Tale of the Tait
Tuesday marked the first practice of the spring that was open to the media and instead of the usual 20 minutes of stretching and warm-ups, KU coach Charlie Weis opened the door and pulled back the curtain for the entire hour-and-40-minute session.
A good chunk near the end was spent on special teams, but, with this team, even that was an area worth watching.
With that in mind, here's the first (and maybe only) edition of “What Caught My Eye” from spring drills. Grab a chair and get comfortable.
• New year, new leaders. In addition to the bounce in their step and hope in the air (none of that was there during the final few weeks of the 2012 season), it's always interesting to see what a new team looks like during spring drills. Who steps up and leads. Who is most vocal? Who leads by example? All of that and more is easy to spot during an open practice. But the easiest way to find out who the leaders are is to watch the stretching lines. Usually the guys closest to coach Holsopple are the biggest leaders and, on Tuesday at least, that seemed to hold true. The first line included quarterback Jake Heaps, linebacker Ben Heeney and running back James Sims. A couple of surprises on the first line included Keba Agostinho, Randall Dent, Dexter Linton, Jacorey Shepherd and Ron Doherty. A few of those guys are seniors, but a few are not. Nothing earth-shattering there but it was the first thing that jumped out.
• The Coach Weis song of the day seems to be back, at least for now, and today, the practice DJ stacked a Bruce Springsteen song on top of a Bon Jovi song. Talk about buttering up the head coach.
• Darius Willis, who now wears No. 52, looks substantially bigger than I ever remember him being. Willis, whom Weis said recently is pushing Heeney for first-string reps at middle linebacker, looks mobile, physical and ready for a bigger role again. In short, he's everything I thought he would be when he first arrived from Buffalo.
• One of my favorite drills of the day was a drill in which five receivers ran different routes on the same play, with each one receiving a ball at the same moment. The drill was made possible by the fact that all three KU quarterbacks — Heaps, Michael Cummings and Blake Jablonski — along with QB coach Ron Powlus and one of the managers dropped back and threw to a designated guy. While this unfolded for nearly 10 minutes, Coach Weis sat in a golf cart in the end zone and coached both the receivers and the quarterbacks. The way the receivers and running backs ran routes at different depths reminded me of the fountains at the Belagio in Las Vegas dancing to the music.
• Speaking of routes, I thought it was very cool to see the different ways Tony Pierson was used. I don't think for a second that we saw even one-fifth of what KU will ask of Pierson this season, but what we did see was the dynamic junior speed back running routes all over the field. Short. Long. Seam. Post. Corner. If he and Heaps can develop some chemistry, he'll be a nightmare for opposing defenses this fall.
• Another dude we've heard about who truly has gotten bigger is red-shirt freshman tight end Jordan Smith. The guy's lower body looks like a tank. Didn't watch him a ton in route-running and pass-catching drills, but he's bulked up, no question about it.
• We didn't get to see much of the offensive or defensive lines during live action, so I'll stick with the linebackers and secondary. The first string looked like this: Courtney Arnick, Heeney and Jake Love at linebacker, with Shepherd and Cassius Sendish at corner and Greg Allen and Dexter Linton at safety. When the team went to its nickel package, Dexter McDonald checked in at nickel back. When they went dime, Allen, Linton, Shepherd, McDonald, Sendish, Tevin Shaw, Willis and Heeney were all out there.
• Remember that talk of accountability that we heard from these guys at the start of spring drills? It's legit. I heard more guys calling out other guys today than I can remember all year last year. Nothing major and nothing nasty. Just guys yelling at other guys after a dropped pass or for jogging instead of sprinting. No bad blood, no whining, just players responding to a little push from another teammate. Pretty cool to see, really.
• One of the most exciting sessions of the day was the one-on-ones, where wideouts or running backs lined up against a defensive backs and ran routes. Overall, the offense seemed to get the better of the defense during this one. By my count, the offensive player got the best of the defense 19 out of 31 times. That included nine of the first 10, though, so the DBs made a decent comeback late in the drill.
• Got my first look at new defensive backs coach Scott Vestal in action. He's intense. The guy really has a motor and he has a set of lungs to match. Really like his style and passion.
