Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
Realignment Today: What Notre Dame’s move to the ACC (in everything but football and hockey) means for the Big 12
Today’s announcement that Notre Dame will move its non-football sports to the ACC has sent a large faction of Big 12 fans into a frenzy.
Although I understand why this is the case on the surface, I’m not so sure the announcement is worth getting worked up about.
For starters, it seems as if Notre Dame joining the Big 12, either entirely or as a partial member, was a longshot to begin with. There were talks and those talks were extensive, but I’ve been told that there was never a strong indication that the Fighting Irish, as things stand today, were ever really that interested in joining the Big 12.
The reasons for that are plentiful and include everything from academics and athletics to Notre Dame’s desire to maintain control.
As part of the agreement to join the ACC, Notre Dame will play five football games against ACC opponents annually but will continue to operate as an independent, which has been the school’s goal all along. That set-up is not a huge departure from what the Irish have done lately anyway. Just look at this year’s Notre Dame football schedule which includes Miami, Boston College, Wake Forest and Pitt, all schools that are in or will be in the ACC by the time Notre Dame joins.
In maintaining its independent status, the Irish not only will be able to continue their relationship with NBC, but also should be able to continue healthy rivalries with schools such as Navy, USC, Michigan State and others.
It’s a good move for the Irish and an even better move for the ACC. Looks like a win-win for both sides and, whenever that’s the case, it’s certainly hard to argue.
But enough about Notre Dame. What does all this mean for the Big 12?
In my mind, the answer to that is simple — the Big 12, as it has said for quite some time, will be staying at 10 teams for a long, long time.
There was some genuine interest in adding schools like Notre Dame or Florida State, but with those schools now off the table thanks to Notre Dame’s move to the ACC and the ACC’s simultaneous announcement that its exit fee would be increased to $50 million, those schools, along with Virginia Tech, Clemson and others now look to be off limits.
Quick sidenote: I can’t help but be mightily impressed by what the Big 12 and ACC have done in consecutive years in the face of uncertain and very dangerous futures. The Big 12 looked all but dead a year ago yet found a way to bounce back and flourish both in terms of its financial situation and its public image. Shortly after the Big 12 became more stable than ever, the ACC took its place on the chopping block and appeared to be equally as vulnerable, if not more so. Yet, here that conference is today, announcing the addition of Notre Dame and securing its future by agreeing to up its exit fee to an amount that no one would dare tangle with. Impressive.
And hopefully, just maybe, their moves can put an end to conference realignment for the foreseeable future. I won’t hold my breath on that, though.
The Big East, which has been in a tough spot all along, now becomes the most vulnerable league by far, with the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC all positioned to pick up any number of Big East defectors should it come to that. Maybe it won’t. But if the Big 12 were to make a move to expand, that’s likely where it would look.
Again, I don’t expect that to happen. I don’t think the remaining schools “out there” are impressive enough nor profitable enough for the Big 12 to want to bring them in to split the pie 12 ways instead of 10. It just doesn’t make sense to bring in schools for the sake of bringing them in when the schools you’re picking up don’t add much to the pot.
Louisville, UConn and even Rutgers all are intriguing options for various reasons, but neither of them is on par with the Notre Dames and Florida States of the world. And Big 12 leaders have said all along that it would take a special school for them to consider expanding. I don’t think the schools I mentioned above are considered special by anyone outside of their fan bases.
Adding any of those schools or a program like BYU (which isn’t happening) would not be a lucrative enough endeavor to make it worth the Big 12’s while.
I know the concept that bigger is better is tough for people to get past when it comes to realignment, but it’s important to remember that what’s good for one league isn’t necessarily what’s good for another.
The ACC now has 15 teams and the Big 12 has 10. Both appear to be stable and headed toward exciting and profitable futures. What’s wrong with that?
• Kansas Jayhawks (1-1) vs. No. 16 TCU Horned Frogs (1-0) •
11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, KS
Opening Las Vegas Line: TCU -26.5
Current Las Vegas Line: TCU -21
Three and out, with TCU...
The Horned Frogs own the nation’s longest current winning streak at nine in a row. TCU also has won 24 consecutive conference games (albeit in a different conference), which also is tops in the country.
The Frogs have won 17 of their last 19 road games and won their last 12 road contests in the Mountain West, including a 36-35 victory at Boise State last season which snapped the Broncos’ 35-game home winning streak.
TCU is the only school in the nation to win at least 11 games in six of the last seven seasons, one of just four programs (Alabama, Boise State and Oregon) to finish in the top 15 of both the Associated Press and USA Today polls during the last four seasons, and one of just three schools (Florida and Utah) to win at least six bowl games in the last seven seasons.
TCU is 3-1-1 when playing its first game in a new conference.
According to the school’s records, TCU defeated Oklahoma A&M, 7-6, on Oct. 6, 1923, in its first game as a member of the Southwest Conference, knocked off Houston, 34-17, on Sept. 29, 2001 in its first ever Conference-USA game and upended Utah, 23-20 in overtime, in its first game in the Mountain West on Sept. 15, 2005.
TCU’s only loss in a conference debut came in 1996, when New Mexico spoiled TCU’s WAC debut, 27-7. As for the tie, TCU and Texas A&M played a scoreless game during the Frogs first TIAA conference contest.
During its season-opening victory against Grambling State last week, TCU played 13 true freshman and several other red-shirt freshmen and sophomores. Although it’s clear that Patterson trusts them enough to put them out there, the TCU coach acknowledges that it’s still an uneasy feeling.
“Freshmen in their first game are always scared to death and it’s hard for them to focus on the task at hand,” Patterson said. “When you play (13) true freshmen, every day’s a new experience right now. Most people don’t want to play three of them. So we’ve just really gotta keep working on attention to detail and keep getting better at what we do.”
Patterson conjured up an old quote from legendary hoops coach John Wooden, of all people, to express how he thought his young guys played in the opener.
“There’s an old saying in the John Wooden book that says, ‘You need to be quick but you don’t need to look like you’re in a hurry,’” Patterson said. “And a lot of our younger players looked like they were in a hurry.”
One of TCU’s most impressive freshman was punt returner Deante’ Gray, who was named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week. Gray set a TCU single-game punt return record with 160 yards on five attempts. He ripped off a 70-yard touchdown on his first collegiate touch and also had a 61-yard punt return in the second half.
TCU holds a 16-8-4 all-time advantage in the series vs. Kansas, which dates back to 1942. The Frogs are 9-6 all-time in Lawrence and 7-2-2 against the Jayhawks in Fort Worth, Texas.
TCU and Kansas are meeting for the first time on the gridiron since a 17-10 KU victory in Lawrence in 1997, the year before Gary Patterson arrived at TCU as defensive coordinator.
All eyes — at least both of mine — at Tuesday’s practice were on Kansas University quarterback Dayne Crist, who, earlier in the day, told reporters that, after a Monday evening chat with KU coach Charlie Weis, he vowed to have more fun starting today.
It’s tough to see evidence of that during the portion of practice that we get to watch, but there were a few signs.
For the most part, we watched Crist go through warm-ups and then work with the rest of the quarterbacks during individual drills. During each, he bounced his head to the music and clowned around with teammates Jake Heaps, Michael Cummings, Turner Baty and Blake Jablonski.
It wasn’t the kind of banter that would make you say, “Whoa; where did the funny guy come from?” But it was enough to show that Crist, as he said he was, seemed a little looser than during the previous few weeks.
The only place it will really matter is Memorial Stadium on Saturday, when Crist and the Jayhawks try to bounce back from last week’s loss to Rice with a match-up against No. 16 TCU at 11 a.m. But Tuesday seemed like a good start.
Here’s a quick look at what else caught my eye at Tuesday’s practice:
• As promised by Weis earlier in the day, Kale Pick, Lubbock Smith and Brandon Bourbon were nowhere to be seen on the practice field. All three are nursing injuries they suffered against Rice and each was getting treatment during the early portion of practice. Weis said the injured trio was “day-to-day” and added that if they had to play today they probably would not go. We’ll keep an eye on their progress throughout the week.
• Freshman offensive lineman Sean Connolly spent the early portion of practice riding the exercise bike, but the good news there was that he was alone. No Anthony McDonald. No Nick Sizemore. Not only were both of those guys off the bikes, they also both were back on the depth chart, as Sizemore was listed second-string at the F position, behind Trent Smiley, and McDonald was listed second-string at Will linebacker behind Huldon Tharp. Weis said McDonald, in fact, was “ready to play.”
