Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
I like this Kansas football team. And I'm not afraid to say it.
I like that it's made up of tough, talented, hungry football players who have a good blend of experience and disappointment driving them, and that, after two seasons of disappointment and misery, it's a team that truly believes the 2014 season will be different than anything we've seen in the past five seasons.
I happen to agree. And throughout the next few scrolls through cyberspace I'll explain why.
Despite its upgrades at several key positions and all that fire to find a way to win, KU is facing another ultra-tough schedule. That makes it hard to see hope on the horizon, but also lends itself to an automatic dose of confidence should things go well early for the Jayhawks.
That's what I'm banking on, and that's why I'm picking the Jayhawks to become bowl eligible and finish the regular season with a 6-6 record.
I could have said four wins to avoid embarrassment. Or I could have gone with the, well-they've-been-so-bad-these-past-few-years approach and picked two or three victories. But doing so would have caused me to go against what I think and I'm not in the habit of doing that. For better or worse, I always jump on here and try to tell you what I think. Sometimes it's flat wrong and my take or optimism is misguided. Other times, it's right and, instead of celebrating that, I simply look at it as a job well done.
In the end, though, it doesn't really matter whether I'm wrong or right. All that matters is that I stay on top of the beat and bring you guys the best information I can about the teams you pull for. The prediction stuff — both yours and mine — is just for fun.
All summer, I was asked, almost daily, how many games KU would win. All summer, I said they'd be better. Any time I did, the automatic question that followed was this: Where are the wins going to come from? Well, here's one scenario and I'm fully aware that it could be woefully wrong. Again, I'm OK with that.
But, crazy or not, I think if you squint hard enough you can see how six wins could be possible.
Here's a look:
• Sept. 6 vs. Southeast Missouri State — Win — I think KU rolls in its opener and sets the stage for a season of good things to come. Montell Cozart gets the offense going and they continue to take steps forward both in terms of confidence and production each week. Be sure to check out our Pick-6 blog for my exact score as well as the predictions of the rest of our staff. (1-0)
• Sept. 13 at Duke — Win — Duke's a good team that had a great season a year ago and offers a stiff challenge for the Jayhawks or any team it faces this year. But this is not 2013 and the Blue Devils will not sneak up on anybody this time around, least of all Kansas. This, to me, is the make-or-break game of the schedule for KU. If they can go win this one — and I can't see any reason why they can't; not won't but can't — then confidence soars and they return home with a chance to improve to 3-0 and really get some momentum going. (2-0)
• Sept. 20 vs. Central Michigan — Win — This is another quality team and the Jayhawks will have to do much more than just show up. But buoyed by the sudden-and-surprising support of the home crowd and their 2-0 start, I've got KU handling CMU to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2009 and just the sixth time since 1993. (3-0)
• Sept. 27 vs. Texas — Win — It might sound crazy, but if you remember the last time the Jayhawks got the Longhorns at home, they took them down to the wire and should have won. This KU team is better than that version and I'm not sure any of us knows what Texas is yet. The time to play UT is early, while first-year coach Charlie Strong is still settling in. KU gets Strong at home for his first ever Big 12 game and, if the Jayhawks really are 3-0 at that point, this town will be buzzing and I think the Jayhawks will make the Big 12 debut miserable for someone else for a change. (4-0)
• Oct. 4 at West Virginia — Loss — The Mountaineers sure held their own against Alabama during the opening week of the college football season and they certainly won't be surprised by Kansas or Cozart this year. In fact, it's a safe bet that WVU will be gunning for payback for last year's 31-19 loss to the Jayhawks in Lawrence. With the game in Morgantown this year, I think they'll get it. (4-1)
• Oct. 11 vs. Oklahoma State — Loss — Oklahoma State is young and there's not a lot of known commodities on the roster as things stand today. That could change in time and, with quarterback J.W. Walsh running the show, I think the Cowboys will rise up around him and be a tough out for anybody this season. It certainly looked that way in their opener as they hung right there with Florida State and nearly knocked off the nation's No. 1 team. (4-2)
• Oct. 18 at Texas Tech — Loss — After a 4-0 start, you have to figure that KU will come back down to Earth and things will start to even out a little bit. That's what this game is and I give the nod to the Red Raiders simply because they'll be playing at home. If you don't like the UT pick earlier, this could be a decent game to sub in as a victory because I can't see the Jayhawks being intimidated to go play in Lubbock. (4-3)
• Oct. 25 — BYE —
• Nov. 1 at Baylor — Loss — The week off helps but not enough, as the Jayhawks go down to Baylor's new home stadium and experience first-hand why BU coach Art Briles thinks it's as good an environment as any in the nation. The Bears are crazy talented, still, and they'll be in the Big 12 race to the end. KU never has fared that well in Waco and it doesn't look like this is the year that's going to change (4-4)
• Nov. 8 vs. Iowa State — Win — Every year, people say the Jayhawks could or even should beat the Cyclones yet every season for the past four years, the Cyclones have walked away from this match-up with a victory. That streak ends at four, as the Jayhawks and all of those seniors who are still eyeing their first bowl berth, find a way to put a complete game together against ISU and ride their defense to victory. (5-4)
• Nov. 15 vs. TCU — Win — With three cracks at becoming bowl eligible remaining, the Jayhawks don't leave anything to chance or drama and pick up win No. 6 at home on senior day in convincing fashion. Worse KU teams have been right there with TCU since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 and this is the season they finally kick the door in and come away with the sweetest football victory Lawrence has seen since the 2008 Orange Bowl. (6-4)
• Nov. 22 at Oklahoma — Loss — The Sooners are damn good and they're even tougher at home. If KU does in fact go into Norman on the heels of gaining a sixth win and bowl eligibility, expect a letdown against a team that outmans Kansas and is still right there in the thick of the national title hunt. (6-5)
• Nov. 29 at Kansas State — Loss — The talent gap has started to close and the rivalry has started to heat up oh so slightly, but the Wildcats still have Bill Snyder and Bill Snyder still refuses to lose to Kansas. I think this could be the best Sunflower Showdown game we've seen in a while, but K-State prevails in a wild one. (6-6).
So there it is. Call me crazy. I'm fine with that. But I also believe that this team and this season really can be different. It's also worth noting that I won't be shocked for a second if it's not.
I made these picks by counting on a few things happening for the Jayhawks this fall: I think quarterback Montell Cozart will be good; I think the players around him will be better than that; I think the defense again will be solid and, more importantly, on the field less; and I think first-year offensive coordinator John Reagan is both sharp enough to call games that put KU in position to succeed and skilled enough to run an offense that masks KU's biggest question mark and that's the offensive line.
If any one of those things breaks down, the Jayhawks and these picks are in trouble. But if all of those factors hold up and KU stays healthy, I don't think it's crazy to say that six wins is within reach.
After all, stranger things have happened.
“If you would have asked me before the 2007 season if I thought we were going to be 12-1 and going to the Orange Bowl, that would have been a tough prediction,” Reagan said earlier this week. “I do think this – I think the first time I talked to Coach Weis about the job and the first time I talked to (DC) Clint (Bowen) about it when the opportunity came up, I think the foundation was set and I think that is what is important. I think our players are willing to work hard and put in the time, they believe in the direction we are headed. When you have that you at least have what you need to get started and hopefully we are going to be a better football team because of that.”
Time will tell. I'm just glad it's here so we can find out.
Enjoy the season. Win, lose or draw, I do think this will be one of the more fun KU football seasons we've seen in a while.
Oh, and in case you haven't seen it yet, check out our debut episode of "KU Sports Extra," our new weekly video show with Tom Keegan and me talking all things KU with a few other wrinkles thrown in.
• KANSAS JAYHAWKS (0-0) vs. SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE REDHAWKS (1-0) •
— 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, KS —
Three and out, with SEMO...
Before moving on to the match-up with Kansas, let's look back at a couple of the more notable accomplishments from SEMO's 77-0 season-opening victory over Missouri Baptist last week.
• With 77 points, the Redhawks posted their highest total in franchise history since joining Division I in 1991.
• Southeast notched its first shutout over a non-conference opponent in the program’s Division I era. The last shutout overall was at Austin Peay on Nov. 1, 1997 and tonight’s effort marked the third shutout Southeast has registered since joining the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).
• The Redhawks racked up 516 yards of total offense, the most since totaling 537 yards at Murray State in 2012. Southeast rushed for 304 yards and posted eight rushing TDs. They averaged 7.6 yards per rush.
• Southeast set a team record by holding Missouri Baptist to 81 total yards of offense, shattering the previous low of 137 yards allowed vs. Sam Houston State (9/11/93).
