Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
Earlier this week, a report from USA Today brought up that old story about Notre Dame paying Charlie Weis more in 2012 than it paid current Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly.
I'm not sure I get it.
For one, four seasons have passed since Weis last coached at Notre Dame and during each of the years a report like this has surfaced. We get it. Weis is still being paid by Notre Dame. A lot. But that's the way it's been and will continue to be until the end of their agreement. Everyone knows that. So why does it make headlines on it year after year?
For two, I'm not sure the report tells the entire story.
I remember talking to Weis about the details surrounding his departure from Notre Dame and the situation regarding his contract shortly after he arrived in Lawrence. At the time, it seemed like big news to me and I wanted to make sure I understood it fully — or at least as best I could.
Here's a brief summary of what my notes from those conversations included:
Because Notre Dame is a private institution, it does not have to make public all of the payments made to its head coaches. There is a number that goes down as reportable income for tax purposes, but that number is always a significant amount of money lower than the head football coach's total compensation. It's just that because Notre Dame is private it can pay its coaches in a different manner than a school like Kansas can and does.
Here, Weis receives an annual salary ($2.5 million) and brings home a monthly pay check. Although just $230,000 of that is considered his “base salary” all of it comes directly from Kansas Athletics, Inc., and is reported on KAI's federal taxes. According to Weis' contract with KU, the remaining $2,270,000 per year is for “professional services rendered” and is referenced in the contract at “Guaranteed Net Income.”
At Notre Dame, Weis said he received a relatively modest base salary directly from Notre Dame while the majority of his compensation came from other vendors tied to the athletic department — think payments for his TV show, radio show, clothing deals and money from any partnerships with companies like Nike, adidas, Under Armor or the like.
The biggest reason Weis is still being paid by Notre Dame at all is because the lawyer representing the university failed to include an offset clause in Weis' contract when the school hired him in 2005.
An offset clause, which is pretty common when it comes to coaching contracts at major universities, is a way for the university to save or recover at least part of what they owe a coach after he or she is fired.
In this case, in 2010, Weis took a job with the Kansas City Chiefs after being fired by Notre Dame in 2009. As outlined in the agreement between the two parties after his firing, Weis was scheduled to be paid $2.05 million annually from Notre Dame through 2015. Had an offset clause been included in that initial contract, the total amount given to Weis by Notre Dame from 2010-15 would have been drastically lower.
Let's say Weis made $1 million as the Chiefs' offensive coordinator in 2010. Instead of owing him $2.05 million for that year, Notre Dame would have owed him only the difference — $1.05 million. Furthermore, by the time he was hired at KU, where he brings home $2.5 million annually, an offset clause would have eliminated Notre Dame's payments to Weis altogether.
At the time, many people believed that former Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White, who hired Weis and now holds the same position at Duke, was responsible for botching the deal and creating a situation where the university owed Weis so much money for such a long period of time. In reality, it was the lawyer's failure to include the offset clause that cost Notre Dame the most.
Beyond that, the guy who really came out smelling like a rose in this whole deal was Weis' agent. He arranged and executed the deal of the century.
So what does all of this mean? In a nutshell, it's as simple as this: Despite what the reports and headlines might lead you to believe, Kelly did not receive less money in 2012 to be Notre Dame's football coach than Weis did not to be.
Yes, the money Weis received from Notre Dame ($2.05 million) was higher than Kelly's direct payment from the university ($1.46 million). But when you factor in Kelly's other compensation during the season that included an appearance in the BCS championship game Kelly's total haul was probably in the $3-4 million range.
From now probably until the rest of time, any reported dollar amount paid to a Notre Dame football coach is likely to be merely a portion of what the head coach brought home. According to the recent USA Today and Associated Press reports, which cited federal tax returns as the source, Kelly's base salary for the 2012 season was $698,140. Add to that more than $600,000 in performance and academic-based bonuses, which also were reported, and that's where the money changing hands directly between Kelly and Notre Dame stops. But it's hard to say that the other money does not count when you consider that Kelly only earned the rest because of his position as the Fighting Irish football coach.
If any of this interests you or matters in your world, you might as well just commit it to memory because the same story is going to pop up around this time next year and the year after that, as well, just as it has for the past four years. Why, I'm not sure.
It's been happening in the NBA for the past dozen or so years and now seems to have trickled its way down to college basketball, as well.
Foreign-born players making an impact in the NBA and college basketball certainly is nothing new. But holding such players to the ridiculous standards established by some of Europe's biggest success stories has become tired and trite and simply is not necessary.
Such is the situation currently facing Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, the 6-foot-6, Ukrainian standout who committed to play his college ball at Kansas University on Wednesday.
It's not merely good enough for Mykhailiuk to be regarded as a quality player with a ton of potential. Fans and analysts alike have taken it upon themselves to make him the next great thing to come out of Europe. He's already been called the best European prospect since Ricky Rubio — Rubio, by the way, was selected No. 5 overall by Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2009 NBA Draft as a 19-year-old Spanish star — and the buzz surrounding him seems to be gaining steam by the hour.
Signing with a school like Kansas will do that for just about any prospect, but did we not learn anything from Andrew Wiggins? By every measure, Wiggins had a fantastic freshman season at KU, but because he was hyped up to the moon and back, with some even daring to utter the name “LeBron James” during comparisons, many were disappointed by Wiggins' production throughout his time with the Jayhawks.
Hype did that. Not Wiggins.
The whole concept is nothing new. For years, people have been searching for the next Michael Jordan. Thankfully, that ghost chase finally seems to be finished. For whatever reason, it seems to have become a bit of an obsession to immediately start looking for the next great thing rather than just enjoying these wildly talented players when they come along. Maybe that's a product of the world we live in these days. Maybe that's just human nature.
Either way, the whole charade, like the game of basketball itself, has recently gone global, with countless NBA franchises chasing “The next Dirk Nowitzki” for the past decade or so.
To my knowledge, no one has found him yet. And maybe that's the reason.
There's a chance that guys like Andrea Bargnani (No. 1 overall draft pick in 2006), Darko Milicic (No. 2 overall in 2003) or Nikoloz Tskitishvili (No. 5 overall in 2002) would have been regarded as top-notch talents with promise and been given the time to properly develop had they not been compared to or measured against what Dirk did. So let's hope that Mykhailiuk is allowed to become who he is and not constantly held up against some of the college game's most recent foreign phenoms.
I've already heard Michigan guard Nik Stauskas' name thrown out as a comparison for Mykhailiuk, and while that clearly does not carry the same kind of pressure as being compared to King James, it's still worth pointing out that Mykhailiuk will be very fortunate if his college career goes the way of Stauskas', who is a projected lottery pick in most mock drafts.
I'm all for comparisons and buzz and excitement. But I also think we've reached the point where some of these things have gotten way out of hand and do nothing but set up talented players to fall short of unrealistic expectations.
I don't doubt for a second that Mykhailiuk will be a solid player at Kansas and believe he could make a big-time impact right away. But I'm also good with waiting to see him play in a KU uniform before crowning him king of the Euros.
By now, you've surely heard the news that Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, a 16-year-old Ukrainian basketball standout, chose Kansas and will join the Jayhawks this fall.
And thanks to the magical world of the Internet, we don't have to wait until Late Night to see him play.
Here's a quick look at a few of the highlight films out there on the Jayhawks' newest wing player, who sounds like he comes with a ton of potential and versatility.
KU coach Bill Self called him an immediate impact guy, which, when combined with the additions of Devonte' Graham, Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, means the Jayhawks are adding four immediate impact guys in the Class of 2014 and saying good bye to two, in Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
Not a bad ratio.
Anyway, here are the highlights of the young man who wishes to be called Svi (Svee) and whose name in English sounds like: Sviat-is-slov Meh-kai-luke.
The Big 12 blogging crew over at ESPN.com has been awfully busy lately wrapping up its spring football coverage with a bunch of different looks at each of the 10 teams in the Big 12 Conference.
They've done everything from a quick look at each team's most indispensable players to a full-on, 22-round draft of the top football players in the Big 12 and everything in between.
