Posts tagged with Football

What caught my eye at Monday’s practice: Aug. 18th

More KU staff members took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to jumpstart practice Monday at the KU practice fields.

More KU staff members took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to jumpstart practice Monday at the KU practice fields. by Matt Tait

Couple of quick notes now before jumping back in to an expanded version a little later from Monday's KU football practice.

Check back in a while for more, but here are a couple that needed to get up quickly.

First, KU coach Charlie Weis called the team together during the stretching and warm-up portion of today's practice and called them out for not having any juice. It makes sense. It's hard to go through camp with great energy every day and probably even harder after a big Sunday scrimmage.

That said, Weis wasn't having it. In an attempt to inject some life into practice, he called a few more members of his staff over to the practice field so they could take their turn at the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Included in this group were assistant AD for sports medicine Murphy Grant, equipment manager Jeff Himes, media relations guru Katy Lonergan and assistant strength coach Justin Springer.

A handful of players were chosen to stand behind each person and dump the bucket of ice on their heads. It was hot out there on the turf, though, and I didn't hear any complaining.

Quickly, one newsy note from practice: Tight end Jordan Shelley-Smith, a red-shirt freshman from Waco, Texas, has moved to offensive line. He spent most of the drill I saw working at right tackle, which makes sense given the fact that, as a tight end, he's pretty athletic, moves well and may be a prime candidate to follow in Tanner Hawkinson's foot steps.

Shelley-Smith was listed at 245 pounds in the media guide. I've been told he's up to 260 now and there's no doubt that, with his frame, he could get up to the 290 range without much issue.

I thought he looked pretty strong in the drills and, from what little I do know of him, I think he may have the demeanor to play O-Line. We'll see.

More to come. Gotta take care of a couple things real quick. Quick tease: I spent a good chunk of my time today really looking at KU's three-man competition at Center between Keyon Haughton, Joe Gibson and Jacob Bragg.

Got back to this a little later than I had hoped so I'll save the center update for Tuesday.

Here were a few more quick things that caught my on Monday, though, since I promised you something.

• Still no Josh Ehambe or Damani Mosby out there, the only two players from the latest recruiting class who have yet to make it to campus. Mosby's closing in on an arrival (still just waiting for the paperwork to be graded) and Ehambe, who is still waiting for word from the NCAA on the eligibility of all Prime Prep Academy athletes Tweeted something about it being time to pack, which sent KU fans on Twitter into a frenzy about him getting good news but we've heard nothing official. Coach Weis is scheduled for a brief press conference Wednesday before introducing this year's captains so maybe we'll learn more then.

• I noticed that both the DBs and the linebackers were working a lot on the strip fumble drill during the early portion of today's practice. Nothing new there and certainly nothing they don't work on regularly anyway, but I thought it was interesting that both were doing it. Maybe the offense got the better of the defense in the Sunday scrimmage and the drill was put in to provide extra emphasis on takeaways. Purely speculation there, though. Haven't heard too much about how the scrimmage went yet.

• Weis said last week that he was hoping to be done shuffling the O-Line around after Saturday. It was just the first drill of a Monday practice but it's worth noting that the first group up in the drill for the O-Line looked like this: RT - Damon Martin, RG - Mike Smithburg, C - Keyon Haughton, LG - Ngalu Fusimalohi, LT - Pat Lewandowski.

• Finally, got a quick glance at one of those "It's Time" T-Shirts that the Jayhawks made to remind themselves that this year is supposed to be different. Nothing incredible, but they look pretty sharp.

A Kansas staff member wears one of the Jayhawks' "It's Time" T-Shirts made for the 2014 season.

A Kansas staff member wears one of the Jayhawks' "It's Time" T-Shirts made for the 2014 season. by Matt Tait

Check Tuesday for more on the O-Line, particularly the center position.


What caught my eye at Saturday’s open practice: Aug. 16

A look at the Memorial Stadium stands on a gorgeous day during the KU Football Fan Appreciation Day.

A look at the Memorial Stadium stands on a gorgeous day during the KU Football Fan Appreciation Day. by Matt Tait

Saturday's Fan Appreciation Day and open practice gave us our first extended look at the 2014 Kansas University football team.