The Jayhawks aren't the only ones interested in wild and new uniform combinations. First-year SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz, the former defensive coordinator at Toledo, recently unveiled a brand new helmet that it plans to wear for Saturday's game against the Jayhawks.
Off white with the heavy red outline of the school's mascot and red facemask, the helmet is basically the inverse of what the Redhawks wore in the season opener, black helmet with red and black Redhawk mascot.
There's no doubt that these things tend to fire up the players. That's certainly been the case at Kansas, dating all the way back to the red jerseys worn during the Orange Bowl seasons, the all-black look they wore against Iowa State a couple of years ago and the newly unveiled Crimson Chrome uniform that will be worn at some point this season.
Here's a look at SEMO's new helmet.
Southeast Missouri State is 1-18 all-time vs. FBS opponents, with the lone victory coming via a 24-14 triumph over Middle Tennessee in 2002. Of those 19 games, just one came against a Big 12 foe, with Missouri rocking the Redhawks, 52-3, in 2008. Other notable names on SEMO's FBS list include: Hawaii, Marshall, Ohio, Central Michigan, Arkansas, Cincinnati twice, Purdue and Ole Miss last season.
You can look at this two ways: 1. SEMO struggles with upper-level talent. 2. Because they've played FBS foes every year since 2000, they're used to it and won't be intimidated by this week's Big 12 opponent.
While SEMO quarterback Kyle Snyder returns to give the Redhawks a steady, veteran presence, it's the players around him that make the SEMO offense dangerous.
Surrounded by weapons, Snyder has plenty of options in the offense, many of whom can turn innocent plays into big gains in a hurry. Snyder in the opener, showed he could make some plays, as well, running for two touchdowns and throwing for 198 yards and two touchdowns.
• Running back DeMichael Jackson (No. 20) had a huge game last week, accounting for 148 total yards, including a 66-yard touchdown on a screen pass and a 25-yard TD run.
• Paul McRoberts and Spencer Davis are the two biggest weapons at wide receiver, with KU coach Charlie Weis calling the 5-foot-7, 182-pound Davis “their big play guy.” Davis ripped off a career-best 61-yard punt return early in the victory.
• The Redhawks have a two-headed monster at tight end, with Logan Larson being your more typical tight end and Ron Coleman being a wildcard. Coleman is a converted running back and he lines up all over the field, at fullback, tight end, H-Back and others.
Sunday was KU night at the K, where the Kansas City Royals hosted the Cleveland Indians as part of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball national broadcast.
Before the Royals and Indians took the field, the Jayhawks held court at Kauffman Stadium, entertaining hundreds of KU fans with autographs, high fives and handshakes prior to game time.
However, the no-brainer highlight of KU's appearance at the K came during the ceremonial first pitch when senior linebacker Ben Heeney threw high and tight on Big Jay and beaned him in the head. KU receiver Nick Harwell was out there to be Heeney's catcher and was the intended target, but Heeney's fastball got away from him and Big Jay went down.
KU put together a nice video of the team's time at Kauffman. Included in the autograph line at the K were: Heeney, Harwell and fellow captain Cassius Sendish along with quarterback Montell Cozart, defensive lineman Keon Stowers and offensive lineman Pat Lewandowski as well as head coach Charlie Weis, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen and offensive coordinator John Reagan.
Here's a look at the video...
And here's a quick look at some of the reaction from the players following KU night at the K...
Felt good to see all the KU fans at the game today! A lot of people excited for #kufball I love it— Keon Stowers (@KeonStowers98) September 1, 2014
Kansas University's run of having undrafted players land on 53-man NFL rosters continued rolling along last weekend, as four former Jayhawks who were passed up during their respective NFL Drafts survived their teams' final cuts and enter the season ready for work in the NFL.
Not a bad first day at a new job.
Two of the four were pretty much no surprise. Denver cornerback Chris Harris has become one of the top and most respected defensive backs in the league and Broncos' linebacker Steven Johnson, though still in that position of not being able to let up for a second, also has made himself a valuable piece of what the Broncos hope will be another Super Bowl bound puzzle.
Both guys were never in jeopardy of getting cut and both guys continue to improve and impress the powers that be in Denver.
While those two sticking was hardly a surprise, the other two fell-good moments for KU football might qualify as just that.
After a fantastic preseason, cornerback Tyler Patmon made the final roster with the Dallas Cowboys and safety Bradley McDougald made good on his shot with his second team by being one of the final 53 kept by the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Patmon's story is a little more remarkable than McDougald's because there were plenty of people, both at the NFL and college level, who always believed McDougald would get plenty of chances to stick. That he's done it so quickly and with such certainty is a credit to him, both mentally and physically, and the work he has put in to make his dream a reality.
McDougald was one of just four safeties and 10 defensive backs kept by Tampa Bay.
Patmon's success story was born from opportunity. After leaving KU following his forgettable junior season, Patmon landed at Oklahoma State and became a key part of the OSU secondary that helped lead Cowboys to a Cotton Bowl berth last season.
Patmon looked like a different player during his final season in college, like a guy who needed a change and who was energized by the fresh start and new surroundings.
His strong senior season — not to mention OSU's team success — earned him an opportunity to prove his worth with the Cowboys this season; not bad for a Texas kid. Although he needed a tryout just to be included in the crop of 90 NFL hopefuls who opened Cowboys' training camp, Patmon survived cut after cut and made play after play. No moment was bigger than his two-interception preseason game in which he looked more like a seasoned NFL veteran than a desperate rookie just trying to survive.
“He just kind of has that way about him,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett told the team's official web site. “Some guys do. If you watch his Pop Warner tape, he was probably making those kinds of plays. That’s just a part of him being able to play, and that’s a good thing.”
Added Cowboys' cornerback Morris Claiborne: “As soon as he came in, he’s one of those guys that’s got that type of mentality, swagger about himself where when he walks in, he kind of (commands) that attention. He goes out and he plays lights out. It goes from the practice field, from seeing him work and taking it on to practice and from practice to the games, it’s amazing.”
So is the fact that Patmon is starting his pro career on an active NFL roster, but like Harris and Johnson before him, his story is proof that hard work and being ready to take advantage of the limited opportunities that come your way at this level of football can pay off big time.
There's no hiding the fact that Patmon benefited from a couple of injuries to key guys ahead of him on the Dallas depth chart. But the guys who get these chances tend to be the guys who stay ready and don't worry about the overwhelming odds stacked against them.
Harris, Johnson, McDougald and Patmon all stared up at that mountain at one point in their post-college lives. And today all four are sitting on top of it with a Jayhawk flag planted at the peak and a huge smile on their faces.
In other former KU NFL news from last weekend:
• Former KU running back/defensive lineman Toben Opurum made it to the final cut of the Houston Texans but was not a part of the team's final 53-man roster when it was announced. The Texans, however, quickly signed Opurum to their practice squad and I think it's a safe bet that you'll see him active at some point — perhaps multiple points — this season.
• Former KU wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe was cut by the Dallas Cowboys, with whom he landed temporarily after being released by the Washington Redskins, his fourth team in a slow-starting five-year NFL career.
• Former Jayhawks who were drafted into the league such as Aqib Talib (Denver), Anthony Collins (Tampa Bay), Darrell Stuckey (San Diego) and Tanner Hawkinson (Cincinnati) easily made their teams' final 53, as expected.
With the 2014 Kansas University football opener now just 11 days away, it's time for what has become one of my favorite blogs to write.
It's not a prediction blog. That one's always tough. Because I spend so much time around these guys and see how much time, effort and energy they're putting into it, I often lean toward the sunny side of things and have to make sure to remember that players and coaches at Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU and Duke are doing the same thing.
I will say this, though, because four or five times a week I get asked, 'How many games the Jayhawks will win this season?' I think they've got a real shot to be better than they have been in a long time.
Let's drop a quick percentage wheel into the blog to illustrate what that means. This percentage wheel will measure my guess for a given range of win totals...
2014 WIN-TOTAL PERCENTAGE WHEEL:
- 4 or 5 wins – 51%
- 3 wins – 23%
- 6 wins or more – 13%
- 2 wins or less – 13%
All right. Now that that's out of the way, let's get back to the original topic of the blog... Seven Jayhawks flying under the radar entering the 2014 season.
Everyone knows about Ben Heeney, Cassius Sendish and Montell Cozart. But every team has a player or two who comes out of nowhere to play an important role. Here's my best guess at seven guys who could fill that role for the Jayhawks this fall.