Although the Jayhawks have not been regarded in the exercises as a sleeper team for the upcoming season or anything like that, they have been given a little bit of love.
Here's a quick look at just how much.
Most Indispensable Player
First, we'll start with the most recent entry, which identified KU's most indispensable player. Not surprisingly, they picked senior linebacker Ben Heeney and it's hard to argue with that pick.
When Heeney was out last season, the KU defense was not quite the same. Not only is he the most accomplished and decorated player on KU's ever-improving defense, but Heeney also sets the tone for the way the entire unit plays. Rough, tough and relentless, Heeney has never shied away from contact or throwing himself in harm's way to make a play. Slowly but surely during the past couple of seasons, that mentality has rubbed off on those around him and toughened up KU's defense as a whole.
Of Heeney, ESPN.com's Brandon Chatmon wrote:
Heeney is the best and most productive player on the team and provides peace of mind for the coaching staff.... Without Heeney, the Jayhawks would have to replace a major hole in the middle of their defense. His experience, consistent play and attacking style make him one of the Big 12’s top linebackers. And his leadership is evolving heading into his final season with the Jayhawks.
Imaginary Big 12 Draft
Last week, the ESPN.com trio of Chatmon, Jake Trotter and Max Olson, ripped off a 22-round draft of the Big 12's top talent designed to fill out a starting 11 on both offense and defense.
In all, just three Jayhawks were picked in the 66-man draft, and, somewhat surprisingly, senior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd was the first KU player taken. Chatmon took Shepherd in the 13th round.
A couple of rounds later, Trotter snatched up senior linebacker Ben Heeney. And in the 19th round Chatmon swiped senior wide receiver Tony Pierson.
In a league with as much talent as the Big 12, it's not all that surprising that only a few Jayhawks were chosen. However, I was a little surprised that both cornerback Dexter McDonald and safety Isaiah Johnson went undrafted. Most within the KU program thought that McDonald was the better of KU's two cornerbacks last season and Johnson is the reigning Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year.
It would be interesting to see these guys do this draft again at the end of next season, or perhaps midway through, as newcomers like Kevin Short and Nick Harwell, along with a couple of other returning talents might be able to crack the draft with strong seasons.
Here's a link to the results of the complete imaginary player draft.
Strong and Weak
Finally, Chatmon was charged with taking a quick look at the Jayhawks' strongest and weakest positions.
To almost no one's surprise, his take was right in line with what most people believe to be true about the Jayhawks heading into 2014.
Strongest position: Secondary.
The Jayhawks have arguably the best returning cornerback duo in the Big 12 with JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald.... KU’s safeties (Isaiah Johnson and Cassius Sendish) are just as productive... Add cornerbacks Kevin Short and Greg Allen, who looked ready to contribute during the spring, and the Jayhawks secondary brings experience, production and depth to the field, three traits several other Big 12 teams wish they had on their rosters.
Weakest position: Offensive line.
The Jayhawks return a league-worst 34 career starts along the offensive line, with All-Big 12 honorable mention guard Ngalu Fusimalohi as the lone returnee with double-digit starts (12).... If KU has any hope of John Reagan’s offense taking off during his first season as offensive coordinator, the offensive line will have to reach new heights.
Now that we know the order of this year's NBA Draft Lottery, we can take a little closer look at where we think former Jayhawks Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid might be drafted in late June.
It seems safe to say that both will be top 3 picks. That's been the consensus opinion of NBA gurus, executives and analysts since the two announced their intentions to leave Kansas and Tuesday's unveiling of the lottery order did nothing to change that.
For those who might have missed it or don't care enough about the NBA to pay attention, here's the lotto order (complete with any applicable trades), which, inexplicably, once again was won by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Orlando Magic
- Utah Jazz
- Boston Celtics
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Sacramento Kings
- Charlotte Hornets
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Denver Nuggets
- Orlando Magic
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Phoenix Suns
OK, now that we've settled all of that, let's take a look at how Embiid and Wiggins fit with the existing rosters of the top three teams in this year's draft.
1. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Top players: PG Kyrie Irving, SF Luol Deng, PF Anderson Varejao, SG Dion Waiters
Top needs: Scoring. The Cavs have a serviceable group of big men who can play defense and rebound, but they don't have a go-to offensive option in the post. Add to that the fact that so much of the scoring burden constantly falls on Irving and you might be looking at a team that simply wants to take the guy who can best put points on the board.
Wildcard: The big question here is whether the Cavs believe they can or will resign Deng. If they do, he locks up their starting small forward position and opens the door for adding Embiid. If they don't keep Deng, then I think you've got a situation where Wiggins and Embiid is decided by a coin flip. Of course, there also exists the possibility that Cleveland's former favorite son, LeBron James, could be eyeing a return and if that's even close to possible, the Cavs wouldn't want to invest in Wiggins at LeBron's position.
Wiggins or Embiid? — Embiid.
2. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Top players: PG Brandon Knight, PF John Henson, SF Khris Middleton, SG Ramon Sessions
Top needs: Everything. Knight's a solid but unspectacular point guard, but outside of that, the Bucks are hurting. Milwaukee not only could use a serious boost in talent, but could also use an extremely marketable player who could become the immediate face of the franchise. Embiid's got the more marketable personality in that he likes to tell stories about slaying a lion and is a practical joker with a million-dollar smile, but Wiggins might be easier to sell as a future elite-level all-star because of the position he plays and the fact that his skill set includes physical feats that can blow people's minds.
Wildcard: Might the Bucks look to trade the pick in an attempt to turn it into 2 or 3 guys who could make an immediate impact instead of just one? That'll get sorted out in the next four weeks, but, with this team, anything is possible.
Wiggins or Embiid? — Wiggins.
3. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Top players: PG Michael Carter-Williams, PF Thaddeus Young, C Nerlens Noel, SF Jason Richardson
Top needs: The Sixers ranked near the bottom of the NBA in many defensive categories last season, but were dead last in offensive efficiency, a reality that would make the Embiid or Wiggins decision an interesting call. However, it's one they're likely to avoid seeing how they landed the No. 3 pick. The draft lottery probably fell perfectly for Philly, which very well might be “forced” to take Duke's Jabari Parker, a player who probably fits their greatest need. Not that the Sixers wouldn't take Embiid or Wiggins, but many believe Parker is the more polished scorer of the top options and is the kind of guy who is ready to contribute and help carry the scoring load right away.
Wildcard: It's all about Parker. If he were to go in the top two, ahead of either Embiid or Wiggins, Philly would no doubt jump on whichever former Jayhawk remained, both because of the way either could help their roster and the way either could inject some life into the franchise. Parker's probably the guy they end up with, but since we're asking about the KU guys for this blog, we'll still answer the question... You know, just in case.
Wiggins or Embiid? — Wiggins.
Now that spring football has come and gone and the Kansas University athletes eagerly looking for to the 2014 season have shifted into full off-season mode, it's time to look back at the biggest winners from spring ball.
The list of guys who helped themselves and their standing on the team with solid springs is long, but here's a look at the five guys who made the biggest move toward landing a big-time role this fall during the past five weeks.
• Greg Allen – Seemingly overnight, Allen transformed from a guy that didn't really make much of an impact on the field into a guy who played like he was a returning starter. The sophomore nickel back oozed confidence throughout the spring and used his size, speed and athleticism to make sure his sharpened mental game delivered plays on defense. Allen played for both sides in the spring game and KU coach Charlie Weis said in the postgame news conference that the 5-foot-11, 210-pound defensive back was making a strong push to be included with the first unit.
• Montell Cozart – Cozart's solid spring game is what most people will remember, but it was his development and surge that came before the glorified scrimmage that put him in position to head into the summer as the guy to beat in the Jayhawks' quarterback race. No longer just an athletic guy with the ability to hurt you with his feet, Cozart looks like a much more polished and comfortable passer and seems to be playing with the kind of poise and confidence of a guy who wants to prove he's a complete quarterback, not just a dynamic runner.
• Kevin Short – Weis said at the start of spring ball that passing either of last year's starting cornerbacks (Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd) on the depth chart would be a serious challenge. And then Short went out and did it. Tall, long, athletic and a blessed with the coverage instincts of tin foil, Short showed enough this spring to earn a promotion to first-team cornerback, which also allowed KU to slide the versatile Shepherd into the nickel back position.