• We saw some pretty extensive special teams work and, of all the return men, Tre' Parmalee and JaCorey Shepherd stood out as the most impressive. Both had multiple long returns and looked incredibly shifty no matter where they were on the field.
• Speaking of special teams, it was cool to see the punting and kickoff drills because that gave us a good look at new kicker Trevor Pardula. I know it was just one practice, but I'd be shocked if Pardula didn't have both jobs locked up already. He's solid and consistent on kickoffs — something that even teammates paid attention to and responded with, 'We need that,' — and he can really boom his punts. On a couple of occasions, Pardula's punts inspired Weis to say the following: “Woo Hoo Hoo Hoo.” Huge upgrade.
• As for field goal kicking, it appears there's still some work to be done there. Pardula was decent and veteran Ron Doherty had his moments, but nobody stood out the way Pardula did in the other aspects of the kicking game. That's not all bad news. Remember, Hutch Juco walk-on Michael Mesh is still coming this summer and he should have a good shot of winning the job.
• Pardula did deliver when it counted, connecting on a 38 yarder to close practice. Had he missed it, the team would have run. Instead, they celebrated. Want another sign of progress? Last year, this was the drill that Weis had his team do over again because it didn't celebrate the made kick properly. No such problem Tuesday.
I just received a news release from KU that forced me to do a double-take. Turns out what I thought I read the first time actually was true.
KU has become the first NCAA program to incorporate virtual-reality training into its regular routine of preparing its student-athletes for competition.
The full release is posted below. It sounds to me like this is a potentially very cool development and certainly keeps KU on the cutting edge and at the forefront of college athletics when it comes to training practices and facilities.
Here's the release:
Kansas Athletics became the first NCAA institution to partner with EON Reality, the world's leading interactive 3D software provider, in the creation of software to eventually be used in a virtual reality football simulator. The simulator utilizes EON Reality’s popular Icube and will enable student-athletes to simulate an actual game for training and teaching purposes.
“This state-of-the-art training will greatly benefit our student-athletes and makes Kansas a leader of virtual reality in sport,” Kansas Director of Athletics Sheahon Zenger said. “We constantly seek responsible and innovative ways to help our student-athletes and this cutting-edge technology brings a great opportunity to our football team.”
Once the software is fully developed, student-athletes will be able to step into a 10 feet by 10 feet room and be immersed into simulated-game action. The experience makes the user feel as if they are standing on an actual playing field, complete with crowd noise, realistic game speeds and football player avatars running real plays.
The student-athlete will be able to experience game action of any play desired. The virtual reality football simulator is at the forefront of a growing trend of applications using virtual and augmented reality within the sports industry.
“At the elite level, everyone is pretty much the same when it comes to size, speed and strength,” said Brendan Reilly, Co-Founder of EON Reality Sports. “What separates an average team from a great team is how they perform from a cognitive standpoint – reading plays, understanding coverages, reducing mistakes and making quick decisions, etc.
“The teams that do these seemingly little things right usually wind up winning. Virtual Reality has been proven to dramatically increase a user’s experience level. The end goal is to speed up the experience level of an athlete and essentially have freshmen operating at the same cognitive level as a senior.”
Let me start out by saying that the whole idea for this blog entry was born from the simple belief, of this writer at least, that North Carolina coach Roy Williams is a good person.
Having grown up in Lawrence and hung around with his son, Scott, I know this to be true. He’s a kind, compassionate, genuine man with an intense love of basketball and a highly competitive spirit.
Fans of Kansas University basketball know this, whether they’ve spent the past 10 seasons rooting against him or not. As the old saying goes, or at least went, Ol’ Roy had more desire to win in his little finger than all of the Kansas basketball fans in the world combined. Before the divorce, KU fans loved that about him. As time goes by and more distance is put between his 15 seasons in Lawrence and the present day, I think KU fans will slowly begin to remember that.
The scene at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday certainly made that seem possible. With thousands of KU fans in the stands waiting for the Jayhawks, Williams was cheered when UNC took the floor for its open practice session.
So what does any of this have to with Caronlina’s first-round match-up against Villanova on Friday at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.? That, too, is simple. It’s my contention that the basketball gods simply are not that cruel to put one man through losing to his former school on the biggest stage in the world twice in the past 12 months and three times in the past five years. It was cruel enough of the committee to put the potential match-up out there, but the gods will intervene.
Roy left. He did what he had to do for himself and his family. And, truth be told, had most of you been in his position, you would’ve done the same thing, whether you’re willing to admit it or not.
But he has paid his debt to the Jayhawk Nation. After getting drubbed by Kansas in the national semifinals in 2008, Williams stuck around for the title game against Memphis and wore a Jayhawk sticker on his shirt. For that he was crushed by the UNC fans, and when the two schools met again in last year’s Elite Eight in St. Louis, he had to relive the whole experience while suffering through another heartbreaking loss to his former school at the same time.
Every time he's been asked, Williams has had nothing but positive, heart-felt things to say about KU and his time here.
So when is enough enough?
North Carolina, which enters the game as a four-point favorite, may have more talent than Villanova. The Tar Heels may be a bit under-seeded — third in the ACC and a berth in the conference tournament title game usually gets you more than an 8 seed — and may have the luxury of having at least a few players who have experienced the NCAA Tournament and its intense pressure in much bigger games and venues. But I don’t think they’ll win.
Forget just playing the hunch, though. Villanova has real talent. Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono was a unanimous selection on the Big East’s all-rookie squad and the Wildcats have a size advantage inside, led by senior forward Mouphtaou Yarou (6-foot-10, 255 pounds) and sophomore bruiser JayVaughn Pinkston (6-7, 260). In addition, the Wildcats are the better defensive team, are better free-throw shooters and have a more quality wins. Forget about the 20-13 overall record. In the past 59 days alone, ‘Nova knocked off Louisville and Syracuse in back-to-back games and also snagged victories over Marquette and Georgetown. That’s victories over a No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament and 11 total games (4-7) against NCAA Tournament teams. UNC? Not a single victory against a team currently in the Top 25.
I think Villanova wins. I think Roy goes home sad. But, when it’s all said and done, I don’t think it hurts as bad as losing to Kansas — again.
For the most part, it seems that fans of Kansas University basketball are a pretty superstitious bunch.
Whether that's derived from the great tradition at the school that dates back decades or the recent success, it seems that “signs” are everywhere and can be taken from just about anything, especially during March.
There are, of course, reasons behind many of the superstitions and they seem to straddle both sides of the fence. Some fans like when KU gets a No. 1 seed and is considered one of the favorites. Others prefer the Jayhawks to be the under-the-radar bunch with less attention and therefore less pressure placed on them.
And then, of course, you've got the thousands of fans who wear the same gameday shirts, sit in the same seats or watch the games at the same establishments, all in the name of keeping the peace.
With that in mind, I couldn't help but wonder how being picked by the experts to reach the Final Four makes most KU fans feel. Nervous? Excited? Proud? Satisfied?
Earlier today, I saw an ESPN.com Insider column titled “Experts Final Four Picks” and naturally I was compelled to click on it. It's always fun to see who other people are picking and why, regardless of whether they're named Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps or Donald Duck and Dave Grohl.
It's not that I'm searching for the answers. I'm a firm believer that nobody out there has even the slightest clue how things are going to go, and that's what makes the Big Dance so wonderful and so captivating every year no matter where it's played or which teams are playing. Besides, I've got my own bracket, thank you very much, and I feel pretty good about how it looks — at least today.
But, still, it's interesting to see what others are thinking and saying about the four teams who will advance to Atlanta. Here's a quick rundown of the “Experts Picks” from ESPN.com.
As you can see, two of the five included Kansas. My question to you is this: Does that make you feel better, worse or the same about the Jayhawks' chances?
(PS: I'm still searching the web for more “expert picks” and will add them to the bottom of this list as I find them so check back often.)
Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, VCU, Indiana
Title: Louisville over Indiana
Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, Kansas, Indiana
Title: Louisville over Indiana
Final Four: Louisville, Gonzaga, Kansas, Indiana
Title: Louisville over Indiana
Final Four: Louisville, Gonzaga, Florida, Miami
Title: Louisville over Florida
Final Four: Louisville, New Mexico, Florida, Miami
Title: Florida over Louisville
Final Four: Louisville, Wisconsin, VCU, Indiana
Title: Louisville over Indiana
Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana
Title: Ohio State over Michigan
Final Four: Louisville, Gonzaga, Florida, Indiana
Title: Louisville over Indiana
Final Four: Louisville, New Mexico, Georgetown, Miami
Title: Louisville over Miami
Final Four: Louisville, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Miami
Title: Louisville over Miami
Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, Georgetown, Indiana
Title: Louisville over Indiana
Having trouble filling out your bracket?
Maybe this can help. I stumbled upon it the other day via Twitter — where else? — and I've probably tried it four or five different times since discovering it.
In a word, it's awesome. But in greater detail, it's the Wall Street Journal's Blind Bracket exercise. To the best of my understanding, it's an actual bracket pool, with prizes available and the whole bit. I haven't actually entered it yet, but it seems like an interesting way to increase your odds of winning something this March.
Here's how it works:
Just as you do in a normal bracket, you pick each round, game by game, but instead of knowing the identity of the teams you're picking, you're simply given two profiles and asked to pick one. The profiles, which come complete with fake names such as “Boom Boxes” or “The Ice Cube Trays,” include six categories, a brief summary, seed and RPI ranges and vague conference affiliation, such as mid-major or high major.
Values are assigned to each of the six categories — basically, the 1-5 star system, with five being the best — and that's how you determine which team you're picking.
You go through blindly the entire way, picking 32 games in Round 2, 16 games in Round 3, 8 games in Round 4, 4 games in Round 5, 2 games in Round 6 and, of course, the title game.
After it's all over, your picks are recorded and the site spits out the completed bracket.
The first one I did yielded the following results: Final Four – Duke, Gonzaga, Florida and Indiana, with Duke topping Florida in the title game. I'm not crazy about those picks, considering none of them are in my actual bracket picks, but maybe that's a sign that I should reconsider before making it official. As for KU, I picked the Jayhawks to the Elite Eight in my blind bracket and had them losing to Florida. Not bad.
Anyway, if you want to try your luck, here's the link. Enjoy!
Friday is a big day for several former Kansas University football players hoping to make a name for themselves with pro scouts.
The Jayhawks annual Pro Timing Day will run from 10:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m. and will feature all of the same types of drills that took place at the NFL Combine last month.
Two Jayhawks who participated at the Combine — Tanner Hawkinson and Bradley McDougald — are expected to go through a few of the drills to try to enhance their Combine numbers. The rest of the Jayhawks expected to compete are guys who are hoping to enhance their draft stock and/or prove that they're worthy of free agent contracts following April's draft.
During the past few years, this event typically has drawn representatives from 6-12 different NFL teams. However, because of the fact that longtime NFL assistant coach Charlie Weis is now KU's head coach — not to mention longtime NFL coach Dave Campo as the defensive coordinator — this year's pro day is expected to draw interest from nearly twice that many teams, perhaps more.
A good showing Friday in the 40-yard dash or the bench press or vertical jump test does not guarantee these guys anything. Many of them already are on the radar of NFL teams because of their postseason all-star game performances. Others are hoping Friday is the day they wow the scouts. After all, it only takes one team to like you, as former Jayhawks and undrafted free agents Chris Harris (now a starter with the Denver Broncos) and Steven Johnson (a special teams regular with Denver) have proven.
Here's a quick glance at the guys who will participate:
Tunde Bakare, LB
Skinny: Hard-charging linebacker determined to make it in honor of his brother, Omani, who passed away a few years ago.
Top skills: Speed. Physicality. Determination.
Prediction: Bakare's mix of speed, power and drive should earn him an invitation to a camp as an undrafted free agent.
D.J. Beshears, WR
Skinny: Undersized wide receiver who made a living using his power and speed to roll through and by defenders.
Top skills: Speed. Toughness.
Prediction: If he tests well, Beshears may get a look as a kick returner but is most likely destined to seek playing time in another league, perhaps the Arena League or the Canadian Football League.
Greg Brown, CB
Skinny: “Lockdown Brown” never quite lived up to that nickname in college but it wasn't for lack of opportunity. Faced the Big 12's best week-in and week-out for two straight years and that should him ready for what's ahead.
Top skills: Closing speed. Athleticism. Vision.
Prediction: I like Brown's chances to make a roster and think he'll have to do it the same way his good friend Chris Harris did — as an undrafted free agent.
Dayne Crist, QB
Skinny: Crist's trouble at KU are well-documented, but just because he struggled during his second senior season does not mean he's out of the mix to make an NFL roster. He did well in postseason all-star games and if he tests well, which I fully expect he will, someone may be intrigued enough to give him a shot.
Top skills: Size. Arm strength. Football IQ.
Prediction: I think Crist's skill set along with an endorsement from Charlie Weis allow him to catch on somewhere. He won't be drafted, he might not make a team, but I think he'll get a shot and I could see him being a practice squad guy with the potential to move up.
Tanner Hawkinson, OL
Skinny: Four-year starter at tackle has a solid mix of size and athleticism and is very much on the NFL radar.
Top skills: Footwork. Consistency. Athleticism. Versatility. Intelligence.
Prediction: If Hawkinson were just a bit stronger, he'd be a second- or third-round pick. As it stands, I think he'll go in the fourth or fifth round. The scouts I've talked to like what he brings to the table.
Trevor Marrongelli, OL
Skinny: Anchor of KU's line last season at center, who also has experience playing guard. Undersized by NFL standards, but a tireless worker who'll give it everything he has.
Top skills: Intelligence. Versatility. Work ethic.
Prediction: Great dude, but my guess here is that Marrongelli ends up being just another solid college player and puts his degree to work.
Bradley McDougald, S
Skinny: The move from wide receiver to safety changed McDougald's future. As a receiver, he would've had, at best, an outside shot at getting picked up by an NFL team. As a safety, he's a likely draft pick.
Top skills: Athleticism. Strength. Power. Hands.
Prediction: It's hard to say if McDougald will be selected in April's draft before or after Hawkinson, but I definitely believe he'll be picked. And I also believe he'll go on to have a solid NFL career.
Toben Opurum, DL
Skinny: Still relatively new to defense, but has good strength and plays at a high speed.
Top skills: Versatility. Intelligence. Motor.
Prediction: Opurum may not have a true position on defense in the NFL, but there still exists the possibility that the former KU running back could catch on as an NFL fullback.
Daymond Patterson, WR
Skinny: Electric play-maker in the open field who uses speed and quickness to make up for what he lacks in the way of size.
Top skills: Elusiveness. Speed. Confidence.
Prediction: Patterson may get a look as a punt or kickoff return specialist.
Kale Pick, WR
Skinny: All-around good athlete who was one of the hardest working guys on the team throughout his college career and benefits as a WR from previous QB experience.
Top skills: Intelligence. Hands.
Prediction: Pick could be viewed as an intriguing prospect because he is so reliable.
Mike Ragone, TE
Skinny: Former Notre Dame player who played one season at KU and stayed healthy for the first time in ages.
Top skills: Blocking. Toughness. Heart.
Prediction: Ragone will give it all he has but his body may not be where it needs to be to land a roster spot.
Lubbock Smith, S
Skinny: Longtime contributor in KU's secondary battled injuries throughout his career but always kept battling.
Top skills: Physical. Relentless. Versatile.
Prediction: Smith's a better athlete than he's given credit for but whether that translates to the NFL is another question.
Josh Williams, DE
Skinny: Former Nebraska defensive end started every game during his lone season in Lawrence.
Top skills: Size. Intelligence.
Prediction: Williams figures to be invited to training camp.
Duane Zlatnik, OL
Skinny: Widely regarded as one of the strongest players on KU's roster, Zlatnik was flat-out dominant at times during his junior and senior seasons.
Top skills: Strength. Mean streak.
Prediction: Size, strength and experience alone should get him a look.
The Cincinnati Bearcats officially broke them in for the rest of the world to see earlier Wednesday during their 61-44 victory over Providence in the Big East Tournament, and the expectation is that the Kansas University men's basketball team will do the same during its opening game of the Big 12 Championship on Thursday.
We're talking the uniforms that sent the college basketball world into a frenzy a few weeks ago, of course, as the odd and somewhat bold pattern dreamed up by the folks at adidas certainly has changed the way college basketball teams look on the floor.
As the top seed in this year's Big 12 tourney, the Jayhawks will wear the white version of the wild look. According to most — fans I spoke with, Twitter-dwellers and other writers — the white uniform is the less outlandish of the two, with the blue version bearing the brunt of most of the criticism.
While the initial fan reaction, at least according to Twitter, seemed to reveal that the new look was universally despised by KU fans, a couple of quick phone calls on Wednesday painted a much different picture.
First, I called Jock's Nitch in Downtown Lawrence to find out just how well the uniforms had been received by the public. What I was told surprised me. According to general manager, Ryan Owens, the store sold out of all of its shorts — both white and blue — and even sold more than a few of the jerseys.
Wait. There's more. Somewhere around 15-20 folks even put their name down to snag dibs on the first batch of shorts in Owens' second order. One of them was someone many of you might know — Mario Chalmers.
Chalmers, through Twitter, asked Owens to hold a pair of the white shorts for him.
Overall, Owens said he believed the younger generation liked the look a lot more than most, but also said that he was surprised by the reaction to the blue uniform when people saw it in the store.
“They're different, there's no doubt about that,” he said. “It's definitely something out of the box. But when people get into the store, they actually wind up liking the blue more.”
Rather than stopping there, I thought I'd make a quick call to KU, too, to find out how the new duds had been received on campus. It turns out the reaction was nearly the same. The KU Store, which is connected to Allen Fieldhouse, sold through all of its shorts, both colors, and has made a dent in the re-order, as well. KU Store also sold most of its youth jerseys in both blue and white.
According to the people at adidas, the motivation behind unveiling the wild look was to shake things up during the most fun time of year for college basketball.
After dabbling with something different during last year's postseason with the fluorescent colors worn by schools like Baylor and Louisville, adidas simply wanted to be make another splash in the market and show off something fun on a huge stage.
One person I talked to at KU said they had heard that this specific style of uniform had been selling like crazy across the country, too, with Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Baylor, UCLA and Louisville — all adidas schools — joining the Jayhawks in wearing the wild look this postseason.
The whole thing is part of a huge marketing campaign by adidas, complete with mannequins in the windows of Dick's Sporting Goods stores as well as spreads in the East Bay retail magazine as well as Slam Magazine.
KU coach Bill Self said the Jayhawks' plans were to wear them for one game and that he didn't think it would go beyond that. He did leave the door open for an encore performance, though, by saying that it depended on how well they played in them.
It did seem pretty certain that KU would not be wearing them in the NCAA Tournament.
KU will open postseason play tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Kansas City, Mo., against the winner of tonight's West Virginia-Texas Tech game.
Because last Saturday was my first chance to get a quick glance at KU's new-look football program, my "What caught my eye" feature ran a little long.
So here's the second part of a list of things that stood out to me as I took in about an hour of KU's third practice of the spring — and first with pads.
If you missed my video from last Saturday's Hannah & Friends clinic, be sure to check that out. The Jayhawks and participants really seemed to have a great time. Many of them are still talking about it today. Also, if you missed Part I of what caught my eye, go take a look at that, too.
If you're all caught up, here's Part II:
• Got my first look at the newly formed offensive line and I liked a lot of what I saw. One thing that really struck me was the fact that while the current starting five was working its way through drills — Pat Lewandowski, Mike Smithburg, Dylan Admire, Ngalu Fusimalohi and Aslam Sterling — four guys with starting experience (Randall Dent, Gavin Howard, Damon Martin and Riley Spencer) were standing by watching them. There's a lot to be determined still with this group, but I like its potential and depth.
• Speaking of Lewandowski, I think he could be a real surprise this season. It looks like he's got great feet — perhaps even better than last year's left tackle, Tanner Hawkinson — and he's a fierce competitor. The only thing holding him back from being truly ready in the past was his size. But now that he's up to 290 pounds, he appears to be coming along nicely.
• Freshman running back Colin Spencer was involved in the offensive sets the Jayhawks ran during Saturday's practice and I think that's a sign of things to come. I wouldn't make too much of it, but I also wouldn't dismiss it. It's a crowded backfield and there's a ton of talent in front of him, but Spencer's a solid athlete with big-time speed. If he can pick up what they're throwing at him, I think he'll have a role in the offense.
• Long snapper John Wirtel, who announced on signing day that he was walking-on at KU next season, was in attendance watching practice with his family. Seemed like nice people and I was impressed more than once by the way Wirtel's eyes were wide open while taking in what was unfolding in front of him. Recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello came over to the family during a break to welcome them. That was cool to see, too.
• There was no “Coach Weis Song of the Day” on Saturday, but there was a different familiar sign from last season — the exercise bike. Saturday, defensive back Tyree Williams and linebacker Schyler Miles were logging miles on the bike. Miles we knew about, Williams was new.
• JaCorey Shepherd, the junior wide receiver turned defensive back who wore No. 25 last season, has switched over to No. 24 this year.
• It was nice to see former Jayhawks, Maxwell Onyegbule (player) and Louie Matsakis (coach) back in crimson and blue, too.
Before I get into the specifics of what I saw at Saturday's KU football practice, let me explain one thing.
We were told before the spring began that the media would get one day to go out and watch practice but we don't know yet when that day will be. Saturday, those of us who attended KU's Hannah & Friends football clinic at Anschutz Sports Pavilion were lucky enough to observe an hour of KU's third practice of the spring, the team's first in pads.
The clinic itself was great. It was really cool to see so many of these players get into working with the people with special needs. Lots of smiles, lots of laughs, lots of fun. That made the hour of practice a bonus, but it definitely was great to get a look at some of the new guys, which was where I spent most of my time during the practice session.
I just wanted to get that explanation out of the way so you would know that the “What Caught My Eye” feature would not be as regular of a thing this spring. But I hope for it to return full bore in August.
For now, here's what caught my eye from Saturday's action:
• Junior college transfer Tedarian Johnson is a freaking truck. Most recruiting services had him listed at 260 pounds throughout his recruitment, but the guy is a legit 290. And he moves well. I don't know how he'll fit into KU's plans on its suddenly-deep defensive line, but his size definitely caught me by surprise.
• All of that talk about junior defensive tackle Keon Stowers as a leader seems legit. You could see it even during the clinic with the Special Olympians but it really showed up during drills in practice. I think part of the reason Stowers has emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, is that (a) he battled injuries last year and could not play to his potential, (b) he didn't want to overstep his bounds and wanted to be respectful of last year's seniors and c) KU really needs leaders on defense. Stowers is one of the real good dudes on this team and it's cool to see him stepping up.
• KU coach Charlie Weis was not afraid to get after these guys — none of the coaches were. I heard a lot of yelling and sensed a lot of urgency from the staff during individual drills. I think they're trying to set the tone for the season early and, by doing that, are reminding these guys that losing is not acceptable. I didn't hear names or see numbers, but at one point I even heard Weis yell, “He's gonna take your job.” Nothing like some good, ol' competition.
• Although limited, Saturday's practice gave me my first extended look since last year's spring game at how QB Jake Heaps works. And even that was not that great of a representation of who he is and how he operates since we all knew then that he could not play in 2012. I really like his demeanor. He's a natural leader, carries himself with confidence and crispness and seems to be a really easy guy to want to follow. We didn't see a ton of throws so that'll have to wait for another day, but there's no question that this is his team and his offense.
Here's a quick video I put together from today's KU football clinic with about 100 Special Olympians. The event, which was organized by Hannah & Friends, the not-for-profit charity dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with different abilities founded by KU coach Charlie Weis and his wife Maura, included the team and its participants running through 10 different skills stations and an hour-and-a-half of drills, laughs and smiles.
The new KU student group, Hannah & Jayhawk Friends, which, Maura Weis said is the fastest growing organization on campus, also helped make Saturday's fun happen.
After the clinic was over, I got to stick around for an hour of the Jayhawks actual practice and saw some new looks and new faces, so I'll have more thoughts from that later today.
For now, enjoy the video from a great event!