1. Sophomore S Tevin Shaw — Weis ever-so-quietly called the third-year sophomore one of the most improved players on the entire roster midway through camp. And it makes sense. Shaw's a natural football player with a strong physical presence and the passion to go all-out all the time. During his first couple of years in town, that effort was stonewalled by his having to learn the system and pick up the college game. More comfortable today than he has been since high school, the guy Weis said might be the team's most physical player, pound-for-pound, can use that nasty streak to make plays. He won't push starting safeties Cassius Sendish and Isaiah Johnson, but, if Shaw really is in for his breakout year, KU's depth at safety — with Fish Smithson also having a fantastic camp — looks pretty salty.
2. Freshman CB Matthew Boateng — One of the most confident newcomers in the program, Boateng has done nothing but hit the field day after day with the belief that he belongs. That can go a long way for a freshman, as learning to have confidence at this level is often one of the toughest adjustments a young player has to make. Speaking of adjustments, I've heard that Boateng's transition to college life hasn't been a problem because he already went through a version of it when he went away for high school. Fast and athletic, with good feet and the size needed to compete immediately, Boateng's could be a name you hear sooner rather than later.
3. Junior DE Kapil Fletcher — A lot was made in the offseason about the pass rushers KU brought into the mix in its latest recruiting class. But with Anthony Olobia injured for who knows how long and Damani Mosby being a late arrival, the opportunity for one of those new guys to make an impact seems to be Fletcher's all to himself. Big enough to bang inside but quick enough to use his hands and play on the edge, Fletcher's blend of skills makes him an intriguing prospect. He may not be needed right away. But if Andrew Bolton, Michael Reynolds, Victor Simmons and the rest of the KU D-Line struggle to get pressure on the quarterback, Fletcher could be a guy they turn to.
4. Junior QB Michael Cummings — We haven't seen an updated version yet, but it seems like a safe bet that Cummings will open the season No. 2 on the depth chart at quarterback. Don't be surprised if he plays. There are a number of things that could get Cummings onto the field and not all of them are bad. Sure, he'll be first in line if Cozart gets knocked around, but is it possible that there's something built into John Reagan's offense specifically for Cummings? Maybe that's a Wildcat package. Maybe he's a red zone guy. Maybe he and Cozart are on the field together. Maybe not. But by all accounts Cummings had a fantastic preseason camp and, while quarterback after quarterback has been brought in and placed ahead of him on the depth chart, all he has done is work harder and get better. Props to him for that whether he plays a down this season or not.
5. Sophomore LB Courtney Arnick — It's easy to forget about guys who play early in their careers and that might be the case with Arnick, who red-shirted as a true freshman and a played in all 12 games — with six starts — last year as a red-shirt freshman. When Arnick came to the program from Dallas' Carter High (same school as freshman RB Corey Avery), he brought with him a dose of speed that the Jayhawks didn't really have. They do now, but that doesn't mean Arnick can't still contribute. He's added muscle to his frame without putting on weight and looks like the kind of linebacker KU's looking for to play in space and run down ball carriers in the Big 12. Arnick opens the year with the second unit behind Jake Love at Will linebacker but with his experience as a nickelback and KU's limited depth at linebacker, I'm guessing he'll be used somewhat regularly.
6. Freshman WR Derrick Neal — Neal was one of the guys who really impressed me during that open practice we saw a couple of weeks ago. He functions like a jitterbug out there and it seems like he'd be hard to keep tabs on. Blessed with speed, quickness, good hands and, most importantly, confidence, Neal seems to me to be one of those guys who has special circumstances guy written all over him. He may not be in the regular rotation at wide receiver, which suddenly has a ton of depth, but I'm guessing John Reagan and Eric Kiesau will find ways to get this guy the ball this season.
7. Senior DT Tedarian Johnson — At 6-foot-2, 290 pounds, Johnnson is one of the team's bigger defensive linemen who not only brings size but also valuable experience. Johnson was very good at times during his first season in Lawrence, but consistency issues kept him from standing out. The Jayhawks have moved to a lighter, quicker look in the defensive trenches this season, so it's hard to know what's going to happen to Johnson's opportunities. He opened camp second string behind senior workhorse Keon Stowers, but if the Jayhawks ever feel the need to go big up front, I could see Johnson and Stowers playing side-by-side.
Friday was the final day of our access to KU's preseason camp, and rather than talking to players or position coaches, we were given the chance to speak with some of the support staff, people who help make KU football go.
It offered a rare opportunity to get to some of the guys who do the work behind the scenes that doesn't always get noticed and it produced some fun stories and soundbites.
Some of the names you'll know. Some of them you'll have heard but forgotten. But all of them play a key role in what KU does on a day-to-day basis. Here's a quick look at some of the most notable interviews I conducted Friday.
Weis Jr. expands work to NFL
Kansas University football student manager Charlie Weis Jr., son of KU head coach Charlie Weis, attended a family reunion this summer, but none of the people there were his relatives.
Instead, Weis Jr., returned to Massachusetts and spent some time this summer working an internship with the New England Patriots, where Weis won three Super Bowls and spent five years as an offensive coordinator.
“A lot of them knew me from when I was there before,” Weis Jr., said with a big smile. “But they were all good to me and I didn't have to deal with any (hazing or harassment). It was awesome.” Most awesome, as you might guess, was the reconnection with New England quarterback Tom Brady.
“When I was a kid, I looked up to those guys,” Weis Jr., said. “They were idols to me. And to go from wearing a Tom Brady jersey to being able to kind of work with him a little bit was really cool.”
Weis Jr., who is used to being around more than 100 football players at any given KU practice, said he marveled at the behind-the-scenes work that went into cutting the Patriots' final roster to the 53-man limit.
“When my dad was there I was obviously pretty young so this was my first time working in the NFL style,” he said. “It was a really good experience and it kind of got me some exposure.”
Willis thrilled to be coaching at alma mater
Less than a year after running onto the field with a KU helmet, jersey with his name on the back and full set of pads, Darius Willis finds himself preparing to run onto the same field in a very different manner.
Willis, who graduated from KU last May, is in his first year with the KU coaching staff, serving as one of four graduate assistants on the staff. Despite the quick change from player to professor, Willis said he's enjoyed every second.
“I don't feel weird,” the former linebacker and defensive lineman said. “It's just something that comes naturally to me. I've always said in the back of my head that I wanted to be a coach when I was done playing and this is a great opportunity.”
Willis got the opportunity at the last minute when another former Jayhawk, Max Onyegbule, left the program for a job elsewhere. Willis got the call and jumped at the chance to stick around Lawrence.
“I'm just taking it one day at a time and trying to keep motivate myself and make the dudes around me better,” Willis said. “You always want to see where you played succeed. Being here and actually being a part of it is great.”
Another Mitchell on board
After playing for his father for one season at Illinois and working under him last season at Kansas, graduate assistant Kaeman Mitchell, son of KU running backs coach Reggie Mitchell, is finally feeling comfortable.
“This year, I know what to expect more,” Mitchell said. “And I'm doing a better job of staying ahead instead of catching up.”
Mitchell, who played defensive back and special teams at Illinois from 2009-12, spent one spring working with the Illini staff before coming to Kansas.
His role at KU focuses on the Jayhawks' special teams and he wouldn't have it any other way.
“I love special teams,” he said. “But if I was gonna coach on offense it would be running backs because I've been sitting in their meetings (with my dad) for 18 years.”
Parmalee duo having fun
The 2014 season will mark the first season together for former NFL coach and player Bernie Parmalee and his son Tre' Parmalee, a junior wide receiver with the Jayhawks.
As close as any father-and-son duo, the older Parmalee said he has not seen either party act any differently than they would otherwise.
“It's been fun,” Bernie said. “It's really been fun. With playing in the NFL and coaching in the NFL and coaching in college, that's a lot of time away. So to be in the same building with him and a part of the same team, that doesn't happen very often.”
As for what kind of role he's played specifically with his son, Bernie he treats Tre' just like any other Jayhawk.
“As a dad, you ask yourself the question, can I work with a team where I have to work with my son,'” he said. “Since he was young, I've been on him, I've pushed him, hard love, tough love. But at the same time, I embrace it, he embraces it and, when we look back years from now, this time is gonna bring big smiles.”
My heart breaks for Brandon Bourbon.
There's no other way to put it. Few players on this Kansas University football team have been through as much adversity during their KU careers, fought through it all with determination and a smile, and still found tough break after tough break at seemingly every turn.
The most recent of those surfaced Tuesday, when it was learned that Bourbon would miss the entire 2014 season after suffering a knee injury in Sunday's team scrimmage at Memorial Stadium.
News of a season-ending injury for fellow-senior running back Taylor Cox also emerged Tuesday. Cox tore his Achilles' tendon during Monday's practice. It's not that I don't feel bad for Cox. I do. He's a great guy and an incredible teammate. It's just this deal with Bourbon is a little different because he's been with the program for so much longer.
It wasn't supposed to go this way. This was supposed to be Bourbon's year. Finally.
He fought through injuries for four seasons, kept a fantastic attitude through it all and was rewarded by spending the spring and the summer atop the team's depth chart at tailback. That's how it was supposed to go. And it was supposed to be followed by his best season as a Jayhawk and a strong finish to a tough career.
Sunday's injury had no place in the script. But it came anyway. And now Bourbon must not only rehab himself back to health again, but he also must decide if pursuing a sixth year of eligibility via a medical hardship is worth it.
I can't blame him, whatever he decides. It sounds like he's planning to persevere one more time and come back for another year if the NCAA will allow it. Let's hope they get that one right. Either way, I wish him a ton of luck with his rehab and future. He's a great dude and deserves for things to start falling his way sooner rather than later.
This is not the time to spend your days feeling sorry for the Jayhawks. Injuries are a big part of the game and a possibility for every player who steps out there. Because of that, coaches do their best to build depth and stack talent at every position. Running back is the best example of this at KU and has been for the past several seasons.
That makes the loss of Bourbon and Cox a little easier for the Jayhawks to take from a purely football perspective. All of a sudden, though, that depth that once looked excessive has been reduced to three promising newcomers (two of them freshmen) and a running-back-turned-receiver who might still be able to tote the rock a few times a game if needed.
Isn't it strange how a couple of players who, on signing day last February, looked like little more than luxuries now might be counted on big-time right away.
Juco transfer De'Andre Mann was called crazy for coming to KU with its already loaded backfield. Now he almost certainly will receive a significant workload.
Dallas freshman Corey Avery was one of the last in the Class of 2014 to pick Kansas and, when he did, Kansas looked to be so loaded at the position that many wondered if Avery would spend some time as a slot receiver. That wasn't the plan anyway, but it definitely won't be now.
The KU press release said that freshman Joe Dineen would move to running back to add depth to the position and Dineen certainly has the skills to play there. Like Avery and Mann, though, he just has no experience at this level.
For better or worse, though, those three are your KU running backs for 2014, with senior wide receiver Tony Pierson sprinkled in there if need be and, forgotten senior Ed Fink all of a sudden potentially staring at a possible goal line/short yardage role, as well. Other role players or situational-type backs also could emerge.
Those mentioned above are more than capable. And any one or two of them could be in for big seasons. But with Bourbon and Cox out now, their ability to deliver just became even more critical.
Hard to believe that KU now has lost more running backs (Bourbon, Cox, Darrian Miller and Traevohn Wrench) than it has.
Here's a quick glance at what happened to all that depth:
OFF THE DEEP END
A look at KU’s projected running back depth entering the summer and what happened to each back
Sr. Brandon Bourbon — Torn ACL, out for season
Sr. Taylor Cox — Torn Achilles’ tendon, out for season
Jr. De’Andre Mann — Competing for No. 1 spot on depth chart
Jr. Darrian Miller — Left team for personal reasons, later transferred to Northern Iowa
Fr. Corey Avery — Competing for No. 1 spot on depth chart
Fr. Traevohn Wrench — Failed to qualify academically, enrolled at Butler Community College
Couple of quick notes now before jumping back in to an expanded version a little later from Monday's KU football practice.
Check back in a while for more, but here are a couple that needed to get up quickly.
First, KU coach Charlie Weis called the team together during the stretching and warm-up portion of today's practice and called them out for not having any juice. It makes sense. It's hard to go through camp with great energy every day and probably even harder after a big Sunday scrimmage.
That said, Weis wasn't having it. In an attempt to inject some life into practice, he called a few more members of his staff over to the practice field so they could take their turn at the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Included in this group were assistant AD for sports medicine Murphy Grant, equipment manager Jeff Himes, media relations guru Katy Lonergan and assistant strength coach Justin Springer.
A handful of players were chosen to stand behind each person and dump the bucket of ice on their heads. It was hot out there on the turf, though, and I didn't hear any complaining.
Quickly, one newsy note from practice: Tight end Jordan Shelley-Smith, a red-shirt freshman from Waco, Texas, has moved to offensive line. He spent most of the drill I saw working at right tackle, which makes sense given the fact that, as a tight end, he's pretty athletic, moves well and may be a prime candidate to follow in Tanner Hawkinson's foot steps.
Shelley-Smith was listed at 245 pounds in the media guide. I've been told he's up to 260 now and there's no doubt that, with his frame, he could get up to the 290 range without much issue.
I thought he looked pretty strong in the drills and, from what little I do know of him, I think he may have the demeanor to play O-Line. We'll see.
More to come. Gotta take care of a couple things real quick. Quick tease: I spent a good chunk of my time today really looking at KU's three-man competition at Center between Keyon Haughton, Joe Gibson and Jacob Bragg.
Got back to this a little later than I had hoped so I'll save the center update for Tuesday.
Here were a few more quick things that caught my on Monday, though, since I promised you something.
• Still no Josh Ehambe or Damani Mosby out there, the only two players from the latest recruiting class who have yet to make it to campus. Mosby's closing in on an arrival (still just waiting for the paperwork to be graded) and Ehambe, who is still waiting for word from the NCAA on the eligibility of all Prime Prep Academy athletes Tweeted something about it being time to pack, which sent KU fans on Twitter into a frenzy about him getting good news but we've heard nothing official. Coach Weis is scheduled for a brief press conference Wednesday before introducing this year's captains so maybe we'll learn more then.
• I noticed that both the DBs and the linebackers were working a lot on the strip fumble drill during the early portion of today's practice. Nothing new there and certainly nothing they don't work on regularly anyway, but I thought it was interesting that both were doing it. Maybe the offense got the better of the defense in the Sunday scrimmage and the drill was put in to provide extra emphasis on takeaways. Purely speculation there, though. Haven't heard too much about how the scrimmage went yet.
• Weis said last week that he was hoping to be done shuffling the O-Line around after Saturday. It was just the first drill of a Monday practice but it's worth noting that the first group up in the drill for the O-Line looked like this: RT - Damon Martin, RG - Mike Smithburg, C - Keyon Haughton, LG - Ngalu Fusimalohi, LT - Pat Lewandowski.
• Finally, got a quick glance at one of those "It's Time" T-Shirts that the Jayhawks made to remind themselves that this year is supposed to be different. Nothing incredible, but they look pretty sharp.
Check Tuesday for more on the O-Line, particularly the center position.
Saturday's Fan Appreciation Day and open practice gave us our first extended look at the 2014 Kansas University football team.
And there was plenty to watch.
It's always nice to get at least one practice where we get more than the 20 minutes at the beginning. Not because we learn a ton of information that we might not otherwise see (Coach Weis is smart enough not to show too much when the eyes of the media and fans are on the field), but because it gives us a chance to look a little more closely at players and positions.
That's what I focused most of my time on during the more than 2 hours inside the gates on Saturday and several things stood out.
Here's a quick look at most of them:
• The running back position is loaded. It's not just talk. All four of the guys competing there could start, could handle the load and/or could lead this team in rushing. That's a good thing because of the pounding backs usually take. It's an even better thing because it'll keep the Jayhawks from being too one dimensional as each guy gives a little something different. One thing I noticed Saturday that impressed me was that all four guys — Brandon Bourbon, Taylor Cox, De'Andre Mann and Corey Avery — can both run inside and catch the ball out of the backfield. Nice luxury to have.
• Sticking with the offense, I thought QB Montell Cozart looked fine on Saturday. He was mostly accurate, moved around well in the pocket and also turned it up field when he had to and, perhaps most impressively, fit the ball into some tight spots. Michael Cummings also looked really good and I've heard he's had a terrific camp. Makes sense because this style of offense fits the type of player he is, which is probably why he appears to be leading in the race to become Cozart's back-up. That said, T.J. Millweard threw some nice balls and had particularly good touch on his deep ball. He just doesn't look quite as natural and comfortable as the other two. That's probably mostly experience and confidence.
• At wideout, the Jayhawks really appear to have some players. Rodriguez Coleman had a nice day and looked really athletic and Tony Pierson had a fantastic day. As the coaching staff has mentioned, Pierson is really starting to look like a wide receiver. He was locked up with Kevin Short in several one-on-one situations during Saturday's practice and he got the better of Short more times than not. That was probably my favorite part of the day on Saturday. Not only watching Pierson and Short go toe-to-toe, but watching all of the WRs battle with the DBs in one-on-one situations. For the most part, the receivers won the battle this time.