• Damon Martin – Martin entered the spring with 13 games on his resume and just five starts. All of those came at guard. But this spring, under the tutelage of new offensive line coach John Reagan, the junior lineman widely known as the strongest of KU's big bodies up front, showed enough consistency, improvement and understanding of the Jayhawks' new offense to play every first-string snap at right tackle.
• Rodriguez Coleman – He was quiet during the spring game, but his spring as a whole was lights out. The junior deep threat not only was one of the most popular answers to the questions about which guys looked the best during spring practices, but he also elevated himself from big-time question mark to near-lock status for one of KU's three first-team wide receiver spots.
If you've been watching any of the NBA Playoff series between Portland and San Antonio — particularly Monday night's game — you might have had a moment or two where you thought you went back in time to the 2010-11 Kansas University basketball season.
That was the year before Thomas Robinson became an All-American and automatic double-double — the year when the sophomore's minutes were limited because of the stacked crop of big men who played ahead of him but his impact, minute-for-minute and pound-for-pound, was nearly as meaningful as anyone else's on the team.
The reason? Energy. Pure, unrestrained, wild and relentless energy.
The colors on his jersey might be different these days, but Robinson today looks and plays an awful lot like Robinson as a sophomore at Kansas.
That year, Robinson averaged just 14.6 minutes per game and had trouble staying on the floor because of consistent foul trouble — largely because of all that unbridled energy — and the presence of Marcus and Markieff Morris dominating big man touches and minutes.
This year, for Portland, Robinson is averaging 12.5 minutes per game, which is a smaller percentage of the game (26 percent with Portland vs. 37 percent as a sophomore at KU) but about the same amount of time to do what he does, which is raise the energy level of everyone in a Trailblazers uniform by flying around, pursuing every rebound and loose ball with reckless abandon and playing generally like a mad man possessed.
Robinson, in case you haven't been watching, still owns that passion and raw emotion that he flashed for three seasons at Allen Fieldhouse. He celebrates demonstratively after a big bucket or play, winces in pain after a tough call and communicates with his teammates in a number of different ways throughout his time on the floor.
Most nights, that's a good thing and it brings a lift to the entire Portland bench. Monday night, it definitely was, as Robinson scored 9 points and grabbed 5 boards, 1 steal and 1 block in 24 minutes while helping Portland extend their season by cutting the Spurs' lead in the best-of-seven series to 3-1.
When he checked out of the game for the last time with just over five minutes to play, Robinson, who already is on his third NBA team, got a standing ovation from the Portland crowd, which might have had Robinson himself flashing back to his days at KU.
Just for grins, here's a quick look at some of Robinson's numbers from then (2010-11) and now (2013-14), which show that, although his game has come a long way from when he first stepped foot on campus at KU, Robinson is still valued most for his energy and effort during the short stints he's on the floor.
Minutes per game:
2010-11 – 14.6
2013-14 – 12.5
Points per game:
2010-11 – 7.3
2013-14 – 4.9
Rebounds per game:
2010-11 – 6.4
2013-14 – 4.4
Field goal percentage:
2010-11 – 60.1
2013-14 – 48.1
Fouls per 40 minutes:
2010-11 – 5.6
2013-14 – 6.1
It started earlier last week with Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel proclaiming that one of the main reasons the Border War rivalry between Kansas and Missouri had not been renewed since the Tigers left the Big 12 for the SEC two years ago was because, “there's some pouting going on still.”
During an end of spring football Google hangout on GaryPinkel.com, Pinkel was asked about the rivalry and if he and the Tigers missed it.
That brought up the quotes. But isn't it funny how Pinkel always seems to get about this? I mean, it's been two years. Most people have moved on.
And, to Pinkel's credit, I think he has too. Sure he'd love to see the rivalry restored. There are a ton of people in that same boat. But it's not as if he can just ignore the question when he's asked about it.
Anyway, here's the full run of quotes from Pinkel, which merely served as the appetizer for some trash talk headed KU's way from the Tigers last week:
"We want to play Kansas again,” he said. “It was a great rivalry we had all those years," Pinkel said. "It’s been an open invitation. There’s some pouting going on still. It’s unfortunate, but it will happen again someday. It will. It would be great for our fans. In every sport, it would be good. We’ll see what happens."
Now.... let's move on to the main course.
That came late Sunday night, when a member of Missouri's softball program had no problem sharing her thoughts about KU's desire to avoid Mizzou on its schedule ever since the Tigers bolted the Big 12.
Shortly after learning that the Tigers and Jayhawks would both be in Columbia, Mo., this weekend for one of the NCAA softball tournament regionals, MU junior Corrin Genovese grabbed the mic and went wild.
"I'm sure you guys heard us cheering," Genovese told Gabe DeArmond of Rivals.com site PowerMizzou.com. "The whole rivalry with KU, it's just exciting to keep it going. I know they're kind of scared to play us in football and basketball, so it's good that we can keep tradition going and hopefully let them know who's boss and who will always be better in the rivalry."
"We wanted to keep the tradition going. They backed out, they felt disrespected. But for us to be the first team to play them after that went down, I think it's a big statement game. KU's done everything they can to avoid us the last couple years playing so they might lose the first round, you never know."
To be fair, MU coach Ehren Earleywine offered a much softer response to a possible meeting between the two Border War foes.
"It would be a packed house," Earleywine said. "Hopefully we win our first game and they win their first game and we can make that happen."
Earleywine also said MU has tried to schedule Kansas since leaving the Big 12 but to no avail.
"We contacted them and they responded pretty quick and said that wasn't gonna be a possibility," Earleywine told DeArmond. "I don't think it's something that the softball coaches decided. I think it was handed down from the administration."
While the intense nature of Genovese's trash talk certainly brings this issue back to the forefront, none of this is really news.
We know the Tigers would love to play the Jayhawks again and we know the Jayhawks aren't interested. It's been that way since the day Mizzou left the Big 12 and it'll probably be that way for years to come.
We've also always known that the only way the two could face each other again, at least right now, is by meeting in the postseason. That hasn't happened yet, but it could happen this weekend in Columbia. If it does, it figures to be quite a show, just like all of the KU-MU showdowns that came before it during the past 100-plus years.
The story of the night concerning Round 1 of the NFL Draft on Thursday was not No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, the rapid rise of a surprise prospect or the New York Jets fans booing the daylights out of their team's pick.
Instead, it was the saga surrounding polarizing Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, as it probably would have been no matter where he was selected.
Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and one of the most impressive and exciting quarterbacks to hit college football in years, sat in the green room for 2 hours and 43 minutes while waiting for his name to be called, which it finally was when Cleveland traded up to get him after passing on him at No. 4 (via trade) and No. 8 when the Browns chose Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert instead.
I thought Johnny Football handled himself very well throughout the night. He held it together while waiting, was classy during the brief, on-stage interview that followed the pick and seemed at peace with how the whole thing played out.
The guy's got a ton of talent. And he's a passionate dude. Now he'll have a little bigger chip on his shoulder than ever before and that should be interesting to watch. In Cleveland, no less.
At the end of the night, Manziel was one of three quarterbacks taken in the first round. Central Florida's Blake Bortles went No. 3 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater was the final pick of the first round (No. 32) when Minnesota traded up to get him.
Earlier Thursday, KU football coach Charlie Weis was one of the featured guests on 610 sports radio's "The Drive" and Weis, a 16-year veteran of NFL sidelines, was asked a ton about the draft in general as well as this year's crop of quarterbacks.
“There's an unusually large, eclectic group of quarterbacks this year,” Weis said. “And it'll be interesting to see where they all fall. I think it's gonna be what flavor ice cream you like, because I think they all bring something different to the table. What are you looking for? That's what it's gonna come down to.”
That thought, though relevant to all of them, came in a conversation about Manziel, about whom Weis had a lot to say prior to the first round getting under way.
“There's some people that'll like Manziel the most and others that wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot pole,” Weis said.
So where would Weis fall in that wide range of the love-him-or-hate-him game?
