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What caught my eye at Day 16 of KU football's fall camp
Friday morning marked the start of the final day of fall camp and the final day of media access to practice for the 2013 season.
With that in mind, I tried to treat the 20 minutes I was out there as more of a retrospective session and did my best to try to remember what guys looked like on Day 1 of camp on Aug. 8 and what they look like today.
Everything was on the table for this exercise, as I tried to examine who changed physically as well as who changed mentally. Because so many of these guys came into camp in excellent shape, dissecting the physical aspect was tougher, but there were a couple of guys that stood out nonetheless.
• One of the biggest gainers, in my opinion, was right tackle Zach Fondal. Fondal not only looks to be in better physical condition than when he got here, but he also looks much more comfortable in his surroundings – almost like a veteran in some ways. I've heard that Fondal's a pretty straight forward kind of guy, so his progress is not all that surprising and definitely a good sign. At least from what I saw, he worked with the ones throughout camp and I think it's important to remember — as everyone wonders about the future of Pearce Slater — that Fondal is a juco guy himself and has played his share of football. If he is the starting right tackle, it's not like they're plugging in a freshman over there. Still, though, there's a lot of time remaining between now and the first game to sort that all out.
• Another guy is one who has not received much mention this month — safety Tevin Shaw. I remember being wildly impressed by Shaw's physical make-up last year at this time and although he does not look much bigger, he looks much more toned and cut and seems to be a lot more confident out there in everything from footwork to running through the drills. It'll be interesting to see what his role is this year. Remember, this was a guy who moved over from running back after committing to KU. Probably a good move.
• Juco transfer Isaiah Johnson seems so solid and so polished in so many ways that I almost failed to mention him during this camp. Luckily, he caught my eye today. He has great size, seems very confident and puts off the vibe that he knows what he's doing at all times. But the biggest thing I noticed about him today is his burst. He goes from 0-60 in a hurry. One minute he can be jogging and the next he'll be at top speed. Pretty impressive. And certainly something I would think coaches would want from their safeties.
• In all, I made it out there for every open practice this month and was able to watch two entire sessions, last Friday during an open practice for the media and last Saturday during fan appreciation day. Although many of the things we saw were the same each day — stretching, individual and positional drills, etc. — the opportunity to see these guys not only up close and personal but also for a consistent and extended period of time really gave me a good feel for who can do what physically and which guys were all-business, better leaders, class clowns, etc. I tried to bring you as much of that as I could throughout the month and am sure that having that information stored somewhere in my brain will aid me in my coverage of this team this season.
• My final camp thoughts are this: It's easy for guys to say they're working harder than any other college football team in the country and I'm sure at least 90 percent of the teams out there think that's true. But it's another thing altogether to go out there and back that up. It didn't matter if it was bright and early at 9 a.m. or in the hot sun of the afternoon, these guys, for the most part, went out there and busted their butts every day. Part of the credit for that goes to Charlie Weis and his coaching staff and strength coach Scott Holsopple, and part of the credit goes to the players themselves who seem to realize that playing college football is a privelege and a rare opportunity that most people don't get. I did not see many of them — if any — taking it for granted and I really get the sense that these guys are tired of the losing and want to do whatever their bodies will allow to get things turned around. How that attitude translates into performance and wins on the field remains to be seen. But fans of the program should know that their guys flat-out worked this offseason.
KU will practice again this afternoon and then continue practice next week before jumping into full game-prep mode for South Dakota the following week. Because of that, I won't be out there like I have been this month but I will still be at every possible media opportunity and our entire KUsports.com staff will bring you the best coverage possible throughout the upcoming season.