And there was plenty to watch.

It's always nice to get at least one practice where we get more than the 20 minutes at the beginning. Not because we learn a ton of information that we might not otherwise see (Coach Weis is smart enough not to show too much when the eyes of the media and fans are on the field), but because it gives us a chance to look a little more closely at players and positions.

That's what I focused most of my time on during the more than 2 hours inside the gates on Saturday and several things stood out.

Here's a quick look at most of them:

• The running back position is loaded. It's not just talk. All four of the guys competing there could start, could handle the load and/or could lead this team in rushing. That's a good thing because of the pounding backs usually take. It's an even better thing because it'll keep the Jayhawks from being too one dimensional as each guy gives a little something different. One thing I noticed Saturday that impressed me was that all four guys — Brandon Bourbon, Taylor Cox, De'Andre Mann and Corey Avery — can both run inside and catch the ball out of the backfield. Nice luxury to have.

• Sticking with the offense, I thought QB Montell Cozart looked fine on Saturday. He was mostly accurate, moved around well in the pocket and also turned it up field when he had to and, perhaps most impressively, fit the ball into some tight spots. Michael Cummings also looked really good and I've heard he's had a terrific camp. Makes sense because this style of offense fits the type of player he is, which is probably why he appears to be leading in the race to become Cozart's back-up. That said, T.J. Millweard threw some nice balls and had particularly good touch on his deep ball. He just doesn't look quite as natural and comfortable as the other two. That's probably mostly experience and confidence.

• At wideout, the Jayhawks really appear to have some players. Rodriguez Coleman had a nice day and looked really athletic and Tony Pierson had a fantastic day. As the coaching staff has mentioned, Pierson is really starting to look like a wide receiver. He was locked up with Kevin Short in several one-on-one situations during Saturday's practice and he got the better of Short more times than not. That was probably my favorite part of the day on Saturday. Not only watching Pierson and Short go toe-to-toe, but watching all of the WRs battle with the DBs in one-on-one situations. For the most part, the receivers won the battle this time.

• Speaking of wideouts, those four freshmen might be special. Tyler Patrick, Darious Crawley, Derrick Neal and Bobby Hartzog all have a real natural feel for the game and they're fiery. They all know that the deck is stacked in front of them, but you wouldn't know it by watching them compete. They're out there to push their teammates on offense and defense every single rep. That can only help a team. Of the four, my guess is that Derrick Neal might be the farthest along. He just looks to have the best feel for the offense and, although he's tiny, he really uses that to his advantage. I could even see him fitting into the passing game in some kind of specialist role. On one play, wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau turned his back to the play and told someone on the sideline what was going to happen behind him. Sure enough, Neal ran a crossing route after lining up on the far side and caught the ball in the exact spot Kiesau said he would for a gain of 20-30 yards. That's a good sign for Neal and also for Kiesau, who looks like he's been with the program for years.

KU receivers Nick Harwell (left) and Justin McCay meet a young fan in the autograph line after the practice.

KU receivers Nick Harwell (left) and Justin McCay meet a young fan in the autograph line after the practice. by Matt Tait

• A couple of quick notes about kickoff and punt return. Isaiah Johnson, Tre' Parmalee, Kevin Short and Nick Harwell all handled punt returns on Saturday and here was how I saw it. Most sure-handed: Parmalee. Most dangerous weapon: Harwell: Biggest gambler: Short. As for kickoff return, JaCorey Shepherd, Harwell and Short all looked equally dangerous back there. Too bad they don't figure to get many chances. Not because Weis won't use them. He's said he has no problem using front-line guys on special teams. Instead because the kickoff return has been taken out of college football more and more in recent years with the rule changes.

• Speaking of Weis and special teams, his talk about giving a good chunk of his time to that unit is no joke. He's very involved with every aspect and very attentive while special teams drills are happening.