“I would have a tough time coaching him, personally,” Weis said. “He's an exceptional talent. He's either gonna be a Brett Favre star in the league or a loose cannon. I don't know enough about him personally. I haven't watched him play enough games. But I have watched him play really well in big games.”
The reason Weis would be concerned about coaching him has nothing to do with Manziel's skill set.
“Personality wise,” Weis said when asked what issues he might have. “I'm used to, 'We do things a certain way,' and he looks to be quite the free spirit. In my career, I haven't been around that free spirit mentality at quarterback. You have 'em at receiver, you have 'em at DB but there aren't too many of them at quarterback. There's some organizations that really need to take Johnny Manziel. He's a lightning rod and he could very quickly become a face of a franchise. And if he turns 'em into a winner, you hit a grand slam, you don't just hit a home run.”
Cleveland, which continually has struck out in its attempt to find a franchise quarterback likely was one of those teams to which Weis was referring and it should be very interesting to see how it all plays out when Johnny Football invades Cleveland.
Despite his comments about coaching him, which obviously will never matter, Weis said he was pulling for Manziel.
“I hope the kid's successful,” he said. “He was a great college player. That's why all the gurus who have spent a lot more time than me analyzing these guys are hot and cold on him because they're not really sure how this is gonna pan out.... You can't win without a quarterback. That is the bottom line. You look at every team in the league, if they don't have a quarterback they really don't have a chance.”
With tonight marking Round 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft and the Kansas University football program's only draft hopefuls being sixth or seventh round possibilities at best, let's take a quick look back at all of the Jayhawks first-round picks throughout the years.
Whether you're talking NFL Drafts or AFL Drafts, the Jayhawks have had their share of first-round selections.
The most recent, of course, came in 2008 when 2008 Orange Bowl MVP Aqib Talib, a cornerback, was picked 20th overall by Tampa Bay. Talib had some solid years in Tampa before moving on to the New England Patriots, where he played the 2012 and 2013 seasons. This offseason, Talib signed a monster free agent deal with the Denver Broncos that will pay him $57 million over the next six years.
Although the draft has taken on many different looks during the past several decades, it has held steady in its current seven-round format since 1994. Some of the earlier NFL Drafts had as many as 30 rounds and that number diminished little by little throughout the years.
Here's a quick look at the other former Jayhawks who joined Talib as first-round talent:
RAY EVANS – 1944 Draft, Pick No. 9, Chicago Bears
This draft had 29 rounds total but the first round included just nine picks. Evans, one of the greatest all-around athletes ever to come through KU, never played for the Bears and saw his professional career span just one season (1948) with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Interesting fact: Evans also was selected by the New York Knicks basketball franchise in the 1947 BAA Draft.
JOHN HADL – 1962 Draft, Pick No. 10, Detroit Lions
This draft had 20 rounds and Hadl, one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play at Kansas, also never played for the team that drafted him. He made his NFL debut in 1962 playing for the San Diego Chargers, where he starred until 1972. Hadl was a four-time AFL All-Star, a two-time pro bowl selection (1972 and 1973), the NFC player of the year in 1973 and was inducted into the Chargers' Hall of Fame.
GALE SAYERS – 1965 Draft, Pick No. 7, Chicago Bears
This draft also had 20 rounds and Sayers had the rare distinction of being a first-round selection in both the NFL and AFL drafts (Kansas City picked him in Round 1 in the 1965 AFL Draft). Sayers went on to become one of the greatest running backs the NFL has ever known and owner of several NFL records. He was a four-time pro bowl selection, a five-time AP first-team all pro, a two-time NFL rushing champion and, later, became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and had his No. 40 retired by the Bears.
JOHN RIGGINS – 1971 Draft, Pick No. 6, New York Jets
This draft had 17 rounds and the wild and crazy Riggins led the Jets in both rushing and receiving as a rookie. He played five seasons with the Jets before moving on to finish his career with the Washington Redskins, where he became an NFL MVP, a Super Bowl champion and MVP of Super Bowl XVII. Riggins also is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
DON GOODE – 1974 Draft, Pick No. 15, San Diego Chargers
This draft also had 17 rounds and Goode, a linebacker and Houston native, went on to play six seasons with the Chargers before finishing his career by playing his final two seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
MIKE BUTLER – 1977 Draft, Pick No. 9, Green Bay Packers
This draft had 12 rounds and Butler, who played defensive end, was taken in the top 10 by a team he spent the next six seasons playing for. After leaving the NFL following the 1982 season, Goode joined the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL for the 1984 and 1985 seasons. He then returned to the NFL and the Packers in 1985 for his final professional season.
DAVID VERSER – 1981 Draft, Pick No. 10, Cincinnati Bengals
This draft also had 12 rounds and included a native Kansan taken in the top 10. Verser, a wide receiver and kick returner, played four seasons with the Bengals, joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the '85 season and finished his career with Cleveland in 1987. He played in the 1982 Super Bowl, which the Bengals lost, 26-21, to the San Francisco 49ers.
DANA STUBBLEFIELD – 1993 Draft, Pick No. 26, San Francisco 49ers
By 1993, the draft was down to eight rounds and Stubblefield, one of the most disruptive and dominant defensive players to come through Kansas, was taken in the final few picks of the first round. Stubblefield played for four teams during his NFL career but the bulk of his time was spent with San Francisco, where he was a three-time pro bowl selection, NFL defensive rookie of the year in 1993 and NFL defensive player of the year in 1997. Stubblefield was a member of the 49ers Super Bowl XXIX championship team.
While the rest of the world watches to see where South Carolina stud Jadeveon Clowney, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and the rest this year's talented and deep NFL Draft class are taken in this week's draft, fans of Kansas University football find themselves in a familiar position — wondering if any former Jayhawks are relevant this year.
No Kansas fans ever will mistake the NFL Draft, which begins Thurdsay, a few weeks later this year, for the NBA Draft, which will unfold on June 26 in New York City, but that does not mean that a couple of former Jayhawks are not keeping one eye on the television and both ears on their cell phones.
Running back James Sims is the only Kansas player with so much as a prayer of being selected in this year's seven-round affair. The first round will begin and end Thursday night and Sims, the program's third all-time leading rusher, is free to go bowling, check out a movie or do some grocery shopping that night. Rounds 2 and 3 will take place on Friday, and Sims will be free to meet up with friends, catch up on some sleep or dive into some meditation to get his mind right for Saturday. That's when Rounds 4-7 will take place and if Sims is going to get drafted it almost assuredly will be in the final rounds.
KU coach Charlie Weis has said with conviction throughout the past two years that Sims will play on Sundays. Here's a quick look back at some of Weis' strongest points about why the NFL is in Sims' future.
"Do I think he'll be able to play on Sundays? Yes, I believe he will be able to play on Sundays.”
“There is a reason (former Denver Bronco) Terrell Davis was a sixth-round draft choice now. He was that slash one-cut runner with good vision, could run the ball inside very well, could run the ball outside OK, could pick up the blitz, is OK in the passing game. (Sims) doesn't have a glaring weakness. I can’t see one reason why he wouldn’t play on Sunday. I think he’s a nice, solid player. I’d want him on my team.”
“He can run inside and he can run outside and he can pick up the blitz,” said Weis of Sims. “He can run and he can catch. I don’t know what he can’t do. Does he run sub-4.5 (second 40-yard dash time)? No. But he’s a really, really good player. And if you’re a really, really good player here, there’s a better than even chance that you’re going to have a chance to be a really good player (in the NFL). His football will not end when he finishes up his senior year. His football will continue.”
If Sims is not drafted by the end of Saturday's selection process, he'll almost certainly land with an NFL team quickly.
As has been the case in the recent past for undrafted Jayhawks Chris Harris and Steven Johnson, who both played key roles in the Broncos' run to the Super Bowl last season, not being picked late actually wound up being the best thing that could have happened to them because it allowed them and their representation the freedom to look around the entire league and seek a deal with the team that gave them the best chance to make the roster.
Because of that, Sims sits in a win-win situation heading into this year's draft. Either he'll become the first Kansas player picked since Tanner Hawkinson in 2012 or he'll be able to pick the team he wants to go to camp with.
