Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
With KU's second and final bye week of 2013 nearly finished and the Jayhawks on the verge of getting back to a regular work week, I figured now was as good a time as any to do a quick self scout.
After all, KU coach Charlie Weis and KU spent part of this week doing their own self scout, so why not join them?
Just a quick and easy exercise here, which looks back at two preseason articles that predicted a total of 10 players to watch in 2013 — five who needed a big fall camp to earn their spots and five who were a little under the radar.
First, a look at the five guys I said were flying under the radar and how they've done so far this season.
1. TE Charles Brooks – Even with the early struggles of Jimmay Mundine, Brooks has not been a part of the offense during the first three weeks and I'm guessing he won't be going forward. Call this a miss.
2. OL Randall Dent – He was decent against Rice and missed the LA Tech game because of injury. But with KU's O-Line still coming together, Dent, with his strength and experience, figures to still have a shot at being relevant this season.
3. WR Tre' Parmalee – An appendectomy kept him out of the Louisiana Tech game and all he had done since then was elevate himself into a starting role. Parmalee has not been targeted a ton so far this season, but his sure hands and crisp routes make him an attractive option in a struggling passing game.
4. CB JaCorey Shepherd – Shepherd has been fantastic early on and only appears to be getting better each week. Last year, after being thrown to the wolves after switching over from wide receiver, Shepherd's speed and athleticism often landed him in the right place but he rarely made a play once the ball arrived. Now that he's more sure of his coverage skills, the junior is recording enough pass break-ups to be a worthy complement to Dexter McDonald on the other side.
5. DL Jordan Tavai – Tavai has been solid in a second-string role on KU's improving defensive line. Not good enough to stand out but not bad enough to disappear, the second-year Jayhawk has recorded seven tackles (two for losses) and a quarterback hurry in three games. Solid production from a second-string guy.
And now let's move on to the five guys I said needed a strong fall camp to solidify their spots on the depth chart.
1. Buck Michael Reynolds – Reynolds is off to a great start. Not only has he put pressure on opposing quarterbacks but he also has earned more trust from the coaching staff and has been out there on more than obvious pass-rushing downs.
2. DB Victor Simmons – Simmons has been one of the more solid players on KU's defense during the first three weeks. Second on the team in tackles (22), with a sack, a pass break-up and three tackles for loss, the junior nickel back is using his physical frame and legit speed to run down ball carriers and get them on the ground.
3. WR Rodriguez Coleman – Coleman has not yet broken through but it seems like it could be just a matter of time. Confident, fast, long and improving, the juco transfer made his first start and first catch against Louisiana Tech.
4. OL Damon Martin – Like Dent, Martin has been given a chance to deliver and has performed fairly inconsistently thus far. His strength and physical nature cannot be questioned, but he has to bring it on every play and be more reliable if he wants to be a key part of KU's O-Line from here on out.
5. K Michael Mesh – The odds-on favorite to win the kicking job heading into the summer, Mesh struggled with the pressure of the preseason competition and watched Matthew Wyman flourish and win the job.
As you can see, I was decently locked in on some of those predictions and flat-out missed on a couple of them. A tip of the cap to Reynolds, Simmons and Shepherd for making me look good.
Let's push our luck a little here and commit to three players who have not done much yet but I'm expecting to step up big time for the Jayhawks during conference play, which starts Oct. 5 at Memorial Stadium against Texas Tech and runs straight through Nov. 30.
1. RB Brandon Bourbon — Bourbon has looked great in a reserve role behind Tony Pierson and the KU coaching staff appears to have determined that the powerful back with great speed needs to be on the field even more. I'm betting we'll see it.
2. LB Schyler Miles — Ben Heeney can't play every down (don't tell him that) and when you play as hard as he does, you're bound to take a beating from time to time. When Heeney does, Miles has proven to be a solid replica and his presence should make it easier to give Heeney a rest from time to time.