• Speaking of wideouts, those four freshmen might be special. Tyler Patrick, Darious Crawley, Derrick Neal and Bobby Hartzog all have a real natural feel for the game and they're fiery. They all know that the deck is stacked in front of them, but you wouldn't know it by watching them compete. They're out there to push their teammates on offense and defense every single rep. That can only help a team. Of the four, my guess is that Derrick Neal might be the farthest along. He just looks to have the best feel for the offense and, although he's tiny, he really uses that to his advantage. I could even see him fitting into the passing game in some kind of specialist role. On one play, wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau turned his back to the play and told someone on the sideline what was going to happen behind him. Sure enough, Neal ran a crossing route after lining up on the far side and caught the ball in the exact spot Kiesau said he would for a gain of 20-30 yards. That's a good sign for Neal and also for Kiesau, who looks like he's been with the program for years.
• A couple of quick notes about kickoff and punt return. Isaiah Johnson, Tre' Parmalee, Kevin Short and Nick Harwell all handled punt returns on Saturday and here was how I saw it. Most sure-handed: Parmalee. Most dangerous weapon: Harwell: Biggest gambler: Short. As for kickoff return, JaCorey Shepherd, Harwell and Short all looked equally dangerous back there. Too bad they don't figure to get many chances. Not because Weis won't use them. He's said he has no problem using front-line guys on special teams. Instead because the kickoff return has been taken out of college football more and more in recent years with the rule changes.
• Speaking of Weis and special teams, his talk about giving a good chunk of his time to that unit is no joke. He's very involved with every aspect and very attentive while special teams drills are happening.
• In the kicking department, both Trevor Pardula and Eric Kahn looked good on punts and kickoffs. No surprise there, but it was nice to see Kahn has developed into a more than capable back-up. Pardula ripped off one of his signature 70-yard punts and, unlike last year, when that brought a scream of some kind from Weis, it went without much chatter this time. It's a great sign when that kind of thing is expected instead of celebrated.
• In the field goal department, freshman John Duvic hit six of the seven kicks he attempted, missing only from 42 yards. One was an extra point and the rest were slowly and steadily farther out starting at 25 yards and going to 47. He definitely outperformed returning starter Matthew Wyman, who missed four straight during the same drill. Too bad too. We talked to Wyman before the practice began and he said he's had a great camp and felt more confident and consistent than ever. Just goes to show how doing it in front of a live crowd can change the game.
• The misses might not have been all on the kickers. Long snapper John Wirtel had a rough day as he bounced several snaps back to holder T.J. Millweard and even fired a few over Millweard's head. Props to Millweard for doing a great job of getting most of them down so the kickers had a chance. Millweard looks really strong in that role. He's confident, has good hands and is constantly encouraging the KU kickers.
A few more quick notes...
• No surprise here, but I thought the DBs looked very physical. Both in the passing game and in the run game, these guys really believe in their abilities and aren't afraid to hit.
• Junior cornerback Kevin Short is a very instinctual football player. He just seems to be where he needs to be and do what he needs to do with minimal effort. He likes to talk, too.
• The area in which the wide receivers have upgraded the most is not hands, speed, routes or anything like that. It's confidence. Credit Nick Harwell for a lot of that and Kiesau for a big chunk, as well.
• At the end, when they were running sprints — O-Line vs. D-Line, LBs vs. TEs and QBs, DBs vs. WRs — every group started its sprint from the goal line to the 50-yard line with one word... “Win!”
• After the sprints, the Jayhawks lined up for another round of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Coach Weis took the challenge on Friday night and today it was the rest of his coaching staff. 19 buckets were lined up at midfield and select players got to drench the coaches and support staff at the same time. Probably felt great out there since it was pretty hot on the turf.
• All in all it was a pretty good day. Not a lot was learned, but again, we were able to see these guys do a little more and move closer to full speed, which helps in evaluating where they're at. Only about 500-700 fans showed up but they almost all stayed start to finish and many of them hit the field for autographs afterwards. I heard several Jayhawks say sincere words like, “Thanks for the support,” to the fans who came and stuck around for a chance to meet the Jayhawks.
Here's a nice video of some of the action from Benton Smith...
And a photo gallery from Nick Krug...
Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis, on Friday, answered the call in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that has taken the world by storm in the past few weeks.
The challenge, which has helped raise a boat load of money and brought greater awareness to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, started simply enough with a few people dumping buckets of ice water on their head, pledging to donate some money to fight the disease and either quickly filming it or taking a photograph of it before sending the challenge on to someone else.
It now has reached epic proportions, with people producing full-on skits and videos to show their turn at the ice-bucket plunge.
Weis didn't go quite that far, but there is a nice video detailing how Weis was called out, how he went about doing the challenge and who he challenged in return.
Check it out...
It always blows my mind how, when I go out to these portions of practice that are open to the media, I kind of ignore the most talented and proven players.
That's not to say I don't toss a glance over to the linebackers to see what Ben Heeney's doing or take a peek at what Tony Pierson's hands look like during a specific drill, but I definitely don't spend the same kind of time studying those guys as I do the newcomers, the question marks and the unproven players.
I guess that makes sense. I know what Heeney and Pierson and so many others can do because I've seen it on Saturdays. Besides, there's always a little more intrigue surrounding the guys we don't know much about.
With that in mind, I tried to mix in a little of both during this morning's practice, KU's second session of two-a-days of the preseason camp.
Here's a look at who stood out...
• Junior safety Isaiah Johnson, the reigning Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year, looks even bigger and stronger than he did a season ago. I watched a good portion of the drills the DBs did with Scott Vestal and noticed that Johnson looks a lot more powerful in all of his movements. That can only help him improve on his five-interception season that earned him national praise and made him a more familiar name in Big 12 country.
• I mentioned Cassius Sendish the other day for his work ethic, but what jumped out to me today is the guy's burst. Sendish is fast. Again, he might not stand out to everybody for that or any other reason because he's not flashy, but he can fly. His legs are strong and powerful and he seems to get max strength out of every step and every plant.
• Sophomore Tevin Shaw got some love from KU coach Charlie Weis the other day for possibly being the team's most improved player so I took a look at him today, as well. I've always liked Shaw. Thought he was going to be a player right when he arrived and, understandably, it's taken him a couple of years to reach the point where he looks and feels more comfortable out there. I didn't see any of the viciousness that coach was talking about, but I was only watching drills. I'm hoping to see some more of what Shaw can do in terms of hitting and physicality on Saturday at the open practice.
• Speaking of the open practice and fan appreciation day, set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, I just got a note from KU that said they'll decide by 10 a.m. whether the show will go on or not. Sounds like there's a chance for rain and inclement weather so plans could change. As I said, we'll know by 10 tomorrow morning.
• One quick note on a newcomer, safety Fish Smithson. The guy looks good. Weis said the other day that he's pushing to be a starter (though it's hard to see him supplanting Sendish or Johnson at safety) and, it appears to me, that one of the big reasons for the push is because the guy is so technically sound. Every step during the drills I watched today was taken with purpose and in just the right manner. He's a little under-sized back there at 5-11, 190 but he packs a punch and is so fundamentally sound that I can see why they like the guy. It certainly did not hurt that he arrived early and was able to adjust during spring practices.
• Finally, a quick note about Vestal, who I think really is one of the better up-and-coming coaches on this staff. The guy's good and he's gonna be great some day. I really like watching him work with the DBs because he's so hands-on. He's right there for every step and if you take six steps in a back-pedal drill but just one of them isn't right or perfect, he'll make you do them all over again until you nail it. Another thing I like about his style is the way he comes up with little word devices to teach technique. For today's back-pedal drill, where the safeties were reading the break of the wide receivers and trying to get a jump on the cut, Vestal continually said "Read. My. Keys," as he stomped each step into the ground to try to hammer home the point. I didn't catch what the keys were, which is good because (a) that's meeting room stuff and (b) it means none of the guys forgot them, but I loved every second of watching the interaction between Vestal and the safeties.
Headed to interviews with the WRs and QBs soon... Be sure to check out our latest Podcast and also Benton Smith's video from this morning's practice.
Thursday's practice was one of the hottest of preseason camp so far for the Kansas University football team.... not that anyone was complaining.
As far as mid-August goes, what these guys have enjoyed the past couple of weeks, weather-wise, has been about as good as you could ask for.
Not a ton of things that jumped out at me out there today, but there were a couple of fun things that caught my eye and we saw a heck of a drill between the running backs and the linebackers.
It only lasted a few reps and was over just as it was starting to get good. Maybe that was by design.
Here was the gist: Ball placed at the 3-yard line about 3 or 4 yards away from the sideline. Running back takes the ball and goes one-on-one against a backer to try to score.
The running backs won the drill by a wide margin (and they probably should have...That's tough for the defensive guy to hold his ground in that tight of an area and keep the back from scoring.)