While Sims is far and away the headliner for KU's chances this NFL offseason, there are a couple of other former Jayhawks who also could land free agent deals following the draft. Here's a quick look:
• ST Josh Ford — Several teams have inquired about and studied Ford for his standout special teams play. He came to Kansas as a wide receiver but never made much impact there. But he's a big, physical guy with good quickness and the right demeanor to play special teams. He takes it personally on every unit, has a knack for blocking kicks and likes to hit. Making a roster could be tough because very few teams keep guys solely because of their special teams skills. But Ford should get a shot to prove he belongs.
• FB Nick Sizemore — True fullbacks are nearly extinct in the college game but NFL teams still value them tremendously. Remember, former KU running back Toben Opurum, who played defense during the final few years of his Kansas career is in the process of trying to make the Houston Texans roster as a fullback and was active for Houston's final regular season game last season. Sizemore has the, well, size to play the position and he showed good hands, decent speed and solid agility during pro day back in March. I've heard that a couple of teams asked for some extra details about Sizemore that day and his game film from 2013 won't hurt his cause.
• DL Keba Agostinho — I hadn't given much thought to Agostinho getting a shot but someone told me the other day that he was on the radar of at least one NFL team. The 6-foot-2, 277-pound defensive lineman had the best season of his career last year and looked much more active and showed he could make plays. But he's not fast enough to play linebacker, isn't dominant enough to be a true defensive end and doesn't have the size required to play inside. He might get invited to a camp and good for him if he does but making a roster is definitely a longshot.
• OL Aslam Sterling — I haven't heard much about Sterling and the NFL, but based on the body transformation he made from his junior to senior season alone and his ability to play tackle or guard, he might get a look as an undrafted free agent.
In the blink of an eye, KU's point guard position went from having a seasoned veteran leading the way to a list of inexperienced players who will be counted on big time during the 2014-15 season.
Gone is Naadir Tharpe, who announced he was transferring on Thursday, and in his place are sophomores-to-be Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp and newcomer Devonte' Graham, a Brewster Academy prospect who committed to Kansas on Friday.
The experience factor is not the only major shift in the position moving forward. Graham's addition means that rather than having undersized options at the lead guard spot, Bill Self's squad will be able to lean on a player with a frame a little more familiar to KU fans.
Graham, who stands 6-foot-2, more closely resembles Tyshawn Taylor than what the Jayhawks had last season. How quickly he adjusts to college and picks up Self's system remains to be seen, but his addition significantly diversifies the position, which should give the Jayhawks more options and make the team more well rounded.
Here's a quick look at some Graham highlights. He wears No. 4 in the high school videos and No. 1 in the Brewster highlights:
It always amazes me when fans celebrate the departure of a player and back up their stance by banging the drum for an unproven replacement.
Twitter is a dangerous place to do research, but, given that the news of veteran point guard Naadir Tharpe's decision to transfer away from KU broke just a couple of hours ago, that's the best place to look for now.
And the social media site is full of people cheering about Tharpe's exit.
I get it. I really do. The guy was less than stellar down the stretch last season, he struggled to make shots, run the offense and lead the team and fans don't like it when guys don't help the team.
Add to that the sketchy photo of Tharpe that surfaced shortly after the end of the season and you're quickly talking about full-fledged outrage from people who care an awful lot about these players.
Those are all valid reasons to be down on the guy, disappointed even. But is this KU team really better with him gone?
Time will tell, but I'm guessing no.
Here's the deal. Tharpe probably was not starting point guard material at this level to begin with. He did his best, gave it all he had (that part too often got overlooked with him) and took great pride in playing for Kansas. It really meant something to him to be a part of this program and I'm sure it's a tough deal for him to say goodbye.
Truth be told, Tharpe probably would have entered his senior season as a back-up point guard for the Jayhawks had he decided to stay.
That might have been part of what led to this decision, but it would have been a good role for him and the team. As we've seen, you can never have too much experience on a roster and, like him or not, scream at his every miss or not, Tharpe would have brought a lot of valuable experience to this roster.
It seems very possible that the Jayhawks soon could land Brewster Academy point guard Devonte' Graham. Adding him would've been a huge pick-up for the Jayhawks to begin with. It would be enormous now.
But, again, no matter how talented Graham is, he won't be able to replace the experience that Tharpe brought. At least not immediately.
Think about it. If the Jayhawks land Graham, who is down to KU and NC-State, their top three options at point guard entering next season — Graham and sophomores Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp — will have less experience combined (two seasons) than Tharpe did by himself (three).
Who knows what Tharpe's role would have been. He might have been a back-up to Graham. He might have played 10 minutes a game and he might have played 25. Heck, he might have even shifted into more of a role as a zone buster who came in as a shooter and had nothing to do with the point guard position.
We'll obviously never know. But to cheer his departure seems a bit short-sighted.
Remember how excited everyone was for Dayne Crist to replace Jordan Webb? That didn't work out all that well. This might. But until we see it, you have to wonder.
A handful of well-known former Kansas University football players are getting together this weekend to help out young athletes who hope to have a future in football.
Several of the Jayhawks running this weekend's Next Level Youth Training Combine on Saturday morning (April 26) at YSI Sports Complex in Lawrence were members of KU's 2008 Orange Bowl team and their expertise stretches to nearly every position on the field, making the affordable event helpful for any young football player in fifth through 12th grade who might wish to participate.
The former players who will run the camp include:
WR Dexton Fields
WR Raymond Brown
RB Brandon McAnderson
DB Justin Thornton
DB Lubbock Smith
LB Eric Washington
And it's possible that former KU running back Jake Sharp and former KU linebacker Mike Rivera also might stop by to help out.
According to their web site, “This camp is designed to help young athletes prepare for higher levels of sports. We are striving to provide quality training and education from coaches who have played football at an elite level. We will test all aspects of what it takes to be a top level athlete through mental, physical and social tests. These traits are the key components to being successful in taking football to the next step. We have put together a competitive plan that will provide the best coaching experience for our participants.”
The day will begin with registration at 7:30 a.m. and run through 2 p.m. It will be broken down in the following manner:
Testing - 40 Yard Dash, Agility Shuttle, Broad Jump, 3 Cone Drill
Skills - Speed, Agility, Cardiovascular, Explosion
Team Drills - These drills will be very challenging, but will serve the purpose of teaching young athletes that it takes hard work to be successful and make it at the next level.
According to Fields, “these drills will be very challenging, but will serve the purpose of teaching young athletes that it takes hard work to be successful and make it at the next level.”
Anyone interested in participating in the unique, NFL-combine style camp can show up the morning of and register there.
You may also get more information or pre-register online at http://nextlevelcombine.brownpapertickets.com
Charlie Weis' decision to name sophomore Montell Cozart Kansas University's starting quarterback for the 2014 season has everything to do with Cozart, his ability, his development and his potential and nothing to do with anything else.
The move, which Weis announced Thursday morning in a press release, was not about guys not getting the job done. It was not about senior Jake Heaps not being good enough. It was not about UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard not being what the coaches thought he was, junior Michael Cummings not being the right option or red-shirt freshman Jordan Darling not being ready.
It was all about Montell Cozart and the idea that plugging him into the starting spot — provided things go well from here — brings KU closer to competing with the rest of the Big 12, which ultimately, will determine whether Kansas can get things turned around any time soon at Memorial Stadium.
And it's a fantastic decision.
Cozart not only gives the Jayhawks a dynamic weapon who could become a nightmare for opposing defenses to plan for and play against, but naming him now also gives the Jayhawks a chance to pick up some serious momentum this summer.
After last Saturday's spring game, of which Cozart was named the offensive MVP, both Weis and Cozart spoke about the Jayhawks' QB competition still being wide open. Cozart, showing his true character, said he thought all — yes ALL — of the QBs on KU's roster were about equal and Weis said the coaching staff was in no hurry to name a starter because of the advantage it might give them to have future opponents attempt to prepare for multiple guys.
