Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
Throughout the offseason, spring ball and preseason camp, one of the biggest buzz words surrounding Kansas football has been competition.
On Friday, during a practice that was split between the practice fields and the turf at Memorial Stadium, we got a heavy dose of competition from start to finish.
Whether guys were competing for balls during seven-on-seven type drills or new faces were working in new spots in an attempt to see how so and so would hold up with the ones or so and so would react to running with the twos, all kinds of competition was on full display during the 90-plus minutes the media was invited to watch.
We did not get to stay until the last Jayhawks left the field, but it looked like they were just working on ball security and cool down stuff when we were asked to leave. And it was incredibly valuable in the fact that it really gave us a good look at how certain guys compete and how far some guys have come since we saw them in the spring or on Day 1 of fall camp a little more than two weeks ago.
Here's a quick look at what caught my eye on a gorgeous Friday morning in LFK:
• It definitely looks like a two-man race for that starting QB job and I definitely think junior Montell Cozart is the clear leader. Deondre Ford keeps getting reps and opportunities with the second unit, but, overall, Cozart looks more consistent. During the seven-on-seven stuff in the stadium on Friday, the entire 20-30 minute session included Cozart and Ford with the ones and twos on one end of the field while freshmen Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis worked the same stuff at the other end of the field.
• Right after stretching and special teams stuff that opens practice, the Jayhawks went into their fast start offense vs. defense stuff and it was by far the most competitive I've seen it. On the first three snaps, the offense got the better of the D when Cozart hit freshman wideout Steven Sims with a perfect pass in the back corner of the end zone and Ford followed that up with a bullet over the middle to freshman tight end Jace Sternberger for another TD. On the next play, senior tailback De'Andre Mann slipped through the middle for a touchdown. All of the snaps were taken from the 8 yard line. From there, perhaps thanks to the barking of defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, the defense stiffened and turned the offense away on three consecutive snaps to end the period. The first was a run stuff. The second was an incompletion by Ford. And the third was an interception by freshman Tyrone Miller, who picked off Ford's pass for tight end Kent Taylor in the back of the end zone.
• Speaking of Bowen, I freakin' love how often he yells at the KU defensive backs to “MAKE A PLAY.” Every time the ball is in the air, Bowen truly believes one of those DBs should go get it. A lot of times they'll get there to break it up or create some chaos, which clearly is good, but Bowen is not truly happy unless they intercept it. That's a great standard to set and when it does happen, he lets everyone around know how happy he is. Then he moves on to the next play and forgets all about it. Good stuff.
• One interesting thing from an early QB drill came in the form of OC Rob Likens and head coach David Beaty both riding the QBs for not putting enough air under their passes on deep balls. Beaty had to jump in and stop the drill at one point to light the QBs up and Likens just kept yelling, “more air, more air.” One thing that jumped out about it the most was that both of them were emphasizing that they're not trying to throw 50-yard passes. In fact, Likens said 35 yards max. Just more proof that this offense figures to be about shorter passes to play makers in space and the quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly. No surprise there.
• Speaking of Steven Sims Jr., the 5-foot-10, 165-pound wideout from Travis High in Houston, we keep hearing his name thrown out by the coaches and it now seems abundantly clear that the young fella is going to play and play a lot. He might even be working his way into a starting role. His camp has been that good. He's so smooth in everything he does and looks almost like a veteran at times. The TD catch he made early on showed off his leaping ability and his routes are so smooth and his hands are so sure. He's No. 16 on offense. Get used to seeing him.
• Another young guy who looks like he's going to play right away is Kingfisher, Oklahoma tight end Jace Sternberger. He looks so athletic and, like Sims, so sure-handed. Sternberger worked some with the first team and his role will definitely increase if Kent Taylor or Ben Johnson were to miss time. But even if they don't, with this up-tempo offense, Sternberger will get his time on the field and it definitely looks like he's earned it. He's a great kid, too. One of my favorites from this recruiting class when I was talking to these guys back before they signed.
• Funny highlight from the seven-on-seven stuff: At one point when a team manager batted down a pass from one of KU's quarterbacks with a giant pad, linebackers coach Kevin Kane got so fired up he ran over and high-fived the manager like he was one of his defensive players who just made a play. I guess, in that case, he was.
• Beaty talked a little about this after practice but it definitely jumped out to me during practice — freshman linebacker Osaze Ogbebor is a bundle of effort and intensity. Beaty referred to him as a puppy dog with boundless energy and it shows up constantly at practice. Whether he's tipping a pass, battling for a break-up or diving to try to secure an interception he really has no shot at getting, Ogbebor is always moving and rarely caught standing still.
• Cornerback Brandon Stewart has had a great camp but I noticed one thing that he (and everyone else on the team) does not need to do. On a pass to the flat during seven-on-seven drills, the ball was clearly going to be incomplete and yet Stewart still wrapped his arm around the receiver's waist, even though it had no impact on the play. The official — in this case, director of high school relations Gene Wier — threw the flag. Although it didn't cost Stewart on Friday, those types of little mistakes could kill any hopes of KU competing if they keep happening during the season.
• UAB transfer Quincy Perdue, who looks like he's currently holding down a spot with the second team, may have emerged as the big body wideout this team needs to get the tough yards. On one third-down play during seven-on-seven stuff, Perdue ran a dig route and then fought back to the ball to make the catch. He battled three defenders in his area to come away with the catch and used his strong hands to rip the pass out of the air to complete the conversion.
• One thing that has really started to stand out about Beaty is how often he gives one-on-one attention to his players. He's never afraid to pull a guy aside for a quick one-on-one conversation and he always has the look of a coach who not only really cares but also really wants to get his point across and make sure the kid gets it. It's rarely loud and never done to show the kid up. And it comes after good plays just as much as it does after bad plays. That kind of attention is huge toward the buy-in that we've heard these guys talk so much about.