• Just a quick note regarding the tempo and tone of practice... I didn’t notice a whole lot of moping. Guys looked energized and seemed to be working just as hard as they had each of the other times we’d been out to practice. Might not mean much, but might also be a good sign. We’ll see.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Living Proof” by Bruce Springsteen.
A friend and fellow reporter floated an interesting question my way shortly after the Kansas University football team somehow lost to Rice despite having a decent grip on things for most of the game last Saturday.
The question: Did KU’s 25-24, last-second loss to Rice rank as one of the Top 5 most disappointing losses of the past three seasons?
My answer: No.
There’s no doubt that Saturday’s loss left a lot of KU fans scratching their heads and perhaps forced some to consider whether they’d be back any time soon. But, to my ears, the most common reaction among the fans exiting Memorial Stadium sounded a lot more like “Well, well, well,” than “What the hell?”
This latest loss, though surely tough for KU fans to swallow, also is tough to evaluate. The Jayhawks should not have lost. Everyone understands that from the players to KU coach Charlie Weis, who went out of his way to inform us that he clearly pointed out to his team that losing games was not acceptable.
If you’re an excuse maker, your list is long after this one. It’s still early. There are a lot of guys still shaking off the rust. It’s a completely new team running a completely new system with a bunch of players still searching for their chemistry. Like I said, the list is long. But here’s the worst part — even if you’re not interested in making excuses, all of that remains true.
Before moving on, let me tell you, briefly, why I don’t think the loss to a team from Conference USA ranks in the Top 5 most disappointing losses in the past few seasons. For one, the Jayhawks weren’t embarrassed. They fought and played with fire but came up short. For two, they didn’t quit. For three, they didn’t brush off the loss as no big deal when it was over. It was clear that they were upset about letting this one slip away and even more clear that they plan to do something about it.
So what now?
Well, I realize it would be easy for most to revert back to the old “When does basketball season begin” line that we’ve heard around here for oh so long. And if that’s your thing, I won’t hold it against you.
But I still think there are plenty of good things going for this football program and I’m willing to let things play out before calling this season a bust.
Let’s take a look at a few positives and a few of the negatives.
1. I think the defense has improved. They’re more active up front, they cover better in the secondary (even if they’re still not all that aggressive) and they’ve thrown up more three-and-outs in the first two games of the 2012 season than I can remember coming in 2010 and 2011 combined. What’s more, I think this is a group that, as long as it remains confident, will continue to improve each week.
2. The running game looks good. Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox make for a nice one-two punch, and, in seven days we can start to talk about James Sims again. If KU can continue to run the ball as effectively as it has during the first couple of weeks — and that’s definitely a decent-sized if with the schedule stiffening — the Jayhawks should have a shot at being competitive in the Big 12.
3. KU is forcing turnovers. Defensive coordinator Dave Campo said it just the other day and hundreds of coaches before him have said it, too: Turnover margin is the most important stat in football. If the Jayhawks continue to get takeaways at the current rate, things eventually will tip in their favor. What’s more, turnovers are contagious, and once you get a few, you start taking the field believing you’re going to get more. That’s huge.
1. Dayne Crist hasn’t been very good. You know it. I know it. He knows it. So it’s no big secret. But I can promise you one thing: He hasn’t delivered back-to-back sub-par performances by choice. The guy’s trying. And he deserves some more time to get it figured out. As long as he remains healthy, he’s still the guy that gives KU the best shot to win each week. But he’s got to perform better quickly so the rest of the team is still willing to follow him.
2. There does not seem to be a killer instinct with this team yet. Stop me if you’ve heard this one... Getting fired up for games does not seem to be a problem for the Jayhawks, but staying juiced throughout does. When your energy drops, your focus drops and when your focus drops, bad things happen. I’m not sure if it’s a case of these guys expecting too much and then being a little dazed when they don’t deliver, or if it’s just a familiarity thing and that old cliche about bad habits being hard to break. Whatever it is, though, this team needs to avoid that second half lull at whatever cost.
3. KU lacks playmakers on offense. Outside of Tony Pierson, who has flashed big-play ability in both games, the Jayhawks have not had another player step into that role yet. Senior wide receiver Daymond Patterson has the potential, but a lot of his work thus far has come in a possession-type role. DJ Beshears also has the potential, but he’s looked out of sync in both games. Someone else needs to step up. The tight ends have looked good and Crist appears to trust them, but you don’t always think of tight ends as playmakers. Maybe it’s time for Andrew Turzilli or Josh Ford to embrace the moment. Or maybe it’s up to Crist.
Time to see which list gets longer.
Wednesday’s Kansas University football practice was moved inside to Anschutz Sports Pavilion, which offered a little bit of relief from the heat, but mostly in the way of shielding the Jayhawks from the sun and not in overall temperature.
As thermostats outside continued to push the 100-degree mark, the temperature inside Anschutz, which basically functioned like a hot box, could not have been much lower than 90.
It’s not that KU coach Charlie Weis was afraid of a little heat, more that Weis likes to be ultra-prepared, and when your gametime conditions are expected to be in the mid-70s, as they are for this weekend’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff against Rice, it makes more sense to run your guys through practice in a cooler venue than to conduct a scorcher on the practice fields.
It should be noted that nobody confirmed that the move was because of the heat. That's just my best guess as to why they changed venues today.
While the move inside made things a little more manageable in the temperature department, it also made it a lot louder. Not only were the pre-practice tunes blaring off the walls of the old fieldhouse, but it was so loud in there that coaches could only be seen yelling and not heard.
Here’s a quick look at what else caught my eye at Wednesday’s practice:
• Nowhere was that picture of a coach’s screaming being seen but not heard more evident than with the wide receivers and coach Rob Ianello. After a rather lackluster warm-up session in which his group ran through a couple of rounds of the gauntlet drill, Ianello quickly became irked by the effort and energy and immediately ordered a dozen or so up-downs. While I’m sure the KU receivers did not enjoy the punishment, it seemed to work as the individual drills that followed were more crisp and had a greater sense of urgency. Senior wideout Kale Pick also was visibly upset with his group during the ealry portion of practice and, being the leader and upperclassman he is, Pick continually barked at his teammates to pick it up.
• One positive thing I saw from the receivers on Wednesday came from No. 8, juco transfer Josh Ford, who made a name for himself on special teams last weekend and appears to have taken quite a bit of confidence from that performance into his position. Tuesday, Ianello said that those types of performances on special teams are noticed by position coaches and can go a long way toward upping your reps with your main position. He wasn’t lying. Ford ran some drills with the second unit on Wednesday, a clear indication that his stock is on the rise considerig he was not listed on KU’s latest depth chart.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Get Ready” by Bon Jovi.
It was another hot one on the practice fields at Kansas University on Tuesday, as the Jayhawks went through drills under the scorching sun with temperatures that soared above the 100-degree mark on the field.
During his weekly radio show on Monday night, KU coach Charlie Weis talked the difficulty adjusting the changing temperatures at this time of the year. For instance, even though it was in the upper-90s in Lawrence today, gametime temps for Week 2 against Rice are expected to be in the mid-70s.
Obviously, that will have an equal impact on both teams and really should not play much of a factor. But I thought it was interesting to note and I also thought it was interesting that Weis took note, himself, of what this week’s temperatures down in Texas would be. Always looking for an edge.
Speaking of the edge, the tight ends, who had a solid showing last Saturday in KU’s 31-17 victory against South Dakota State spent quite a bit of time working on sealing the edge during early drills at practice today.
We know Mike Ragone can get the job done, but I continue to be impressed by the effort put forth by Jimmay Mundine, a guy who, during his first couple of years in town, had been known to lack a little bit of work ethic and also be more of a pass-catcher than a blocker. Not any longer. It looks like Mundine has figured out quickly that the way to get onto the field at his position is to be a mean blocker. He looks good out there and will only continue to get better.
One other thing that caught my eye with Mundine was how comfortable he was tutoring the other tight ends. At a position that’s four-deep, it would be really easy for Mundine to worry about getting his and perhaps even enjoy the fact that others were taking a bad step here or there. But it doesn’t look like it works that way with this group and that attitude, if consistent, should benefit the entire team.