That stance, at least from Weis, changed quickly. As he noted in the press release that named Cozart the starter, Weis and KU's offensive coaching staff went through extensive post-spring evaluations and individual player meetings before reaching this conclusion.
It's tough to ask a coach or a player to make a definitive call about such an important issue right after a game, especially after a game that many believe is little more than a glorified practice.
But it's a great sign for the future of KU football that Weis wasted no more time after evaluating the spring.
I'm a Heaps guy. He has talent, is a great teammate and an even better person. And I like all of the rest of the quarterbacks on KU's roster, as well. But after seeing Cozart's development with my own eyes last weekend, it was obvious to me — and probably to hundreds of the rest of you, too — that Cozart was the clear pick.
He's not the next Robert Griffin III (at least we don't think he is) but he's by far the closest thing the Jayhawks have had to that, maybe ever. There will be growing pains ahead and Cozart will have his ups and downs. But making this call today instead of three or four months from now gives the Jayhawks, the coaching staff and, most importantly, Cozart a chance to work out some of those kinks during the summer before we even get to the fall.
Cozart is now this team's unquestioned leader at the game's most important position. And judging by the Twitter response from a bunch of his teammates — on both offense and defense — the rest of the Jayhawks are just as ready for the Cozart era to begin as Cozart and the coaching staff.
Here we go.
Just like that, another session of spring practice is in the books and, despite what the weather looks like in Lawrence today, we're moving on to the offseason, the upcoming summer and the final stretch of preparation for fall camp.
As always, the spring ended with last Saturday's spring game, an interesting battle that featured the first-string blue squad rallying from a 7-0 halftime deficit to top the white team 20-10.
For the most part, the game lacked the kind of highlights and excitement that many fans were hoping to see but it still had a ton of substance. We got our first look several newcomers, got a taste of the new offense (even if it was the kind of taste you get when testing how hot a soup is) and were able to see some of that depth the KU players and coaches have talked about throughout the spring.
Based off of Twitter, message boards and several reader comments, it seems as if there's some disappointment out there about the way the spring game went down. That's understandable, given the fact that most hope and expect to see fireworks and offensive explosions during these types of games and we saw an entire half played with just seven points scored. But it's important to remember that, with this KU team, the defense is way ahead of the offense, which has been using its current playbook for just five weeks. Remember, to the coaches and players the spring game is just another practice. Yes, it comes with a little more pizazz but they really do treat it as another opportunity to evaluate, execute and get better. As with any practice, there were good moments and bad, so putting too much stock into this game — particularly its outcome — is missing the point. There's still a load of time remaining before this team really needs to be clicking. Having said that, I do think this team is in better shape at this point in the season than any of the KU teams we've seen around here during the past four years.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Sophomore QB Montell Cozart showed how much he's grown. Forget the fact that Cozart was by far the best quarterback in the game and that his stats were among the best on the entire roster. Let's look quickly at his development. He looked calmer, more poised, more in control and really showed how much he has matured in a relatively short time. Instead of just running around and trying to make plays as an athlete, he's now looking to make plays as a quarterback – eyes up, vision downfield, ready to run when it's there. That's a great sign for both him and the Jayhawks and it was on full display in this one. Beyond that, he may not be the most rah-rah guy, but it's clear that he's respected as a leader, as well.
2 – The defense looked pretty solid overall. It would be easy to look at the 20-10 final score and say the offenses fell flat, but the KU defense — both the first teamers and the second-string guys — had a little something to do with that. The blue team, which was punked a little by the second-string offense in the first half, stepped up after halftime and really slammed the door the way they should have. The secondary played tough throughout the game and showed its ability to lock up in coverage with Dexter McDonald and Kevin Short leading the way. There were also plenty of moments where the DBs showed they're more than willing to step up and support the run. As for the white team, there were a bunch of guys who stood out there, too, which not only seems to suggest that some of that depth is legitimate but also that, with these guys pushing the first unit, that group will keep getting better, too.
3 – KU's running game looked good yet again (even without James Sims) but I thought senior Taylor Cox was as impressive as anybody. Running behind a second-string offensive line, Cox rumbled for 63 yards on 15 carries and made the most out of every carry. He reminded me a lot of Sims the year he had been suspended and played with the white team during the spring game. And he also reminded me to not count him out of this running race. Brandon Bourbon (96, 12) and Darrian Miller (50, 7) handled blue team carries and I'm pretty high on juco transfer De'Andre Mann, who will be on campus this summer. But Cox's style and demeanor have always impressed me and that certainly held true last Saturday, especially when you consider that the guy has been dealing with an injury for most of the spring.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – The optimists out there would point to the white team's domination of the first half and say that's a good sign about the team's overall depth. And even though that may be true, it's not what you want to see from the first unit. I'm willing to give the blue squad a pass for a couple of reasons — they rallied and played much better in the second half and, as we mentioned above, it was just a practice — but the better outcome for the program as a whole would have been for the blue squad to come out and roll. It didn't happen and now a bunch of those questions about this team that probably would have been there anyway will linger throughout the summer and into the 2014 season.
2 – Senior quarterback Jake Heaps (3-for-9 for 41 yards) looked pretty average throughout the game. I've heard that Heaps looked good this spring overall — especially at the beginning — but he didn't look much different on Saturday than the guy we saw play in 2013. He had trouble avoiding pressure, had to throw the ball away too often and looked a little stuck in the mud. He had a few good moments and did lead one touchdown drive, but he did not use his arm strength to stand out and that's his biggest advantage over fellow blue team QB Montell Cozart. There's still a long way to go before the Jayhawks name a starter and KU coach Charlie Weis said the coaching staff wouldn't make a decision based on one day. But it's hard to look at what went down on Saturday and not think that Heaps has fallen behind.
3 – It's just one miss and it probably will soon be forgotten, but it's the last thing the Jayhawks needed. When place kicker Matthew Wyman missed an extra point midway through the third quarter after a blue team touchdown by Montell Cozart, it sent thoughts of KU's recent struggling in the kicking soaring back into the minds of many KU fans. Wyman, one of the heroes of last year's Louisiana Tech victory, made the rest of his PATs and also hit a short field goal, but, at this point, place kicking still has to be considered a question mark, which could make the summer arrival of expected walk-on John Duvic a welcomed sight.
A few thoughts for the road:
• Junior cornerback Kevin Short looks like a big-time player. He's big, athletic, can cover and has some serious swagger.
• Greg Allen looks like a completely different guy. The biggest reason the nickel back appears to be playing so well? Confidence.
• Several running backs and wide receivers made an impact in this one as blockers, most notably Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon, who both had key blocks to help spring Cozart for key runs.
• The wide receivers looked pretty good and like a much improved group. Senior Nick Harwell is a difference maker. He gets open and makes catching passes look ridiculously easy. Justin McCay and Andrew Turzilli were pleasant surprises and the passing game looked pretty decent without Tony Pierson or Rodriguez Coleman factoring in much at all.
• Center Joe Gibson was pretty impressive for the white squad. And even though the blue team's O-Line didn't stand out, that's not always bad news.
• I actually thought junior Michael Cummings looked pretty good at QB for the white squad. He still throws the ball way too hard at times but he was decisive on the move and attacked the first-string defense with confidence. He's not going to become the starter, but it's clear that this guy is still competing to be relevant out there.
• Senior tight end Jimmay Mundine did exactly what I think we'll see him do a lot this season. He sat down in open spots, made sure-handed grabs and got as much as he could after the catch.
• The defense as a whole — white and blue — really looked to be flying to the ball more. You didn't see many cases where just one guy made a tackle. It was often three or four guys right there to bring a ball carrier down.
• Ben Heeney's numbers were modest (4 tackles) but he had a couple of moments that made you think he's still the best player on this defense.
• I was impressed by the active nature of both Tyler Holmes and Colton Goeas. Heard their names called a lot. Both are athletic, big dudes who could be a key part of KU's depth.
KU's fall camp opens in roughly three and a half months and the 2014 season kicks off 146 days from today.
By now, you've all surely heard that former Kansas University assistant coach and one of the school's all-time great players landed a head coaching job at Wake Forest after two successful seasons at Tulsa.
The stories we posted got a lot of hits and comments and, as has been the case since the late 80's, everyone in Jayhawkland seemed to be pretty pumped for Manning, his family and the handful of KU alums on his coaching staff.
Now, take that excitement and happiness and multiply it by 100. That's the kind of reaction that Manning received at Wake Forest, where students, players, administrators and fans of the program welcomed him with open arms and some serious celebrations.
Below are a few videos and links to some of Wake's coverage of Manning's arrival. It's worth a look, just as Manning is worthy of that job.
Danny Manning's introductory press conference:
Manning's first day on campus:
Here are a couple of player reaction videos:
The folks at Wake even threw together this "Manning 101" infographic:
And, finally, here's a link to the photo gallery from Manning's big day:
After going through much of the spring without getting a look at the 2014 version of the Kansas University football, we got a peek and then some on Saturday morning.
Not only as the media able to attend the annual Hannah & Friends football clinic where the Jayhawks and dozens of local people with different abilities ran through football drills and had a rocking good time, but we also were treated to more than an hour of an actual practice, complete with individual drills, one-on-one competitions and seven-on-seven scrimmage.
There was too much out there to waste any more time leading into what I saw, so let's just get right to it. Short and sweet, but it should give you answers to a bunch of questions about this team.
Make sure you scroll down to the bottom for my best guess at what the current spring depth chart looks like, based mostly off of what I saw today.
• It looks as if senior Jake Heaps and sophomore Montell Cozart have established themselves as the top two quarterbacks. Both took reps with the first team on Saturday and Heaps was the first to go out there. After that, Michael Cummings took the next most reps followed closely by UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard.
• Offensive line coach John Reagan looks like a difference maker. He coaches with a style that is 100 percent hands-on all the time and he really emphasizes little details and gives great one-on-one attention to every player in his group. Check next week for another blog entry about Reagan. I was so impressed by what he did and how he did it that I think it warrants its own blog.
• The new KU passing game, which was featured during seven-on-seven drills, includes a variety of short, intermediate and deep routes and uses the entire field, sideline to sideline. The tempo is good, the routes appear to be simple but effective and the quarterbacks (all of them) really seemed to have a good feel for how the offense is run and how the routes develop.
• The first-string defense that KU used on Saturday featured five defensive backs and included seven seniors and four juniors.
• It may just be spring practice, but it's obvious that these guys have been working hard. Many guys look bigger and leaner and almost the entire roster gave maximum effort on every drill.
• You might have read the coaches' comments about sophomore defensive back Greg Allen having a great spring. Now I see why they were so impressed. Allen is playing with a ton of confidence and even a little swagger right now. He's big, physical and appears to be playing on instinct rather than having to think.
• It's a minor detail, but I overheard defensive backs coach Dave Campo getting after newcomer Ronnie Davis a little bit during the seven-on-seven portion of practice. It wasn't Campo's ribbing that caught my ear, rather what he said. He pointed out that Davis' feet are too good to allow a receiver to beat him to the inside and such a comment along with when he took his turn during drills leads me to believe Davis already is a second-string cornerback in KU's secondary.
• Before seven-on-seven got under way, the wideouts and DBs did a few rounds of one-on-one battles. The best battles by far were: Tony Pierson vs. Dexter McDonald; Nick Harwell vs. JaCorey Shepherd; and Rodriguez Coleman vs. Kevin Short. Each guy won a battle or two during the time these guys locked up but it was the all-out competitiveness that existed between them that most impressed me.
• I already talked about Reagan and how he coaches the offensive line, but it's worth pointing out a couple of things about the players he coaches. Walk-on center Joe Gibson has good size and appears to be in an intense battle with juco transfer Keyon Haughton at center. Haughton appears to be a little more polished and comfortable at the moment, but this one could go on for a while. Pat Lewandowski worked with the first team at left tackle and he looks a little more cut than what he played at last season. Senior Zach Fondal seems to be right there with him, competing for the job, though, so that one is far from settled. Mike Smithburg and Ngalu Fusimalohi appear to be locked in at the guard spots (both have added five pounds) and Damon Martin looks very good at right tackle. If today is any indication of how the rest of the spring has gone, it's safe to say the offensive line is coming together much more quickly and much nicer than the group did last year.
• Another new coach who I got my first look at on Saturday was wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau and I was nearly just as impressed by him as I was Reagan. Kiesau is active during drills and he goes out there and physically demonstrates how he wants things to be done and what he wants his guys to do. It was just an hour of one practice, but the receiving corps looks a lot better already.
• Nothing major here either, but the guys who went back to field punts during the final session we saw were: Tre' Parmalee, Isaiah Johnson, Nick Harwell and Kevin Short. All except Parmalee are projected starters elsewhere on the field and all should be in the mix for the job come fall.
• Here's a quick look at some seven-on-seven stats (which might very well be meaningless but give you an idea of how the passing game looked): Passing — Jake Heaps 4-for-7; Montell Cozart 1-for-5; Michael Cummings 3-for-4; T.J. Millweard 3-for-4. Receiving — Rodriguez Coleman 4 receptions on 6 targets; Nick Harwell 2 receptions on 3 targets; Tre' Parmalee 2 receptions on 2 targets; Andrew Turzili 2 receptions on 2 targets; Justin McCay 1 reception on 1 target; Jordan Shelley-Smith 0 receptions on 1 target; Tony Pierson 0 receptions on 4 targets; Trent Smiley 0 receptions on 1 target. Defensive Pass Break-Ups — Dexter McDonald 3 (1 interception), Jake Love 1, Kevin Short 1.
All right, now onto my best guess at the current depth chart, which has probably changed a lot over the spring and, no doubt, will change some more when the rest of the 2014 recruiting class arrives this summer.
WR Nick Harwell 6-1, 193, Sr.
Tre' Parmalee 5-10, 175, Jr.
LT Pat Lewandowski 6-5, 290, Sr.
Zach Fondal 6-5, 295, Sr.
LG Ngalu Fusimalohi 6-2, 315, Sr.
Bryan Peters 6-3, 295, Jr.
C Keyon Haughton 6-2, 300, Jr.
Joe Gibson 6-3, 295, RS-Fr.
RG Mike Smithburg 6-3, 305, Sr.
Joey Bloomfield 6-6, 295, RS-Fr.
RT Damon Martin 6-3, 305, Jr.
Brian Beckmann 6-6, 300, Soph.
TE Jimmay Mundine 6-2, 240, Sr.
Ben Johnson 6-5, 235, RS-Fr.
RB Brandon Bourbon 6-1, 225, Sr.
Darrian Miller 5-10, 195, Jr.
QB Jake Heaps 6-1, 210, Sr.
Montell Cozart 6-2, 195, Soph.
WR Tony Pierson 5-10, 175, Sr.
Andrew Turzilli 6-3, 194, Sr.
WR Rodriguez Coleman 6-3, 190, Jr.
Justin McCay 6-2, 210, Sr.
LC Kevin Short 6-2, 190, Jr.
Ronnie Davis 6-0, 185, Jr.
NB JaCorey Shepherd 5-11, 190, Sr.
Greg Allen 5-11, 210, Soph.
LE/T Andrew Bolton 6-3, 285, Jr.
Tyler Holmes 6-3, 280, Soph.
N Keon Stowers 6-3, 297, Sr.
Tedarian Johnson 6-2, 290, Sr.
RE/T Ben Goodman 6-3, 250, Jr.
T.J. Semke 6-2, 265, Jr.
BUCK Michael Reynolds 6-1, 240, Sr.
Victor Simmons 6-1, 225, Sr.
RC Dexter McDonald 6-1, 205, Sr.
Brandon Hollomon 5-10, 175, Jr.
SS Isaiah Johnson 6-1, 210, Jr.
Tevin Shaw 5-11, 192, Soph.
MLB Ben Heeney 6-0, 230, Sr.
Colton Goeas 6-2, 245, RS-Fr.
WLB Jake Love 6-0, 220, Jr.
Schyler Miles 6-2, 235, Jr.
FS Cassius Sendish 6-0, 195, Sr.
Fish Smithson 5-11, 190, Soph.