There was one significant highlight for the defense during the drill and it came from fast-rising freshman Kyron Watson. Paired up with senior tailback Brandon Bourbon, Watson laid a serious lick and also ripped the ball out and recovered it in the end zone.
The rest of the LBs went nuts when Watson returned to the line and the freshman from East St. Louis, Ill., pretty much took it all in stride. I'm telling you; this kid looks like a player.
It should be noted that Bourbon did just fine on his couple other carries. Like I said, the backs won the drill, but the Watson highlight might have been the biggest single moment.
One of the best and perhaps most overlooked moments of the drill was the showdown between KU assistants Clint Bowen, who coaches the linebackers, and Reggie Mitchell, who coaches the running backs. The two didn't actually jump into the drill (advantage Bowen in that one) but they flashed their intensity and passion throughout the session.
Both guys are such competitors that I'm certain they wanted to win the drill as much for their position group as any of the players. You can see that in the video that Benton Smith got toward the bottom of this blog. Good stuff.
By the way, this whole story should come as absolutely no surprise... Watson's Twitter handle tells all you need to know --- @KyroGee_HitRBs
Here's a quick look at a couple of other things that stood out Thursday:
• Scouts, scouts, scouts and more scouts. It's pretty much become the norm for at least a couple of NFL scouts to be out at practice, so this may be the last time I write about it. Today's attendance was the biggest of the preseason, though, so they jumped out at me a little more. Based on the roster and the number of Jayhawks who could potentially get a shot at pro football, I'm guessing these guys are busier than they have been when they come to Lawrence.
• It looks like the offensive linemen might have got some new gloves. Either that or I'm just now noticing them. I can't imagine that would be the case, though, since these babies stood out because of the shiny, silver, metalic or chrome accents on the tops side of the hand and fingers. The shine is there on both black and white gloves. Can't imagine this will have anything to do with how the line plays this season, but you never know. Look good, feel good, play good is a mantra I believe in and I don't doubt for a second that these guys love those gloves.
• Speaking of the O-Line, after Joe Gibson ran first-team center for the past couple of days during the super-early offensive sequence that kick-starts most practices, junior Keyon Haughton was back with the 1's on Thursday. What's it mean? Who knows? Maybe this battle is still hot and heavy. Maybe it's a three-way contest with Jacob Bragg very much in the mix. Maybe it will come down to the final week or so of camp. KU coach Charlie Weis said earlier this week that he hoped to stop experimenting with the line after Saturday's open practice. I'm sure he will. I'm also sure that means very little of what we see in terms of which guy is running with which unit will mean too much on Saturday. Still, it doesn't take a genius to figure out which guys look better. Still too early to tell in that department for me. For what it's worth, the second unit in that early drill went like this: LT Larry Mazyck, LG Bryan Peters, C Joe Gibson, RG Apa Visinia, RT Brian Beckmann. The first team, as it is on the depth chart, was: LT Pat Lewandowski, LG Ngalu Fusimalohi, C Haughton, RG Mike Smithburg, RT Damon Martin.
• While watching the linebackers for a few minutes, something hit me: Don't forget about Courtney Arnick. Just a sophomore, but in his third year in the program, Arnick is bigger than he has been in the past but still looks as fast and as quick as he was. He's played some linebacker and some nickelback during his first two years and seems to fit the mold of what the defense is looking for: fast, athletic guys who can make plays in space. With his decent experience, Arnick could easily be a rotation guy. He's listed second string behind Jake Love on the depth chart, but certainly will have his hands full contending with Watson.
• Another guy who falls in the “forget me not” category is Buck senior Victor Simmons. From safety to linebacker to Buck, Simmons has been used all over the place. It takes a disciplined player to be moved around so much and not break. Simmons looks as fast as ever, is rock solid and has incredibly quick feet. If he can pick up the nuances of his latest position, he could produce some positive moments this fall.
Finally, be sure to check out Benton Smith's videos of the day and the latest KU camp Podcast from Tom Keegan and me.
It's been a lot of firsts for the Kansas University football program this week and Wednesday morning brought another: First day of two-a-days.
Session one kicked off early this morning at 9 a.m. and, appropriately, they kicked things off with “Let's Get It Started” from the Black Eyed Peas.
It's always interesting to watch the energy and vibe at these morning practices and I gotta tell ya, today's session didn't look any different than what we've seen in the afternoon the past several days.
By the time they suit up, get treatment, get taped up and all of that, you'd think they'd have no problem waking up and being ready. But you have to remember these are college kids and 9 a.m. comes pretty early. Heck, it comes pretty early for me most days. So good for them for looking sharp and being ready to get after it at the first morning practice of the season.
That's not a huge deal and they should be expected to do just that, but it's definitely possible that they could've been sluggish and, if they were, I didn't see it.
Here's a quick glance at what else caught my eye this morning. KU coach Charlie Weis will be available for a press conference at 11:45 a.m. and we'll have all kinds of nuggets and sound from that this afternoon.
• One thing that has impressed me most from the coaches in the early going is how they get prepared for practice. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in there behind closed doors when they're having their coffee and getting ready to hit the field. But during stretching and warm-up type stuff when they're just waiting for Scott Holsopple to get done with the players, they're coaching then, too. A lot of times it's just high-fiving the guys or slapping them on the helmet to make sure they're ready to go. But today I noticed that, in the name of efficiency, there was a lot of prep work being done. Particularly with John Reagan. Instead of just walking around or jamming to the music and waiting for them to finish, Reagan was talking to each lineman about what drills were up first and reminding them of little tips and tidbits that might help them get to work a little faster. Again, efficiency is the key word there and these guys don't appear to be wasting any time.
• I took a longer look at the linebackers and Bucks today and the thing that jumped out at me was their athleticism and mobility. So many of those guys can move, are light on their feet and can change direction very well for guys who play those positions. Michael Reynolds, Victor Simmons, Ben Heeney, Kyron Watson, Courtney Arnick. All of those guys and more really showed some good agility during the drill I saw them working. Gotta think that can only help when chasing down a ball carrier.
• So much of the early portion of camp is about guys getting shots and a couple of young guys on offense are definitely getting theirs. For the second day in a row, Joe Gibson worked in with the first team at center during the fast-paced offensive drill. Also working in with the first team today was freshman running back Corey Avery. I've thought this for a while and I think it more and more every day: Avery's going to play.
• Want to know how you get to be a captain in your first year in the program or a two-time Big 12 media days representative or one of the most respected guys on the team? Watch Cassius Sendish. The senior safety, who also happens to be one of the best dudes on the team, is one of the hardest working guys out there day in and day out. Talk about efficiency, Sendish looks to get every ounce he can out of every drill he does and never goes half-speed or takes a rep off. That kind of thing is contagious and really sets a good tone for the younger guys who are looking up to and learning from him. It's that kind of effort that's required to help rebuild a program.
More to come a little later on. For now, be sure to check out Benton Smith's video from this morning's practice.
The Kansas University football program late Tuesday night released yet another new-look uniform which will be worn during the upcoming season.
The uniform, dubbed Crimson Chrome features red pants, red jerseys, a red helmet (complete with a chrome face mask) with a huge Jayhawk head on the top and side and chrome numbers, letters and Jayhawks dotting the look.
The new uniform comes on the heels of last year's uniform explosion which allowed the Jayhawks to mix and match tops, pants and helmets for triple-digit uniform options.
This video, which shows the new red uniforms, uses the demo model. A KU spokesperson said the names would be on the backs of the Crimson Chrome uniforms when they're worn this fall.
As you can see, the players seem to like them a lot and have not missed any of the little details that make them unique.
Red uniforms have been popular with the KU fan base for a number of years, dating back to the success the Jayhawks had while wearing them in their Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in 2007.
While the newest uniforms most certainly are red, they're more of a modern spin on the old classic, which begs the question.... What do the fans think?
Like 'em or hate 'em, love 'em or loathe 'em, score another one for KU's creativity. There are plenty of players and plenty of programs out there that would do just about anything to have this kind of flare to their gameday gear and so many options at that.
Pads were popping and it finally looked like the first day of football season at the Kansas University practice fields on Tuesday.
The Jayhawks, after four days of drills in jerseys, helmets and shells, strapped on pads for the first time and showed a different look.
Some guys maintained the quickness they showed during the first few days. Others looked a little more sluggish and, somehow, others looked a little faster.
In preparation for Day 1 in pads, the Jayhawks watched a video, during their morning meetings, about the proper tackling techniques and other safety precautions that go into full contact. Happens every year, but it's great to see the coaching staff put such serious emphasis on something so important.
Seeing some of these young guys in pads for the first time had me thinking that quite a few of them could play if called upon. The goal, of course, is for them to not be needed so they can save the year of eligibility and continue working on their bodies and minds as they make the transition from high school to college.