Here’s a look at a couple of other things that caught my eye at Tuesday’s practice:
• Tuesday marked the first time I can remember where strength and conditioning director Scott Holsopple donned something other than sweats and a hooded sweatshirt. Not to worry, though. Even though the temperature reached triple-digits, Holsopple still wore the sweats and added a long sleeve jacket to the ensemble. I don’t know how he does it.
• There was a No. 97 on the field today, but, no, it was not defensive lineman Ty McKinney. McKinney is still expected to arrive on campus Friday — and Weis was not interested in talking about it during Tuesday’s news conference — but he was not here today. That 97 was Darius Willis, a former linebacker who recently began working with the defensive line. But Willis, who wore No. 2, has not made a jersey change, that’s just routine procedure for the scout team, which often will wear the numbers of the upcoming opponents to get the Jayhawks even more prepared. In this case, Willis was playing Rice defensive end, Jared Williams, whom Weis said, earlier in the day, was the Owls’ leader on the defensive line.
• One other interesting note from today's press conference: Weis said he and his staff would give kickers Nick Prolago (16) and Austin Barone (99) a serious look on the kickoff team this week in practice. The idea comes in part because Weis was displeased with the kickoff team in last week's opener and part because he would like to give place kicker and punter Ron Doherty a little less of a load. We'll see how it works out.
• Tuesday marked the first time I can remember where linebacker Anthony McDonald stayed out there the entire time we were allowed to watch. No exercise bike for the Notre Dame transfer today, which could be a sign that he is progressing nicely. The only guy on the bike today was fullback Nick Sizemore, who figures be out for a while longer with a broken foot.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “No Surrender” by Bruce Springsteen.
Sometime today — probably much earlier than right now, because that’s how he likes to do things — Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis will put down the notes from Saturday’s 31-17 victory over South Dakota State, walk away from the game film that he probably has watched multiple times, and take a time out to visit with a colleague.
The guest of honor is KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger and the talking points, though undoubtedly falling back to football whenever possible, figure to be about everything from Saturday’s season opener to how their respective families are doing.
“I specifically have invited him to join me every Monday over in my office after I’ve had time to do a recap of the previous week so I can keep him up to speed on everything that’s happened,” Weis said.
Who played well. Who played poorly. Who gave good effort. Who gave attitude. All of that, and much, much more, will be covered in the Monday meeting and then both men will get back to their jobs, Weis constructing a game plan for Week-2-opponent Rice, and Zenger to running the athletic department.
The meeting is good for both guys, and speaks to their bond. Remember, these two only have known each other since December. It’s not as if their paths crossed on the coaching trail years ago and they kept in touch with Christmas cards. All of this, every meeting, every milestone, every matter-of-fact moment is new territory for both men, and that’s what makes the scheduled get-together so important. Both have the same goal — to make Kansas football a winner. Regular, as well as positive, communication between the AD and the head coach is as important to that as Dayne Crist’s right arm or the 2013 recruiting class.
“Because he’s an old football coach, (he) wants to give you your space,” Weis said of Zenger, who worked on football staffs at Kansas State, Wyoming and South Florida before moving into administration. “I think that he appreciates the fact that I’ve invited him over and we’ve kind of set it onto my schedule to have that time each week where we can sit there and visit.”
Because both men are football guys and, more importantly, realists, this first meeting might not be filled with a whole bunch of glowing reviews of KU’s season opener. Make no mistake about it, both were thrilled with the victory and hope that the good things that took place last Saturday will serve as a foundation for future growth and more good things ahead.
But it’s my guess that they’ll spend more time focusing on what went wrong and why than they will on the good things. While KU’s fan base had a mixed reaction to the victory, there were plenty of reasons to see the opener as a step forward.
Here are but a few examples:
• The third quarter, a thorn in the side of KU football for the past couple of seasons, actually was KU’s best on Saturday night. The Jayhawks outscored the Jackrabbits 14-0, outgained them 123-62 in total yards and took control of the game with back-to-back scoring drives that featured tailbacks Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox. Just imagine what the running game will look like when James Sims is back.
• Speaking of Cox, it’s notable that Weis’ ability to evaluate players — particularly on offense — seems to be in good shape. Cox edged out sophomore Brandon Bourbon for the No. 2 tailback job behind Pierson and Saturday night we saw why.
• Speaking of Weis, anybody notice how animated he was on the sideline from time to time? Anybody remember seeing that very often during the past two years? How about the 46,601 fans that filled the stadium? Didn’t really see that too often during the past few years either.
• The defensive line, though still not ready to be compared with the best in the Big 12, was significantly more active than anything we’ve seen lately. Josh Williams was a menace and had a nice game with three tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Jordan Tavai, who has been in town for about a month, showed a lot of energy and explosiveness inside. And both Toben Opurum (five tackles) and Michael Reynolds (one sack) made the SDSU backfield their second home all night, even if the stats don’t reflect it. Kevin Young, Keon Stowers and Keba Agostinho (The Killer K’s?) all chipped in memorable moments, as well. The D-Line is still a work in progress, and it likely will undergo a bunch of changes throughout the season, but you definitely noticed them and that’s a major upgrade.
• Oh yeah, and the defense forced five turnovers and the special teams blocked two punts. I realize that South Dakota State isn’t exactly USC, or even USM, but picking up five turnovers is nothing to sneeze about and often a trademark of good teams.
• The Jayhawks, on the whole, were organized, disciplined and prepared and, although things got tight there for a while, they almost always responded with poise. That, too, is something new and should be viewed as a very positive sign, especially in Week 1.
This blog was not written with the intention of pulling the wool over your eyes or saying that Saturday’s victory was an amazing effort and that all is well in Jayhawk-land again. It’s not. And there remains a lot of work to be done.
But in everything from the fans in the stands — does anyone think there would’ve been even half that many if the old staff were still here? — to the play on the field, Saturday’s outing was exactly what Weis called it: “Far from a thing of beauty, but a good start.”
Up next.... Rice, 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
I’m generally not a big fan of prediction columns. At least not the ones that go game-by-game and pretend to breakdown things that, by the time some of the games roll around, may not wind up mattering anyway.
But that does not mean I don’t have a prediction for how this year’s Kansas University football team will fare during its first season under new head coach Charlie Weis.
Without a doubt, the one question I was asked more this summer than any other was this: “So, how many games are they gonna win this year?”
Each time I was flattered that people thought I might know the answer. And I can see why they would. For one, it’s my job to follow the ins and outs of the team 365 days a year, and, for two, I do get several more opportunities to talk to the guys who actually determine the team’s record, so you might think I’d come away with a gut feeling about how things will go.
The truth is, I didn’t.
Here’s what I know:
The team is much, much better than it was during the past two seasons. The talent has been upgraded — significantly in many areas — and the guys who were here then and are still here now are much different players mentally, physically and in terms of experience.
Charlie Weis is exactly the kind of coach KU needs in charge of its football program and his experience, confidence, attention to detail and high standards should spell good things for the program long-term. Is his impact enough to make a difference right away, though? That’s the million-dollar question.
The KU offense should be good — maybe even very good. The key here will be if the offensive line can protect senior quarterback Dayne Crist enough to give him a chance to run the offense. It’s a valid question, but it’s not one I’m too concerned about. I think the guys up front are up for the challenge, and I think this offense has a chance to be one of the surprise stories in the Big 12.
The defense, until is shows otherwise, is still a big-time question mark. The new faces they’ve brought in have made a difference already, but until we actually see them perform against an opponent — and, more specifically, a Big 12 opponent — we have to wonder just how far this unit has come. The truth here is they don’t have to come that far to give KU a chance in most games. Even upgrading from bottom-barrell to middle-of-the-road would be very noticeable.
These new coaches are realists. If they say something, they mean it. If they don’t, that should be noted, too. That’s why it’s easy to believe that Crist is the real deal and even easier to wonder if the new faces on the defensive line are merely an upgrade or a game-changer.
Looking good on paper and looking better in practice is great, but it’s going to take more than that for the Jayhawks to become competitive again in the ultra-talented Big 12. Like any team, KU is going to need to catch some breaks to stay in several of the games on the schedule, and, like any good team does, KU will have to make some of those breaks and not just wait for them to come. I’m confident this coaching staff will put these guys in position to do that, now we just need to see if they can deliver.
With all that in mind, I’m more than happy to go on record with an official prediction for the 2012 season. I’ve done it enough times on various radio shows that I think it’s only fair that I put it down in writing here, too.
I’ve said all offseason that this team should be measured more by the eye test and how it looks on the field than the results and final scores. I still believe that. But predictions are more fun, so what the heck. Let’s get on with it, shall we?
Week 1: vs. South Dakota State — Win — Offense clicks, defense impresses and Jayhawks kick off the Charlie Weis era in style.
Week 2: vs. Rice — Win — It won’t be easy and all of the KU-Rice connections will make it a lot of fun, but this is one KU should win.
Week 3: vs. TCU — Win — Confidence and good timing are great things when you’re talking about winning football games. The Jayhawks could have both in their favor heading into this one. I’ve had an odd gut feeling about this one all summer, so I’m going with it.
Week 4: at Northern Illinois — Win — KU won last year and fields a better team this year. The Huskies, meanwhile, lost their starting QB to the NFL.
Week 5: Bye
Week 6: at Kansas State — Loss — The tide will begin to turn and the game will be more competitive, but K-State’s still too tough for now.
Week 7: vs. Oklahoma State — Loss — This is one I could see being close into the fourth quarter. And more than maybe any other, this is the game the Jayhawks could really benefit from an improved pass rush.
Week 8: at Oklahoma — Loss — Sooners just too talented, here, there, everywhere.
Week 9: vs. Texas — Loss — The good news is the Longhorns still don’t have much of an offense and that could help KU hang around. The bad news is Mack Brown and Co. will have eight weeks to figure that out.
Week 10: at Baylor — Loss — Baylor’s magical 2011 season was due to much more than Robert Griffin III. The Bears will show that this year.
Week 11: at Texas Tech — Win — Going on the road in the Big 12 is always tough, but I like KU in this one. Remember, an inferior KU squad jumped all over the Red Raiders a year ago before falling apart.
Week 12: vs. Iowa State — Loss — A lot of people like to peg this as a win, but Paul Rhoads’ teams typically play their best late in the season and should come to Lawrence with a lot of confidence.
Week 13: Bye
Week 14: at West Virginia — Loss — I’m not sure about everybody else, but I think the Mountaineers are going to be really tough this season. I’m talking, run-the-table, win-the-league tough.
So there you have it — my somewhat detailed prediction for a 5-7 season. Could be a reach, could be right on. The best part is, after tomorrow, we might actually have a little better idea which is more likely. As for other members of the KUSports.com staff, a few of them were willing to give up their picks, as well. Here they are:
• Tom Keegan: 4-8 — Charlie Weis calling plays and Dayne Crist executing them should add up to enough points for Kansas to stay in more games than it did a year ago. Four (wins) does seem like a reasonable number to define success and six would qualify as cause for euphoria. To get to 4-8 Kansas would need either to go 2-1 in nonconference games and 2-7 in the Big 12 or sweep the nonconference and get just one conference upset, both reasonable paths.
• Jesse Newell: 4-8 — The slogan for the 2012 Kansas football team should be, “It can’t be worse,” because really, this year can’t be worse for KU fans than 2011, when the program hit an all-time low. With an improved coaching staff and increased commitment to conditioning, I think the Jayhawks will take care of South Dakota State, Rice and Iowa State at home, and even if they slip up at Northern Illinois, I wouldn’t be surprised if they take out another Big 12 team to pick up win No. 4. Charlie Weis is inheriting a program that is much worse than the one Turner Gill took over in 2010, and because of that, four victories would (and should) be labeled a success.
• Gary Bedore: 3-9 — I’ve got the Jayhawks winning one Big 12 Conference game in Year One of the Charlie Weis regime. That’d be against Iowa State on Nov. 17 in Lawrence. The other two wins: against South Dakota State and Rice. Could KU fare better than 3-9, perhaps even finish .500 at 6-6? Sure. To go 6-6, however, KU would have to win three of its first four games (SD State, Rice, Northern Illinois to go with loss to TCU), then follow a loss at Kansas State with a shocking win over Oklahoma State in Lawrence. That would give the Jayhawks a 4-2 record heading into a brutal stretch of at Oklahoma, Texas, at Baylor and at Texas Tech. If a still-confident 4-4 KU team could split the BU and TT road games, that’d mean a 5-5 record heading into the Iowa State home game. A win over ISU and blowout loss at West Virginia still would mean an incredibly successful 6-6 season. I’ll stick with 3-9, however. Makes more sense to me.
The South Dakota State football team will be without reigning Missouri Valley Conference freshman of the year Saturday when the Jackrabbits take on Kansas at 6:06 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
Just before his team’s walk-through on Friday, SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier told the Journal-World that sophomore quarterback Austin Sumner would not play and that red-shirt freshman Eric Kline would make the first start of his career in his place.
“(He) has not taken a rep all week so his status is injured reserve,” Stiegelmeier said of Sumner, who threw for 2,300 yards and 16 TDs in eight starts as a true freshman last year. “I don’t think he’ll play at all. I don’t think we’re gonna risk it.”
Sumner spent the week working to rehab a hand injury he suffered during fall camp but was not able to progress to the point where he could be effective in the opener.
“It’s a deal where I know he wants to play,” Stiegelmeier said. “But he hasn’t taken a rep. Our other guy has taken all the reps. And I’m a coach that’ll tell you the truth, so if he’s playing I’ll come up and find you in the press box.”
Earlier this week, Stiegelmeier said preparing for the Jayhawks had been tough because there was no film on how the Jayhawks would play under first-year coach Charlie Weis. With Sumner out, the Jayhawks will face a quarterback which they have seen no film on, but Stiegelmeier said that did not exactly level the playing field.
“I would give coach Weis our playbook if I had our starter,” he said. “And that’s not a knock on Eric Kline. But you want to have your starting quarterback heading into the season.”
With Sumner sidelined, the Jackrabbits turn to Kline, whose only live-action experience came during SDSU’s spring game earlier this year. Stiegelmeier said the 6-foot-4, 205-pound back-up had embraced his new role and was confident.
“He’s excited, obviously,” the coach said. “But the excitement of running against scouts and lining up against this crew is gonna be a different kind of excitement. He’s a great leader, so he’ll be fine in that area.”
It’s been 353 days since the Kansas University football team last won a game, and you can bet there was some dancing after that one.
The date of KU’s last football victory was Sept. 10, 2011, the game was at home against Northern Illinois, and the Jayhawks topped the Huskies, 45-42, with a touchdown pass from then-QB Jordan Webb to D.J. Beshears on KU’s final offensive play of the night.
Some of the dancing took place out on the field, as the Jayhawks went wild on the sidelines following the dramatic victory that moved the team to 2-0. Players stood on benches and gestured to the crowd to get loud. Others huddled together, laughing, smiling, fidgeting and doing whatever else came from the natural high of victory.
No one knew at the time that the Jayhawks would go nearly an entire year without experiencing that feeling again, and, even though no one knows for sure when the rush of winning will return, the new-look Jayhawks finally will get another shot at capturing it at 6:06 p.m. Saturday night at Memorial Stadium when they play host to South Dakota State in the 2012 season opener.
By now, after an intense and no-nonsense fall camp led by new coach Charlie Weis, the Jayhawks seem to be as prepared as they can be for the game. The playbook is familiar, philosophies are understood and responses to just about every imaginable situation second nature.
In fact, so scripted is the way the opener should go that Weis even outlined what the postgame would look like when describing the ideal Saturday at his news conference earlier this week.
“Your ideal (day) is that you win the game and you play solid on all three facets,” Weis began. “There always will be plenty of constructive criticisms to lay out with the players after the game, but (you play solid) enough to where the players were excited, the fans were excited, the students were excited; everyone hung around for the entire game. You go out (onto the field) afterwards and shake their hands, you go sing the alma mater; you come into the locker room where we’ve got this little dance thing that we do in the locker room after we’ve won a game.”
Remember, this is a coach who, during spring ball, had his players practice rushing the field after hitting a game-winning field goal and made them do it a second time when the first try was not up to his standards. No detail goes untouched, no situation gets ignored.
As for the “dance” that Weis talked about in that ideal scenario, that, too, is right up his alley.
“The little dance thing is what Clint Bowen (1992-93) and Rod Jones (1992-95) have taught the team from their experiences,” said Weis of his assistant coaches who both played — and “danced” — at KU. “(It’s) totally unfamiliar to me. I stand in the background and just have a bunch of chuckles because it’s quite humorous. It was taught to them. This is what they did. So that’s what we’re doing. I’m big on traditions.”
Bowen downplayed the whole idea when asked about it after Wednesday’s practiced, choosing instead to keep the details inside the locker room. The smile that stuck on his face while he respectfully declined to describe the experience illustrated clearly that it’s important to him, though.
“We’re gonna have some fun when we win again,” Bowen said. “Wins are a great thing, and, in the Big 12, when you get one you have to celebrate it. We’re gonna be back in action.”
For the players themselves, the extra attention paid to what happens after a win has helped bring them back to better days. After winning back-to-back bowl games in 2007 and 2008 and opening the 2009 season 5-0, the Jayhawks have won just five times in the past 31 games. But the upperclassmen on this year’s team remember those winning ways and they’re looking forward to getting more victories and the celebrations that come with them.
“It’s not really a dance, it’s like a Rock-Chalk kind of chant that we do after games,” junior linebacker Huldon Tharp said. “My freshman year we did it, so it’s not a brand-new thing, but it is new to a lot of guys.”
Tharp, who first learned the celebration that Bowen and Jones recently brought back from former KU greats Darrell Stuckey, Kerry Meier and Todd Reesing, did not remember exactly how it came up during camp.
“It was just kind of random,” he said. “We were sitting in meetings and Coach Weis called Coach Bowen and Coach Rod Jones up and they started talking about how we do it and the seniors got up and participated. I don’t know where the idea came from, but I’m glad we’re doing it again.”
So is senior safety Bradley McDougald, who said he hoped the blast from the past would help him savor every moment of his final season as a Jayhawk.
“It’s just another way for the team to come closer together after a win, to celebrate together as a team,” McDougald said.
The only question left to answer now is: When will they be able to unleash it again?
The hot sun returned to KU football practice for the second day in a row Wednesday, making temperatures on the field soar above 100 degrees and the vibe around practice feel a lot more like the final days of August.
As was the case at Tuesday’s practice, Wednesday’s intensity seemed a notch or two higher than it had been during fall camp. With the season opener now just three days away, it’s clear that these guys are dying to get out there and would do anything to fast-forward to Saturday.
That goes for the coaches, as well, many of whom were seen barking a little louder and encouraging a little higher during everything from stretching to individual drills and team drills.
That same concept carried over to the actions of several players and coaches, as the D-Line continued to work like mad men even during the early portion of practice and the running backs did some heavy one-man work on the sled to kick things off.
Even tight ends coach Jeff Blasko turned up the heat on his pre-practice passes to his tight ends. And offensive line coach Tim Grunhard, who always seems to be fired up, had a little extra juice behind his words as his linemen drilled in front of him. “Power, fast, finish,” Grunhard hollered over and over at each of his linemen. Lot of work going on out there.
Practice began with an unusual song choice, but one that seemed to fit the situation. As “Who Let The Dogs Out” blared over the speakers, several players and even a couple of coaches answered with a little barking of their own.
As has been the case the entire preseason, players and coaches alike truly seemed to be enjoying themselves out there. This team looks ready for what’s ahead — whatever that may be.
Here’s a quick look at what else caught my eye at Wendesday’s practice:
• Same drill today as it was yesterday for senior linebacker Anthony McDonald. The Notre Dame transfer went through as much of the pre-practice stuff as he could before heading to the exercise bike for a “break.” It seemed as if he got a little deeper into practice today and he looked a little less hobbled. Seems like a good idea to sit him until he can go full speed. It will be interesting to see when he gets to that point.
• Joining McDonald on the bike today was junior fullback Nick Sizemore, who broke his foot during KU’s open practice a couple of weeks ago and will miss some time. The fact that he was out there in uniform and on the bike might indicate that Sizemore will be back at some point this season, but I keep forgetting to ask for an official update on his status. I’ll add it to the list.
• I’m beginning to really enjoy the idea of Ben Heeney and Huldon Tharp playing linebacker for this team. Both guys are tenacious and fearless and both guys look fast and physical. My enjoyment from watching them has caused me to overlook senior Tunde Bakare, but I think that could be a mistake. Bakare’s the man at Sam linebacker for the Jayhawks right now, with only senior Corrigan Powell listed behind him at the spot that seems to be a hybrid between a true linebacker and a nickel back. Bakare has improved a ton in the offseason — especially in the mental aspects of the game — and with more bulk, faster feet and a sharper mind, he could be in line to make a lot of plays for the KU defense this season. We already knew that he was a monster in space, but it now seems as if he can take fewer steps to get where he needs to go and that should make him more efficient and hard to keep off the field. The big thing to watch with him will be in coverage, but he’s done plenty of that in the past couple of years and, if he’s not up to the task, Powell, a true cornerback, could be called upon.
• Want a sure-fire sign that game day is fast approaching? Make a quick drive to campus and check out the hill. Tents for Saturday’s tailgating already are being set up. They’re pretty plain Jane right now, but in just a couple of days they will be packed with people and popping with color.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” by Bon Jovi.
It did not take long to figure out that things were different out at practice today. Pads popped, coaches barked and the theme of it all just seemed a little more intense.
Makes sense. The season opener is just four days away.
“Game week, game week, game week,” offensive line coach Tim Grunhard hollered as his offensive linemen were getting started.
One thing I noticed was the pace of practice. Not only were guys turned up a little bit more, but they also got in and out of their stations a little faster. In fact, some stations that we had become used to seeing throughout August were skipped altogether. Could be because they’re in game-prep mode now instead of focusing so much on fundamentals and philsophies.
With that in mind, here are a few other things that stood out at Tuesday’s practice:
• Ben Heeney looks like a first-string linebacker. Physically, we’ve known all along that the 6-foot, 225-pound sophomore had enough to play the part, but now he looks a little more confident, a little more explosive, a little more intense. I’m sure he was all of those things before. That’s probably what landed him the job as the starter at Mike linebacker. But I could not help but think that the knowledge that he’s the guy has inspired him to turn things up even more. He led off most drills we saw and was the most aggressive guy I saw out there at any position. Impressive. Expect big things.
• Speaking of linebackers, senior transfer Anthony McDonald was not on the depth chart when it was released today, but KU coach Charlie Weis said he could play and he would be back on it when McDonald was back to full strength. With that in mind, it seemed to be an encouraging sign when I saw No. 51 going through drills with the linebackers to start practice. He looked a little tentative, maybe a half step slow, but his effort was all-in. Just when I was noting all of those things, I noticed that he wound up back on the exercise bike. But, hey, maybe that wasn’t a setback. Maybe the mere fact that he was out there at all was a sign of progress. Time will tell.
• Sophomore wide receiver JaCorey Shepherd again was wearing white and started off working with the DBs.
• Darius Willis, the junior linebacker who started every game last season at middle linebacker, has fallen off the depth chart and appeared to be working with the defensive line early during Tuesday’s practice. Interesting. Keep an eye on that. One other note about Willis: Even though he’s not in the immediate plans at LB, his head’s still in it. I’ve seen no evidence of a bad attitude or any pouting and he’s as engaged as anyone out there during practices. Good sign. Good dude.
• I know people know that the D-Line has improved, so much, in fact that the coaching staff has even gone as far as to say that these guys “look good,” but I definitely think this will be a pleasant surprise right out of the gate. These guys are physical, fast and relentless. I noticed that particularly out of John Williams, Kevin Young and Josh Williams during Tuesday’s drills. If they perform in games the way they look in practice, this defense could take a major step forward.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen.
Let the countdown begin... or should I say continue?
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby both hopeful and confident that calm has taken over conference realignment
Thursday afternoon, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby made a visit to Lawrence, one of 10 stops the new commish plans to make on conference campuses by the end of September.
It was refreshing to see the league commissioner stand in front of the room and not be peppered with questions about conference realignment, as had been the case during the past two summers.
This summer — after a questionable start — the realignment mess slowed down considerably, something that Bowlsby, the former athletic director at Stanford, Iowa and Northern Iowa, said was an encouraging sign for the future of college athletics.
“I don’t usually think much of hope as a strategy, but, on this occasion, I hope that it’s calmed down,” Bowlsby said. “We, we being intercollegiate athletics in general, would be well served by a period of calm. I think some very bad decisions have been made in conjunction with the conference moves and I think history will bear that out.”
For the Big 12, calm has not exactly been the right word. Although the panic and craziness of having teams poached or bringing new teams aboard has subsided, the league appears to have been busier than ever. From reworking its television deals with ESPN and FOX and creating the Champions Bowl with the SEC to continuing to push the league back into a positive light, Bowlsby’s plate has been plenty full during his first couple of months on the job.