While the news about Danny Manning being hired by Wake Forest obviously is a big deal for the former Kansas University star and assistant coach, it's also potentially huge news for another former Jayhawk.
Brett Ballard, a former KU player and assistant in his own right, now sits in the win-win position of either moving on with Manning to Wake Forest or gunning to become the next Tulsa head coach himself.
Ballard, 34, may be considered a longshot for the job given his lack of Div. I head coaching experience, but those who know him know that he is absolutely ready for this kind of challenge.
For Ballard, the chance to run his own program at this high of a level at this point in his career would be considered a major coup. But he should not be overlooked simply because of his age. He's one of the sharpest guys I know and has dedicated himself completely to every coaching position he's ever had. From his time as the KU video coordinator who used to hit up his friends for VCR help back in the VHS days to his two seasons as the head coach at Baker University, where he engineered a strong turnaround and brought a new kind of commitment, discipline and standard to the BU program, Ballard always has seemed to be on the right path to a coaching career.
Ballard also has proven his mettle in different roles along the way, most notably KU's director of basketball operations. And few young assistants have the kind of sterling resume that Ballard has, having played under Roy Williams and coached under Williams, Bill Self and now Manning. You don't spend as much time as Ballard has around those guys (and several top-flight assistants) without picking up a few tricks of the trade.
Look no further than former KU assistant and current Southern Illinois head coach Barry Hinson for proof of that.
“It’s a mini-Kansas,” said Hinson of Ballard's time at Baker during an interview with KUsports.com's Tom Keegan. “They’re running all of our stuff, and they’re running it great. Matter of fact, I’m sitting here thinking, ‘Gosh, some of the stuff they’re running better than we are.’ And, obviously, you can see he’s got a touch of coach Self in him because here we are with two minutes to go in the ballgame and the other team has 38 points.”
For Tulsa, hiring Ballard would be a gamble but it would give the Golden Hurricane an opportunity to obtain something they have struggled to find throughout the years — consistency and stability.
Known as a launching pad for some future big-time coaches — Manning very well may be en route to becoming the latest — hiring Ballard would give Tulsa the chance to lock up a young coach who likely would be very happy to stick around for several years while building both his own career and the program. It also would give TU the chance to keep alive the momentum that Manning created during the past two seasons and be a strong hire for the hope of keeping Tulsa's talented roster in tact.
What's more, Ballard probably could be had for relatively cheap, leaving room to hand out more money to top-notch assistants who have strong experience in Ballard's perceived areas of weakness.
Beyond that, it's not as if hiring guys around Ballard's age is at all unheard of. Current Florida coach Billy Donovan got his first Div. I coaching job at age 28 (Marshall), Shaka Smart was hired by VCU at 32, Richard Pitino was hired by Minnesota at age 30, Kevin O'Neill was hired by Marquette at age 32 in 1989 and that same school just recently announced the hiring of 37-year-old Steve Wojciechowski, who comes from Duke and has no head coaching experience.
Although it was Manning's name, vision and direction that engineered the Tulsa turnaround that led the Golden Hurricane back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 in just the staff's second year, Ballard was his top aide from Day 1 and put in the kind of time and effort that made it abundantly clear that he not only was serious about his craft but also capable of making an impact at a big-time program.
The Tulsa opening is a great job and it will attract all kinds of fantastic candidates, both up-and-comers in the business and older, veteran-type guys who may be looking for one last stop to settle into. The TU administration will have several good choices as it seeks to fill the vacancy created by Manning's departure.
Even if he's not the guy they end up going with, Ballard should be one of the guys TU strongly considers.
By now, you've surely heard KU football coach Charlie Weis and offensive line coach John Reagan say — on separate occasions — that they have eight offensive linemen that they feel pretty good about at this point in the spring.
With five spots making up an O-line that means the Jayhawks are potentially set with a starter and a back-up at three spots and looking for help at two others.
One of the most important things to remember about KU's new-look offensive line under John Reagan is prototypes need not apply. Sure, Reagan would love to have a 6-foot-6, 340-pound left tackle who moves like a middle linebacker and wreaks havoc like the Incredible Hulk, but that guy is not on the roster. So there's no point in worrying about him.
Reagan's focus is on finding the five best linemen and then finding a way to make them work together up front to protect the quarterback and open holes for the guys in the backfield. If that means they're undersized at one spot or another, Reagan likely won't lose too much sleep over it because his goal is to put the best five guys out there and I can't see him letting anything change that.
With that in mind, let's dive into the math and use a little logic to predict what things might look like as the KU offensive line heads into the final third of spring practice.
Here's a quick guess, in alphabetical order, at the identity of the eight guys Weis and Reagan were talking about followed by how they might fit into the plans:
Brian Beckmann — 6-6, 300-pound Sophomore, Overland Park
Zach Fondal — 6-5, 295-pound Senior, Navarro College
Ngalu Fusimalohi — 6-2, 315-pound Senior, CCSF
Joe Gibson — 6-3, 295-pound RS-Freshman, Rockhurst
Keyon Haughton — 6-2, 300-pound Junior, Georgia Military College
Pat Lewandowski — 6-5, 290-pound Senior, Overland Park
Damon Martin — 6-3, 305-pound Junior, Arlington, Texas
Mike Smithburg — 6-3, 305-pound Senior, Iowa Western
Left Tackle —
This still seems to be a question mark (perhaps the biggest question mark on the team) but it's not necessarily because of a lack of bodies. Fondal and Lewandowski both spent time at left tackle in 2013, but that might not necessarily be a good thing given the struggles KU's O-Line endured last season. It makes sense to suggest and expect that both guys have improved a great deal in the offseason, both in terms of getting stronger and into better physical shape and in terms of their comfort and familiarity with the position. Both were going through things as front-line guys for the first time and although both have good size and athleticism, they definitely need to be more consistent to make a difference at one of the team's most important positions.
Left Guard —
Weis said early this spring that Fusimalohi had emerged as a leader on the line, most likely as one of those lead-by-example-and-raw-energy kind of guys. So it's safe to assume he'll be pencilled into the same spot where he started 12 games a season ago. It seems they may still be searching for Fusimalohi's back-up, but junior Bryan Peters is a name to keep an eye on there. He doesn't have any game experience but he has been in the program for a few years and could be ready to play a role.
In addition to being one of the O-line's most important positions, center is also one of the most intriguing. With two guys with next to no experience battling for playing time, it could come down to whichever guy shows more consistency, even if one of them is a better physical or mental option. The candidates appear to be Gibson, the former walk-on whom former line coach Tim Grunhard and several teammates have talked up quite a bit during the past six months, and juco transfer Haughton, who arrived in January and so impressed Weis early on that the KU coach openly said the young man would play a lot and we'd be writing about him. There might not be two guys on this team who spring ball is more important to.
Right Guard —
Smithburg, who started eight games at right guard in 2013, returns a year old, wiser and stronger and seems to be a likely choice to settle back into this spot for his senior season. Earlier this week I talked to Smithburg about this spring compared to last and although he said it was “just another spring,” he also said it felt weird being considered one of the leaders because of age alone. That's not to say he's not ready for the role. Smithburg's a no-nonsense kind of guy who doesn't mind mixing it up and should be much more comfortable in his role now that he has a full year — on the field and in the weight room — under his belt.
Right Tackle —
Martin is one of the more intriguing prospects at this position and he could be a diamond in the rough waiting to be unleashed. Weis said a couple of weeks ago that if Martin was not the team's starting right guard he'd be the team's starting right tackle. Provided the junior from Arlington, Texas, hasn't done anything to back Weis off of that stance, I like him at tackle because of the strength of KU's other guards and Martin's physical strength. Beckmann's young, but he's physical and athletic and might be ready to slide into a back-up role.
Others to remember —
Although they're not here for spring ball, the Jayhawks have a handful of offensive linemen coming this summer who could provide instant depth and seem to have bright futures. They are: Devon Williams — 6-4, 340-pound Junior, Georgia Military College; Apa Visinia — 6-4, 380-pound Freshman, Grandview, Mo.; and Jacob Bragg — 6-4, 305-pound Freshman, Naogdoches, Texas.