The most important part of this thought, though, is that guys like Jacob Bragg, Apa Visinia, Lay'Trion Jones, Daniel Wise and many others look a little more like the kinds of guys big programs start with year in and year out. That's good for the future and for the continued development of the program.
Here's a quick look at a few things that caught my eye out there on Tuesday:
• Maybe it was just being in pads that got him fired up, or maybe he was feeling particularly good. Either way, junior center Keyon Haughton was fired up out there. He kept beating on his chest, high-fiving everyone within reach and looking generally pretty charged up. It's dangerous to read too much into any one day, but two things came to mind: 1. Maybe he's playing very well and has a ton of confidence and just can't wait to keep rolling. Or, 2. Maybe he's feeling the intensity of the battle for the top spot at center and he was trying to get himself charged up for a big day. I suppose it's possible there could be a No. 3 in play here, too. Maybe he just loved the song that was playing.
• It's been said here, written all over the place and mentioned a bunch of times already, but today gave a really good look at the transformation of Charlie Weis. Most days, he's wearing a sweatshirt or some kind of pullover with his shorts and you can't really tell how much weight he's lost. Today, though, he had black shorts and a black short-sleeve shirt and he looked great. He's lost more than 80 pounds in the past several weeks and appears to be moving around much better than in the past. The only reason this is a big deal — other than for the Weis family — is because I truly believe that a team can benefit from this kind of example of hard work, dedication and achievement coming from the top.
• The fun-and-feel-good moment of the day came right after stretching as the defensive players were running to their side of the field for drills. While sprinting to his station, junior lineman Ben Goodman was jawing with current grad assistant Darius Willis, who was a Goodman teammate just last season. It was all in good fun, of course, and it just goes to show that there are a million different ways to motivate and Willis has found one.
• Evidently I've found my early obsession: Freshman running back Corey Avery. Really, really looking forward to seeing him play. Today, with the backs dressed in full pads, I noticed Avery seemed to run low with great balance. Easy to say during a drill. We'll see if it transitions to game day or if it even matters. My guess is it will on both counts.
• With Jimmay Mundine sidelined for a couple of weeks with an injury, the door is open for someone at the tight end spot to make himself a player the coaches can't keep off the field. Trent Smiley is listed second on the depth chart, but he's more of a blocking tight end anyway – and a damn good one at that. Ben Johnson and Jordan Shelley-Smith both have a chance to step forward, but don't count out Smiley altogether. He's got the experience, he's got underrated hands and he's a senior playing his last season of college football. I noticed him really doing a lot of leading today, both of the vocal nature and by example.
Today's Videos and Podcast:
We're getting closer to seeing what this team looks like in full pads...
Monday marked the first day with shoulder pads at KU football camp and, starting Tuesday, they'll be allowed to suit up in full gear.
Coaches have said for decades that the one sure way to tell if a guy can play or not is to get him in pads and then see. So many players look good running around in shorts and jerseys but then lose a step or more when they slap on the full attire.
As an aside, I've always wondered why the NFL combine doesn't take that into account and make the guys run the 40 and do those drills in full pads. To my knowledge, no football game outside of the lingerie bowl has been played with the athletes wearing underwear.
Anyway, I'm not saying a full transformation from great to good or good to bad will be the case with any of the Jayhawks, but you can bet that's when the real evaluations will begin.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at what caught my eye at Monday's practice....
• It was defensive linemen that jumped out at me today and all in a good way. In a relative sense — understanding that these guys are naturally bigger than most other positions — I'd say the D-Line is probably the most lean and mean looking group of any out there. These guys are all significantly more cut and most of the newcomers, freshmen and juco guys alike, are starting from a fantastic spot. Here are a couple of specifics on what I'm talking about.
• Keon Stowers has continued to mold his body and he now looks like the kind of guy who could play defensive end or on the interior. He's big but in all the right ways, cut almost everywhere and looks to be in the best shape of his career. Perhaps the best part? He doesn't appear to be letting up.
• Andrew Bolton looks fantastic, too. No. 1, he looks healthy. Beyond that, he just has a different style about him. Maybe it's a different gear. Maybe it's his crazy powerful lower body that makes it look like he's working on a different playing surface. Or maybe it's just that this is the kind of player that's supposed to be at defensive end. Either way, he looks good and hungry.
• Ben Goodman, Tedarian Johnson and Michael Reynolds all look more lean, as well. Reynolds told me the other day that even though he's added weight and strength, he actually feels like he's faster. That's the kind of thing you want to hear at all positions.
• As for the newcomers, several of them are pretty impressive, too. Freshmen Daniel Wise, D.J. Williams and Lay'Trion Jones are big bodies who seem to be the ideal specimens for a guy like Scott Holsopple to mold. Both look like they could get out there right now. Obviously the mental part of things is a different story and may hold them back slightly, but who knows?
• As far as juco guys on the D-Line, Kapil Fletcher has a really nice blend of power and quickness and Anthony Olobia looks like a wild animal. His lower body just never stops moving and it looks as if he never goes less than 340 percent on any rep. It was just one day of watching him, so that might not be a fair assessment. But his energy impressed me today. I'll keep an eye on if that's the norm.
• A couple of non-D-Line things that jumped out today: Tony Pierson is going to be used all over the formations. I think I saw him in five different spots during the opening drill and that was just a quick-hitter, get the offense moving type of drill. Good luck to defensive coordinators who are trying to keep tabs on him.
• Keyon Haughton jumped over to left guard when Jacob Bragg got his shot at center. KU coach Charlie Weis said last week that Bragg would get a legitimate look and it appears he is. Haughton, who has played guard and center, gives the O-Line some nice options.
• Finally, a quick update on freshman running back Corey Avery, who I noted looked thicker than I anticipated the other day. It's because he is. The rosters were updated today and Avery is up 25 pounds from signing day, from 170 to 195. That's a good thing for him and KU football and also a good thing for me because he sure didn't look like a 170-pound player when I first saw him. Turns out I was right. That time.
As I mentioned, full pads tomorrow. Should give us all kinds of new things to look for. Check back then and be sure to check out Benton Smith's video of interviews with offensive leaders and the latest Spodcasters episode from Tom Keegan and me.
Saturday marked Day 2 of preseason camp for KU football. Still no pads (per NCAA rules), but still plenty of action to take in during the 20 minutes of practice open to the media.
We're fortunate enough to get this kind of first-hand look at the team nearly every day throughout August, so there will be plenty of time to dissect newcomers and all of that other stuff in the coming weeks.
Today, what jumped out to me was the portion of practice that came right after stretching in which Montell Cozart (#2) and the first-string offense ran mock offense against no defense to get into the flow.
Obviously, it wasn't impressive because of the competition. But it was impressive because it (a) gave me an early look at how the offense will operate and (b) gave me a good look at how Cozart runs the team.
Both were promising. It won't mean anything if it doesn't translate to Saturdays this fall, but it's all we have to go on as of now.
First, the offense. With offensive coordinator John Reagan standing on the sideline and signaling in the calls, Cozart looked once to the sideline from the shotgun and then jumped up to the line of scrimmage to communicate with his offensive line and skill players. There weren't multiple looks over — though there probably will be — and it didn't appear to be mass confusion. One look, I've got it and go. Efficiency was a big word brought up throughout the offseason and that was definitely the word that came to mind when watching this drill. For the record, it was the same sort of pace and procedure when Michael Cummings (#14) jumped in with the second string.
Center Keyon Haughton (#70) and Cozart were the two big communicators, which tells me something about Haughton. Obviously he was here in the spring, so that gave him some time to get comfortable. But if he's winning that battle over Joe Gibson (#77) and Jacob Bragg (#55) right now, it must be because the coaches and players trust him. Good sign.
A couple more quick things about Cozart from Saturday:
• Perhaps the thing I liked most about what I saw was the way Cozart stayed on the field and high-fived all 10 other offensive players as they came off after the drill was over. That's leadership and really gives you the indication that Cozart's in it for the team not for himself.
• During individual throwing drills with QB coach Ron Powlus, Cozart had an issue with his helmet and when the equipment manager came over to fix it, you could really see the focus on his face as he continued the drill. In general, he's a happy, fun-loving guy and likes to smile and clown around. But when he's out there working to get better, it appears as if he's all business.
• I'm not saying Cozart's going to be an all-Big 12 quarterback and that KU's issues at that position are fixed immediately. But it's clear that the young man who has been put into a huge position, is taking this opportunity very seriously and is doing everything he can to make sure lack of focus and determination won't be the reason if things don't get better.