• Finally, one thing I really enjoyed seeing was offensive GA Connor Embree, a former KU wideout, working to get extra reps for the receivers between plays. Much like an extra outfielder who goes out between innings and warms up the left or right fielder, Embree was firing passes — today they were toward Bobby Hartzog — to the receivers in the drill while the offensive coaches or defensive coaches were making a quick adjustment. It wasn't much more than two or three throws at a time and it wasn't every time. But it was a perfect example of stealing reps and working when others aren't that Beaty and company have talked a lot about during camp.
• Another big scrimmage awaits the Jayhawks on Saturday. Tomorrow could be the day when some jobs are handed out and battles are decided. We're not invited but we get Beaty again on Monday, so hopefully we'll know more about some of these competitions real soon. Enjoy your weekends!
Thursday's practice started with a bit of patriotism for the Kansas University football team, as rear admiral Mark W. Darrah of the United States Navy spoke to the Jayhawks about leadership and the importance of operating as a team.
Although the guest speaker sounds like something that would be right up first-year coach David Beaty's alley, it was actually Darrah who requested the opportunity to address the Jayhawks.
Back in the area for a series of speaking engagements, the Shawnee Mission Northwest High and Ottawa University graduate reached out to Beaty about attending a practice and talking to the team while he was here.
“I thought it went well,” Darrah told the Journal-World at practice. “I just talked about the need to be a team and how having success isn't about the individual. I also told them that the tone that coach Beaty has set is the right tone.”
That tone, as has been well documented, is based on effort, discipline, accountability and energy. Lots and lots of energy.
Darrah, who was decked out in his white Naval uniform and given a pile of KU gear before he left practice, reminded the Jayhawks that in good times and bad their energy can mean a lot to a lot of people.
“There are people out there sitting on the edge of their seats bleeding with them and wanting them to win,” Darrah said. “Guys in combat zones all over the world are tuning in to see if their team is winning.”
Darrah, who will serve as an honorary captain at Friday's Kansas City Chiefs exhibition game, said the last message he wanted to leave the team centered on how a lot of the lessons he learned as a high school and college athlete helped pave the way for his decorated career.
“Some of these guys will wind up in the military after they're done playing here,” he said. “And hopefully they'll take the lessons they're learning today with them. I just spent a few minutes out there listening to (Beaty), but I can see it and hear it in his voice. He's got it.”
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye at Thursday's practice:
• I watched a pretty fun drill with OC Rob Likens and the quarterbacks for a little while. It was a simple one-man drill in which the QBs simulated a snap, executed a little zone read handoff and then rolled to their left to throw at a net with three targets. As they rolled out, Likens called out which target they were supposed to hit and then offered commentary on their throws. I didn't see any of the QBs actually hit any of the targets — top right, middle or bottom left — but there were plenty of throws that came close and Likens seemed to have a blast messing with them during and after the drill.
• Speaking of quarterbacks, Keaton Perry was wearing a Go-Pro camera on his helmet for Thursday's practice. We'll try to get ahold of some of the footage and post it here or in a different blog later. I'm sure it looks pretty cool.
• It's too hard to know what any of this meant, but there were some new tackles working with the first team offense during the fast-start, 11-on-11 action that unfolded right before we left. Clyde McCaulley (previously the back-up to Jordan Shelley-Smith) and walk-on Larry Hughes (the second string right tackle on Wednesday) played left and right tackle, respectively, with the first unit on Thursday. Shelley-Smith went through position drills at his normal spot earlier in the day so maybe this was just a way to give him a rest or a way to give these guys a chance to work with the lead group in case the need arises during the season. Either way, both dudes certainly looked decent as the first-string offense got the best of the D when they were out there. The winning play in the drill came on a sweet fade pass from Montell Cozart to Tre' Parmalee for 25 yards. On the next possession, Deondre Ford hit Quincy Perdue for a first down to the give the offense back-to-back victories in the drill before the defense stood tall and sacked Cozart in Round 3 (don't worry, no actual hitting was done) and forced a drop by tight end Kent Taylor on a very good looking throw by Ford in Round 4.
• Speaking of Cozart and Parmalee, the Bishop Miege connection appears to be alive and well with those two former Stags. Cozart looks for Parmalee a lot, which makes sense given the fact that Parmalee is often open, runs reliable routes and catches everything throw his way. I know Parmalee isn't going to excite the masses, but he may turn out to be a solid contributor this season based on his veteran status and tireless work ethic alone.
• It's a 10 a.m. practice on Friday and the media is invited to attend the entire thing. We'll be out there so look for an extended practice recap tomorrow afternoon sometime.
Entering the offseason, the identity of the player who would lead KU football in receiving during the 2015 season was a huge mystery and a tough question to answer.
It might not be quite as difficult any more.
Thanks to the addition of Virginia Tech transfer Joshua Stanford, who has stood out in preseason camp for his play, polish and poise, gave KU a proven player who had been through the rigors of college football Saturdays before.
Stanford certainly is no lock to lead the Jayhawks in receiving — mostly because the position has so many other bodies — but he is the most experienced player in a young group and his performance in camp has turned plenty of heads.
Here's a little deeper look:
8. Joshua Stanford, 6-foot-1, 200-pound Jr. Wide Receiver
If they handed out nicknames after just a couple of weeks, the Virginia Tech transfer might be given the moniker Joshua “All Business” Stanford.
All he has done since arriving on campus this summer is elevate the look of the KU receiving corps with his intense work ethic, impeccable route running, strong hands and solid understanding of what it takes to play and produce at this level.
Injuries cost him half of the 2014 season at Va. Tech, where he logged more than 200 snaps at wideout and played in six games and made three starts.
So far his addition to the roster has helped the Jayhawks' young and unproven receiving corps by giving the rest of the group a quality leader who has produced at a high level. First-year KU coach David Beaty said Stanford's skill might only be surpassed by his character and leadership ability and, by all accounts, he is a quiet guy who has no interest in beating his chest or talking about himself. He's here to play for the team and for his faith and he's going to work as hard as possible to make both proud.
Having already graduated from Virginia Tech, Stanford has two years of eligibility remaining and, according to Beaty, should make an immediate impact and help the KU passing game right away, big numbers or not.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
They don't make days like Wednesday in August in Kansas very often and the Kansas University football team benefited from the beautiful conditions big time.
Just over the midway point of preseason camp, KU on Wednesday ran through its 12th day of camp and 14th practice at the turf fields next to Memorial Stadium.
A crew of referees was on hand to officiate the scrimmage that closed practice (we weren't able to stick around for that) and things were particularly spirited in the fast-start offense-versus-defense period that followed the special teams work.
The first-team offense outdid the defense in the first series, with Montell Cozart hitting Ke'aun Kinner out of the backfield for a short pass to convert a first down.
And the defense, which stopped the offense on four out of five plays, got the better of the battle when the second unit was out there.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye:
• It's cool to see all of the coaches walking through the line high-fiving players and getting them mentally ready for practice during stretching and warm-ups. This isn't entirely uncommon, as both of the previous staffs had guys do this every day. But this staff has every coach doing it and that seems a little rare.
• Offensive coordinator Rob Likens outed himself as a Montell Jordan fan, as he broke into a hip little dance while scribbling down practice notes when Jordan's “This Is How We Do It” came on the loud speaker. If we're doing a Dancing with the Coaches theme here, I'd give Likens a solid 7 for the moves which he cut short to focus on the notes.
• Here's a quick sign of progress: During the punt return drill this spring, the coaches constantly had to remind the up men both before and during the live reps to yell to the blockers in front of them “caught it, caught it, caught it.” Today, they didn't have to do that once. Not only were the guys yelling — loudly — but they didn't have to be reminded to do it once. It's a little detail, but those things can add up big time and are at least an indication that things are being taught and retained.
• No real shake up with the two-deep at offensive line, though there was one new name in the group. The first string remained the same and went like this (from left to right): Jordan Shelley-Smith, Bryan Peters, Keyon Haughton, D'Andre Banks and Larry Mazyck. The second team (from left to right): Clyde McCaulley, Jacob Bragg, Joe Gibson, Jayson Rhodes and Larry Hughes. Rhodes moved from tackle to guard and Hughes, the other “Big Larry” was a new addition to the two-deep. Who knows if that was just a one-time thing to try him out or if he's earned that spot but it's worth noting.
• South Carolina transfer Marcquis Roberts, who came to KU with injury concerns, looked good again on Wednesday and really showed his leadership skills. He's loud, intense and does not seem to care that he's been in Lawrence for just a handful of weeks. It looks as if he understands that the KU defense needs a strong presence in the middle and he's willing to be that presence.
• During the offense-defense fast start period, it was very evident that KU's defensive front is going to fly to the football in running situations. All six guys really chased the play and tried to stretch things out. It worked a handful of times and they were also gashed once by Ke'aun Kinner, who looked impressive running inside because of his quick footwork and barely noticeable change of direction.
• We'll try to find out how today's scrimmage went during our interviews tomorrow. The Jayhawks jump back out there Thursday afternoon for practice No. 15 and then we're welcome to watch the entire 10 a.m. practice on Friday. For those who might have been wondering, media access to practice on Tuesday was cancelled during the day. That's why there was no What Caught My Eye report from yesterday and also why we're getting extended time on Friday. I'll take it.
We'll stick with offense as we jump into the Top 10 of this year's summer series, where a true freshman at one of KU's deepest positions cracks the list.
It's a little early to know exactly what kind of role he'll have and player he'll be, but given the nature of the position he plays and his raw skills, it's easy to see how Taylor Martin could be very important to this team during his first season in Lawrence.
Here's a look:
9. Taylor Martin, 5-foot-10, 180-pound Fr. Running Back
Running back, for the past few seasons, has been not only one of the most productive and talented positions on the Kansas football roster but also one of the deepest.
That again appears to be the case this season, with veterans Taylor Cox and De'Andre Mann returning to a backfield that includes juco transfer Ke'aun Kinner and Wichita State transfer Ryan Schadler.
And then there's true freshman Taylor Martin. The blazing fast back from Dallas' Dunbar High might not start the season atop the depth chart, but with his solid frame, good vision and track speed, there's definitely a chance that he could factor into the Jayhawks' run game before the season is finished.
Martin rushed for 1,500 or more yards during each of his final three seasons at Dunbar. He added 71 touchdowns during that time. Fast like Kinner and tough like Mann and Cox, Martin could win up getting some regular work in the backfield at a position that typically uses three or four backs during a season because of the pounding that running backs take series after series and game after game.
Martin lands on this list simply because of the injury history of Mann and Cox, who both have Big 12 playing experience but also are both coming off of injuries that cost them valuable time during the 2014 season.
If Mann and Cox are able to make it through the season, Martin could very well wind up a red-shirt candidate. But if the need arises for another back to get into the mix, Martin could wind up with a very important role in the Jayhawks' offense.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
We'll group these guys, because, let's be honest, they've pretty much been grouped since the day they signed and probably will be for quite some time.
The other reason we'll group them is because it's just so tough to know whether one of these true freshmen will emerge as a legitimate threat for the No. 1 job, if they'll position themselves to be the primary back-up or if they'll both take red-shirts this season and use it as a development year.
10.Ryan Willis, 6-foot-4, 205-pound Fr. and Carter Stanley 6-foot-2, 188-pound Fr. Quarterbacks
In the case of Ryan Willis, the tall kid from nearby Bishop Miege High has impressed coaches in camp with his cannon of a right arm, the thing that could set him apart in this competition could very well be his size. Taller than all of the other competitors and more mobile than he's given credit for, Willis comes to KU on the heels of a very successful prep career. He threw for 5,986 yards and 65 TDs in his two seasons as Miege's starter and earned a three-star rating from Rivals.com.
Willis comes from an athletic background. His father Steve played football at K-State and his mother Lois ran track at Iowa State. His sister Lauren played hoops at Oklahoma and his other sister Abby played basketball at St. Louis University.
As is the case for Stanley, Willis' youth and inexperience will be his biggest obstacles to immediate playing time. KU offensive coordinator Rob Likens has consistently laid out how the window for true freshmen to compete for the starting job is really more like 2 or 3 weeks than the entire four weeks of camp and first week of the season.
Likens has said it's not impossible for a true freshmen to win the job in that time but definitely very difficult.
That strong arm has really seemed to make an impact on the coaches, though, and his fierce determination and tenacity during summer workouts and seven-on-seven also turned heads.
As for Stanley, highlight videos only show the good plays, but in Stanley’s case, he didn’t have many bad ones to show anybody in his lone season as the starting quarterback at Vero Beach High. Stanley gets rid of the ball quickly, throws an extremely accurate ball, has the arm strength to make all the throws, and appears to have an elusive quality in the pocket. He only lost one game and won so many fans, including the three KU coaches involved with his recruitment: Linebackers coach Kevin Kane, offensive coordinator Rob Likens and head coach David Beaty.
Stanley had a monster season and led Vero Beach to a one-loss season. He completed 66 percent of his passes, threw for 3,070 yards and 40 touchdowns and rushed for 579 yards and seven touchdowns.
He didn’t start until his senior season and by the time word spread about his winning, accurate ways, most schools didn’t have room for another quarterback. Kansas did and was able to beat out Connecticut for him.
A bonus: His high school coach runs the same offense as Likens, so Stanley’s on the fast track regarding that aspect of his job. Starting a true freshman at QB would help Kansas at the gate and the experienced the freshman picks up will benefit him over the next three years.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
As we approach the Top 10 on our summer series of Most Crucial Jayhawks for the 2015 season, we find a player known equally for his on-the-field abilities as what he does and who he is off the field.
This Jayhawk, though, is definitely in a position to have a breakout season and, after spending two years adjusting to college football, seems prepared for whatever comes his way this season.
It's back-to-back Bens on this double-dip Tuesday… Here's a look:
11. Ben Johnson, 6-foot-5, 234-pound Soph. Tight End
Here's the thing about sophomore tight end Ben Johnson: We think we know what kind of player he will be based on his limited appearances last season and his overall demeanor as a person, player and teammate.
But we won't really know for sure until we see him on the field and he is put in a position to make plays and handle a bigger role.
Gifted with good size and speed, above-average athleticism and, at least from what we've seen so far, strong, sure hands, Johnson seems like a logical candidate to inherit a huge chunk of the stats that former KU tight end Jimmay Mundine racked up last season en route to earning second-team all-Big 12 honors.
Last season, Mundine finished with 584 yards and three touchdowns on 45 receptions and led the team in two of those three categories (yards and catches).
With just four receptions back at the wide receiver position (Tre' Parmalee), Johnson carries into the season the title of leading returning receiver. He finished 2014 with 80 yards on eight catches.
The Jayhawks have since added a couple of transfers who delivered bigger numbers at their previous schools in the form of Virginia Tech transfer Joshua Stanford and UAB transfer Quincy Perdue, but those guys are new to town and new to the program, which means, even if they outperform Johnson on the stat sheet this season — and I'm guessing the entire offense hopes they do — there still will be a pretty significant role for the tight end from nearby Basehor-Linwood High.
Florida transfer Kent Taylor is another factor here. His athleticism and size give him the potential to create some mismatches for opposing defenses and he could pick up some of Mundine's stats based on that fact alone.
But there's more to playing tight end than just catching balls and making plays, and while Johnson seems to be solid in both of those areas, he's also the more solid and physical blocker of the two and that alone should keep him on the field plenty.
Beyond all of the on-the-field stuff, Johnson was one of three players picked to represent Kansas football at Big 12 media days in Dallas in late July, so he clearly has impressed the coaches in other areas, as well, enough for them to feel like he'd be a worthy representative of what this program under first-year coach David Beaty is all about.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
The rigorous KU football camp schedule put our summer series on hold for a week or so, but we're back to finish off the second half of the list in the next couple of weeks.
Let's jump right back in with a name that, unlike many on this list, is pretty well known by KU fans and has been for the past couple of seasons.
Be sure to check out the links below for Nos. 25-13 and stay tuned the rest of the week for the rest of the list.
12. Ben Goodman, 6-foot-3, 253-pound Sr. Defensive End
I've always thought Ben Goodman was one of the better dudes on the KU football team. He's always been incredibly friendly, had a great personality and a smile that lit up his entire face and had a way of pushing positive vibes onto those around him.
That demeanor doesn't make tackles or win football games but it does help you stand out. Today, just a couple of weeks removed from his final season of college football, Goodman is standing out for a completely different reason.
Always a little under the radar because of bigger names and more productive players on the defense ahead of him, Goodman enters the 2015 season as one of KU's most experienced defensive players and a man possessed.
Goodman's wearing a new number this year — 10 instead of 93 — and instead of just being happy to blend in and do what he can to help the D, the Beaumont, Texas, native is doing his best to make a difference. He has emerged as one of the top leaders on the team and looks as lean and mean as he ever has.
Perhaps the best part of Goodman's strong offseason heading into his final season with the Jayhawks is that he has not become complacent because of his status as an upperclassman. In Dallas, at Big 12 media days in late July, Goodman told me that Damani Mosby and Anthony Olobia had looked so good during the offseason that he was worried about them taking his spot, even though neither one had played a single down of Div. I football.
Through the first couple of weeks of camp, it does not look like that has happened. Goodman has been a fixture with the first team and looked as determined as ever.
The next step is for him to take all of those good traits and determined feelings and turn them into production on the field. As long as Goodman has some help around him — and it's starting to look like he might have a little more there than we once thought last spring — he should be poised for the best season of his KU career.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
One thing I've learned about college football players during the past handful of years is that they're not stupid.
That was on full display Monday at practice No. 11 of preseason camp, where the lessons the Kansas University football players learned over the weekend during their first live scrimmage clearly had an impact on their sense of urgency.
As they took the field I heard a couple of guys barking, “Just like Saturday all over again. Just like Saturday.” Others, like senior center Keyon Haughton, were seen getting after teammates on the sideline between drills.
Moments after losing a drill to the first-team defense, Haughton, who has been working as the first-team center during most of camp, was jacked up and yelling, “Let's go, let's go. Push. Push, fellas,” after doing the up-downs that the losing team was required to do.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think Haughton minded doing the extra conditioning work. I think he's just really starting to feel the beginning of the season roaring around the corner.
• Speaking of urgency, boy was special teams coach Gary Hyman fired up — even by Hyman's standards — during an early-practice special teams drill. While working on punt protection, Hyman was screaming like a mad man trying to get his guys to give max effort. That's nothing new, but his choice of words was. He used things like “September 5th,” “those guys” and “get it together.” The “those guys” he was referring to, of course, are the South Dakota State Jackrabbits and they're coming to KU on Sept. 5 for the season opener. “We gotta be stout,” Hyman said. “Those guys are gonna blitz (this specific spot) every time and they're not gonna dance. So don't dance.” Like I said, everyone around camp is starting to operate like that season opener really is just a couple of weeks away.
• I really like watching safety Bazie Bates work. He's full speed all the time and you can tell that he's not taking his opportunity to play D-I football lightly. He's here to work and isn't taking for granted the fact that he might very well be the most talented safety on the roster. This showed up today during a special teams coverage drill, when he ran full speed the entire time — as assistant coach Klint Kubiak demanded — and continually checked to see if he was onsides, as instructed by head coach David Beaty at the start of the drill, even when Beaty was busy giving instructions to another player. Small detail, but one the coaches surely appreciate.
• Cornerback Matthew Boateng was wearing No. 27 today. Not sure why. I'll be sure to ask. He moved from No. 1 to No. 33 in the offseason but was wearing the new digits on Monday. Could've been as simple as a laundry issue.
• During one drill where the KU quarterbacks worked on rolling out left and hitting receivers near the sideline, back-up quarterback T.J. Millweard, who isn't really in the race for KU's QB job, actually caught a pass. It didn't look like any kind of trick play — I just saw the catch — and it didn't happen again. Could've just been a weird challenge or a dare of some type. Either way, Millweard looked pretty sure-handed. Good to see from the team's holder. Speaking of QBs, it looked like Montell Cozart ran with the ones and Deondre Ford ran with the twos while we were out there today.
• On the B field, during live team action, juco transfer Will Smith, an offensive lineman, went hog wild after LaQuivionte Gonzales broke a long run for a touchdown and raced untouched through the KU secondary. Maybe Smith is just that type of dude but it sure seems like it's more likely that that's a product of the energy of the coaching staff rubbing off on these guys and one guy looking to jump to the A field figuring out how little things like that can make a big difference.
• Earlier in the day we got to talk with linebackers coach Kevin Kane, so it was only natural for me to watch Kane coach a little more closely during practice. The guy's a stud. Not only is he in complete command of his group at all times — he even proved to be incredibly comfortable in front of the cameras when meeting with the media — but he also is crazy detailed and direct in his coaching. During one tackling drill, the former KU linebacker demonstrated the proper way to step toward the ball carrier when he made his move. Instead of stabbing the ground right in front of the other foot while changing direction, Kane explained that doing so prevented the linebacker from exploding into the tackle and turned the whole thing into an arm tackle because of the poor base. It took one time for him to show it before everyone in line did it correctly the next two times through.
• Tuesday marks the second and final day of two-a-day practices for the Jayhawks, who will go once in the morning and again at 5:45 tomorrow night. In between, we'll get a chance to meet with O-Line coach Zach Yenser and the offensive linemen.
We talked to WR coach Klint Kubiak earlier in the day Friday so I guess it was only natural that I spent my time at practice this afternoon watching Kubiak and his crew.
The vets on the coaching staff all really like Kubiak and believe he has a bright future. The reason is easy to see: He does not waste a single second of practice time.
He's direct with his instructions, makes them easy to understand and is not afraid to repeat them if needed. Like the players, he runs from drill to drill and position to position and he has the kind of demeanor that makes him easy to follow and want to play hard for.
This all shows up without him screaming and hollering. Don't get me wrong, he can get loud, but it's usually loud in the sense of trying to get guys fired up to work harder not loud in the way of disciplining a guy. There's nothing wrong with either style, Kubiak just chooses the former. And it fits his personality.
A few of the wideouts we talked to Friday morning said they really like the way he coaches because they truly feel he cares about them, he cares about football and he cares about Kansas. He's young, but he's been around a lot of football and a lot of good coaches and, he already seems like a bargain and a great guy to have on this staff.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye at Friday's practice, the last one we're invited to until Monday.
• I watched Virginia Tech transfer Joshua Stanford — and, yes, he prefers Joshua to Josh — a lot more closely at today's practice and it's very easy to see why the coaches like this guy. He's all business, very polished and has a nice combination of good feet, good hands and good route-running ability. His ability to get off the line against press coverage was particularly impressive — and speaks to his veteran status — and he has so much success there mostly because of his feet, though his hands definitely play a role. Very nice late addition who should contend to lead the Jayhawks in receiving this season.
• Six or so years removed from playing defensive back at Colorado State and getting a chance in the Washington Redskins camp, Kubiak showed he can still cover a little bit. We've routinely seen him line up and jam the receivers at the line while working on beating press coverage, but during one drill on Friday, he actually dropped into coverage and ran with these guys, too. He's not as young or as athletic as these guys so they most always got by him, but you could tell he enjoyed pushing them and no doubt had a few words for them when they went by him.
• I noticed new DBs Bazie Bates and Brandon Stewart talking to each other a lot when they weren't in drills. It's cool to see the team's top corner and potentially top safety developing that kind of bond and chemistry. Fish Smithson has emerged as a leader in that secondary but there's no doubt that both Stewart and Bates have strong leadership qualities and could help Fish lead the defense this season.
• During his Friday meeting with the media Beaty talked about how they're still a little ways away in figuring out the whole QB position. It's hard to know exactly what that meant, but he said he was hoping to give all of those guys a little more time so the coaching staff can make a full evaluation. Cozart continues to be the unquestioned No. 1 guy during drills and Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis seem to be rotating at that No. 2 spot right now. Willis had held it down more regularly during the early part of camp, but Stanley got in the mix there a little more on Friday. During one drill, which worked receivers down the seam and on the back shoulder on the outside, Willis and Cozart stayed at one end while Stanley and Deondre Ford went to the other end. Who knows if that means anything, but I'm betting it does. If I had to rank the QB depth chart right now, I'd say it goes: Cozart, Willis, Stanley, Ford. I'm guessing the bulk of what they're trying to sort out is who the immediate back-up is to Cozart, not who the starter is. There's still more than half of camp left, though, so there's no telling what could still happen.
• The last thing that jumped out at me on Friday was from the O-Line station, where coach Zach Yenser was really requesting that the scout guys get after the first and second stringers. He kept talking about being physical, playing tough and really getting after them. That's the kind of stuff these guys are gonna see on Saturdays — and then some — so it was good to see Yenser asking for more.
• KU is set to run through a live scrimmage on Saturday. Media members are not invited to the scrimmage but you can bet some details will leak on Twitter, Facebook and message boards from those who are able to attend as well as the players and coaches themselves. We'll be back out there on Monday and have plenty of stories planned for the site over the weekend so be sure to check it out.
Trying to predict the make-up of any team's depth chart can be a pretty tricky deal.
Especially at a place like Kansas in a year like this, when so many positions are full of unproven players, newcomers and true freshmen trying to make a name for themselves and impress their coaches.
Because of that, I'm not quite ready to take a stab at a complete two-deep depth chart. But coming up with where things stand today with the first string does not seem all that difficult.
With that in mind, let's post this thing before the Jayhawks scrimmage tomorrow and it changes completely.
Since predicting things is part of the fun, right or wrong, I'll put a predicted back-up in parentheses at each spot.
Here's how things look — at least through my eyes — as of August 14, 2015:
QB – Montell Cozart — The real battle here appears to be which of the true freshmen — Carter Stanley or Ryan Willis — will open the season as Cozart's immediate back-up or if it'll be juco transfer Deondre Ford. Beaty continues to say Cozart has the inside track on the No. 1 spot and he is by far the most experienced player of the bunch. (Ryan Willis)
RB – Ke'aun Kinner — Kinner's healthy, explosive and has been with the team since the spring. That could give him the early nod. But watch out for incoming freshman Taylor Martin and, if they can stay healthy, veterans Taylor Cox and DeAndre Mann also could carry the rock their share of times. (De'Andre Mann)
LT – Jordan Shelley-Smith — Added 60-plus pounds and not only looks the part but also has the right mentality to play the position. Should be one of the more entertaining players to watch this fall. (Clyde McCaulley)
LG – Bryan Peters — We've only seen limited action from Peters over the past couple of seasons but he seems to me to be another Gavin Howard in the making — smart, versatile and ultra-reliable. (Jacob Bragg)
C – Keyon Haughton — Call it senior urgency or serious motivation. Either way, Haughton has worked his butt off this offseason and taken most of the first-team reps at center as a result. (Joe Gibson)
RG – D'Andre Banks — This was Junior Visinia's spot until he left the program. That opened the door for Banks, a talented and versatile juco transfer who arrived in the spring, to make his case for a starting role. (Will Smith)
RT – Larry Mazyck — Took advantage of another offseason to work on his skills and his body, and the big man could be a nice option here in a slightly less stressful position than the one on the opposite end of the line. (Jayson Rhodes)
TE – Ben Johnson — Filled in nicely for Mundine from time to time and brings similar athleticism and good hands. Could split time with Kent Taylor here, but seems like the more complete player of the two and his emergence as a leader should help keep him on the field. (Kent Taylor)
WR – Joshua Stanford — His experience from his days at Virginia Tech is so key and gives him the automatic edge over a bunch of unproven wideouts. (Steven Sims)
WR – Tre' Parmalee — It's possible one of the young guys beats Parmalee out, but he's a solid route runner and a reliable option who's been out there plenty. Plus, it sounds like he has emerged as a team leader. Hard to keep guys like that off the field. (Derrick Neal)
WR – Shakiem Barbel — With new coaches comes new opportunities and Barbel might be taking as much advantage of that as anyone. He looked the part during 2014 after joining the team out of nowhere but never got a chance to show what he could do. This offseason, he started on equal footing with everyone else and has been getting first team reps. (Quincy Perdue)
DE – Ben Goodman — Now that he's back at his natural position, Goodman should be ready and able to deliver his best season as a Jayhawk. (TJ Semke)
DT – Kapil Fletcher — Played in seven games a season ago and is one of the few guys on the roster with the size needed to hang in the interior. (Jacky Dezir)
DT – Daniel Wise — Goodman mentioned Wise as “one to watch out for” back in July at Big 12 media days in Dallas, and since then I've seen the red-shirt freshman trot onto the field with the first team just about every time. It will be interesting to see what kind of push Miami transfer Corey King gives Wise for this spot. (Corey King)
DE – Damani Mosby — Had as good a spring as anyone on the roster and appears to be ready for a big time role on the KU defense. (Anthony Olobia)
WLB – Courtney Arnick — He quietly had a solid season and fits the mold of the modern-day Big 12 linebacker. Not as big as you'd like, but plenty fast and a natural play maker. (Joe Dineen)
MLB – Marcquis Roberts — This position was a serious question mark before Roberts showed up. Now, it's his job to lose. Both Beaty and DC Clint Bowen have raved about him during preseason camp and the South Carolina transfer appears to be a lock to start the season as one of KU's top LBs. (Schyler Miles)
CB – Brandon Stewart — His presence during spring ball helped tremendously and he enters the fall as the most likely candidate to be KU's top corner. (Matthew Boateng)
CB – Tyrone Miller — Mature beyond his years, this Michigan product is a guy who is used to playing man-to-man coverage and isn't afraid to mix it up while maintaining solid coverage skills and using his speed and athleticism to make plays. (Ronnie Davis)
FS – Bazie Bates IV — Bates could easily be one of the most impressive players on this year's defense. He's got all of the parts you want in a safety — size, speed, swagger, etc. — and will hit the field full of confidence. (Greg Allen)
SS – Fish Smithson — Solid, physical player who gained valuable experience in a supporting role last season. He should be able to step right in for Cassius Sendish. (Michael Glatczak)
NB – Tevin Shaw — Shared time here with Greg Allen (a possible candidate to move to cornerback) and showed good toughness and improved coverage skills. (Greg Allen)
Thursday turned into Corey King day at KU football practice, the eighth practice on the seventh day of preseason camp.
Nobody knew it would become King day when the sun rose on Thursday and the 6-foot-1, 295-pound defensive tackle who is transferring to KU from Miami, Florida, did not actually even do much during practice. But he was out there. And his presence is big news.
A graduate of Miami, King brings four years of experience in a big time program to a team that is in big time need of bodies at his position.
His stats were not amazing at Miami, but he battled against and with some of the best players in the country and, as a native of Miami, has a good football pedigree going all the way back to high school.
It remains to be seen what kind of impact he'll have here, but he definitely looks the part. He's thick, solid and carries himself with confidence. During team drills on Thursday, he was actively engaged in cheering for the defense and his eyes did not leave the field.
Seems like a very solid pick up and it definitely can't hurt.
Here's a quick look at some other things that caught my eye at Thursday's practice:
• Special teams coach Gary Hyman — in only the way that Gary Hyman can do it — really emphasized mental reps during the special teams portion of practice we were able to watch. This is nothing new nor is it specific to Hyman or special teams. Just the other day the KU quarterbacks were all taking repeated mental reps — taking the fake snap, dropping back, simulating a throw — when they were not the one in the drill. The only thing interesting about this on Thursday was how heavily it was emphasized. If nothing else, this staff is going to continue to emphasize every little detail at all times.
• Speaking of special teams, these drills look like no fun at all. I mean, who wants to chop their feet, sprint back to a spot, set up, get square and then run the direction you just came from while blocking somebody who wants to run you over? That said, most of these guys give max effort even during the special teams drills, a sure sign that the message from the coaches is getting through. There are a couple of guys who dog it, but I'll watch 'em a few more times before calling them out just to make sure it wasn't a fluke thing.
• The 11-on-11 stuff was pretty good today. First off, transfer RB Ryan Schadler took a carry to the house that set the sideline on fire. He also fumbled a few carries later and that set RBs coach Reggie Mitchell on fire. Schadler's got talent, but he can't keep fumbling and keep alive any hopes of having a significant role. I'm sure he's more than aware of that. In addition, the DBs and WRs really competed for every ball in the air.
• Back to the drills, Ben Goodman was wearing a blue jersey (reserved for the offensive players) during a special teams drill and the minute it was over he said something about, 'Get me outta this weak blue.' Now that's a guy who's defense for life.
• I mentioned this in the spring but I'll mention it again: I love watching D-Line coach Calvin Thibodeaux coach. His demeanor is so smooth and yet so effective. The kids relate to him, listen to him and respect him and he gives all kinds of energy without looking like a crazy man. He's a star in the making in the coaching profession and I've heard that from guys on KU's staff and guys who knew the Tulsa staff he previously worked on. One of the coolest drills he ran on Thursday was an explosion drill, where the D-Linemen got low in their stances and then took one step on Thibodeaux's command and launched their bodies as far as they could onto a mat. It looked like a bunch of guys belly-flopping into a swimming pool.
By Matt Tait email@example.com
Wednesday was the first set of two-a-day practices for the Kansas University football team this preseason camp and KU coach David Beaty said that gave him another opportunity to see which guys were ready to step up and which guys were simply going through the motions.
To be fair, most players on this roster have met every one of these types of challenges with great energy and enthusiasm, but having these benchmarks built into the practice schedule is a huge tool for the coaching staff, particularly a first-year staff that is trying to find some separation at each position group any way they can.
The morning session was run in pretty good conditions. Cool temperatures — by Kansas in August standards — and calm conditions made it ideal for football practice. When Beaty came in to talk with reporters after practice he was sweating profusely. I mentioned something to him about being hot out there and he remarked, “It's actually pretty nice.” Guess that was just an indication of how hard he was getting after it.
Here's a quick look at some other things that caught my eye at Wednesday's second of two practices:
• Speaking of Beaty getting after it, the first-year KU coach is definitely getting more and more intense by the day. There's nothing choir boy about the way he rips into guys when they're not doing something right or up to the standard he's trying to establish for Kansas football. There was a hint of that during the spring, but it's definitely on another level right now, which makes perfect sense given that the season opener is fast approaching.
• Spent some time watching KU's punter battle at practice today and it looks like a good one. Eric Kahn, the back-up to Trevor Pardula last season, has been around and has a big leg, but he's a little slow in getting the kicks off and is not yet terribly consistent. Walk-on Ruben Guzman, a University of Hawaii transfer, had great hang time on his punts Wednesday and definitely looked more consistent. That's just one day and, really, one 10-minute drill, but it'll be interesting to see how this one plays out. It's just a hunch, and, again, it's just one day, but something about Guzman stood out to me. Like fellow-transfer Nick Bartalotta — they call him “Yoda” — who is battling place kicker Matthew Wyman for the starting job, Guzman's a short, stocky dude. It would be a heck of a duo if Guzman and Bartalotta wound up as KU's first-string kickers.
• Beaty announced Tuesday that freshman wideout Jeremiah Booker injured his shoulder and would probably miss a couple of weeks and that gave me an opportunity to get my first look at Booker in street clothes. Big kid. He's long, all limbs and has a good frame that looks like it could be pretty imposing when he fills out. Remember, this is a true freshman who already is listed at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds. The injury's a bummer. I'd heard he was looking really good and may have been earning some early playing time. There's still time, but the injury's a setback.
• A couple of notable reserves who were running with the first units on Wednesday: Red-shirt freshman Josh Ehambe got a turn opposite Ben Goodman at defensive end with the first-team defense. And running back Ryan Schadler, a former Wichita State sprinter who arrived at KU as a receiver and moved to RB in the spring, got a turn with the first-team offense. Running backs coach Reggie Mitchell had some impressive things to say about Schadler — a guy who caught my eye at every spring practice I went to — earlier in the day, so keep an eye out for that story soon.
• Finally, I got my first chance to see injured quarterback Michael Cummings at practice today. He was walking without crutches and seemed to be in good spirits, but it still sucks. It's not like I was on the verge of tears when I saw the guy or anything like that, but my heart goes out to him for the bad luck. Very cool to see him stay so involved. Not only is he mentoring the young QBs, but he's also signaling in plays to the offense and even drops down and does push-ups with whichever group gets punished for losing a drill. You could turn over a lot of rocks and travel to all corners of the world and you wouldn't find too many better human beings than Michael Cummings.
Tuesday was the first day of preseason camp when the Jayhawks got to go in full pads and although that didn't mean much during the special teams and stretching drills, you definitely could tell when the coaches blew the horn for the team portion of practice.
Pads popped, guys hit with a little extra and the intensity was turned up a notch. That's typically how it goes on the first day of pads every year but no matter how many times you've seen it, it's always pretty cool to watch.
Per usual, the media only got the first 20 minutes of practice on Tuesday so the time we spent watching the team utilize those sets of full pads was limited, but it was still cool nonetheless.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye at Tuesday's practice, the fifth of preseason camp 2015:
• As the Jayhawks were going through pre-practice stuff and getting in some stretching, one of the GAs was walking around near the O-Linemen yelling one of the funniest things I've heard on a football field in a while: “The best part of breakfast ain't the bacon, it's the juice, baby!” I'm guessing that was intended to fire the team up and get the juice flowing. It definitely got the laughs going.
• There was a pretty funny moment between head coach David Beaty and the O-Linemen that our own Benton Smith already documented and posted to Twitter, as you can see in the attached photo. Right before that exchange, Beaty was talking to his offensive linemen about how they were going to be some of the best running linemen in the country. Earlier in the day, he discussed how he was just fine with taking guys a little lighter at that position because he wants them to be able to run and play at a tempo that can help the offense go lightning fast.
• A lot was made last season about interim head coach Clint Bowen jumping in and running and stretching with the team at some of the practices. Beaty (and several members of his staff, including Bowen) does the same thing. It's something that really never gets old to see, too. There's just something cool about coaches who are willing to jump in there and do the same things they're asking the young men on their team to do.
• Every time I see Josh Ehambe I think to myself, “Damn, that dude is a monster.” It happened again at Tuesday's practice. Ehambe, the red-shirt freshman linebacker from Arlington, Texas, who goes 6-foot-3, 236 pounds on the roster, looks much bigger than that in person and may very well be. Bowen talked earlier Tuesday about Ehambe switching down to defensive end because he just keeps growing and may be better suited to play up front. It was clear from his comments that Bowen likes Ehambe, both as a player and a person, and believes he'll have an impact for the Jayhawks at some point during his career.
• By now, listening to these coaches hoot and holler out there is pretty normal but it's always entertaining. Tuesday, special teams coodinator Gary Hyman went nuts as they neared the end of a special teams drill, saying, “Last rep for everyone. I want this one to be your best.” It's not just screaming for the sake of screaming. There's always a purpose. And the players almost always respond. That's good coaching. During the team portion of the practice, when the offense went live against the defense, there were at least three or four coaches screaming instructions and creating a chaotic environment at almost all times but the players never got rattled and were always able to lock into the voice they were supposed to hear and do their jobs. I think the coaches love creating this type of chaos because it puts the players through a couple of different tests at the same time.
• Finally, a quick look at how the first- and second-string offensive and defensive lines shaped up during Tuesday's practice. No real surprises, but it's worth noting so we can track any changes.
1st OL – LT Jordan Shelley-Smith, LG Bryan Peters, C Keyon Haughton, RG D'Andre Banks, RT Larry Mazyck.
2nd OL – Clyde McCaulley, LG Jacob Bragg, C Joe Gibson, RG Will Smith, RT Jayson Rhodes.
1st DL – DE Ben Goodman, DT Kapil Fletcher, DT Daniel Wise, DE Damani Mosby.
2nd DL – DE T.J. Semke, DT D.J. Williams, DT Jacky Dezir, DE Anthony Olobia.
• More fun tomorrow. Be sure to check out all of our football coverage from camp, including video and stories from Benton Smith, columns from Tom Keegan and more from me right here at KUsports.com.
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: