Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
The Jayhawks jumped back into practice on Monday and, perhaps because of the downpour that hit Lawrence during the middle of the day, actually used the practice fields near the stadium instead of the old practice spot near Hoglund Ballpark.
There was a lot of energy out there from players, coaches and even managers, which was not that surprising given it was the start of a new week and followed an off day.
Here's a quick look at what caught my eye out there today:
• A big chunk of the time we were out there focused on special teams and the biggest thing that stood out to me there was the number of bodies working on returning punts. Taylor Cox, Quincy Perdue, Taylor Martin, Darious Crawley, Ke'aun Kinner and Emmanuel Moore all took their turn and they all looked pumped to get a crack at it. We'll see if other guys work there as camp goes on or if they find their punt returner from that group.
• Even before drills began the KU coaches were getting after these guys and inspiring them to work. Kenny Perry shouted “Hey, let's go, fly around, fly around,” while guys were moving from station to station and David Beaty got after a group of guys like I've never seen him get after guys because they walked from one drill to the next. In a little more colorful language, Beaty basically said, “Are you kidding me. What are we doing walking?”
• It's really interesting to watch the coaches emphasize quickness and efficiency in and out of drills. Klint Kubiak, Gary Hyman and Kenny Perry (and probably the rest of the staff, as well) all emphasized getting as many reps in as possible during a particular drill. Don't get me wrong, they're not looking to sacrifice quality for quantity and if a guy screws up he does the drill again. But this theory goes along with the whole fast tempo at all times thing and also inspires the group to get as many reps as possible, which only helps them improve at a faster rate.
• The QBs and WRs worked a lot on back shoulder throws today, which not only was good for chemistry but also gave each some individual work while working together. The QBs got to work on accuracy and throws they'll be asked to make a ton this season and the WRs got to work on their hands at the same time. It was pretty slow speed but very effective.
• I realized today that the strength coaches aren't just out there to watch and have a good time. I noticed these guys walking around to a bunch of different players between drills and commending them for a great effort in the weight room earlier in the day. The talk focused specifically on the tempo they had during their morning lift and it was cool to see them reinforcing positive elements.
• Big Larry Mazyck looks better than I can ever remember. Not only does he look lean and in shape but he looks eager to move, too. No walking. Lots of running for the big fella and he even paces and keeps moving when waiting to jump back into a drill. That's gotta be a great sign.
• Finally, before we had to leave, KU jumped into some team stuff and it was very cool to watch the offense work. OC Rob Likens was very animated and not afraid to praise players for positive plays. One such moment came when Montell Cozart hung in the pocket, went through multiple reads and hit the right receiver in stride for a first down. Likens went nuts and started hollering and pointing at Cozart to praise the play. Good stuff.
• KU will return to practice again Tuesday and will be wearing full pads for the first time this preseason.
After a day away from the practice fields, the media — along with any KU fans who wanted to show up, of which there were a few hundred — got back out there for a good look at an entire practice on Fan Appreciation Day.
This wasn't one of those come watch us run through 2 hours of special teams practices either. It was a legit look at the way the coaches coach and how hard the players are working.
A big part of the reason behind that is the insane amount of competition at most positions on the team. With 18 offensive linemen, nearly as many wide receivers and more than a dozen defensive backs — many of them new to the program and very green — each rep is like gold to these guys. Their effort shows they understand that and their coaches demand it.
Here's a quick look at a few of the things that caught my eye at Saturday's extended look at practice, No. 3 of KU's preseason camp.
• This is typical of most camps but you can't help but notice it. A few guys were sporting new hairdos, either via a fresh cut or a some kind of dye job. The guys who stood out the most were tight end Ben Johnson, who, perhaps wisely, saved the new look for after his trip to Big 12 media days in Dallas, Free State grad Joe Dineen, linebacker Schyler Miles and Beau Bell.
• Given that KU is so thin along the defensive line — it's worth noting that earlier in the day KU coach David Beaty said he felt OK about KU's D tackles as long as they stayed healthy. He even knocked on wood — I thought I'd go take a peek at what D-Line coach Calvin Thibodeaux was working with. A couple of things stood out. First off, Kapil Fletcher has pretty good size. Not only is he the tallest of the bunch but he's also got legit bulk and moves pretty well despite being the biggest D-Lineman KU has. He has enough experience for it to matter so him staying healthy will definitely be important. Another D-Lineman who looked good was second-year player Jacky Dezir, who looked lightning quick and moved well laterally.
• At that same D-Line drill, I noticed Kellen Ash had moved over to play with the defensive linemen and defensive end Anthony Olobia was there but defensive end Damani Mosby was not. Earlier Saturday Mosby told me that he and Olobia were battling at the same position so it's possible that Olobia was working with the interior guys because the coaches were/are searching for possible ways to get the both on the field at the same time.
• During the team portion of the practice, I got a quick look at what appeared to be the first-string offenses and defenses, at least as things stand today. Here's how they lined up:
OFFENSE – LT Jordan Shelley-Smith, LG Will Smith, C Keyon Haughton, RG D'Andre Banks, RT Larry Mazyck, TE Ben Johnson, QB Montell Cozart, RB Ke'aun Kinner, WR Tre' Parmalee, WR Josh Stanford, WR Shakiem Barbel.
DEFENSE – DE Damani Mosby, DT Daniel Wise, DT Kapil Fletcher, DE Ben Goodman, LB Courtney Arnick, LB Marcquis Roberts, DB Greg Allen, DB Tevin Shaw, DB Fish Smithson, DB Brandon Stewart and DB Tyrone Miller Jr.
• Speaking of Barbel, he made one of the plays of the day, a spectacular diving catch near the corner of the end zone on a deep ball thrown by Deondre Ford as a Chevy Graham defended him. After the grab, UAB transfer Quincy Perdue, who backed up Beaty's claim from last Thursday that he might've been the guy with the most energy, pointed to Barbel and then ran toward him while the drill continued to do one of those jump-in-the-air-and-bang-shoulders moves. The catch was big-time, though, and deserved it. As for Perdue, he looks good. Big body, big frame, big hands. He's got a chance to be a very nice player.