With connections and constant contact with people across the country, Bowlsby said he believed that the more stable summer of 2012 could again become the norm for college athletics.
“I think we have a chance to have that,” he said. “But only one institution has to move before the dominoes begin to fall and that possibility is certainly out there.”
With that in mind, Bowlsby said the Big 12 would remain prepared for any and all possibilities.
“(Realignment) gets talked about at every conference meeting in every conference and we’ll have to talk about it, too,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with 10 and I think it needs to be a very high bar if we’re gonna take anybody else in.”
Even though the Big 12 is not actively looking to expand, Bowlsby said he thought it was important for the league to be ready for anything.
“I think you have to have a plan for it, and the plan may be that we like where we’re at and we’re committed to it,” he said of the 10-team Big 12 set-up. “I think we’re closer to that than we are having some strategy or tactical expectation relative to expansion. We’ll likely talk about it at every meeting. I don’t think we’ll talk about it in terms of, ‘Here’s a candidate, should we take ’em or not?’ I think it’s, ‘How are we doing, how does this fit together, what kinds of relationships do we have and are we missing anything by not being 11 or 12 or something larger or are we gaining things by staying smaller?’ We think about it at a strategic level not at an individual decision level.”
If the past two summers were a necessary part of getting the Big 12 to where it stands today, it was worth it. In terms of stability, financial gain and public image, the league certainly appears to be stronger than ever. And with Bowlsby now at the helm, it also appears to have the necessary leadership to move into the next era of college athletics, whether that’s more change, a return to stability or some other path that we haven’t even considered yet.
Either way, Bowlsby seems to be up for the challenge and also projects a great amount of confidence and competence.
“I did come in with some apprehension,” he admitted. “There isn’t any doubt about that. But what I’ve found was the private reality was a lot more stable and a lot more unified than the private perception.... Everyone is forward-looking, everyone is committed and I think everybody is very genuinely enthusiastic about what it is we have going.”
10:31 p.m. Update:
As promised, here are some of the comments from KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo regarding WR/CB JaCorey Shepherd:
“It’s not a permanent thing,” Campo said of Shepherd’s switch. “We’re trying to develop some depth at a lot of different positions. When you’ve got young guys as back-ups, you never know how things are gonna work out. We just wanted to get a good look at him.”
“He was definitely one of those (offensive) guys (I had my eye on),” Campo said of Shepherd. “He’s a very quick athlete. One thing with a corner is quick-twitch, the ability to plant and drive. He doesn’t know a lot right now about playing over there, but athletically he fits the mold of a guy that has a chance.”
“He’s still playing some offense,” Campo said. “He’s both right now. The kid’s a good athlete.”
My eyes did not deceive me. KU sophomore JaCorey Shepherd once again was wearing white on Wednesday and working with the defensive backs in practice.
I first noticed the move on Tuesday, when Shepherd was not working out with the wideouts. We get to talk to defensive coordinator Dave Campo after tonight’s practice, so I’ll be sure to update this with Campo’s thoughts on Shepherd as a D-Back.
No word yet if this is a full-time switch or just something they’re trying out, but it seems to be an obvious indicator that Shepherd is not in the immediate mix at wide receiver.
As for how he looks as a DB, I was impressed. He’s got good, quick feet, gets into and out of his breaks with ease and obviously has the speed and athletic ability to hang back there. This could wind up being a good thing for him and the team. We’ll see.
One thing I did like was that he still seemed to be having fun over there. I didn’t see a lot of pouting or moping, which could very easily be the direction he took it. Instead, he was having fun with his teammates and working hard when his turn was up.
More on that in a while.
As for the rest, here are a couple of other things that caught my eye Wednesday:
• I did not see Darius Willis working with the linebackers today, at least not during the first part of practice. Willis, who started all 12 games last season at middle linebacker started the 2012 preseason in a battle with true freshman Schyler Miles for the No. 2 spot at the same position. Both were behind Notre Dame transfer Anthony McDonald, but, with Miles coming along slowly but surely and sophomore Ben Heeney emerging as another option at MLB, Willis seems to have fallen down the depth chart. I’m not exactly sure what his absence Wednesday means. Could mean nothing. He could have been excused for one reason or another. But I definitely did not see him out there during the time we were watching. Worth keeping an eye on.
• Tuesday, I mentioned a new player on the Jayhawks’ offensive line, and, thanks to the solid effort put forth by a couple of loyal readers, we were able to pinpoint the mystery man’s name. Alex Beglinger, a 6-foot-8, 320-pound guard who was a teammate of new KU quarterback Turner Baty last season at City College of San Francisco, evidently has joined the squad as a walk-on. Here’s a look at Beglinger’s bio from Rivals.com: http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/recruiting/player-Alexander-Beglinger-140364
It should be noted that Beglinger, No. 78, is not the only new face out there these days. Several walk-ons have come and gone during the past couple of practices and a handful of them will probably still be out there next week when the season starts for real. I’ve been told they’ll be added to the roster at that point, so keep an eye out for that if you’re interested.
• Ty McKinney was not at today’s practice. Still no word. McKinney Watch rages on. Stay tuned...
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi. This was definitely one of the more popular Coach Weis camp songs, as I even heard a handful of players singing along with the classic anthem during warm-ups.
Tuesday afternoon provided the ultimate return on making the trek to Kansas University football practice day after day during the preseason.
As the team broke into position groups to work on individual drills, I found myself watching the wide receivers. Specifically, I had my eye on freshman Tre' Parmalee, who was praised by KU coach Charlie Weis earlier in the day. Watching Parmalee, who has put himself in position to play a lot this fall, got me thinking about which receivers we weren’t hearing much about.
The immediate name that came to mind was sophomore JaCorey Shepherd, last year’s fourth-leading receiver who tied for the team lead with three touchdowns.
Shepherd has been pretty quiet this offseason. So quiet, in fact, that now he’s playing a new position.
Tuesday, while all of KU’s wideouts worked out with assistant coach Rob Ianello, Shepherd was on the other field — in a white jersey instead of blue — working out with the defensive backs.
Shepherd still wore No. 89, and there has not yet been any kind of announcement about him switching positions permanently. But he was definitely working with the D-Backs on Tuesday and he might be staying there.
Here’s a quick look at what else caught my eye on Tuesday:
• Senior linebacker Anthony McDonald was back on the exercise bike after a brief moment away from it at the start of practice.
Earlier in the day, Weis told us that part of the reason McDonald spent so much time on the bike was because they were trying to make sure he would be full-go for the season. McDonald has a history of injuries and, according to Weis, knows only one way to play the game.
“He’s one of those guys, tackle to tackle, hit you as hard as he can possibly hit ya,” Weis said. “That’s the only game he knows. There’s no passive game in how he plays.”
• There’s a new player in camp — and, no, it’s not Ty McKinney — but I’m not sure who he is yet. He wears No. 78, works out with the offensive linemen and his last name begins with the letter B. That’s all I could make out in the brief time we were up there and no one by that name, or that number, is listed on KU’s official roster. I’ll check into it more and let you know. Know this, though, the guy caught my eye because he’s huge. Looks to be about 6-foot-6, 310-320. Stay tuned...
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “For You” by Bruce Springsteen. I probably won’t tell Weis this, but I must admit, the only version of the song I had ever heard was the cover job by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. I like both versions.
After two days of closed practices, we were back out there on Saturday morning. The practice — open to KU students with a valid student ID from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and to the media from 10:20-11:00 — was a lot less like an actual practice and a lot more like a dress rehearsal.
With the season opener now just two weeks away, KU coach Charlie Weis took time out to treat the beginning of Saturday’s practice as if it were gameday.
With the music blaring and the stands yet to fill up, the kickers hit the field first and began their warm-ups. Kickoffs, punts, field goal attempts, everything was done just as it would be on a Saturday during the season.
About 15 minutes after the kickers hit the field, KU quarterback Dayne Crist led the quarterbacks and a group of specialists onto the field. Ten or so minutes after that another wave of players came out and so on and so on.
Although this kind of thing is not ground-breaking, it is critical, especially when you’re talking about a program that has a new coaching staff. Why wait until Sept. 1 to give these guys a feel for what things will be like on gamedays? Emotions run high, adrenaline is pumping and it can be tough to focus when kickoff is an hour or so away. That’s why they did the Saturday walk-through and, like everything else with Weis, the goal was for repetition and discipline now to make things run more smoothly when they count for real.
Beyond that, we didn’t see a whole lot on Saturday. By the time we left, a few students were starting to file in, but I would definitely be interested in hearing how many showed up, especially in the wake of Weis’ comedic comments from last night’s pep rally about leaving games early.
“If you’re leaving at halftime,” Weis told the large crowd at Corinth Square in Prairie Village, “You and I are going to get into a fistfight.”
Here are a few other things that caught my eye during Saturday’s walk-through.
• Several different players were working on punt and kickoff returns. Could have just been a thing for today or could be a sign that there is competition at that position, too. Veterans Daymond Patterson, D.J. Beshears and Bradley McDougald were joined by newcomers Tre Parmalee, Tyree Williams and Greg Allen. The first depth chart of the season — which we received on Aug. 1 — did not include returners, so, right now, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will be handling those duties in two weeks.
• No Ty McKinney once again. According to several people, the junior-college transfer from Trinity Valley CC in Texas is going crazy while wait for his classwork to be finalized. He has done the work and turned it in, it’s just waiting to be graded. At this point you have to feel for this guy. All he wants to do is play football and, with each day that passes, it becomes more and more unlikely that he’ll be able to play a big role on the KU defense early in the season. That’s not to say he can’t get out there, but this was a guy who had starter potential. McKinney Watch continues. Stay tuned...
• With McKinney still not on campus, a few veterans are benefiting from extra reps in practice. One guy who appears to be taking full advantage of it is Kevin Young, 6-3, 285-pound junior defensive tackle from Olathe. During drills on Saturday, Young worked with the likely first team, as defensive ends Toben Opurum and Josh Williams lined up on the outside and Keba Agostinho and Young lined up inside. The second unit also featured some quality names, which gives a great indication that the talent and depth on the D-Line is much improved. Jordan Tavai and Ben Goodman were the defensive ends who ran second and Keon Stowers and John Williams were the interior linemen. Again, this was just a drill, so it does not necessarily reflect what the depth chart looks like. But, right now, those eight guys appear to be your first two waves on the D-Line.
• Speaking of absences, a few guys were on the exercise bikes again and one guy was not at practice at all. Linebacker Anthony McDonald and safety Brian Maura were back on the bike, and they were joined by wide receiver Christian Matthews. Tight end Jimmay Mundine, who was at team pictures on Saturday morning, was not on the field for the first 40 minutes of practice. It sounds like Mundine is just dealing with some kind of flu or something and he should be fine.
• A familiar face showed up for practice on Saturday, as former KU linebacker James Holt was on hand to watch his former team. Holt, who played on KU’s Orange Bowl championship team and later with the San Diego Chargers, was a second-team all-Big 12 selection in 2008 and an honorable mention all-Big 12 pick in 2007.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “10th Avenue Freezeout” by Bruce Springsteen.
Wednesday marked the final day of two-a-day practices for the Kansas University football team, and that appeared to be on the minds of the players during the morning session.
It certainly was on the minds of the coaches, who, continually implored their guys to go harder and stop going through the motions. After each time, the different position groups would respond with a few good reps, but it definitely seemed as if these guys were ready for camp life to be over.
That’s not a knock on the players at all. It’s been a grueling camp and, according to the feedback from the coaches, it’s been a good one. It seems to be human nature for the light at the end of the tunnel to bring on these types of practices. And, like in anything, you can’t hit a home run every time out.
For the second time this week, another media member and I got an extended look at practice because of the low turnout. But even at that, we only saw the first 45 minutes, so for all I know the rest of practice could have been much better and filled with intensity. Same goes for this afternoon’s session.
Enough about that, though, here are a couple of things that caught my eye during Wednesday morning’s practice:
• Still no Ty McKinney. He might be here later today, he might be here next week. KU coach Charlie Weis made it very clear on Monday that he did not know for sure when McKinney would arrive and also made it clear that McKinney was still coming and had done the work he needed to do to get here. He simply was waiting on that work to be graded so he could take the final. It’s a bit of a raw deal and Weis said it has been tough on McKinney, but a few months from now, we probably won’t even remember he was late.
• Shortly after stretching, the same group of first-stringers that it has been for the past week or so jumped on the sled. They were: RT - Howard, RG - Dent, C - Marrongelli, LG - Zlatnik, LT - Hawkinson, TE - Ragone, TE/FB - Smiley, QB - Crist, RB - Pierson, WR - Pick, WR - Patterson. This time, however, I got a good look at the No. 2s and they were: RT - Aslam Sterling, RG - Luke Luhrsen, C - Dylan Admire, LG - Damon Martin, LT - Lewandowski, TE - Jordan Smith, TE - Charles Brooks, QB - Michael Cummings, RB Taylor Cox, WR - Chris Omigie, WR - D.J. Beshears. I thought it was interesting that both Brooks and Smith were running with the second team here. Could just be for that drill, but it could also be indicative of their play. Weis said the other day that he had four tight ends that were all interchangeable, and, with Jimmay Mundine, riding the bike for the start of practice, it made sense that Brooks and Smith were out there. Cox, we know, has the lead for the back-up role to Pierson and Cummings, we also know, has the lead over Baty for the back-up role to Crist. No big surprises there. Nothing settled yet, either.
• Speaking of the bike, Mundine was joined by the same two guys who had spent a good chunk of the week riding the stationary bikes, linebacker Anthony McDonald and safety Brian Maura. All three appear to be day-to-day.
• Spent a fair amount of time with the linebackers today and I noticed a couple of things immediately. First, Prinz Kande was working with the ones, along side Ben Heeney (Mike) and Huldon Tharp (Will). Kande looks bigger and has always had good speed. He could factor in here. The No. 2s, at least during the drills I watched were: Courtney Arnick (Will), Schyler Miles (Mike) and Tunde Bakare (Sam). Nothing set in stone there, either, but if Kande’s playing with the ones in practice, he’ll probably at least get some snaps this fall.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Prove It All Night” by Springsteen. Could just have been next up in the Springsteen playlist, or, it could have been a subtle message from Weis and the coaching staff to the players, who have to continue to prove themselves in order to earn their spots. Even though camp’s about over, the season’s still a couple of weeks away and the depth chart could see a lot of movement in that time.
Jordan Tavai in pads and no Ty McKinney.
Those were the two things that jumped out at me from Tuesday’s KU football practice.
The McKinney news was at least mildly surprising, considering he had been telling people for days on Twitter that he would be here today. At the same time, that is Twitter and it’s hardly written in stone.
So maybe tomorrow. Or maybe not.
As for Tavai, he has been here but today was our first look at him in full pads. He definitely looks athletic and appears to have long arms, but you can also see evidence that he has not gone through Scott Holsopple’s offseason conditioning program. He’ll get there, though. And he’ll play.
As the defensive line did various drills, D-Line coach Buddy Wyatt and others seemed to really stress “burst” with Tavai. Makes sense, considering he’s a tad bit behind the other guys in terms of football shape. But he looks to have good feet and good strength. Give him a couple of weeks and he’ll start to look like the others.
Here are a few other things that caught my eye Tuesday:
• Defensive end Josh Williams is a beast. I know that not because he made a bunch of plays on Tuesday or knocked somebody out but because he warms up like a monster, too. After the team was done stretching, as the players ran to their position drills, Williams barked like a madman and yelled, “Bring your guns out D. Bring your guns out D.” They’ve said he was a leader and now I see why.
• There’s been some talk of offensive tackle Aslam Sterling making good progress and that continues to be the case. Tuesday, Sterling got a lot of work with the first team O-Line, but not without a wake-up call from one of the KU coaches. “Aslam! You’re getting reps with the first team today. Pick it up,” the coach yelled. Or something like that, anyway.
• Linebacker Anthony McDonald and defensive back Brian Maura remained on the exercise bikes and both continue to be day-to-day, according to KU coach Charlie Weis. Every day they sit out brings an advantage for someone else at their position. That’s not a huge surprise for Maura, who moved from receiver in the offseason and is pretty far down on the depth chart as it is. But that’s potentially big news for McDonald, whose absence has opened the door for Ben Heeney and Schyler Miles to get more reps at middle linebacker. Heeney has been working with the first team linebackers for the past couple of practices.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Lay Your Hands On Me” by Bon Jovi. Great song for the KU linemen, but not such a good idea for the defensive backs.
Blocking took on an extra emphasis at this morning’s Kansas football practice, the first of two sessions today.
Not only did all of the position groups spend a little extra time working on the skill, but the team’s most important blockers — the offensive linemen — worked out with a little different look.
Junior tackle Riley Spencer was not on the field this morning. No word on why, but I have heard that he’s dealing with some kind of a knee injury. We get a chance to meet with Coach Weis around noon, so we’ll get the scoop then.
With Spencer out of the lineup, for now, junior Gavin Howard slid over to right tackle and defensive-lineman-turned-offensive-lineman Randall Dent worked with the first team at right guard.
Dent looks good. Like Aslam Sterling, he’s moving well for a man his size (6-4, 300) and he looks to be in much better shape than he has been during the past couple of seasons when he was on the defensive line.
There certainly still is time for Sterling (6-5, 360) to make his way onto the first string, but, whether Spencer is out for a little while or a long while, getting Dent some meaningful reps with those first-teamers should benefit KU’s depth in a big way.
I also think it shows you a lot about Howard, a guy who, just a few weeks ago, was a major question mark but now appears to be creeping into that category with Tanner Hawkinson, Duane Zlatnik and Trevor Marrongelli as guys you would label steady and solid.
I watched Howard a lot today and the one thing that stood out to me that I hadn’t noticed before is his strength. He’s got a good frame (6-4, 300) but he also appears to have some muscle behind it.
Perhaps because we all had the day off yesterday, the media turnout at today’s practice was pretty low. So low, in fact, that Coach Weis noticed and actually made it a point to reward those of us who did show up with 20 extra minutes of practice watching. That gave me time to focus on more than just the O-Line, so here’s what else caught my eye at Day 12 of fall practice.
• While Spencer was not even on the field this morning, two Jayhawks were busy riding the bikes. D-Back Brian Maura and linebacker Anthony McDonald spent the first 40 or so minutes of practice on the exercise bikes in the southwest corner of the practice fields. As I mentioned, we’ll try to get an update on all of KU’s injuries a little later today.
• With a good chunk of my time focused on the O-Line, I thought it was really interesting to see O-Line coach Tim Grunhard coaching his guys even during stretches. He walked up and down the line and reminded each one about gaps and assignments. This coaching staff really stresses the mental side of the game as much as the physical, so I’m guessing this was part of hammering that point home. Cool to see a guy using every minute he gets to coach, though.
• I know it’s different in practice than it is during live action, but this offensive line really looks like it has a chance to be a solid run-blocking unit. Of course, it’s going to be just important, if not more so, for these guys to pass protect, but they all look really physical driving blockers downfield. As I mentioned earlier, the running backs spent a good chunk of the early portion working on downfield blocking and the wide receivers and tight ends worked on the same thing. I know you’ve all heard this a lot, but this is the kind of thing that makes those of us in the media continually say that this team will line up right, execute better and look like it knows what it’s doing out there. It’s the little things.
• During the sled drill that followed stretching, KU flashed a look at most of its first-string guys. Depending on what happens with Dent, Spencer and Sterling, and depending on what kind of package they’re running, the first unit looked like this: RT - Howard, RG - Dent, C - Marrongelli, LG - Zlatnik, LT - Hawkinson, TE - Ragone, TE/FB - Smiley, QB - Crist, RB - Pierson, WR - Pick, WR - Patterson.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Born to Be My Baby” by Bon Jovi. This is the kind of tune that proves you’re a die-hard Bon Jovi fan.
• We’ve got our next press conference with Weis around noon today and we’ll also get interviews with a few offensive players at that time, so keep an eye out for audio clips a little later.
The media — and the rest of the free world — had the chance to check out an entire practice Saturday morning, and the longer look at the KU football team gave us a chance to see a little more than stretching and position drills.
We watched live hitting, all five quarterbacks in action and plenty of situational stuff. What’s more, the coaches operated as if no one else was in the building, ripping guys when they needed to be ripped and praising guys when they made good plays.
It’s still tough to tell too much from what we watched, but there were a few things that stood out.
Here’s a look:
• The drop-off from QB Dayne Crist to the next two quarterbacks (Michael Cummings and Turner Baty) is pretty noticeable, understandably so. During the 7-on-7 portion of the scrimmage, Crist handled 12 plays and completed 11 of 12 passes. The one that was incomplete was a drop by Andrew Turzilli, who alligator-armed the throw despite being open. KU coach Charlie Weis let him hear about it and also used the opportunity to remind the rest of the receivers how to do things. Cummings completed 3 of 6 passes and Baty completed 3 of 6. Both threw some good balls and both made some bad choices. Two TDs were converted during the drill, one from Crist to D.J. Beshears on a deep ball and the other from Baty to Tre Parmalee on a wide receiver screen.
• Speaking of Parmalee, Weis said last week that he was competing for playing time and that catch and run showed why. After looking the ball into his hands, Parmalee made one move and took off. No dancing, no fancy jukes, just cut and go. Parmalee also later scored on a kickoff return and a punt return during a special teams scrimmage. Keep an eye on him.
• One of my favorite drills of the day was the tight end drill in which TEs coach Jeff Blasko stands 10 yards away and fires passes to the middle of two lines. One tight end comes from the right and is the intended receiver and another comes from the left, in front, and tries to serve as a distraction. Mostly catches during this drill, including a one-handed stab by Charles Brooks — on a high throw — who had just been called out a couple of times in a row. It wasn’t just ripping for Brooks, though, on Saturday. A couple of drills later, Blasko praised his footwork, calling it, “Clinic tape.”
• Spent quite a bit of time watching the wideouts on Saturday. Here’s a quick run-down. Remember, though, this is just one day and one opinion, so it’s by no means the end-all, be-all read of this position. Quickets routes: Kale Pick, Josh Ford, D.J. Beshears. Best target: Ricki Herod, Andrew Turzilli, Kale Pick. Best hands: Kale Pick, JaCorey Shepherd, D.J. Beshears, Daymond Patterson, Chris Omigie. I’ll try to track this the rest of camp to see if it changes or anyone else jumps out.
• We saw a fair amount of one-on-ones between the receivers and the cornerbacks, and, on this day, the receivers dominated. So much so that defensive coordinator Dave Campo, on more than one occasion, talked about the drill being a waste of time. One thing I thought was interesting was Campo emphasizing the deep ball to his guys. “W’re not gonna get beat deep,” Campo said. It didn’t work every play as Pick and Omigie both vicitimized the DBs for deep balls, but there was marked improvement shown in that department throughout the course of the drill. One of the coolest parts of this drill was the live refereeing, which came complete with boos from the few hundred fans who showed up to watch.
• One other cool moment came when all five QBs — Crist, Baty, Cummings, Blake Jablonski and Jake Heaps — threw, side-by-side, the different routes of the route tree. Deep, intermediate, flat, out... they were all there and it was wild to see this within such a small space.
• Saturday’s action also featured a look at live running plays. Brandon Bourbon looked really sharp, running with great power and Taylor Cox was right behind him. James Sims also looked good with his reps and Tony Pierson got a few touches, as well. Just as they’ll do during the season, though, they appear to be making sure Pierson doesn’t take too much of a pounding.
• Practice wrapped with 30 minutes of special teams drills, including live returns and the do-or-die field goal that determined how much running the team did. One thing I really liked about the special teams drills is that all of the coaches remained very actively involved, especially Campo, who stayed right in the thick of things the entire time. Pretty impressive stuff from a former NFL head coach who could easily have a different attitude.
• Here’s one more good line from special teams coordinator Clint Bowen, who was trying to fire up his guys on a kickoff drills: “Coach is cheating you today, man. You guys only get two tries. Let’s make ‘em count.” Hey, whatever it takes. Gotta find any angle you can to get guys motivated.
Overall, it’s a much different picture than we’ve seen around here during the past couple of years. Guys are working their butts off and are held accountable on almost every play. I can’t tell you how many times I heard a coach say the words, “You’re too soft,” or something of the like. They don’t want these guys thinking they’re going to play just by being on the team. They want them thinking they have to work for it — at all times — and I think that’s why the effort seems so much better and the intensity so much higher.
As practice wrapped, the fans gave these guys a nice hand. People are hungry for football to be a winner around here, and, even though it might take some time, it appears as if KU is once again headed in that direction.