• Finally, since I missed Nigel King (#9) at Friday's practice, I made sure to get over to the receivers today and I was very impressed by what I saw. Again, King's a big boy and he stood out for his height among the group. But every one of those guys appears to be working much harder now than I ever remember seeing them work in the past couple of years. First-year WR coach Eric Kiesau clearly has made an impact and, going off of what little I've learned about Kiesau so far, I'm guessing he's far from done with his work. Their footwork looked much better, they ran drills harder and with more purpose and they all caught the ball with their hands, away from their bodies during every drill.
• The four freshmen receivers — Darious Crawley (#12), Bobby Hartzog (#5), Derrick Neal (#7) and Tyler Patrick (#4) — really stood out to me, as well. It's clear that they're not as polished as the upperclassmen, but man are they working. In some cases, they appear to be trying a little too hard (isn't that better than the alternative?) and Kiesau kept having to remind them to go hard but to remain under control. Not too surprising, especially for Day 2, but props to the young guys for getting after it. That's a credit to the coaches and the upperclassmen, who clearly won't accept anything less.
No access tomorrow, but the blog will be back up on Monday afternoon, so be sure to check back.
Here's a quick video Benton Smith threw together from some of today's interviews with the defense.
And, in case you missed it, here's a look at the What Caught My Eye blog from Day 1
The first day of practice for the Kansas University football team meant the first chance to get a look at the newcomers and made-over faces who make up this year's roster.
For some reason, I always find myself drawn to the offensive linemen during these deals. Could be because they're the closest unit to the gate, but I'm not really a lazy person. I think the more likely reason is that they've always been a group of such question marks and this year is no different.
More on that in a minute, but, first thing's first: newcomers Larry Mazyck and Devon Williams are a couple of huge dudes.
Both appear to have plenty of work ahead of them to crack the starting lineup, but the size is there. Now it's about picking up the offense, getting in better shape and fine-tuning things like quick feet, perfect fundamentals and whatever other instructions line coach and offensive coordinator John Reagan wants to throw at them.
Here's a quick look at some other things that caught my eye at Friday's practice. Don't worry, there'll be plenty more of these this month. It was a little overwhelming out there today with so many new and exciting faces and places to watch. Remember, we're only invited in for the first 20 minutes, so these blogs won't have a ton of details about position battles or X's and O's.
• It was absolutely no surprise, but the first line of the stretching and sprinting drills was made up of some of the team's strongest leaders. Keon Stowers, Ben Heeney, Cassius Sendish, JaCorey Shepherd, Jake Love, Tre' Parmalee, Ben Goodman, Ngalu Fusimalohi, Pat Lewandowski, Nick Harwell, Brandon Bourbon and even punter Trevor Pardula, stretched across the field and were the first to lead the team into the 2014 season.
• One of the newcomers who jumped out at me (OK, OK, mostly because I couldn't wait to get a look at him) was freshman running back Corey Avery. The Dallas native who stands 5-foot-10, 170 pounds looks bigger than I would've expected and seems to be pretty well put together. I can see why there's talk of him getting on the field right away.
• Back to the linemen for a second... I wrote the other day about John Reagan's coaching style and it was pretty much the same. Hands-on, specific details, engaged in the action. One difference, though. In the spring, Reagan looked a little more patient. Today, you can tell that the switch has been flipped to in-season mode. Mistakes were less tolerated and not paying attention was severely frowned upon. Makes sense to me. That's the only way to see who gets it and who doesn't.
• As for some more specifics about the position, I love watching Joe Gibson work. He's got great feet and incredible work ethic. I can tell why everyone thinks he's going to be a player. And props to him for not pulling back now that he's a scholarship dude. If anything, he appears to be going harder to prove that he's worthy of it. Fusimalohi and Smithburg look like the seasoned veterans they are (even though Smithburg told me this spring that it's crazy that people see him as one of the experienced ones); Pat Lewandowksi looks a little stronger and there was some real emphasis being put on powering their way five yards down the field.
• I forgot that former Jayhawk Darius Willis is now on the coaching staff. Great to see him out there. He's a GA for defense and he's always been a guy who knows how to light up a room.
• Because he's the quarterback and because it's required, I took a couple of peeks Montell Cozart's way today. Didn't see a whole lot but what I did see stood out. His confidence is very evident. The guy believes he's right where he belongs and carries himself like a player who's ready for what's ahead.
• Another newcomer who stood out was East St. Louis, Ill., linebacker Kyron Watson. He's a load (6-0, 220). He fills out his No. 6 jersey and uniform very well but still looks light on his feet and shows good instincts. Wild that the two newcomers who jumped out at me today both wear No. 6. And, no, they weren't next to each other, they were on opposite fields. Just a coincidence, I guess.
• As for the drills we were able to see, the defense appears to be dying for the season to get here. A lot of energy on that side of the ball, and when there's not, they do it again to make sure they're at max hype. After one drill, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen called the first-string D back over to the sideline to make them take the field again because it looked like he didn't think they did it with enough fire the first time. It's that kind of attention to detail that has to be there for this talented group to achieve its goal of being the best in the Big 12.
• One last thing that caught my eye (technically as I was leaving practice) was the first look at the new decorative fence being put around the south end at Memorial Stadium. Here's a crude photo of the progress. The chain link fence will eventually be gone. It looks pretty sharp in person.
More nuggets from practice tomorrow, so be sure to check out KUsports.com throughout the month for blogs like this, videos from Benton Smith and podcasts from Tom Keegan and me.
Oh, yeah. One more thing. Coach Weis does still get the second song of the day and today it was Who Says You Can't Go Home by Bon Jovi.
Also, be sure to check out Benton Smith's videos from Day 1 and the leaders of KU's secondary...
With fall camp set to open at the end of the week, construction on the new turf going down in place of the old track at Memorial Stadium is nearing its completion.
Construction crews began installing the turf on Thursday morning and are expected to tie together the final touches this week. .
There's still some work to be done, with regard to stitching in the lines and markings off of the playing field and adding the new Big 12 logo to the turf and the new black, decorative fence that will surround the south end, but the bulk of what's going to be there on Saturdays this fall is in place and you can really start to see what it will look like.
It's important to remember that, what it looks like today and what it will look like on game days is completely different. On game day, there will be benches out there, equipment out there, players out there and all of the other things that make up a Saturday college football atmosphere.
Finishing off the turf is an involved process that includes both hot glue, adding the rubber that gives the surface its softer feel and sewing together the pieces that measure five yards wide and anywhere from 30 to 50 yards long.
Here's a quick look at some of the most recent photos of what's going on over at Memorial Stadium:
This one from late Sunday evening offers a good look at all the green that now surrounds the playing surface at Memorial Stadium:
Here are a few from Richard Gwin from late last week as the project began:
And a couple more from me during a trip up there last week:
Here's the second-to-last installment of our series that examines the Jayhawks who stand to have the biggest impact for KU football this fall:
No. 2: Tony Pierson, Senior WR
We know what Pierson is all about and we know how good he can be. The same was true for some of the defensive backs who landed on this list yet they ranked much lower.
The reason is simple: Because of the head injury that plagued him throughout 2013, we have firsthand knowledge of what this team looks like with Pierson and what it looks like without him. The team with No. 3 in uniform has a chance. The team without him, at least in the past, looked lost.
Although KU's struggling offense upgraded in half a dozen different ways during the offseason — new coordinator, more dynamic quarterback, new top receiving option, new-look offensive line, etc. — many of the new pieces in place remain unknowns.
Pierson is not.
We've seen the impact he can have on a game, even when he's been considered one of the few weapons in the KU huddle. We've seen the respect that opposing defensive coordinators have for him and, in turn, to what lengths they've gone to take him out of the game. And we've seen what a game-changing weapon Pierson's straight-line speed can be for the Jayhawks.
The key for Pierson this season will be to stay healthy and to utilize all of that. If he can, he makes everyone else on the field more dangerous and gives the KU offense a chance to not only get creative and crafty but also to succeed.
Whether he's catching balls down the field, over the middle, in the slot or out of the backfield, Pierson could become one heck of a security blanket for sophomore QB Montell Cozart, who will be asked to make a few plays on his own, but, more importantly, will be charged with getting the ball to KU's playmakers as quickly as possible.
Weis said recently that Pierson, like No. 3 choice on this list Nick Harwell, would be a guy that KU's offensive coaches build their gameplan around each week. That's good news for KU and KU fans and all the more reason Pierson staying healthy remains one of the bigger keys to this season.
If there's any justice, Pierson will stay healthy and will have the kind of season he's been building toward since he arrived. There haven't been many Jayhawks, past or present, who have the kind of skill set Pierson possesses. It would be a shame if he were here for four seasons and never got to unleash his full potential.
Perhaps this is the season.
Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2014: