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Another look back at Thursday's early-morning KU football practice
Yesterday, you were treated to an inside look at the way in which Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis conducts himself during a typical practice.
Weis was equal parts intense, funny and genuine and did not seem to hold anything back just because he let the media in for the entire on-the-field practice.
We spent a lot of time yesterday focusing on what Weis looked, sounded and acted like during Thursday’s early-morning practice, but we didn’t give you much of a look at the players themselves.
In order to fulfill the football fix aspect of our day at practice, here are a couple of things that stood out to me:
• Toben Opurum opened the practice working with the linebackers while Michael Reynolds began the practice working with the D-Line. This was no surprise, but it showed just how much of a hybrid the position that these two guys play is. Linebackers coach DeMontie Cross said earlier last week that he and defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt typically work out the plan ahead of time and then they end up splitting time working with Opurum and Reynolds.
• Quarterbacks Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps might as well have been playing HORSE out there. It was just a small portion of Thursday’s practice and it was more of a showcase for the wide receivers and defensive backs, but still, Crist and Heaps stole at least some of the show. Both have such strong arms and such tall and powerful deliveries that it was a joy to watch them just flick the ball downfield for the receivers and DBs to make a play on it. Tom Keegan spent more time watching this than I did and he said that every deep ball that Crist threw was right on the money. That’s encouraging. What’s not is the number of those deep balls that were dropped. No need to worry too much there, though. For one thing, the wide receiver position is deep and there are plenty of guys who will be given a shot to step up. Two, there’s still plenty of time to practice and work on that stuff, including the entire summer, a time that’s known for helping QBs and pass catchers develop a connection.
• This coaching staff is not messing around with special teams. Clint Bowen is a great special teams coordinator — he had offers to coach that unit in the NFL but turned them down — and he takes a lot of pride in making sure all of the special teams are well drilled and mistake-free. You could see that in the way the entire coaching staff rode the players during special teams drills on Thursday. They expect this to be an area where KU has an advantage every game. What’s more, it looks like they’ll be more than comfortable using first-string guys from the offense and the defense to play key roles on special teams if needed.
• One other special teams note of little surprise: Daymond Patterson, D.J. Beshears, Bradley McDougald and Connor Embree handle most of the punt return reps.
• It really is a thing of beauty to watch Tim Grunhard coach the offensive line. There’s just something about a guy that big who played that position at such a high level teaching these young guys how to do it. Very little of what I saw from Grunhard on Thursday was technical stuff — though we have seen some of that during the early portion of other practices we’ve been to — but it was still cool to watch him stalking the linemen he coaches like a predator waiting to pounce on them if they make a mistake. And, in this case, a mistake could be something as simple as not getting your knees up high enough while warming up. Look, if Ringo Starr came up to me and said I was hitting the snare drum a little too hard, I’d probably pull back. Same kind of deal here.
• This coaching staff is not lacking for energy, but Dave Campo and DeMontie Cross might be the two most energized coaches out there. Clint Bowen and Rob Ianello are right behind them, but it’s tough to beat Campo’s pep and Cross’ bounce.
• The kicking game needs work. Both place kickers, Alex Mueller and Ron Doherty, struggled to make mid-range kicks with very little rush and next to no pressure. That’s not a huge surprise, as neither guy was able to prove he was the clear-cut man for the job last season, but you can bet that this will be an area Weis and company pay close attention to during the offseason. I don’t think they’re interested in giving points away.
• One other thing that stands out when watching this coaching staff in action? Brutal honesty. There were times, after guys did a drill wrong or missed an assignment, where the coaches just flat out said, “Hey, man, you won’t play if you do it like that.” And they’re not afraid to get after guys with some harsh language — as it should be; it’s football — but they don’t ever do it in a way that makes you feel like they’re trying to show anyone up. That’s a good thing in my opinion and can be the difference between guys wanting to bleed and sweat for you or wanting to tune you out. These coaches are hard on these guys but they’re hard on them because they want them to improve not because they enjoy being jerks.
We get one more look at this team on Tuesday (albeit a brief 20-minute look) and then it’s on to the spring game next Saturday.
In case you missed it, here’s the format for the spring game, which figures to be one of the most competitive — and most attended — spring games in years.