• It's too early to tell how much this means, but beyond Parmalee, Stanford and Barbel, the wide receivers lined up like this during their reps: Twos – Tyler Patrick, Darious Crawley and Derrick Neal (three members of last year's incoming receiver class). Threes – Quincy Perdue, DeAnte Ford and Steven Sims Jr. After that, freshman Chase Harrell jumped out there, so like I said, it's hard to know if this was a depth chart order or just a random order.
• One good thing about having all of these wide receivers who need reps is it gives the KU quarterbacks — all of them — a bunch of extra reps, too. Obviously Cozart, Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis would get their share of reps, but this scenario allows Keaton Perry, Deondre Ford and T.J. Millweard to get a bunch of reps, too.
• Speaking of the QBs, it was just one practice, but here's how it broke down for me in terms of pure arm strength – Ford and Willis are at the top with Cozart just a tick behind them and then Stanley. I'll use this as a baseline to track things as we continue to head out to practice throughout camp to see if my initial read was right. I'll also ask some of the coaches and players.
• One of the last drills I watched today had the Jayhawks working on their screen game. Quick hits to the flat, the ball came out quickly and the two receivers on the outside immediately blocked downfield to create a running lane. They only did this for 5-10 minutes but more than a couple of times during the drill I heard offensive coordinator Rob Likens get on guys for making too many moves. “No dancing,” Likens yelled. “Just go.”
• KU is off on Sunday and will get back out there on Monday for the fourth practice of preseason camp. We'll be out there with 'em.
New names, new numbers and all kinds of new faces stuffed behind helmets and face masks.
That was the scene just west of Hoglund Ballpark on Thursday, when the Kansas University football team dove into another season with the first practice of preseason camp.
The Jayhawks were in their old practice location — and will be there for the first couple of weeks at least — because the projected temperatures made it too hot to hang out on the turf at the practice fields and Memorial Stadium.
Regardless of where they were, it did not prevent first-year coach David Beaty from getting things done and moving through practice just as he did during the spring — with a lot of energy and next to no wasted time.
Here's a quick look at what caught my eye from Day 1:
• Quarterback is always the first position people want to talk about and track when another season kicks off, so that was a big focus for me during today's practice. One thing that jumped out right away was that there really is not that much difference in terms of build between Montell Cozart, Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis — at least not when they're in uniform. Willis is definitely taller than the other two but they're all pretty lean. One of the big points of emphasis during the portion of practice we saw today was getting the ball out quickly. OC Rob Likens kept yelling, “Get it off, get it off,” and the quarterbacks — which included juco transfer Deondre Ford — ripped quick, short passes to their targeted receivers.
• Speaking of Likens, he had a lot of bounce today and said one of the best soundbites I heard out there — “Get professional. Do everything perfect. Be a freak about details.” Good stuff.
• After throwing drills, Likens worked with the receivers on blocking. The entire group, which featured a bunch of newcomers, looked pretty physical and seemed to be into the drill. That may just be a Day 1 thing or perhaps this group really does like to block. During this drill, Likens kept his eye on another drill that WR coach Klint Kubiak was working and even threw in his opinion on that one, as well. “Watch the ball all the way in,” he yelled to a receiver 50 feet away.
• A good chunk of the 20 minutes we got to watch was special teams stuff and that gave me the chance to watch holder T.J. Millweard run a fire call and try to complete passes out of a busted extra point attempt. If you'll recall, Millweard successfully converted one such play to tight end Trent Smiley during the 2014 season.
• As for the special teams drills, I noticed that Jordan Shelley-Smith was on the right side and Larry Mazyck was on the left during a couple of formations. Should be interesting to see if those are their permanent homes on offense, too.
• We get Beaty after practice tonight so be sure to check back with KUsports.com later and tomorrow for video and more reaction from Day 1.
Former Kansas University safety Isaiah Johnson, the 2013 Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year, ran through his first taste of SEC football on Tuesday with his new team, the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Speaking with reporters after practice, Johnson, who chose to leave KU in the offseason to play out his final season of eligibility closer to his Cary, North Carolina, home, said it felt good being back on the field despite the new surroundings and reports indicated that he worked primarily with the second unit.
Because he's no longer wearing crimson and blue, I get that most Jayhawk fans could give a rip about Johnson, the Gamecocks or how either of them fares this season.
But in the brief interview I saw from Johnson after practice, he did touch on a topic that I thought KU fans might find interesting.
“I liked it,” Johnson said of his first SEC practice. “Overall, I thought I did pretty good. It's cool being out here adjusting around these guys, coming from a different level.”
Not content to just let those thoughts drift off into the South Carolina swelter, one reporter followed up by asking Johnson to compare the Big 12 and the SEC.
“Competition-wise, I think it's around the same,” Johnson said. “Really, I just think it's more of a tempo thing, coming from the Big 12 to here, from more up-tempo, hurry-up offenses to kind of being more, not lackadasical, but more you've got time to rest as a defender and a DB.”
None of this should come as much of a surprise, but it was interesting to hear nonetheless. For years, these two conferences have played contrasting styles, with the SEC favoring more of the pound it on the ground, 17-13 games and the Big 12 choosing to air it out and play games in the 40s and 50s.
All the while, the debate has raged on about which conference was more powerful. The SEC, with its string of seven consecutive national titles from 2006-12, always has used the ultimate prize and postseason success as its trump card. And backers of the Big 12, which has not fared as well in the postseason recently, always have claimed that the Texas-based league is stronger from top to bottom.
Plenty of players in the past have suited up in both leagues, but I can't remember many — if any — coming from Kansas. That makes Johnson's move at least worth tracking and it should be very interesting to see how he fares with his new team this season.
Johnson was great during his first season at KU but fell back a little last year and was merely average. With just one season remaining in his college career and dreams of playing in the NFL on his mind, you can count on the former Jayhawk giving all he's got this season.
“It's not a lot of pressure,” he said. “I'm used to it. I'm ready. I came in with my mind right and I'm just going about my business.”
I'll be the first to admit that when I heard that former KU cornerback Tyler Patmon had not only made an NFL roster but actually had worked his way into some significant playing time, I was a little surprised.
I always liked Patmon. Nice kid. Friendly to the media. Good player early in his career. But his final season at Kansas was not pretty and I never really understood it.
He left KU to play out his eligibility at Oklahoma State and had a solid senior season for a seriously talented OSU squad. I'm sure that helped put him back on the NFL radar but a he caught a couple of breaks along the way, as well. The Dallas Cowboys suffered a slew of injuries to their secondary and that opened the door for Patmon to get his shot. Once he did, he took it and ran with it.
I talked to former KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo about Patmon and he said the Cowboys always really liked the kid's make up. Campo, you'll remember, spent a bunch of years in Dallas and was the head coach at one point so it's only natural that the Cowboys scouts would inquire about Patmon with one of their own who had coached him.
As Patmon settled into his role with the Cowboys last season I continued to try to make sense of how he got his shot. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for the guy. It's always very cool to see guys I covered go on to do well in the NFL, but I was still pretty surprised it worked out so well for him.
But something happened this weekend that made my search to make sense of it all a little more clear.
During one of the first days of camp in Dallas, Patmon found himself locked up on Dallas star Dez Bryant, an Oklahoma State alum himself, no less.
As Bryant engaged with Patmon at the snap and blocked him high and hard all the way down the field, Patmon fought back. The extreme contact quickly turned into more and, before you could blink, Patmon and Bryant were going at it, helmets off, fists flying.
These types of things happen all the time in NFL camps and practices, especially in the preseason. But it did show me something about Patmon.
Not the biggest nor most physically imposing guy on any roster, clearly he's got something inside of him that makes him unafraid. Not only was he willing to fight to hold his ground and prove that he's there to earn his spot, he was willing to fight the team's best player and one of the most intense and emotional dudes in all of sports.
He easily could've backed down and thought to himself, 'Man, I'm not messing with Dez. People might hate me.' But he didn't. Instead, he went right at him and appeared to care very little about what people — teammates, coaches, media, fans — might think.
If anything, I'm guessing Patmon's willingness to go toe to toe with Dez Bryant impressed a lot of those same people mentioned above, especially because no one was hurt.
Either way, color me impressed. It takes more than good footwork, proper technique and a break or two to make it in the NFL. And, clearly, Patmon possesses that extra intangible that just might lead to him sticking around for a while.
Here's a link to the video of the fracas:
Back-to-back linebackers in the middle of the list, as today's entry follows up South Carolina transfer Marcquis Roberts.
Both guys figure to have important roles on this year's defense, where they will be asked not only to replace fifth-round NFL draft pick Ben Heeney, but also would-be senior Jake Love, who stepped away from football with one year of eligibility remaining due to medical issues.
Heeney and Love provided the Jayhawks with that classic linebacker mentality and a ton of toughness and play-making ability.
Is there another Jayhawk waiting in the wings who can do the same?
Here's a look at No. 16:
16. Courtney Arnick, 6-foot-2, 207-pound Jr. Linebacker
The Dallas native has spent most of his KU career under the radar but that's about to change.
Arguably the most talented and productive returning player at a very thin position, Arnick's importance to this year's team cannot be overlooked. He might not be the kind of guy who can step in by himself and replace the production of departed middle linebacker Ben Heeney, but don't tell him that. Arnick is an incredibly confident guy who has gotten better each year and just now seems to be figuring out how to use his strengths to his advantage.
Perhaps his biggest strength is his speed. Toward the end of the 2014 season Arnick consistently flew to the football and used his wheels to make plays or help clean up tackles started by other guys.
At just a touch over 200 pounds, he's never going to be a guy who knocks running backs on their butts or lowers a boom heard 'round the world. But that doesn't stop him from being productive and it also does not mean he's afraid to hit.
Last season, Arnick finished sixth on the team with 45 tackles — 34 solo — and added four tackles for loss and a sack. He got better as the season moved on — as his 10-tackle performance in the second-to-last game of the season at OU showed — and started five games while playing in all 12.
At this point, Arnick seems a little like one of those guys from whom the Jayhawks know what they're going to get. But that does not make his role any less vital. The KU roster has a handful of bodies to choose from when the coaches go to fill out their linebacker rotation this season. But the unit is going to need a lead dog and it could be Arnick's turn to slide into that spot, both statistically speaking and as a leader.
In talking to him, it seems as if he's up for the challenge. Now he just has to show it.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
With so many offensive play makers leaving the team for one reason or another this offseason, one of the biggest questions surrounding this year's KU football team centers around how it will rack up yards and put up points.
That's why you'll see a bunch of offensive players on the rest of this list, starting with today's entry, a tall, lean, athletic wide receiver from Texas who has an incredibly bright future.
Whether that light shines immediately or takes some time to surface is not yet known, but No. 18 on the list may be one of the most exciting Jayhawks to track in the coming weeks and years.
18. Chase Harrell, 6-foot-4, 200-pound Fr. Wide Receiver
The story goes like this: Just about every player who caught a pass on last year's team left during the offseason, leaving the door wide open for any number of new pass catchers to storm through it.
The question, however, is which guys will be ready and which guys won't?
It's hard to say that a true freshman fresh out of high school would be a guy that could be tossed into the ready category, but Harrell's early graduation and arrival in time for spring practices gave him the jump he needed on the competition.
KU coach David Beaty said the spring was enormous for Harrell, who matured a great deal in the seven months since graduating from high school, as a receiver, a student and a man.
Blessed with a fantastic frame and some terrific raw skills, Harrell will be given every opportunity to prove he's ready to make an immediate impact. Because this offense figures to utilize upwards of eight or nine receivers each game, it seems highly likely that Harrell will have some kind of role this season, if for no other reason than his size and skills. How significant that role will be and what kind of noise he makes on Saturdays remains to be seen, but Beaty already has heaped some heavy praise on the young man from Huffman, Texas, comparing him to former Texas A&M receiver and eventual first-round pick in the NFL Draft, Mike Evans.
Beaty said Harrell was ahead of where Evans was as a true freshman — largely because Evans came to A&M as a basketball player transitioning to football — and continues to say the sky is the limit for arguably the most intriguing receiver on the entire roster.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
With the current state of Kansas football leaving more than a little to be desired by the KU fan base, it's often easier to think back about the good days than it is to focus on the present or even forecast the future.
Whether that brings memories of Todd Reesing to Kerry Meier in the snow, the Orange Bowl title in 2008 or a stretch of three bowl appearances in four seasons, the fond memories are there and they did not take place too long ago.
One such memory, or at least a memorable Jayhawk, that just now seems to be gaining serious steam is the four-year career of cornerback Chris Harris. Harris, currently a starter for the Denver Broncos who is widely regarded as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, has gone a long way toward bringing positive vibes to the KU program to fans of professional football.
If you're a regular visitor of this site, you've probably seen and read plenty about Harris. But there's even more to his story than the current success and memorable milestones he's racking up by the day.
The Broncos official web site recently did a fantastic job with Harris' story, in a three-part series known as The Underdog.
Here you get a very candid and entertaining look at Harris' beginning and everything that went into making him the player — and person — he is today.
It's worth a watch for anyone, but will be especially meaningful for KU fans who remember No. 16 making his mark during that magical Orange Bowl season in 2007.
Check it out…
21.Tyrone Miller Jr., 6-foot, 180-pound Fr. Cornerback
Don't be surprised if Miller plays a big role on this KU defense pretty quickly.
The Jayhawks are in big time need of some cornerbacks who can play and Miller, who comes to KU from Saline High in Ann Arbor, Michigan, poised beyond his years and ready to play a physical and aggressive style of football, might wind up being one of the better gets in the 2015 recruiting class.
Originally committed to Central Michigan, Miller got on board with the idea of challenging himself in the Big 12 when fellow Michigan native and KU running backs coach Reggie Mitchell got involved in his recruitment.
Mitchell has a fantastic track record of landing top talent and Miller said Mitchell's persistence along with the vision for the future laid out by head coach David Beaty was enough to convince him that Kansas was the place to be.
A self-described “physical, in-your-face cornerback,” Miller drew early interest from in-state power programs Michigan and Michigan State, but lost touch with the Wolverines when the school turned over its coaching staff and was forced to look elsewhere when MSU filled up its class.
That development turned out to be KU's gain and even though there are a half dozen other cornerbacks on the roster who could challenge Miller for playing time and even a starting spot, his experience in man-to-man coverages and all-around athleticism and versatility make him a strong candidate to hold down one of the starting cornerback spots, with juco transfer Brandon Stewart most likely being the other starter entering the 2015 season.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
Everyone knows that having a strong offensive line — especially in a pass-happy conference like the Big 12 — is paramount to a team's success. And there are a handful of guys on the Kansas University football roster who give the Jayhawks a chance to trot a line with a little bit of experience and some talent onto the field this fall.
The latest entry in our ongoing series of the most crucial Jayhawks for the KU football team this fall is one of those guys.
Here's a look:
22. Junior Visinia, 6-foot-4, 345-pound Soph. Offensive Lineman
Visinia is coming off of a solid freshman season in which he played in all 12 games and started three at right guard.
The biggest question for the Grandview, Missouri, native heading into his second season with the Jayhawks will not be focused on what he did during the offseason to make himself stronger.
Ability is not the issue here. Visinia has a solid understanding of how to play the position, is versatile enough to handle run blocking and pass blocking and has possibly the best feet of the bunch, especially when you consider his size. But there were times last season — as there are with all freshmen — when Visinia was simply overmatched from a strength perspective. And if he did not do enough in the offseason to address that then the likelihood of him making a significant jump during Year 2 drops.
Having said that, it sounds like new strength and conditioning coach Je'Ney Jackson and crew have worked these guys hard over the summer and are seeing great results both in terms of improved power and stamina.
The experience Visinia picked up last season as a true freshman just trying to figure it all out should go a long way toward making him comfortable from the get-go this season. And his presence as an anchor at right guard should be something KU can count on.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
Throughout each KU men's basketball season, our sports editor, Tom Keegan, does a thing after every game where he rates the players of the game in his Keegan Ratings.
This is not that.
It is, however, a ranking that illustrates which KU players the Jayhawks' 8-0 run to the World University Games gold medal helped the most in South Korea.
So let's get to it. As Keegan does in his ratings, we'll go with scholarship players only and not worry about the guys who play at other schools.
1. Wayne Selden – By far KU's best player throughout the touranment, Selden emerged as a go-to option and really showed well as a leader. He looks more determined than ever and his confidence should be sky high come October when the Jayhawks get going for real.
2. Hunter Mickelson – Throughout most of the second half of last season, KU fans everywhere wondered why Mickelson did not get more of an opportunity to play. I don't think anyone will have to worry about that any more. The transfer from Arkansas played quality minutes and put up surprising numbers throughout the tournament, even working his way into a starting role. That kind of lift to his confidence should only make him continue to work harder and harder throughout the rest of the season.
3. Carlton Bragg – Bragg's numbers were not exactly amazing but the thing the long freshman gained that should benefit him the most is his ability to play through adversity. After breaking his nose before things even got going, Bragg played tough and looked unfazed by the injury throughout the tournament. That kind of toughness and sacrifice goes a long way with KU coach Bill Self and you can bet Bragg will get plenty of positive feedback about it. That should only make him more comfortable when the season rolls around.
4. Frank Mason – Mason played exactly the way KU fans would have expected him to play heading into the tournament, so I'm not sure the bulldog point guard gained a whole lot in terms of learning anything new about his game. Still, he was fantastic in leading the offense, set up more plays and buckets than he even got credit for and played a ton of minutes while running the show the whole time.
5. Landen Lucas – There were up and down moments for Lucas, who still lacks some of the skills necessary to be a force down low. But the man can rebound. And he did that pretty well in Korea. With the addition of Bragg and Cheick Diallo and the emergence of Mickelson, Lucas might not get a ton of minutes this winter. But it now seems like a safe bet to say that when he's in there he can have a real impact on the glass.
6. Lagerald Vick – Vick's a long shot to play this season, but it won't be because he doesn't believe he can. The young guard was out there during some pretty crucial moments throughout the tournament and he looked pretty salty at times, especially as a scorer. A loaded roster ahead of him and his inexperience and limited defensive skills will likely keep him off the court this winter. But this experience will no doubt help his development and help him be in a better position to push the guys ahead of him in practices.
7. Perry Ellis – Ellis was good at times and average at others in South Korea but didn't really stand out. The good news for KU was that he didn't need to. He can save that for the college season and what figures to be a big senior year. That said, he looked healthy, moved well, shot the ball with confidence and, like Mason, performed pretty much exactly the way people expected him. That's by no means a knock on him, but I'm not sure the tournament helped him a whole lot.
8. Jamari Traylor – Traylor's minutes were down and Lucas and Mickelson played much bigger roles. For a guy who already is quick to get down on himself, that probably didn't help. Still, Traylor's a good teammate and I noticed him genuinely fired up on the bench late in the gold-medal game when it became clear that KU was going to win. That's a good sign that even though he didn't set the world on fire with his play, he stayed in it for his teammates.
9. Devonte Graham – Graham did not get to play because of injury, but you have to think that just being there helped him a little bit. He saw how his teammates competed in various settings. He was able to observe how Nic Moore and Frank Mason handled things on the floor. And he no doubt did all he could as a vocal leader from the bench. Plus, can a player ever be around too much winning? Even though he didn't play a minute, just feeling that feeling can be something that sticks with Graham, too.
Be sure to make your vote count in our KUsports.com poll about which player the trip to Korea helped the most.
Yesterday, we unveiled No. 25 in our countdown of the most crucial KU football players for this fall. Today, it's on to No. 24, where we flip from offense to defense.
Here's a look.
24. Fish Smithson, 5-foot-11, 193-pound Jr. Safety
After spending one season at Hartnell College, the friendly dude with the funky name arrived on campus prior to the 2014 season poised and ready to play Division I football.
A big reason for that was Fish's upbringing, when he left his native Baltimore to live with his brother, Shaky, in Utah while Shaky starred for the Utes football program. Being tossed into an environment like that forced Fish to mature more quickly than most guys his age and the up-close-and-personal look at college football at a young age allowed him to pick up little things that later would help him make the transition.
In a back-up role to Cassius Sendish and Isaiah Johnson, Fish played in all 12 games last season and finished as KU's fifth-leading tackler.
With those guys out of the picture and the completely remade secondary desperate for leadership and a veteran presence, Fish should have a chance to emerge not only as more of a play-maker but also as one of the generals on defense for the Jayhawks.
Not blessed with any one spectacular skill, Fish is incredibly solid in several areas. He's a lot like Sendish in that way and he is not afraid to stick his nose in there to make a tackle.
The Jayhawks have a bunch of defensive backs on the roster and many of them possess terrific speed, athletic ability and upside. But few of them have the kind of game experience — and production — that Fish brings to the table and that puts the junior in position to be one of the more important pieces on the team, both in terms of delivering on the field and helping bring the young guys along.
Here's a look at the list so far…
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
I've spent more than my fair share of time being critical of Wayne Selden's game during his first couple of seasons with the Kansas University men's basketball team.
And I stand by everything I've said in the past. But the good thing about the past is that it's always behind you. The present is what matters most, and Selden's present sure looks like a gift for the Jayhawks.
If you've been paying attention at all to what's going on in Korea — whether you've watched the games yourself or read and viewed the fantastic coverage from our own Bobby Nightengale and Mike Yoder — you know that Selden has been tearing it up.
He's averaging 20 points per game, has led the Jayhawks in scoring in three of the four games they've played — all victories — led the team in minutes per game all four times and has looked much more explosive, confident and determined than I ever remember seeing him.
His averages through four games: 1 victory, 20 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in 36 minutes.
I still question whether the Selden we're seeing in July will be the same guy we see this winter, mostly because I can't help but think that the competition — and, particularly, the type of athletes he'll see in opposing uniforms — will be drastically different than what he's facing today. But still, just like a team that benefits from playing an easy schedule, all a guy can do is attack the guys who are trying to guard him and Selden has been doing just that.
One of the biggest improvements Selden has made has been near the bucket. He's still not making everything, but he is finishing in close a lot better than he did during last season's colossal struggle and a big reason for that is his aggressive nature. He's not just floating and hoping any more. He's going all the way to the rim and either finishing or drawing the foul. For a guy that size, that's always the right move. And it's often easier said than done. But props to Selden for doing it over and over overseas.
Beyond that, his outside shot — his biggest weapon thus far — has continued to look smooth and put points on the board when the Jayhawks needed them most.
It's not just the numbers that have impressed me. It's the mindset Selden has displayed. My biggest criticism of the guy throughout his career is that he always seemed, to me, to be a more worried about how he looked out there on the court than how he produced. I haven't seen an ounce of that in Korea.
Selden looks tough, is always in attack mode, is carrying himself like a true leader — something KU lacked big time the past two years — and has that presence about him that seems to indicate that he knows nobody can stop him.
So far, he's been correct. And following his lead, the Jayhawks/Team USA are in a real position to challenge for a gold medal that I'm not sure anybody thought was in reach.
Don't look now, but July has arrived and, like it or not, before we know it, it's going to feel an awful lot like football season around here.
For now, the KU men's basketball team's run at the World University Games in South Korea is keeping much of the focus away from KU football, as is the fan base's absence of much hope for the upcoming season. Both are valid reasons to keep football on the back burner, but seeing how football is the reason they pay me, I'm not quite as able to turn my attention away from it. Nor do I want to.
This season likely will be rough. But I continue to be impressed by this coaching staff, the direction the program is ultimately headed and, most of all, the incredible effort being put forth by the players this summer. This KU team might lack depth and it might even lack Big 12 talent, but you'd never know it from the way these guys are working.
I know it sounds like you've heard that before, and you probably have. But if it's true, you can't just ignore it. Does that mean the work they're putting in now will lead to wins this fall? That's probably not very likely. But it does mean that they already have bought in to this new staff and are not wasting any time putting in the first bricks in what they hope someday will be a strong house.
Enough about all of that, though. Let's jump into some interesting tidbits that won't make or break the season but might be interesting enough to get you to that next KU hoops game....
• During my weekly viewing of the official KU football roster (always have to make sure I'm aware of any updates that might have taken place) I noticed that senior defensive lineman Ben Goodman is no longer going to wear No. 93, which he has worn since he arrived on campus four years ago. Goodman, instead, will be wearing No. 10 this fall. We haven't had the chance to talk to these guys in quite a while but I'll definitely be interested to hear why Goodman decided to make the change.
• Speaking of numbers, everyone loves quarterbacks and it's probably not too early to start scouting which KU QBs will wear what numbers this fall. Montell Cozart, who seems like a virtual lock to start the season opener on Sept. 5, will still be wearing No. 2. Newcomers Carter Stanley (No. 9) and Ryan Willis (No. 13) are also worth noting. The most recent QB to wear No. 9 at Kansas was 2013 starter Jake Heaps, who, by the way, caught on with the New York Jets and is one of five quarterbacks to sign with the Jets heading into camp. He's still a long shot to make the final roster, but I always love when good dudes get a fair shot and Heaps is getting his. I can't find or recall the last KU QB to wear No. 13. Anyone?
• A couple of other interesting players will wear one of the most dynamic numbers in KU football history this fall. Freshman wide receiver Chase Harrell (6-4, 200) and freshman defensive end Dorance Armstrong (6-4, 225) will suit up in the No. 3 jersey made available by the departure of speed demon Tony Pierson. Of course, Pierson was merely the latest ultra-talented Jayhawk to wear No. 3, following in the footsteps of two-way threats Aqib Talib and Charles Gordon. In more recent years, and before Pierson got the number, former running back Darrian Miller, who had a monster freshman year, also wore No. 3. Of course, just because the number has been so good to those guys — or is it the other way around? — does not mean it's a guarantee that Harrell and Armstrong are in for big things. I happen to think both are, but back in 2008 it was none other than the infamous Jocques Crawford who wore No. 3, so take it with a grain of salt.
• I always love watching what happens to old numbers of superstars after they leave and this year will be no exception. For example, I remember thinking it was hilarious when Greg Brown (5) and Corrigan Powell (10) wore the numbers of Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier following their final seasons in crimson and blue. This year, the number that jumps out the most in that department is 31, worn for four years by Ben Heeney. Suiting up in Heeney's old number will be the only linebacker in the 2015 recruiting class, Osaze Ogbebor. It's far too early to know how well Ogbebor will rep the number, but here's guessing he'll get a chance to show it this season and won't be quite as much of a wild man.
• One other guy who joined Goodman in moving to a new number for the 2015 season was sophomore cornerback Matthew Boateng, who, last season as a true freshman, wore No. 1 and now will be wearing No. 33.
By now, if you've been a longtime reader of KUsports.com, you know that every once in a while we post various odds that are sent to us from the folks at Bovada.lv, an online betting service that dabbles in all kinds of college and professional sports propositions.
If that sounds famililar at all, you're probably recalling blogs about KU's odds of winning a national championship, Andrew Wiggins' chances of becoming national player of the year or even KU football's low over/under win total.
All of those, and more, have been sent to us and posted on the site during recent years.
Tuesday, I received an email from Bovada outlining the odds for the 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year. Given that the draft just happened and that KU's Kelly Oubre was the highest and only Jayhawk selected, I opened it wondering if his name would be on there and how good or bad his odds might be.
It wasn't. Oubre, who has been touting himself as the greatest player in the draft of late, was nowhere to be found and, obviously, neither was undrafted former Jayhawk Cliff Alexander.
Oubre's omission was not that big of a surprise, but the list remained relevant to KU fans for one other reason. Joel Embiid.
Embiid, the third pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, is listed as a 10-1 pick to be named rookie of the year next season. Those aren't terrible odds, provided Embiid is healthy.
The 7-foot center from Cameroon, of course, missed all of his true rookie season nursing back and foot injuries and, therefore, would qualify for the award if he plays this season and plays well enough to outdo all other candidates. Both are longshots at this point, which is why the 10-1 number was a little surprising.
Here's a quick look at the rest of the list, with Embiid's new teammate, No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor leading the way.
Jahlil Okafor 7/2
D'Angelo Russell 4/1
Karl-Anthony Towns 7/1
Emmanuel Mudiay 7/1
Justise Winslow 9/1
Joel Embiid 10/1
Mario Hezonja 16/1
Willie Cauley-Stein 22/1
Jerian Grant 22/1
Myles Turner 25/1
Sam Dekker 25/1
Frank Kaminsky 25/1
Kristaps Porzingis 25/1
Stanley Johnson 33/1
Cameron Payne 33/1
Trey Lyles 33/1
Devin Booker 33/1
Bobby Portis 33/1
By now, even if you weren't one of the thousands of people who packed the Sprint Center last week to check out the latest and slightly modified version of the KU basketball team in its two exhibition games with Canada, you surely have seen the uniforms.
Whether you saw them when the photo gallery of all of the different looks was released prior to those games or in photos from the games themselves, your eyes probably have made a pass or two over the red, white and blue-themed duds the Jayhawks will wear during the next two weeks at the World University Games in South Korea.
Having done this for as long as I have, I think it's safe to say that I've learned one thing about KU fans, and, really, fans in general — they like to talk about uniforms.
Even with a football team that has struggled mightily during the past half decade, you can always find someone trying to Photoshop a new look for the uniform or, more often, the KU football helmets.
It's a fun exercise, probably doesn't take too long to pull off and even if it does, who cares.
With that in mind, I'm curious what people think of these uniforms. Were you surprised to see them say Kansas instead of USA? Do you like the way adidas meshed the two, with both KU and the United States getting a little love in the look?
Or, would you have liked to see something completely different?
Personally, I thought they would be USA jerseys, given that it's KU that is representing the country and not the other way around. This concept of Kansas against the world is a little strange, and I think it would be cool if the uniforms said USA on them, much the way the uniforms for the rest of the teams competing will say the name of that country.
Taking this a step further, I even dreamed up a scenario before the uniforms were released that I thought would've been incredible — not to mention a hot seller.
Picture this: Do what you want with all of the other stars and stripes and reds and whites and homage to KU's past and all of that. Those touches are all nice. But the centerpiece of the jersey should feature the letters U-S-A, with the cutout in the A being a Jayhawk.
If you have to include “Kansas” somewhere on the uniform, you could possibly stick it on the back above or below the name or go with the “KU” on the shorts. The possibilities are endless.
Regardless of what the final look became, I don't think there's any question that KU fans would've bought those at a scary pace. And it would've been a cool way to keep things in common with the rest of the teams competing in the Games.
It is just a uniform, though, and it's not that big of a deal. I'm just curious what everyone else thought and if any of you had any designs in your heads, as well. If so, explain away or, if you're the Photoshop type of person, post your vision in the comments section below.
Because this has become one of the most enjoyable — if not ridiculous — exercises in sports, let's take a quick look ahead to the 2016 NBA Draft to see what might happen for the current members of the Kansas University men's basketball team.
Last night, in Brooklyn, New York, former Jayhawks Kelly Oubre (15th pick in the first round) and Cliff Alexander (undrafted) learned their pro fates.
By recent KU standards, that's a pretty uneventful draft. It marked the first time since 2009 that Bill Self did not produce a lottery pick, with Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry, Markieff and Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore and Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins all being lottery picks between 2010-14.
According to the 2016 draft projections at DraftExpress.com, the Jayhawks will jump back into the lottery next season, with freshman-to-be Cheick Diallo slated to be the 14th pick as of today.
Obviously there is still a ton of time between now and then and a ton of basketball yet to be played, but based on his status coming out of high school and his skills, Diallo definitely has a shot to become a lottery pick with a good freshman season at KU.
Beyond that, there are at least a couple of other guys on the KU roster who could hear their names called in next year's draft. In fact, the very next slot on DraftExpress's oh-so-early mock draft for next season features another Jayhawk, with Ukrainian sensation Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk plugged into that spot.
KU coach Bill Self has said for months that Mykhailiuk could very well be the best pro prospect on the roster. He's a great athlete with good offensive skills, a solid basketball IQ and an insatiable desire to learn the game.
Beyond that, Svi has great NBA 2-guard size (listed last season at 6-8, 195), he's not afraid to play defense and he can flat-out shoot the ball.
If he makes the kind of jump this offseason that many believe he's on pace to make, he easily could move up on the draft board by next June and become a lottery pick himself.
Those were the only two Jayhawks on DraftExpress's early look at the 2016 draft, but there are a few other KU players who easily could wind up being selected next June should they have good seasons and/or decide to leave school.
Senior Perry Ellis, who somehow was not on DraftExpress's Top 60 for 2016, seems like a strong candidate to get a look by NBA brass. He's poised to have a monster year, just keeps getting better and has great work ethic, drive and, perhaps most of all, is a high character guy who any GM and coach would love to have on his bench.
That alone won't get Ellis a roster spot but that combined with a big year certainly could.
Junior wing Wayne Selden is another Jayhawk who could have an NBA future based on his size, athleticism and ability to shoot the ball. In fact, many believed Selden would be gone by now. But a decent freshman year in the shadows of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid followed by a sub-par sophomore season left Selden in Lawrence, where he'll be looking for his best season yet this winter.
If it comes, Selden's a definite candidate to land in the first round next June. If not, the NBA may never come calling.
The last guy on the roster with a real shot at the NBA in 2016 is freshman forward Carlton Bragg, who's size, length, soft shot and good handles have him poised for a big role during his first season at KU.
He's still way too skinny to bang with the big bodies in the NBA on a regular basis and needs to add some polish to a few areas of his game, but he's definitely one of those guys NBA GMs drool over when looking at his potential.
I've heard of more than a few people (including Self) who believe that junior sharpshooter Brannen Greene is a future pro, but he's coming off of hip surgery and still has yet to fully break through. Because of that, projecting him as a possible 2016 draftee seems like a bit of a reach.
That said, identifying five other guys with a shot at being draft worthy in 2016 only adds to the idea that this year's KU squad could be in line to contend at the highest level.
Thursday will mark the first NBA Draft since 2009 that I have not been in attendance.
Most years, draft day sticks out to me like a lighthouse on a rocky shore both because there is so much planning that goes into covering it and also because it's always been one of my favorite events in sports.
This year, however, it crept up faster than I can ever remember.
My not being there in the Big Apple — one of my favorite cities in the world — has nothing to do with me not wanting to be there. I would cover the draft — or anything else in NYC for that matter — at just about any time. But with the KU men's hoops team heading to South Korea and us sending both a reporter (preps writer Bobby Nightengale) and a photographer (Mike Yoder) all the way to the Far East, I started hearing about that costing more than a few hundred bucks and figured this was as good of a year as any to sit it out.
The reason goes far beyond the financial element.
See, part of the fun of covering the draft has been covering the people and personalities associated with it. I'll never forget 2010 and how gracious Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry were to let me follow them around for just about the entire day before their big moments.
Same thing in 2013 with Ben McLemore, who I even asked at one point if he was tired of getting peppered by questions. Not only did he say no but he invited me to ride on the bus back to draft headquarters in case I needed any more questions answered. I did. And most of it made it into my story. Later, when I told KU coach Bill Self that McLemore had said he wasn't tired of me, Self quickly quipped, “Well, he lied.”
A year earlier, Markieff Morris was equally friendly with an old, familiar face, perhaps because twin brother Marcus was in Charlotte up until draft day running through one last workout and it was better knowing somebody there than nobody.
In each case, as well as the others, the thing that made covering these guys in one of the biggest moments of their lives so enjoyable was the fact that I knew them and they knew me. It wasn't like we were friends or even owed anything to one another, but there is a certain appreciation — both ways, I think — that comes with familiarity.
Surrounded by dozens of other reporters asking everything from silly questions about their first purchases to uncomfortable questions about personal things ranging from family life to eligibility issues, there just appeared to be something pleasant to these guys about a guy who knew their story, knew their game, knew Lawrence and knew KU.
That guy was me and it allowed me to get some good access and better information.
A year ago, Andrew Wiggins was the No. 1 pick in the draft after spending less than 12 months in Lawrence. Wiggins was plenty friendly and helpful while I was there to cover his big day but there was no real connection. And how could there be? I think I only interviewed the guy 10 times or so and only rarely was it in a one-on-one setting.
For all the talk about what the one-and-done movement is doing to college basketball, this is the way it most impacts me. I know that doesn't mean much to anybody else and I'm certainly not trying to portray some sob story. But it is a bummer to go out to such a big event in such a cool place and have it become just another day on the job when just a few years ago it was so much more than that.
That, I suspect, is what it would've been like had I made the trek this year to cover Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander's draft dance.
First off, Alexander won't even be in New York and there's no telling where he'll be drafted. And Oubre, like Wiggins before him, was not in Lawrence long enough to really get to know.
The Oubre I interviewed starting last summer and running all the way through the NCAA Tournament in Omaha last March, was a very likable dude. And I'm sure it would've been easy to follow him around and tell his story the way I told the stories of those other guys in the past.
But the deeper connection probably would not be there. And that's a shame.
I'll go back to the draft in the future, perhaps even as soon as next year. And I'm sure there'll be plenty of fun stories to tell and moments to share. But I can't help but wonder if the days of walking out onto 5th Avenue with Aldrich and Henry to get a quick picture for the front of the next day's sports section are done for good.
From the "in case you missed it" folder, check out the following video of former Kansas University football standouts Chris Harris and Steven Johnson leading a Colorado symphony in the KU fight song during a recent event put on by the Denver Broncos.
Harris and Johnson were two of a handful of current Broncos players who participated in a battle of the conductors event of sorts. Each player, including Texas A&M product Von Miller and Tennessee legend Peyton Manning, led the musicians in their school fight songs and fans were encouraged to vote for who did the best job of leading the band.
Here's a look at Harris and Johnson in action:
For years, the one constant with the Kansas University football team — other than all of the losing, of course — has been the Jayhawks' ability to put together a deep and talented stable of running backs that, in many ways, have been interchangeable.
Whether you're talking about the steady presence of James Sims, the dynamic play-making ability of Tony Pierson, the do-it-all demeanor of Darrian Miller or even the always-ready-and-willing philosophies of Taylor Cox and Brandon Bourbon, the Jayhawks always had a few backs they could count on to handle the load in the backfield.
That continued into last season even after Cox and Bourbon went down with injuries in the preseason thanks to the emergence of freshman Corey Avery and newcomer DeAndre Mann. Together, that duo helped the Jayhawks transition away from Sims and into more of the same steady presence on the ground in an offense that struggled at most of the other positions.
On Tuesday, however, first-year coach David Beaty announced that Avery had been dismissed from the program for violating team rules and, all of a sudden, things don't look quite as deep or dependable in the backfield.
Yeah, Cox and Mann will be back, but both are coming off of significant injuries and their health and longterm prognosis have to be at least a little bit of a concern. Cox hasn't played football since tearing his Achille's tendon last August and was out for an extended period of time before that because of a bum hamstring. And Mann spent portions of last season nursing head injuries, a plight that's bad news for any player but especially a running back who's asked to lead with his head and churn out those tough yards with guys flying at him from all directions.
That leaves just a couple of other running backs to look at. And before the 2015 season is complete — or possibly even before it begins — both could find themselves being counted on heavily to handle the ball-carrying responsibilities for this year's team.
Both are newcomers, but junior Ke'aun Kinner at least has the advantage of having been in Lawrence for spring football.
By all accounts, the shifty, 5-foot-9, 180-pound spark plug was one of the more impressive performers throughout the spring and there's no doubt that he will have an important role for the Jayhawks this fall.
He's not quite Tony Pierson — but, really, who is? — but he does figure to bring that same kind of explosive potential every time he steps onto the field. That's good news for Kansas and a fun challenge for offensive coordinator Rob Likens, who, no doubt, is sitting somewhere right now trying to find creative ways to get Kinner the football in space.
After that, you're looking at true freshman Taylor Martin, a two-star back from Fort Worth, Texas, who was one of the better pick-ups in the 2015 recruiting class.
Martin, who chose KU over Colorado State, was receiving late interest from TCU, Illinois and Kansas State.
As a senior at Dunbar High, Martin ran for 1,500 yards and 25 touchdowns and earned a spot on the Star Telegram's Super Team second unit. For his career, he averaged 1,660 yards and 24 touchdowns over three seasons.
He also was a two-time district track champion in the 100-yard dash and his combination of blazing speed and good size (5-10, 185) make him a candidate to handle more carries than most freshmen, should KU need to lean on him right away.
Unlike last season, when KU was forced to move freshmen Joe Dineen and Darious Crawley from safety and wide receiver to help add depth at running back, the Jayhawks, at least as of now, are on schedule to have plenty of bodies to rotate in and out of the backfield, even without Avery.
The possibility always exists, too, that they could even add a back or two via transfer or late pick-up. Should that happen, the stable only gets deeper.
But, quality depth or not, with Cox and Mann coming off of injuries, the possibility remains that KU will be counting on two newcomers in a big way to keep alive the streak of solid play from the running back position in Lawrence.
As the past has shown us, that doesn't necessarily mean bad news. But it does put more pressure on the offensive line and quarterback and it does make the odds of KU continuing its run of solid running back play a little less than a lock.