyrics out of the air waves this morning but I didn't quite catch it. Either way, the guys responded to their coach's instructions with some chanting, screaming and singing of their own. Offensive lineman Gavin Howard broke into “Hakuna Matata” (and this isn't the first time I've heard him do that) and O-Line coach Tim Grunhard fired up the group with his version of “Do-Wa-Ditty.” The linebackers even did a little barking back and forth between the players and their coaches. It wasn't quite the same as Jay Z or 2 Chainz but it seemed like they made it work.
• Offensive lineman Pearce Slater was not out there while I was in attendance. Slater missed this weekend's scrimmage because he had to return to California for a family emergency of some sort. There have been all kinds of rumors and concerns about his departure, but all I can tell you is we'll ask Coach Weis what's up today and I'm sure he'll answer as best he can.
• No Kevin Short sighting today either. Short's missed a lot of fall camp already and there's no doubt that his absence will make it tough for him to get up to speed on the KU defense. But this is where the extra week off at the start of the season could really pay off. The guy's crazy talented and if he reports in good shape, they should be able to crank around the clock to get him to the point where he can go out there and play using some pretty basic understandings and concepts. As has been the case all along, he could arrive any day.
• I continue to be intrigued by the tight end position, mostly because I think KU will play as many as three or four of these guys this season. If work in practice has anything to do with it, freshman Ben Johnson will definitely be one. The guy is relentless in every drill and he's incredibly physical with good hands, too.
• Finally, we keep talking about the Buck position and every time I take a look over there I notice that Darius Willis looks bigger than before. Willis, you'll remember, started as a middle linebacker and then moved to D-End before being moved back to MLB in the spring. It looks like he's added a little bit of bulk — but not too much — and he could really used those skills he picked up while working on the D-Line to help him in the hybrid position. Should be interesting to see how he does this season.
That's it for now, but, as I mentioned, we'll have all kinds of updates throughout the day, including the expected announcement of KU's captains. I believe the team voted for them this weekend. I can't imagine any scenario that has anyone other than Ben Heeney and Jake Heaps getting the nod, but you never know. If those two guys aren't eligible for the prediction game, I think James Sims and Keon Stowers would be two good picks, too. But I'll be shocked if it's not Heeney and Heaps.
For the second day in a row we got to check out some extended KU football practice action. This time it came in the form of a 100-play scrimmage that featured all four KU QBs taking a handful of drives against the first- second- and third-string defenses.
For the most part, the day went to the offense again, as QB Jake Heaps led back-to-back scoring drives to kick things off and spread the ball around in an efficient manner.
The first TD came on a 49-yard pass to Jimmay Mundine and the second in the form of a 62-yard TD run from James Sims.
Heaps also later added a 27-yard TD pass to Brandon Bourbon on a third-and-three play.
Heaps finished the day 12-for-16 for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
Second-string QB Michael Cummings struggled at times — particularly when he worked with the first team offense against the first team defense late — and finished the day 6-for-13 for 53 yards.
Third-string QB Montell Cozart had a nice showing in his three drives, completing 6 of 9 passes for 100 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown to Andrew Turzili.
As far as rushing goes, James Sims finished with 9 carries for 82 yards, Brandon Bourbon added three carries for 35 yards, Taylor Cox carried 9 times for 51 yards and Darrian Miller chipped in with 10 carries for 17 yards.
In the receiving game, Christian Matthews led the way with 6 catches for 77 yards, Justin McCay added two catches for 17 yards and Charles Brooks added three catches for 29 yards. Fourteen different Jayhawks caught passes during Saturday's scrimmage.
Defensively, juco transfer Brandon Hollomon had a nice day at cornerback, recording three pass break-ups, two of them on deep balls. Michael Reynolds played the run extremely well, stuffing three different KU ball carriers in the backfield for losses.
Ty McKinney picked up a pair of sacks. Ben Goodman also had three sacks and looked very good off the edge, sometimes even against starting left tackle Aslam Sterling, who had an up-and-down day. Keon Stowers also added a sack. And defensive end Andrew Bolton picked up a sack and an interception (off of a tipped pass by Jordan Darling) on the same drive.
Here's a quick look back at the 15 drives, which were capped off by a 37-yard field goal from Matthew Wyman that prompted the team to rush the field and celebrate as if it were the game-winner.
Drive 1: Jake Heaps at QB: 4 plays, 70 yards, 49-yard touchdown pass to Jimmay Mundine
Drive 2: Jake Heaps at QB: 3 plays, 70 yards, 62-yard James Sims touchdown run
Drive 3: Jake Heaps at QB: Resulted in 55-yard missed FG try by Trevor Pardula (wide right)
Drive 4: Michael Cummings at QB vs. 1st-team D: Stalled after one first down.
Drive 5: Michael Cummings at QB vs. 1st-team D: Stalled at the other 22-yard line.
Drive 6: Jake Heaps at QB: Resulted in 43-yard missed FG by Matthew Wyman (wide right)
Drive 7: Jake Heaps at QB: 9 plays, 70 yards, 27-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Bourbon.
Drive 8: Montell Cozart at QB: Cozart goes 4-for-5 through the air and leads team to a 28-yard Wyman field goal.
Drives 9-11: Jordan Darling at QB: Darling-led Jayhawks gained one first down and the final drive resulted in an Andrew Bolton interception on a tipped ball.
Drives 12-14: Michael Cummings with the 1st-team offense against the 1st-team defense: Two three-and-outs and a missed field goal by Pardula, short and wide right.
Drive 15: Montell Cozart at QB: Resulted in a 54-yard TD pass to Andrew Turzili, many of those yards came after the catch.
Drive 16: Montell Cozart at QB: Produced one first down and stalled at the 40-yard line.
Drives 17-18: Jordan Darling at QB: Three-and-out on the first two and did not cross midfield on the third.
Major props to KU coach Charlie Weis for opening up Friday's entire practice to the media.
It offered a great opportunity to see a lot of what's going on with this team heading into its third week of camp. Remember, Saturday is the day Weis said would be the drop-dead day for the depth chart. Translation: If you're not in the mix for first- or second-string reps by Saturday, you're probably not in the immediate plans for the upcoming season.
With that in mind, I'm looking forward to today's Fan Appreciation Day open scrimmage in Memorial Stadium, which runs from 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. and will feature a 100-play scrimmage complete with officials and live hitting. Should be fun.
Speaking of live hitting, here are a few of the highlights from today's 2-hour-plus practice. There was a ton to take in out there so this will just mostly be quick-hit bullet points.
• I spent quite a bit of time watching the linebackers today and noticed that Jake Love has really gotten quicker. He looks light on his feet and moves really well. He's battling with Samson Faifili for that Will linebacker spot and, from how things looked today, Faifili may be slightly ahead in the battle, but Love also is working at Mike linebacker and is going to be on the field plenty this fall. He's too good not to put out there.
• We know about the main players handling the Buck role: Ben Goodman, Darius Willis and Michael Reynolds, perhaps in that order. But I noticed that Neal Page and true freshman Kellen Ash also are working there today.
• One cool moment came near the end of practice before the special teams portion of things got going, when holder Blake Jablonski was told by Weis, in front of the entire team, that he had earned a scholarship. The team went nuts with joy and jumped on him as soon as the announcement came. Starting QB Jake Heaps could be heard saying, “Yes! That's what I'm talking about.” And another teammate jokingly told Jablonski that the pressure was now on. Good moment for a guy who has worked hard throughout the past few years for very little glory.
• During defensive drills, the first team D shaped up like this: Marquel Combs, Keba Agostinho, Keon Stowers and Ben Goodman on the line; Ben Heeney and Samson Faifili at the linebacker spots; Cassius Sendish at nickel back and JaCorey Shepherd, Dexter McDonald, Isaiah Johnson and Dexter Linton in the secondary. The second team looked like this: Ty McKinney, Andrew Bolton, Jordan Tavai and Darius Willis up front; Love and Prinz Kande at linebacker; Victor Simmons at nickel back and Greg Allen, Brandon Hollomon, Tevin Shaw and Alex Matlock in the secondary. No major surprises, but it was cool to see how it broke down.
• In seven-on-seven drills, the offense definitely got the best of the defense, with Jake Heaps picking apart the KU defense multiple times. He completed passes to several different receivers and those same receivers made tough catches in traffic. The passing game looked good. One interesting note came when James Sims had a ball go off his finger tips and hit the ground. The pass, which came from Jordan Darling, was low and tough to catch, but Sims still punished himself for the drop with push-ups as he waited for his next rep. That's why he's a team leader and that's why he's been so successful.
• I really enjoyed watching the QB competition between Heaps and the others during a quarterback-challenge style accuracy competition. Heaps took down Darling, Montell Cozart and Michael Cummings, with all four talking trash throughout. Later, he took down QB coach Ron Powlus in a similar battle, by hitting the target 2 out of 3 times. Powlus countered by saying he wasn't supposed to win and even joked that he tried to tire Heaps out with a footwork drill before they squared off. Good stuff. Speaking of QBs, Cummings definitely looks much better in the pocket and can flat-out wing it.
• The special teams portion of practice allowed us to see some new things in all facets. Here's a quick breakdown:
-- Kickoff return duties went to Brandon Bourbon, Taylor Cox, Brandon Holloman and Nasir Moore.
-- Punt return duties went to Tre' Parmalee, Connor Embree and Isaiah Johnson.
-- Michael Mesh, Trevor Pardula and Matthew Wyman all took their turn at kicking field goals, with Wyman and Pardula looking the best. Practice ended with a Pardula bomb against the win that must have been close to 50 yards, if not beyond.
-- The kickoffs, which came from Pardula and Eric Kahn, all got much deeper in the end zone, with some even going out of the back.
-- Reilly Jeffers was the first-team long snapper and looked good. John Wirtel handled second-team duties and also looked good.
-- Jablonski was the first-team holder and Embree also took a turn.
We'll be out there again today, tracking all 100 plays from the scrimmage so be sure to check Kusports.com throughout the weekend for more from KU football camp.
Another early practice came with another batch of serious energy from the Kansas University football squad.
Thursday morning's first session marked the beginning of the second day of two-a-days for the Jayhawks this month and, maybe it's the cooler weather or maybe it's their hunger to prove people wrong, but the early wake-up call and looming long day has done nothing to zap the spirits of these guys.
During the time we were allowed to watch practice, I saw more than a dozen guys really bringing it in terms of energy. Some were doing that physically, with their performance during drills and from station to station and others were doing that vocally, shouting encouragement and instructions whenever they thought the intensity was dipping.
Senior defensive tackle Kevin Young was probably the most notable guy in the vocal department. During one D-Line drill, Young seemed to sense that his guys were just going through the motions and, rather than looking the other way, he spoke up.
“We're out here,” Young barked. “We might as well have fun.”
Immediately, the energy of the entire group perked up, as guys started screaming and hollering and going a littl harder.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye this morning:
• The other day, I noted that Ty McKinney looked a little sluggish. That was not the case today. Not at all. McKinney may have had the most energy of anybody I saw out there today. His juice and excitement during stretching and warm-ups carried over into the drills and even though he wasn't the fastest or the smoothest dude during the drills he definitely looked like the one giving it max effort. Good to see. I talked to him yesterday and he said he felt great and that things had been going great for him and he was starting to feel very comfortable. The guy's a load and if he's in good shape and picking things up at a good pace, he'll definitely help the D-Line this year and could emerge as a major factor.
• It might have been because I just talked to them all yesterday, but I found myself pulled to the D-Line today. Luckily, there's a lot to watch there. For the first few minutes I was over there, I zeroed in on Keba Agostinho and I have to admit he looked like a different player. Both he and Kevin Young look much more explosive and also seem to have improved their footwork a great deal. It's hard to say exactly what their roles will be this season, but if those two are regular contributors and can make a legit impact, it stands to be one of the cooler stories of the season.
• Granted, it was only a couple of drills, but former walk-on Shane Smith received a lot of love from D-Line coach Buddy Wyatt while I was out there. Makes sense to me. Smith's a hard-working, no-frills kind of guy and, even if he doesn't play a down, he still has a great deal of pride and desire to be the best he can be and do things the right way. There are a ton of guys on the depth chart ahead of him, so it would be really easy for a guy like Smith to just half-ass it. But he doesn't. Ever. That's a major credit to him and I gotta think that could at least land him some kind of role on special teams.
• Finally, I got a closer look at Andrew Bolton today and the potential is obvious. The guy is an athletic specimen and, even while recovering from the knee injury he suffered during his last season of juco ball, you can tell that he's the real deal. Listed at 6-3, 280, Bolton's explosiveness measures off the charts, as proven by the fact that while doing a leverage drill under a four-foot high platform, Bolton was the only one in the D-Line group who consistently banged his helmet off the bar while exploding out of his stance. As mentioned in this article, he's got some rust to shake off but you can see the potential for something special is there.
It was another incredible weather day at KU football practice Wednesday afternoon. And I gotta tell ya, these odd August days have been noted by the KU football staff.
While at practice, I talked with head trainer Murphy Grant about whether or not he was loving the cooler weather and not having to worry about heat exhaustion like they do every other August. Grant said he thought the good-weather days were great but added that he would not mind if it got just a little hotter so these guys could test their bodies and conditioning in real heat just in case Sept. 7 rolls around and it's a scorcher.
Makes sense to me. And it's certainly cool to hear that the training staff is thinking about things like that. Grant said they're still focused on proper hydration and all of those things just as if they were going through a normal August. But there's no better test for seeing how the body reacts to heat than being out in it.
Murphy's one of best out there and he and his staff take great care of these guys.
Moving on, here are a few other things that caught my eye on Wednesday:
• Today was the first day for Pearce Slater to don full pads. He was big before but he looks like an absolute mountain all dressed up. If his stamina and conditioning can get to where the coaches want them to be, he'll help in a big way right away. Heck, even if they can't, he might help anyway. The guy's a load.
• I was particularly tuned in to Ben Goodman today at practice, largely because the defensive linemen we talked to this morning said he had looked sharp in camp. In fact, Keon Stowers went as far as to say he didn't think there was any drop off from what Chris Martin gave the defense this spring to what Goodman's giving the D in camp. Stowers is a straight shooter so that should be considered really good news. Goodman works some with the linebacker and some with the D-Line. Today he was with the linebackers and he more than held his own athletically. The guy is in great shape and he looks incredibly athletic. I think you should toss him onto the pile of guys you're excited about this fall if he's not already there.
• Minor note: Darius Willis is now wearing No. 52 instead of No. 2. We'll have to ask him about the change next time we get to talk to him. I still always think of Steven Johnson when I see 52 in a KU uniform. And, no, it's not because Johnson plays for the Denver Broncos these days, although that doesn't hurt.
• While watching the LBs I caught my first real glimpse of Courtney Arnick. Don't count this guy out. He's got great feet and can really change direction. Another guy who stood out today was Victor Simmons. I think he's having a solid camp and KU coach Charlie Weis was not overstating it when he said Simmons looked like a man among boys, physically, at linebacker. Watching him move out there, he actually reminds me of a bigger Bradley McDougald. That should come as no surprise, though, since he played quarterback at Olathe North in high school.
Another two-a-days session awaits tomorrow.
Tuesday morning marked the first half of the first two-a-day practices for the Kansas University football team this fall.
And, from the looks and sounds of all the energy out on the field, the Jayhawks were rather pumped up about it.
Typically, the morning session of two-a-days is a high-energy practice and that's for a couple of reasons. No. 1, the players are used to getting up early as many of them have been doing 6 and 8 a.m. lifts throughout the summer anyway. No. 2, it's cooler in the mornings and that makes it easier to go nuts.
Now, this year that hasn't been as much of an draw because it just hasn't been as hot as it normally is in August. But I'm sure those guys who were all padded up and wearing helmets did not mind the cooler morning for today's practice.
Here are a quick couple of things that caught my eye this morning. We're headed back for a Weis press conference at 11:45.
• I spent some extra time watching the wide receivers today and a name you should not completely discard is Josh Ford. He opened fall camp at No. 2 on the depth chart and looks like he could be sticking there. He looks to be in great shape and has always had good size. Confidence and catching the football were his biggest issues last year so it'll be worth watching how those things stack up as fall camp progresses.
• We've already talked a little about juco transfer Rodriguez Coleman, but I watched him a little more today and I came away even more intrigued by what's possible here. From what I can tell, he's kind of like a wild stallion who's just waiting to be released. All of his movements, even during basic drills, are explosive and his long legs and tall frame make him look even wilder. Word is that he's had an impressive camp so far and I think he'll quickly become a huge part of the passing game. Not only does he have top-end speed, but he also appears to have a great vertical leap.
• Tre' Parmalee and Andrew Turzili are still very much alive in the hunt for receptions. They've got their work cut out for them, but they may yet be factors. One thing I noticed about Jake Heaps' record-setting year at BYU was that he spread the ball around a lot. He had something like 10 or 12 guys catch at least double-digit passes during that fall of 2010. A lot of that was probably because of the offense they ran, but, clearly, Heaps is comfortable getting the ball to multiple guys.
• Finally, one other quick note today on the defensive side of the ball – I spent some time watching linebacker Prinz Kande and I thought he looked good. His body looks bigger than ever and he moved around pretty well out there. It's hard to say how bouncing back from the injury is affecting him, but if you didn't know he was hurt you probably wouldn't be able to guess that from watching him.
Monday marked Day 1 in full pads for nearly everyone in a KU football uniform. Only offensive tackle Pearce Slater, who arrived a couple of days late was still limited to shells.
We didn't see a ton of hitting today (more on Sunday, actually) so the only thing we really could tell from the full pads was who looked good and who didn't.
I'll say this, when you put the team in pads, it becomes very evident who the guys are that have been here for a year already versus the guys who are just getting their first taste of Scott Holsopple and KU football.
And that's almost true across the board, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. It doesn't matter if it's Keon Stowers or Tyler Holmes or Jordan Tavai. Those guys look to be in much better physical shape than any of the newcomers, whether you're talking Ty McKinney or Pearce Slater or Marquel Combs.
This is not some huge revelation. Nor is it a knock on those new guys. It just goes to show that a year with Holsopple and crew really made a difference for those guys who are returning.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye on Day 5 of fall camp:
• Midway through stretching, KU assistant Dave Campo called me over to tell me that the scout dressed in all black who was at Monday's practice was 15-year pro Aaron Glenn. Specifically, Campo called Glenn one of the best defensive backs to play the game. During his career Glenn played for Campo in Jacksonville and for KU head coach Charlie Weis with the New York Jets. Glenn is now in his second year as a scout for the Jets and he had some equally kind things to say about Campo and Weis. “With those two running things, I know for a fact that they're gonna get this place turned around in a hurry,” Glenn said. “No question.”
• During the first six or seven minutes of Monday's practice KU linebackers coach Clint Bowen gave a presentation on proper tackling. The quick refresher served two purposes: 1. To remind these guys what a violent game football can be and to emphasize safety at all times — eyes up, never lead with your head, that kind of thing. 2. To explain to these guys that not only is that kind of tackling dangerous but it's also now a 15-yard penalty and a possible ejection. Bowen used Ben Heeney and Jake Love to get his points across.
• I may have caught him on a bad day or there may be more to it, but defensive tackle Ty McKinney does not look quite right to me. Maybe a step slow or something's bothering him. He opened fall camp as the third string nose tackle behind Keon Stowers and Kevin Young, and maybe what I saw today has something to do with that. I'll keep an eye on it.
• Not a huge deal here, but I noticed today that back-up quarterback Blake Jablonski is no longer wearing the red QB jersey during practices. He's been wearing blue all camp and I was told that he's doing it for two reasons: 1. Because, as the holder, he does so much with special teams, and 2. Because with Montel Cozart and Jordan Darling behind Jake Heaps and Michael Cummings, the reps at quarterback for Jablonski have become extremely limited. Makes sense.
• No Kevin Short sighting today. He's the only one from the incoming class who has yet to arrive. We get to talk with Coach Weis again on Tuesday and, as much as he won't want to discuss it, I'm sure we'll get an update. It's not that Weis is worried or that there's anything to hide, just that he'd rather talk about the guys who are here and who are working their butts off and not have the guys who aren't be the focus. Nature of the beast, I guess.
• It's another gorgeous day out in Lawrence, Kansas. If you're in town and you're reading this, do whatever you have to do to get outside and enjoy this sunshine.
More tomorrow, as the Jayhawks dive into their first day of two-a-days.
Sunday at Kansas University football camp marked the final day of practice without full pads, but you would've never known it by the hitting going on out there.
I spent the bulk of my time at practice with the defensive line, which spent most of the early portion of practice working on stripping the ball and securing it. Obviously, it's not a ground-breaking drill but the way these guys were getting after it made it seem pretty intense.
Credit assistant coaches Dave Campo and Scott Vestal — both secondary coaches — for turning up the intensity with their verbal encouragement. Both were almost as loud as possible throughout the drill and the D-Linemen responded with some serious crunches and all-out effort, particularly in trying to recover the ball once it was ripped out.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye on Day 4:
• Since he arrived during the later part of practice on Saturday, Sunday marked my first up-close look at juco transfer Pearce Slater, a tackle who has a chance to compete for a job at right tackle. First of all, the guy's a load. He's as big as Aslam Sterling was when he got here last year, but with three inches on Sterling, his 380 pounds seems to be distributed a little better. Don't get me wrong, there's work to do to get him in Scott Holsopple shape, but he does seem to be starting from a pretty good place. He moves well and does not appear to be afraid to work. Getting him in camp after repeated attempts by the coaches at Oklahoma to swipe him away may go down as the most important thing that happens during August. KU coach Charlie Weis spent some extended time with Slater during stretching and warm-ups. Because Slater arrived a couple of days late, he'll be a couple of days late getting in full pads. That'll be a sight.
• Slater went through some drills with the first unit and went through others with the third unit. Again, he's got some catching up to do, but he certainly looks the part. So, too, does Zach Fondal, who continues to impress me each time I see him. Who knows which of those guys — if either — will play a huge role this season, but the tackle position for the next couple of seasons at least appears to be in good shape.
• It's still too early — and we haven't quite seen enough of practice — to dive into the battles going on, but I was told today that Jake Love and Samson Faifili are in a heck of a showdown at Will linebacker. I think I've said this before, but if Love holds off Faifili for that job, he'll have achieved something serious. Faifili is, in many ways, on a different planet than most guys out there. He's physical, always turned up and seems to have good speed, good instincts and always gives great effort. He's got a chance to be a fan-favorite.
• One thing I asked Dave Campo to clarify for me today was the role played by Cassius Sendish. Right now, Sendish, a safety who opened the spring as a cornerback and is currently listed as the first-string nickel back, is essentially a player who gives the KU defense three players worth of depth in one body. But he's not listed at nickel back because they don't have anyone else to play there. He's listed there because that's the spot they can use him in the most versatile manner possible. That puts some pressure on the corners and safeties to step up because, if they do, they'll leave Sendish at nickel, which is his most valuable spot. If there's so much as a hint of weakness at one of those four other secondary positions, though, I think the coaches may move Sendish there in a heartbeat. That's something to keep an eye on throughout camp and I'll look closer at the DBs next time out.
• Finally, the music failed at practice today so for most of the 20 minutes we could hear everything a little better than normal. While that was pretty cool, it also felt a little like being in someone's living room while they were taking a nap in the next room. I just kind of wanted to sit there and not draw too much attention to myself. The music disappeared for good during the Coach Weis song of the day (It's My Life, by Bon Jovi) and instead of just giving up on it, the players carried out the song acapella – or at least they tried to. Not bad. But, fortunately for everyone within ear shot, most didn't know all the words so it faded out.
Day 3 of the KU football fall camp opened in a little different way than the first two, and, really, in a different way than any other perhaps in the entire history of KU football.
Instead of leading with music and stretching, KU coach Charlie Weis called the players together and questioned their intensity and readiness for practice on the first sunny day in what seems like years.
Instead of ripping them and calling out their heart, Weis asked juco newcomer Samson Faifili to step forward and help lift the vibe. Weis volunteered linebacker Prinz Kande to step up and be Faifili's assistant.
He must have known something, though, because the two linebackers put on one heck of a show.
It started with some heavy chanting and yelling and a lot of beating on shoulder pads. Remember, this was the first day they could wear shells (helmets and shoulder pads) to practice. Good thing, because these guys got their money's worth out of them just in the pre-practice routine.
It's hard to say exactly what language they were using to chant the words, but it turns out that the whole routine was what's known as a Haka War Chant. After some quick research, here's a brief explanation of the ritual that first gained popularity in New Zealand:
“War haka (peruperu) were originally performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition. Today, haka constitute an integral part of formal or official welcome ceremonies for distinguished visitors or foreign dignitaries, serving to impart a sense of the importance of the occasion.”
KU assistant Rod Jones, known himself for his intensity both now and during his playing days, said that was the first time he's heard of such a thing taking place at KU. Jones also said Faifili was so fired up to share the Haka with his teammates that he was even questioning whether Jones was ready and fired up enough himself.
I could go on and on about the Haka, which a surprising number of Faifili and Kande's teammates were able to join in on, but it seems like sharing the video would be the better way to go.
I couldn't get too close, so you'll have to enjoy it more for the sounds. But if you take notice in the final 5-10 seconds, you'll see Faifili (No. 51) on the right side of the frame going crazy as the team ran to stretching.
Day 2 of the Kansas University football program's fall camp has come and gone and I left practice with a couple more early observations.
In keeping with the spirit of yesterday's season-opening blog, let's take a quick look at a few more newcomers today as well as a couple of other interesting tidbits that jumped out at me during the 20 minutes we were out there.
• By far the player who jumped out at me the most today that I did catch yesterday was wide receiver Mark Thomas. Listed at 6-foot, 210 pounds, Thomas is every bit of that. The Nassau Community College graduate has thick, powerful legs and looks like he could do some damage both after the catch and in blocking. They were just doing basic drills against no defense so it's hard to tell how physical Thomas really is. But if he's even half as physical as he appears, he'll be a load for opposing defenses.
• Sticking at wide receiver, I got my first look at Nick Harwell today. He's smaller — at least shorter — than I expected but the roster says 6-1, 193 and we know KU coach Charlie Weis does not fudge on those measurements. Forget physical appearance for a minute, though. Harwell carries himself like the polished and experienced receiver he is. He ran mostly with the second group today — opposite Josh Ford — and he had great bounce, which led me to believe that he's not going to let the fact that he can't play this year keep him from getting better and helping the Jayhawks.
• Coach Weis told me on Wednesday not to make a big deal out of the fact that offensive tackle Zach Fondal (again, pronounced Fawn-Doll) would spend some time at left tackle and some time at right tackle throughout camp while the team attempts to build some depth at both positions and waits for the arrival of juco tackle Pearce Slater, who should be in camp tomorrow. So I won't. But it was worth noting that Fondal ran drills as a right tackl with the No. 1 unit today. Riley Spencer started there yesterday. Not worth making too much out of it. Maybe they're just alternating every other day. But this much is certain; if Fondal wasn't at least someone they thought could compete for that spot you can bet they'd have somebody else in there.
• It'll be interesting to see how long it lasts, but I caught another “Start from the bottom” reference in one of the songs that roared over the speakers at camp today. That's two days of practice and two musical references to KU's position as the predicted cellar-dweller in the Big 12.
• Another musical note: There must have been something wrong with the first song on today's practice playlist because it was all treble and sounded awful. The guy in charge of the music quickly caught in and skipped ahead to the next track, but not before hearing a chorus of boos from the players during stretching.
• I'm always a big fan of checking out who the team leaders are and since captains have not been announced yet the best place to check this out is warm-ups. Which guys go first in sprints or stand in the first line during stretching? The answer? A ton. Ben Heeney, Jake Heaps, Jake Love, Keon Stowers, Ben Goodman, Pat Lewandowski, Cassius Sendish, Justin McCay, Dexter Linton, Taylor Cox, Christian Matthews, Trevor Pardula and Riley Spencer held down the first line. Remember, football fields are pretty wide.
• Finally, I think it's noteworthy that guys are going all out out there so far in camp, even during the simulated offensive snaps the team runs at the beginning of the positional drills period. It would be real easy to jog out to your position or up to the line of scrimmage, but, for the most part, these guys are sprinting to their spots to get lined up. There's been a lot of talk about the defense playing faster, but it looks like that may be a focal point for the offense, too.
In case you missed my video from Day 1, check it out:
Seeing how today marked the official beginning of the 2013, I figured I better make my first “What Caught My Eye” blog of the season one that's dedicated to beginners.
We'll have plenty of time to get into some more position-specific stuff and talk about the Jayhawks you already know about, but here's a quick first-look at a few of the newcomers, guys we got to see in a KU uniform for the first time today.
Remember, media members are not allowed to attend the entire practice, just the first 20-30 minutes, so what we see is somewhat limited. But instead of just mailing it in and pretending like it's all the same, I'll spend the month looking for the little things that stand out — at least to me — and I'll try to interpret them and analyze them as best I can.
• First, it's worth pointing out that there was a ton of energy all over the field today. That's to be expected from a first practice — I don't care if it's the first day of middle school football or the first day of NFL training camp — but it's still nice to see, considering that the last time we were invited to practice during the season, we saw a team that always worked hard but lost its bounce week after week, loss after loss. The energy did not just come from the players today, though. Tons of juice from everyone including coaches, managers and anybody else associated with the program.
• As you might have guessed, my first glances went toward defensive tackle Marquel Combs. I wanted to see how he worked, how he moved and how he carried himself. I'd give him high marks in all three areas and the best part was, he looked like he was having fun the entire time. Combs has a chance to impact this team in a bigger way than just about anybody this season and it was good to see him out there in his element.
• On the offensive line, Zach Fondal (pronounced Fawn-doll, I've been told) looks like he could jump out there right now. Great size, good feet, fluid movement. There's no doubt that he has some work to do, both in getting in better shape and in learning how to play D-I football, but the framework appears to be there. Fondal opens camp as the second-string left tackle and he'll work at both left and right tackle throughout camp to give the Jayhawks better depth at both spots.
I know I said this was about beginners today, but this would be a good time to toss in my impressions of left tackle Aslam Sterling. In a word, I'd say, 'Wow.' Not only does he look to be in much, much, much better shape than the guy who started for the Jayhawks last season, he moves like a running back. The coaches have been singing the praises of his transformation for weeks now and after seeing it with my own two eyes I can plainly say that they're not making too much of it. He's a new man. And he looks like he has a chance to be a force.
• Another guy who jumped out at me was linebacker Samson Faifili, who opens camp as a back-up to Jake Love at the Will linebacker spot. Know this about Faifili: If Love holds him off, he'll have earned it and it'll make me think even more of Love than I already do. Faifili is non-stop energy who likes to bounce around the field, talk constantly and elevate the energy level whenever possible. He's easy to spot because he's got that Troy Palamalu hair sticking out of the back of his helmet. Before too long, I'm guessing you'll notice the guy (No. 51) for something other than his hair.
• Just because we can, let's throw Jake Heaps into the “new” grouping. After all, he is new as a starter on this squad. I've seen him plenty of times now, both in practice and in game-type settings, but I still walk away impressed every time. The ball just zips off his hand. We talked with him a little earlier today and he said he wasn't going to change anything about how he does things now that camp has started. The only change you might see is a louder, more energized, more excited guy in the No. 9 jersey. He's been waiting a long time for a chance to get back out there.
• Here's another one that's in that quasi-new category. Remember former defensive lineman Max Onyegbule? He's back with the program in a coaching role and, from the looks of things today, he'll help a lot. He's young enough to relate to these guys and spent most of the stretching portion of the practice bouncing in the faces of his D-Linemen. Any guesses on the guy who got the most attention from Max? Yep. Combs.
• Finally, one quirky thing I thought was funny came when the Coach Weis song of the day came on. Yes, they're still doing it with the second song of each practice and, yes, it sounds like it's still going to be Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi every day. Today's song was Springsteen's “Born to Run” but when it came on, even the players went nuts. I never saw that last year. Like I said, there was a lot of energy out there today and nothing showed that more than a bunch of 18-20 year-olds getting fired up about a song by the Boss. One other musical mention came four or five songs in, when a track by Drake filled the air. It's name? “Started from the Bottom.” It's hook? “Started form the bottom, now we here.” Sounds like a decent way for the KU football program to kick off the 2013 season.
More to come tomorrow. See you then.
Check back with KUsports.com throughout the afternoon for more from practice, as both Jesse Newell and I got some video from the first day.
Good afternoon, KU fans.
The day Jayhawk football die-hards have been waiting for all summer has come and gone, and while practice — and my “What Caught My Eye” blogs — does not get started officially until tomorrow, here's my instant reaction to the first depth chart of the fall, which KU coach Charlie Weis released a little while ago.
We'll have much more from Weis' press conference later today and in tomorrow's paper, but here's the quick-hit feedback on what I saw.
• By now, I'm sure you've all seen somewhere that Weis is expecting wide receiver Nick Harwell to red-shirt. Harwell, a transfer from Miami (Ohio) University who needed just six hours to graduate and become eligible for KU this fall, was not allowed to take those final classes and instead will sit out the 2013 season. This is not all bad. Harwell will get a chance to learn KU's system, dominate with the scout-team offense and reshape his image that will make him more attractive to potential NFL employers.
• Maybe the biggest surprise to me on the depth chart was at center, where Pat Lewandowski was listed as the first-string guy. Here's the deal; I like Lewandowski a lot and thought he could be a solid tackle. I think the coaches did, too. But, according to Weis, they moved him to center a few months ago after seeing some snapping issues in the spring. The best things Lewandowski brings are size and intelligence. Besides, asking him to handle the center job, where he will be able to rely on his brain and braun might be a better thing to ask of him than putting him out on an island at left tackle and wishing him luck. Dylan Admire will push him, but Lewandowski's size may be the difference.
• I have to admit, I absolutely loved seeing the defense being listed as a nickel D instead of a base 4-3 or 3-4. Weis was very candid in explaining the reasoning behind this and it has everything to do with trying to keep up with the crazy offenses in the Big 12. Not only will the Jayhawks use five DBs as their regular look this season — Weis even hinted that six and seven DBs could be employed regularly — but the three main defensive coaches, Dave Campo (DBs), Clint Bowen (LBs) and Buddy Wyatt (D-Line) will all be coaching on the field this year, basically coaching and making calls on the fly. It'll be hectic and an absolute grind every Saturday, but it should put the KU defense in the best position to succeed. One other thing the nickel personnel indicates is that there is a lot of versatility on defense, with Cassius Sendish, who could play safety or corner, being the prime example of that.
• Nice to see Brandon Bourbon listed as the second-string F behind Tony Pierson. Obviously, these two are completely different players, but I think putting them at the same position (a) speaks to Weis' creativity with play-calling and (b) tells you how the coaches feel about Bourbon. If he were a bum, they'd just bury him on the depth chart. He's not going to take touches away from Pierson here, but he will give KU flexibility in an already versatile offense.
• Christian Matthews and Justin McCay were the top two wideouts throughout the spring and they open as the top two wideouts entering fall camp. And it doesn't sound close. Weis said Matthews was the clear leader of the position and may be the most reliable player they have and that McCay had a chance to be a top-tier wide receiver. If that's true and both back up those claims, that'll lessen the Harwell blow.
• Juco transfer Charles Brooks, a senior who played sparingly last season, was nowhere to be found on the tight end list. Four others were listed. Weis said Brooks would still have a chance to compete but added that he really wants to see what red-shirt freshman Jordan Shelley-Smith and true freshman Ben Johnson could do. Ben Johnson was cited by Weis as the top performing newcomer throughout the summer and he's up to 240 pounds. Brooks is certainly not out of it yet — Weis said everyone on the roster would get until Aug. 17 to prove their worth — but he may go down as a miss.
• The kicking game was as we expected, with juco transfers Trevor Pardula (punts and kickoffs) and Michael Mesh (place kicking) listed as first-stringers. My guess is that Pardula has both of his jobs all but locked up. The place kicker job is more open at this point, but I've been told that it would be an upset if Mesh did not win it. The crazy thing is the guy most likely to beat him out might be Pardula, but asking the newcomer to handle all three jobs could be a bit much.
• A couple of position changes that jumped out: Greg Allen is listed as a cornerback again after moving to safety last spring. I asked Weis about it and he said he's a safety with corner skills. There's that versatility thing coming into play again. Brian Maura has moved from linebacker back to safety and Victor Simmons and Courntey Arnick have moved from linebacker to nickel back. Not a huge change there, especially with the nickel defense. But notable nonetheless. Weis said Simmons was a man among boys, physically, at the nickel position, and he may have a golden opportunity waiting for him this month.
• A lot of the newcomers who we expect to be first-team, front-line guys are listed second on the depth chart today. But that's today. Give it time. Weis said the depth chart would be extremely fluid and guys like CB Kevin Short and OL Pearce Slater (the only two newcomers who have yet to arrive) could easily make their way to the top of the depth chart by the time camp closes. Others in this group who were listed with the second team include: Zach Fondal (LT), Andrew Bolton (DE) and Samson Faifili (LB). Again, give 'em time. They haven't even started practicing yet.
• Finally, one of the more incredible things about this depth chart is that Weis was able to go three-deep (sometimes four) at every position. That's a far cry from how things were last August, when he was struggling to feel good about identifying a first team and back-ups. That's gotta be a good sign for the progress of the program.
Time will tell. Practice is set for 2:50 p.m. Thursday. Be sure to check out Kusports.com throughout the day for more coverage from today's opening presser and then, around 4:00 tomorrow for the initial “What Caught My Eye” blog of the 2013 season.