3. DL Tedarian Johnson — The coaches really liked Johnson this spring but worried that he would not be able to get on the field because of so many bodies ahead of him. Well, Marquel Combs and Chris Martin are gone and Andrew Bolton is red-shirting. Johnson will play. And he should only get better.
Real quick, before I head off to regroup for next week and KU's return to action, here are a few non-conference awards that probably will not surprise anyone.
Offensive MVP: Tony Pierson. Easily the Jayhawks' best offensive player through three weeks and a guy who KU needs to get more involved ASAP. His performance against Louisiana Tech — eight catches for 92 yards — was a good sign and should be proof that the ideal number of touches per game for the dynamic speed back is right around 15. Honorable Mention: Matthew Wyman: KU's walk-on kicker has been far from perfect, but the mere fact that KU coach Charlie Weis now does not hesitate to call on him when KU reaches field goal range tells you how valuable he is.
Defensive MVP: Ben Heeney. Heeney is the heart and soul of the KU defense and his relentless effort on every play has been and should be contagious. Heeney leads the Jayhawks with 32 tackles and also recorded his first career interception on a classic Ben Heeney hustle play. Should be more where that came from in the next few months. Honorable Mention: Dexter McDonald. Ranks among the nation's leaders in pass break-ups and has provided KU with much-needed confidence and quality in the pass game.
Top Plays: Matthew Wyman's 52-yard game-winning field goal against Louisiana Tech; Tony Pierson's 76-yard touchdown reception against Rice; Any number of Trevor Pardula bombs in the punting game; Michael Reynolds' strip and Keon Stowers' recovery of the fumble that saved the Louisiana Tech game.
Please Forgive and Forget Me: Jimmay Mundine for his first two games in which he dropped five passes; Justin McCay for his disappearing act after the first half of the first game; Marquel Combs for failing to stick it out; KU's offensive line for struggling with consistency.
Bold Big 12 prediction: I still think KU can win two games in conference play this season (if you remember, I predicted five total wins, with all three non-con games and two in conference), with Texas Tech, Iowa State, West Virginia and even Kansas State being at the top of the list of most likely to fall.
Here's a quick video of a few of the Jayhawks answering some random questions at today's media day at Allen Fieldhouse:
Here's our media day photo gallery:
Complete Bill Self audio from today's media day news conference:
KU coach Bill Self, dressed in a suit and tie, is addressing the media at Allen Fieldhouse right now.
Players will speak to the media on the Fieldhouse floor at 3:55 and we'll have photos, video and stories from that later on.
For those following along below, I just tried to go as fast as I could with these notes, so everything you're reading is being said by Self. I'm not adding any of my thoughts into this, so when it says "I" that's Self talking. Hopefully that's not too confusing.
Self on the hype for this season:
From what I can tell, this is the most anticipated start of the season we've had since I've been here. Based on what people have told me, there seems to be no shortage of anticipation and ticket sales were hot. In large part, Self believes the hype is because of the unknown with the quality recruiting class.
What he knows about this team:
This team is different than all the teams we've had. We're as deep as we've ever been, we're got as many good players in the gym as we've ever had and we're very long. Can play with five or six bigs if need be. Haven't had that in the past. Self says the team could play with more intensity because of depth, especially defensively. We are talented but by no means do we know how to play or are we ready to play.
Self on Joel Embiid:
He's got the best feet. When you watch him play, you'll think you're watching a 6-footer, almost like a young Hakeem Olajuwon. Long ways to go from strength and toughness standpoint to be able to play a ton of minutes, but he can move.
Self on Andrew Wiggins
Adding Wiggins brought instant attention to the program, especially nationally and for the people who wondered if KU could land the top-tier guys. Wiggins is still a freshman, though. He has a chance to become a great player, but he's not a great player yet. He's a great prospect and hopefully he can develop and becoming a great player very quickly.
Self says Wiggins has shown flashes of dominance in high school but not consistently and as reliably. He needs to learn how to bring that vibe all the time instead of turning it on and off throughout a game. He could be our best defender, our best shot blocker, our best lane runner, he could be a lot of things. But if he doesn't do it every possession, he won't be any of those things.
He's a 10. All of our young kids have been 10s. If there is stubbornness, it's strictly from a competitive standpoint.
Self on Conner Frankamp:
He's a shooter even more than a scorer and he'll certainly have the green light for us, but he could labor more in college to get his shots off as often, which could make the adjustment a little tougher.
Self on early start to this season:
I'm a fan of it this year. If we have a bunch of guys returning, I won't be as big a fan of it. But he likes it because it allows the coaches to ease the new guys into the flow -- a couple days on a couple days off. There's no reason to have 3.5 hour practices in September. The early start allows KU to teach more early and then the guys will be in a better position to be ready for practice 1 in November.
On Frank Mason pushing Naadir Tharpe
There's no question he can push Naadir and Naadir knows that. He's tough, he's a pit bull, but does he know how to lead a team and all that stuff? He's in a battle for playing time with Naadir but he has to prove he can lead a team.
Self on Perry Ellis:
He could easily be our leading scorer this season, but he could also be our fourth leading scorer. He's been great this offseason and I think he'll be ready to take the next step. He was great last year from February on, after being a really, really good high school guy and struggling early on.
Self on this team's vocal leaders:
I'd said Naadir and Tarik Black are probably our best vocal leaders. Everybody can do it in some way on this team, but I don't think guys can be great leaders unless they're vocal and can talk.
Self on Wayne Selden:
He's probably as versatile as any guy we have. Can play 2 maybe 3 spots and even could be an emergency point guard if need be. Wayne's a guy that physically can use his strength to offset other peoples'. He's probably as strong a freshman guard as we've had here.
Self on living up to the hype and expectations:
That's not something we've really labored with in the past because we haven't had as many people saying as many good things about a bunch of guys they've never seen play. If we can focus on us begin good, it'll work. And that has to be a priority over individuals being good. That's not how it works here.
Self on pressure:
Since I've been here, I've never felt any pressure (he laughs).... I think there's always pressure at a place like this, both to win and to develop guys, but I don't think there's any extra pressure this year by any means. Is there pressure for us to be good? There is every year. But the ultimate responsibility for these guys to be good falls on the individuals. They have to want to work. And if this group wants to work I think they have a chance to be very happy at the end of the season.
Self on Tarik Black's role:
He'll have a chance to start and play a lot. Not very often you recruit a senior who comes in and is already respected enough to be the leader of the big guys. I'm expecting a big year from him.
Self on this team's ceiling:
We've had some pretty good teams. The last 7 years we've averaged 33 wins and if this team gets to 33 wins that would be unbelievable given how tough the schedule is. Right now, I don't think we're even close to being in the same conversation with some of the best teams to come through here, but if they work and develop, they could get into that conversation.
Self on the tough early season schedule:
I do like the fact that we're playing a hard schedule. Hard schedules expose some things so you can't get by with hiding things. I don't think any team in America has a schedule like we have, especially early.
Self on Perry Ellis and Andrew Wiggins' quiet nature
Perry takes quiet to a whole different level. You could be a room with Perry and it's possible that nobody would talk in 24 hours. Andrew is definitely more laid back, but he's not quite on the same quietness level as Perry. Everybody on the team needs to work on becoming better communicators.
Self joked that Perry feels comfortable around him now and says, "He'll come into my office and we'll have a 30 or 45 second conversation, which is way longer than most we had last year."
Self on red-shirt possibilities:
I wouldn't be surprised if one guy does. It won't be because we tell anyone he has to, but if it's best for them and their family, that could happen. Did not say who that might be but said after seeing how it worked out for Jeff Withey and Travis Releford, he thinks more should want to do that.
Self on Landen Lucas:
He got much more athletic during his red-shirt year and he's going to be a solid player here at KU. I could not be more pleased with where he is at this point in his career compared to where I thought he'd be.
Self on freshmen:
Wayne Selden's ready to be a player because he's physically there. Greene and Frankamp also are ready because one is athletic as all get-out and the other is probably as good a pure shooter as their is anywhere in America. This would've been a great class even without Andrew Wiggins, but that certainly was icing on the cake.
Self on Frank Mason:
Here's a guy that signed with Towson out of high school but he didn't qualify and had to go to prep school and then we're begging him to come here. He's got a lot of fire in his belly and he's excited to be here. He's without question one of the two or three most athletic guys on our team and you guys will see that.
Self on team's depth and how many he'll play:
It could be a year where we play a solid nine in every big game, which we haven't done is season's past. And it could be a different nine from time to time depending on how things play out.
Good afternoon KU fans and welcome to our coverage of this year's KU basketball media day.
Tom Keegan, Gary Bedore and I are at Allen Fieldhouse today to find out as much as we can about this year's very new and very young team.
Follow along throughout the afternoon for updates from media day, including notable quotes and audio from head coach Bill Self, notes from the players and photo galleries of all the fun.
Self is scheduled to speak to the media at 3:25 p.m. so check back any time after that for all of the day's news and notes...
So defensive tackle Marquel Combs is leaving the Kansas University football program after spending less than four months in Lawrence.
On the surface, the news certainly comes as a surprise, but, a closer look at all that has unfolded during his time at KU provides evidence that we should have seen this coming.
These are the moments that sports writers tend to regret. You spend months hyping up a player you've never seen play who has a big name, a shiny ranking given to him by somebody you don't know and a charming personality only to wind up looking bad when things go south.
The good news in this instance is I think Combs is the one who ends up looking bad here.
I have no issue with an athlete wanting to be and play somewhere he feels comfortable. Maybe, for whatever reason, KU just was not quite what Combs expected it would be. But, at least from where I sit, it sure looks more like that reason is tied strongly to the fact that the former No. 1 ranked juco player in the country according to ESPN.com got here, found out he was going to have to work for his spot and did not really want to do that.
Nearly everything that happened after Combs found that out led to this moment and, although the critics surely will use this as just another reason to laugh at KU coach Charlie Weis and Kansas football, it sure sounds like the program will be stronger and better with Combs playing elsewhere — wherever that may be.
See, Weis' program is not built on entitlement, favoritism and prima donnas. He's said that more than once and, better than that, he's proven it over and over. The best players play. Doesn't matter if you're a walk-on, a has-been or a never was. If you're better than the guy you're competing with, you're on the field. Players respect that. And such an environment tends to produce a locker room full of guys who work their butts off day in and day out because they understand that. No gray areas. No nonsense.
Combs never seemed to get that. Or, if he did, he never seemed to think it applied to him.
Where Combs goes from here is anyone's guess. People with knowledge of Combs' time at KU said the highly-touted defensive tackle was struggling to adjust to KU in more areas than just the playing field, where he dressed but did not play in the season opener and then did not suit up for KU's next two games, including not even traveling to Rice after being pencilled in as a second-stringer and then sent down the red-shirt path.
One national recruiting analyst I spoke to said many teams backed off Combs the first time around because of personality issues and Combs may have a tough time selling himself a second time around after arriving at KU with the hype of a heavyweight title fight and leaving with the sound of a whoopie cushion.
The only question that remains with Combs now is will he wind up becoming the next Brock Berglund, set free to ride off to greener pastures only to never be heard from again? Berglund, by the way, is a sophomore at North Texas — his second school since leaving KU — and has not thrown a pass in a game this season.
Don't be surprised if Combs follows a similar path.
Lost in the craziness of Saturday's 52-yard game-winning field goal by KU sophomore Matthew Wyman and the wild celebration that followed it was an important aspect of the game that was just as critical to the win as Wyman's kick.
No, it wasn't junior tailback Tony Pierson's 29-yard catch that set up the field goal or the back-to-back passes that junior quarterback Jake Heaps put right on the money that covered the final 37 yards of the drive. Heck, it wasn't even senior running back James Sims going into beast mode and running like the James Sims of 2012 that kick-started the drive in the first place. All of those plays — each of which were huge — got the credit they deserved from the Jayhawks, the coaching staff, the media and even the fans following the victory.
The one that did not was one that rarely does — the snap and the hold.
Forget about the stakes for a minute. We all know what was on the line when KU coach Charlie Weis called timeout with 2 seconds left and sent the field goal team onto the field to try to win it. The situation itself obviously added pressure to everyone on the field, not just Wyman. And because of that, the kick would have been tough enough even from 20 yards closer.
But when you're talking about a 52-yarder, the margin for error on every aspect of the play shrinks dramatically. Had the snap not been perfect and the hold not impeccable, Wyman would have had a much tougher time becoming the hero. So give credit to long snapper Reilly Jeffers and holder Blake Jablonski for doing their jobs to perfection.
I'm sure there are those out there who would say that these guys shouldn't be celebrated just for doing their jobs and I understand that. But these are not professionals. They're still kids. Former walk-ons, no less. And they did their jobs in damn fine fashion and that led to something that KU has not had the chance to enjoy much of during the past four or five years.
I'll admit it. I barely even thought about these two guys during the few hours following the game. There were too many other guys to talk to and too many things to write about. Here's a quick recap: Jayhawks move to 2-1; Streak of 22 straight losses to FBS opponents is snapped; KU finishes non-conference schedule with winning record; Defense comes up huge again; Smiles return to team's postgame; Kansas victorious for just the 8th time since Mark Mangino left town. I could go on and on, but I think you get it.
The reason for bringing all of this up is to tell you that I had to go back and watch the film of the snap and hold myself just to see it. Obviously, since Wyman drilled the kick, I figured things went well, but I wanted to see how well. It was better than I expected.
It's clear that Jeffers was trying to be perfect with the snap because the ball did not set any speed records on its way back to Jablonski. But it was right on the money and it almost looked as if Jeffers snapped it in a way that made the snap and hold become one motion — I'm guessing that's what you want. Jablonski did not have to move left or right to catch the snap and it was soft enough that he had no trouble handling it. He simply leaned forward, put it down and then joined the celebration.
These plays get taken for granted so often and this was such a big moment for this KU team that I thought the efforts made by Jeffers and Jablonski were worthy of a little extra attention.
I realize the Jayhawks did not win the Big 12 with this kick and, based on what unfolded during the four quarters that came before it, it's quite evident this team still has a lot of work to do if it wants to reach the point of being consistently competitive in the conference. But having guys like this deliver in moments like that, to me, is just more proof of the discipline and attention to detail that are starting to become staples of the KU football program again.
At some point, just like they did on Saturday, those little details are going to start mattering more and more.
Both of us went 7-3 last week, even though we missed a couple of different games.
That allowed me to keep my one-game lead heading into Week 3, when we a couple different picks yet again.
As you can see, we're both looking for an easy KU victory today over Louisiana Tech.
Let's see what happens!
Tait - 7-3 in Week 2; 15-5 overall
Keegan - 7-3 in Week 2; 14-6 overall
Week 3 games:
Kansas vs. Louisiana Tech
West Virginia at Maryland
Texas State at Texas Tech
Kansas State at Texas
Louisiana-Monroe at Baylor
Arizona State at Stanford
Michigan State at Notre Dame
Auburn at LSU
Tennessee at Florida
Purdue at Wisconsin
Question: What animal and what breed of that animal do you think makes the best pet and why?
Kansas 31, Louisiana Tech 10
West Virginia 23, Maryland 20
Texas Tech 45, Texas State 13
Texas 30, Kansas State 28
Baylor 48, Louisiana-Monroe 17
Arizona State 35, Stanford 34
Notre Dame 26, Michigan State 21
LSU 30, Auburn 16
Florida 28, Tennessee 13
Wisconsin 38, Purdue 23
Answer: I've lived with all kinds of pets throughout my life, from different types of dogs to cats, birds and even fish. But none of those were pets that I had my heart set on and picked out personally. Because of that, I don't have any real strong allegiances to any type of pet. I do, however, have to point out that my wife is always wanting one of those monkeys like Ross had on Friends or the fellas had in The Hangover. I'm sure we'd regret it if we went for it, but that sounds pretty cool, especially if we could train him to bring us drinks and snacks.
Kansas 35, Louisiana Tech 14
Texas 31, Kansas State 28
Texas Tech 42, Texas State 14
Baylor 59, Louisiana-Monroe 14
Stanford 31, Arizona State 17
Notre Dame 21, Michigan State 17
Maryland 31, West Virginia 28
LSU 31, Auburn 10
Florida 28, Tennessee 20
Wisconsin 35, Purdue 10
Answer: Dogs truly are a man's best friend. Regardless of how badly you've been savaged in an email, how horribly you've played golf, etc., your dog greets you at the front door as if you've been missing for a year and was just found. It washes your troubles away and makes you realize you always have a friend. Tibetan Terriers aren't the most common breed, just the best. They're medium-sized dogs — 25 to 30 pounds — with a big-dog personality. They rarely bark, don't shed and always want to be by your side but don't want to sit on your lap. My wife's favorite breed was a Bichon Friche, mine a Labrador Retriever. My sister-in-law suggested we look into Tibetan Terriers. I researched them on the Internet and called a breeder who lived about 20 minutes from us. He asked if we were interested in a show dog or pet. I said pet. "Most of the people who come to us for a pet come because the husband wants a Lab and the wife wants a Bichon," he said, using those breeds as examples. Sold! Super loyal with fun personalities.
By now, those who follow Kansas University football know that dropped passes have plagued the KU offense during the first two weeks of the 2013 season.
But instead of using the Monday Rewind to look back at which players dropped the most passes and who is struggling the most in that department (You can find that here), I figured it might be a good idea to check out the opposite side of things and see if some kind of fix can't be pulled from that.
What the F, right?
No. Stick with me. I'm not talking about that F, I'm talking about KU's F position, which currently is manned by Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon, two players who have been Jake Heaps' most reliable targets through the first two games of the season.
A week ago, when KU football coach Charlie Weis was asked on his weekly radio show which player had the best hands, his answer revealed something that might be worth trying for the struggling Kansas offense.
“I'd say Pierson has the best hands,” Weis said. “And Bourbon's next. The guys playing the same position might be the two guys with the best hands.”
So why not put them out there at the same time a little more often?
Because I don't have a playbook nor a helmet and shoulder pads, I don't fully understand Weis' offense and all of the intricacies that go along with it. But I do understand the idea of first-string and second-string players, and maybe it's time to promote Bourbon to first-string along with Pierson.
Both have looked sure-handed catching the ball this season. Both have the ability to line up anywhere on the field. And both have the speed and toughness to run good routes and get open. From where I sit, that means both should play as much as possible.
Unlike many of you, I don't quite see this as a sky-is-falling situation. Not yet, anyway. It's still early, I think this team is made up of several tough-minded individuals and maybe doing something this drastic with the offense is not what needs to happen right now.
KU's strength remains its running game and finding ways to get James Sims, Darrian Miller, Taylor Cox and especially Pierson some more quality carries seems like a good place to start — at least until Heaps and the passing game get fully comfortable and the offensive line becomes more solid.
But if drops continue to be a problem and KU's pass catchers fail to step up, letting Pierson and Bourbon carry more of the load might be the answer — offensively, at least.
The defense is a different story altogether. Not only is that unit playing better and improving by leaps and bounds each week, but the KU defense darn near won the Jayhawks last weekend's game. How long has it been since you could say that?
Here we go with Week 2 of our Keegan vs. Tait college football picks showdown.
The younger generation jumped out to an early lead with an 8-2 record last week and there are a couple of differences in this week's picks as well, so the lead could grow or change hands.
Enough with the chit-chat, though. Here's a look at this week's games and picks.
Week 1 Results
Week 2 Games
Kansas at Rice
Tulsa at Oklahoma
Georgia State at West Virginia
Iowa at Iowa State
UMass at Kansas State
Lamar at Oklahoma State
Ole Miss at Texas
Alabama at Texas A&M
UCLA at Nebraska
Purdue at Notre Dame
Question: You're starting a pro football franchise and can draft any player in his prime in NFL history. Who do you take and why?
Kansas 35, Rice 27
Oklahoma 41, Tulsa 21
West Virginia 42, Georgia State 13
Iowa 20, Iowa State 14
Kansas State 47, UMass 10
Oklahoma State 56, Lamar 7
Texas 23, Ole Miss 19
Alabama 30, Texas A&M 20
Nebraska 33, UCLA 31
Notre Dame 35, Purdue 9
Answer: You know the whole quarterback run thing that has swept over the NFL in recent years thanks to guys like Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton? Yeah, John Elway did that. OK, so maybe Elway was not the smoothest man on the move and maybe he did not run the zone read, but he did run. And he did win. A lot.
The two-time Super Bowl champion, who capped his sensational Denver Broncos career by winning MVP honors at Super Bowl XXXIII before riding off into the sunset, is second all-time in career rushes by a quarterback, one tote behind former Phily QB Randall Cunningham. He also threw a ball so hard that his receivers had a name for the little indention the tip of the football made on their bodies when it hit them — The Elway Cross — and was as competitive a player as the NFL has ever seen. Remember his helicopter run and dive that set up a crucial touchdown in Super Bowl XXXII?
For a while, before Brett Favre wound up passing him, Elway owned the top spot in the one category that should be listed first on the list of most important statistics for any player — career victories. And if I'm starting a team, I'm picking a guy who knew how to win and did anything and everything within his power to make it happen.
The ultra-athletic Elway, who twice was drafted in the Major League Baseball draft — first by Kansas City in the 18th round out of high school in 1979 and then again by the New York Yankees in the second round in 1981 — led the Broncos to five Super Bowl berths, two Super Bowl victories (back-to-back, no less) and belongs in every conversation ever had about the greatest quarterback to play the game.
As for my opponent and boss, this is probably the right time to point out that he went 4-1 in the office's NFL picks contest last week and doesn't follow the NFL a lick. He could be tough to catch in the pro picks, but since he does follow college football closely, I'm not too worried about keeping my early lead here.
Rice 31, Kansas 24
Oklahoma 35, Tulsa 10
West Virginia 49, Georgia State 7
Iowa 28, Iowa State 21
Kansas State 42, UMass 7
Oklahoma State 55, Lamar 10
Texas 35, Ole Miss 21
Texas A&M 35, Alabama 31
Nebraska 35, UCLA 31
Notre Dame 35, Purdue 17
Answer: Jim Brown. Normally, I would say a quarterback, but there was nothing normal about Jim Brown, No. 32 for the Cleveland Browns. Retired Lawrence Journal-World editor and columnist Bill Mayer likes Jackie Robinson for his pick as the greatest athlete of all-time and there is a lot to like about that selection, but my vote goes to Brown.
The greatest football player of all-time, Brown also was inducted into the College Lacrosse Hall of Fame, located on the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He was a first-team All-American as a senior and ranked second in the nation in scoring. Many are aware of that, but the amazing thing about Brown's athletic career is how few know of his basketball prowess. Brown led the Syracuse University basketball team in scoring one season.
Brown led the NFL in rushing eight times in nine seasons, averaged more than 100 rushing yards per game and more than five yards per carry. Brown never missed a game because of injury. He was bigger, stronger, faster and had better vision than any other running back in the league. He demoralized opponents in a way no football player had before him or has after him.
I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate you, Matt, on your strong Week 1 performance. For a guy who has to shave three times a day — your 5 o'clock shadow, I'm guessing, arrives at about 11 a.m. — you do a terrific job of keeping up on college football.
Friday, for the second year in a row, the NCAA declared a member of the Kansas University football team ineligible to play a single down for the Jayhawks because of circumstances outside of football.
And, for the second year in a row, common sense failed to prevail. Anyone noticing that this is becoming quite a pattern with the NCAA?
KU coach Charlie Weis announced Friday morning that cornerback Kevin Short, a transfer from Fort Scott Community College, had been ruled ineligible for the 2013 season because the NCAA deemed that Short's first season at Kansas would be best spent solidifying his academic standing. Next time, they might as well just call Paul Buskirk, KU's associate athletic director for student support, arrange a meeting and kick him in the groin.
Declaring Short ineligible not only takes away the young man's opportunity to play football — a dream for which Short worked his butt off this summer to make a reality — but it also sends a message to Kansas that the NCAA does not believe those in charge of admissions know what they're doing.
Hogwash. You won't find a school anywhere on the planet that has an athletic department, a football coach and a man like Buskirk that is as dedicated to the academic success of their students.
Weis clearly agrees. In a statement released to the media Friday morning, he expressed his frustration over the matter that comes just a year after the NCAA rejected Justin McCay's appeal for immediate eligibility due to personal hardships too private to mention publicly.
“Kevin's junior college transcript was better than most and indicated no reason to expect anything other than academic success,” Weis said in the release. “...We asked the NCAA representatives to allow Kevin to speak to them so he could show them how he had overcome adversity in life to become a proud new student, but they rejected that request. We are extremely disappointed with this decision.”
Who could blame them? This reeks of more hypocrisy from the NCAA office and, perhaps worse, continues to promote the image of inconsistency that now governs college athletics. Think about it: The powers that be at the NCAA essentially are telling Short and KU that the young man can do everything the rest of his teammates can except play in a three-hour game every Saturday. Gotcha. I'm sure freeing up those hours will really help Short's pursuit of a degree. What a joke.
Knowing Weis and what academics mean to him, he won't let it be a joke. Because the situation is what it is and there's nothing they can do about it, Short probably will be held out of certain football obligations in order to spend more time with the tutors.
The bummer of it all is Short does not need that. Sure, he worked overtime this summer to gain the necessary grades and hours to be able to transfer — evidently, hard work is now red-flagged — but he more than met the requirements needed for admission to KU. He came to Lawrence with a grade-point average well above the 2.5 requirement and also had nearly a semester's worth of additional transferable hours than he needed.
Short's absence will hurt the Jayhawks. He had starter written all over him and, just over a week ago, Weis called him one of the most talented players on the roster. However, since he arrived late and had not yet played a game, the result should not cripple the product on the field.
But football is only part of the reason Weis and company are disappointed by the NCAA's unwillingness to work with yet another Jayhawk who deserved a break. Weis hurts for Short and the message this ruling sends him and all of that hard work he put in this summer.
"Although I am disappointed for our team, I am much more concerned for Kevin personally,” Weis said. “We discussed the situation with Kevin today and although it was tough to explain the rationale of the NCAA, we are moving forward turning this into a red-shirt year focusing on academics."
This whole thing will probably end well for Short. He gets the extra year of college that not only will help him secure a degree but also will better prepare him for a potential pro career and he still has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
The NCAA is not so lucky, as it has added another chapter of ineptitude to its rapidly deteriorating resume. This chapter may not be one that the rest of the nation cares much about, but when it's bound together with stacks of others like it, it will be part of a powerful how-not-to book for leadership: Governing for Dummies. When is enough enough?
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.