• In the kicking department, both Trevor Pardula and Eric Kahn looked good on punts and kickoffs. No surprise there, but it was nice to see Kahn has developed into a more than capable back-up. Pardula ripped off one of his signature 70-yard punts and, unlike last year, when that brought a scream of some kind from Weis, it went without much chatter this time. It's a great sign when that kind of thing is expected instead of celebrated.

• In the field goal department, freshman John Duvic hit six of the seven kicks he attempted, missing only from 42 yards. One was an extra point and the rest were slowly and steadily farther out starting at 25 yards and going to 47. He definitely outperformed returning starter Matthew Wyman, who missed four straight during the same drill. Too bad too. We talked to Wyman before the practice began and he said he's had a great camp and felt more confident and consistent than ever. Just goes to show how doing it in front of a live crowd can change the game.

• The misses might not have been all on the kickers. Long snapper John Wirtel had a rough day as he bounced several snaps back to holder T.J. Millweard and even fired a few over Millweard's head. Props to Millweard for doing a great job of getting most of them down so the kickers had a chance. Millweard looks really strong in that role. He's confident, has good hands and is constantly encouraging the KU kickers.

A few more quick notes...

• No surprise here, but I thought the DBs looked very physical. Both in the passing game and in the run game, these guys really believe in their abilities and aren't afraid to hit.

• Junior cornerback Kevin Short is a very instinctual football player. He just seems to be where he needs to be and do what he needs to do with minimal effort. He likes to talk, too.

• The area in which the wide receivers have upgraded the most is not hands, speed, routes or anything like that. It's confidence. Credit Nick Harwell for a lot of that and Kiesau for a big chunk, as well.

• At the end, when they were running sprints — O-Line vs. D-Line, LBs vs. TEs and QBs, DBs vs. WRs — every group started its sprint from the goal line to the 50-yard line with one word... “Win!”

• After the sprints, the Jayhawks lined up for another round of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Coach Weis took the challenge on Friday night and today it was the rest of his coaching staff. 19 buckets were lined up at midfield and select players got to drench the coaches and support staff at the same time. Probably felt great out there since it was pretty hot on the turf.

Players and coaches line up at the 50-yard line for another round of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in which the players dumped ice water on the KU assistants and support staff at the end of practice.

Players and coaches line up at the 50-yard line for another round of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in which the players dumped ice water on the KU assistants and support staff at the end of practice. by Matt Tait

• All in all it was a pretty good day. Not a lot was learned, but again, we were able to see these guys do a little more and move closer to full speed, which helps in evaluating where they're at. Only about 500-700 fans showed up but they almost all stayed start to finish and many of them hit the field for autographs afterwards. I heard several Jayhawks say sincere words like, “Thanks for the support,” to the fans who came and stuck around for a chance to meet the Jayhawks.

Here's a nice video of some of the action from Benton Smith...

And a photo gallery from Nick Krug...


What caught my eye at Friday’s practice: Aug. 15

Safeties coach Scott Vestal works with SS Isaiah Johnson during a drill at Friday's morning practice.

Safeties coach Scott Vestal works with SS Isaiah Johnson during a drill at Friday's morning practice. by Matt Tait

It always blows my mind how, when I go out to these portions of practice that are open to the media, I kind of ignore the most talented and proven players.

That's not to say I don't toss a glance over to the linebackers to see what Ben Heeney's doing or take a peek at what Tony Pierson's hands look like during a specific drill, but I definitely don't spend the same kind of time studying those guys as I do the newcomers, the question marks and the unproven players.

I guess that makes sense. I know what Heeney and Pierson and so many others can do because I've seen it on Saturdays. Besides, there's always a little more intrigue surrounding the guys we don't know much about.

With that in mind, I tried to mix in a little of both during this morning's practice, KU's second session of two-a-days of the preseason camp.

Here's a look at who stood out...

• Junior safety Isaiah Johnson, the reigning Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year, looks even bigger and stronger than he did a season ago. I watched a good portion of the drills the DBs did with Scott Vestal and noticed that Johnson looks a lot more powerful in all of his movements. That can only help him improve on his five-interception season that earned him national praise and made him a more familiar name in Big 12 country.

• I mentioned Cassius Sendish the other day for his work ethic, but what jumped out to me today is the guy's burst. Sendish is fast. Again, he might not stand out to everybody for that or any other reason because he's not flashy, but he can fly. His legs are strong and powerful and he seems to get max strength out of every step and every plant.

• Sophomore Tevin Shaw got some love from KU coach Charlie Weis the other day for possibly being the team's most improved player so I took a look at him today, as well. I've always liked Shaw. Thought he was going to be a player right when he arrived and, understandably, it's taken him a couple of years to reach the point where he looks and feels more comfortable out there. I didn't see any of the viciousness that coach was talking about, but I was only watching drills. I'm hoping to see some more of what Shaw can do in terms of hitting and physicality on Saturday at the open practice.

• Speaking of the open practice and fan appreciation day, set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, I just got a note from KU that said they'll decide by 10 a.m. whether the show will go on or not. Sounds like there's a chance for rain and inclement weather so plans could change. As I said, we'll know by 10 tomorrow morning.

• One quick note on a newcomer, safety Fish Smithson. The guy looks good. Weis said the other day that he's pushing to be a starter (though it's hard to see him supplanting Sendish or Johnson at safety) and, it appears to me, that one of the big reasons for the push is because the guy is so technically sound. Every step during the drills I watched today was taken with purpose and in just the right manner. He's a little under-sized back there at 5-11, 190 but he packs a punch and is so fundamentally sound that I can see why they like the guy. It certainly did not hurt that he arrived early and was able to adjust during spring practices.

• Finally, a quick note about Vestal, who I think really is one of the better up-and-coming coaches on this staff. The guy's good and he's gonna be great some day. I really like watching him work with the DBs because he's so hands-on. He's right there for every step and if you take six steps in a back-pedal drill but just one of them isn't right or perfect, he'll make you do them all over again until you nail it. Another thing I like about his style is the way he comes up with little word devices to teach technique. For today's back-pedal drill, where the safeties were reading the break of the wide receivers and trying to get a jump on the cut, Vestal continually said "Read. My. Keys," as he stomped each step into the ground to try to hammer home the point. I didn't catch what the keys were, which is good because (a) that's meeting room stuff and (b) it means none of the guys forgot them, but I loved every second of watching the interaction between Vestal and the safeties.

Headed to interviews with the WRs and QBs soon... Be sure to check out our latest Podcast and also Benton Smith's video from this morning's practice.


What caught my eye at Thursday’s practice: Aug. 14

Kyron Watson takes down Brandon Bourbon during a one-on-one LB vs. RB drill on Thursday. Notice the ball bouncing on the turf to the left of the pile of bodies as well as how intense RB coach Reggie Mitchell (red) and LB coach Clint Bowen (blue) are during the drill.

Kyron Watson takes down Brandon Bourbon during a one-on-one LB vs. RB drill on Thursday. Notice the ball bouncing on the turf to the left of the pile of bodies as well as how intense RB coach Reggie Mitchell (red) and LB coach Clint Bowen (blue) are during the drill. by Matt Tait

Thursday's practice was one of the hottest of preseason camp so far for the Kansas University football team.... not that anyone was complaining.

As far as mid-August goes, what these guys have enjoyed the past couple of weeks, weather-wise, has been about as good as you could ask for.

Not a ton of things that jumped out at me out there today, but there were a couple of fun things that caught my eye and we saw a heck of a drill between the running backs and the linebackers.

It only lasted a few reps and was over just as it was starting to get good. Maybe that was by design.

Here was the gist: Ball placed at the 3-yard line about 3 or 4 yards away from the sideline. Running back takes the ball and goes one-on-one against a backer to try to score.

The running backs won the drill by a wide margin (and they probably should have...That's tough for the defensive guy to hold his ground in that tight of an area and keep the back from scoring.)

There was one significant highlight for the defense during the drill and it came from fast-rising freshman Kyron Watson. Paired up with senior tailback Brandon Bourbon, Watson laid a serious lick and also ripped the ball out and recovered it in the end zone.

The rest of the LBs went nuts when Watson returned to the line and the freshman from East St. Louis, Ill., pretty much took it all in stride. I'm telling you; this kid looks like a player.

It should be noted that Bourbon did just fine on his couple other carries. Like I said, the backs won the drill, but the Watson highlight might have been the biggest single moment.

One of the best and perhaps most overlooked moments of the drill was the showdown between KU assistants Clint Bowen, who coaches the linebackers, and Reggie Mitchell, who coaches the running backs. The two didn't actually jump into the drill (advantage Bowen in that one) but they flashed their intensity and passion throughout the session.

Both guys are such competitors that I'm certain they wanted to win the drill as much for their position group as any of the players. You can see that in the video that Benton Smith got toward the bottom of this blog. Good stuff.

By the way, this whole story should come as absolutely no surprise... Watson's Twitter handle tells all you need to know --- @KyroGee_HitRBs

Kansas University linebacker Kyron Watson, (6) center, tackles running back  Brandon Bourbon (25) during a team practice Thursday, August 14, 2014. Linebacker coach Clint Bowen is at left.

Kansas University linebacker Kyron Watson, (6) center, tackles running back Brandon Bourbon (25) during a team practice Thursday, August 14, 2014. Linebacker coach Clint Bowen is at left. by Mike Yoder

Here's a quick look at a couple of other things that stood out Thursday:

• Scouts, scouts, scouts and more scouts. It's pretty much become the norm for at least a couple of NFL scouts to be out at practice, so this may be the last time I write about it. Today's attendance was the biggest of the preseason, though, so they jumped out at me a little more. Based on the roster and the number of Jayhawks who could potentially get a shot at pro football, I'm guessing these guys are busier than they have been when they come to Lawrence.

• It looks like the offensive linemen might have got some new gloves. Either that or I'm just now noticing them. I can't imagine that would be the case, though, since these babies stood out because of the shiny, silver, metalic or chrome accents on the tops side of the hand and fingers. The shine is there on both black and white gloves. Can't imagine this will have anything to do with how the line plays this season, but you never know. Look good, feel good, play good is a mantra I believe in and I don't doubt for a second that these guys love those gloves.

• Speaking of the O-Line, after Joe Gibson ran first-team center for the past couple of days during the super-early offensive sequence that kick-starts most practices, junior Keyon Haughton was back with the 1's on Thursday. What's it mean? Who knows? Maybe this battle is still hot and heavy. Maybe it's a three-way contest with Jacob Bragg very much in the mix. Maybe it will come down to the final week or so of camp. KU coach Charlie Weis said earlier this week that he hoped to stop experimenting with the line after Saturday's open practice. I'm sure he will. I'm also sure that means very little of what we see in terms of which guy is running with which unit will mean too much on Saturday. Still, it doesn't take a genius to figure out which guys look better. Still too early to tell in that department for me. For what it's worth, the second unit in that early drill went like this: LT Larry Mazyck, LG Bryan Peters, C Joe Gibson, RG Apa Visinia, RT Brian Beckmann. The first team, as it is on the depth chart, was: LT Pat Lewandowski, LG Ngalu Fusimalohi, C Haughton, RG Mike Smithburg, RT Damon Martin.

Offensive lineman Keyon Haughton stretches while wearing the shiny gloves.

Offensive lineman Keyon Haughton stretches while wearing the shiny gloves. by Matt Tait

• While watching the linebackers for a few minutes, something hit me: Don't forget about Courtney Arnick. Just a sophomore, but in his third year in the program, Arnick is bigger than he has been in the past but still looks as fast and as quick as he was. He's played some linebacker and some nickelback during his first two years and seems to fit the mold of what the defense is looking for: fast, athletic guys who can make plays in space. With his decent experience, Arnick could easily be a rotation guy. He's listed second string behind Jake Love on the depth chart, but certainly will have his hands full contending with Watson.

• Another guy who falls in the “forget me not” category is Buck senior Victor Simmons. From safety to linebacker to Buck, Simmons has been used all over the place. It takes a disciplined player to be moved around so much and not break. Simmons looks as fast as ever, is rock solid and has incredibly quick feet. If he can pick up the nuances of his latest position, he could produce some positive moments this fall.

Finally, be sure to check out Benton Smith's videos of the day and the latest KU camp Podcast from Tom Keegan and me.


What caught my eye at Wednesday’s practice: Aug. 13

It's been a lot of firsts for the Kansas University football program this week and Wednesday morning brought another: First day of two-a-days.

Session one kicked off early this morning at 9 a.m. and, appropriately, they kicked things off with “Let's Get It Started” from the Black Eyed Peas.

It's always interesting to watch the energy and vibe at these morning practices and I gotta tell ya, today's session didn't look any different than what we've seen in the afternoon the past several days.

By the time they suit up, get treatment, get taped up and all of that, you'd think they'd have no problem waking up and being ready. But you have to remember these are college kids and 9 a.m. comes pretty early. Heck, it comes pretty early for me most days. So good for them for looking sharp and being ready to get after it at the first morning practice of the season.

That's not a huge deal and they should be expected to do just that, but it's definitely possible that they could've been sluggish and, if they were, I didn't see it.

Here's a quick glance at what else caught my eye this morning. KU coach Charlie Weis will be available for a press conference at 11:45 a.m. and we'll have all kinds of nuggets and sound from that this afternoon.

• One thing that has impressed me most from the coaches in the early going is how they get prepared for practice. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in there behind closed doors when they're having their coffee and getting ready to hit the field. But during stretching and warm-up type stuff when they're just waiting for Scott Holsopple to get done with the players, they're coaching then, too. A lot of times it's just high-fiving the guys or slapping them on the helmet to make sure they're ready to go. But today I noticed that, in the name of efficiency, there was a lot of prep work being done. Particularly with John Reagan. Instead of just walking around or jamming to the music and waiting for them to finish, Reagan was talking to each lineman about what drills were up first and reminding them of little tips and tidbits that might help them get to work a little faster. Again, efficiency is the key word there and these guys don't appear to be wasting any time.

• I took a longer look at the linebackers and Bucks today and the thing that jumped out at me was their athleticism and mobility. So many of those guys can move, are light on their feet and can change direction very well for guys who play those positions. Michael Reynolds, Victor Simmons, Ben Heeney, Kyron Watson, Courtney Arnick. All of those guys and more really showed some good agility during the drill I saw them working. Gotta think that can only help when chasing down a ball carrier.

• So much of the early portion of camp is about guys getting shots and a couple of young guys on offense are definitely getting theirs. For the second day in a row, Joe Gibson worked in with the first team at center during the fast-paced offensive drill. Also working in with the first team today was freshman running back Corey Avery. I've thought this for a while and I think it more and more every day: Avery's going to play.

• Want to know how you get to be a captain in your first year in the program or a two-time Big 12 media days representative or one of the most respected guys on the team? Watch Cassius Sendish. The senior safety, who also happens to be one of the best dudes on the team, is one of the hardest working guys out there day in and day out. Talk about efficiency, Sendish looks to get every ounce he can out of every drill he does and never goes half-speed or takes a rep off. That kind of thing is contagious and really sets a good tone for the younger guys who are looking up to and learning from him. It's that kind of effort that's required to help rebuild a program.

More to come a little later on. For now, be sure to check out Benton Smith's video from this morning's practice.


What caught my eye at Tuesday’s practice: Aug. 12

KU coach Charlie Weis (back, in black) watches over his team during stretching drills at Tuesday's practice.

KU coach Charlie Weis (back, in black) watches over his team during stretching drills at Tuesday's practice. by Matt Tait

Pads were popping and it finally looked like the first day of football season at the Kansas University practice fields on Tuesday.

The Jayhawks, after four days of drills in jerseys, helmets and shells, strapped on pads for the first time and showed a different look.

Some guys maintained the quickness they showed during the first few days. Others looked a little more sluggish and, somehow, others looked a little faster.

In preparation for Day 1 in pads, the Jayhawks watched a video, during their morning meetings, about the proper tackling techniques and other safety precautions that go into full contact. Happens every year, but it's great to see the coaching staff put such serious emphasis on something so important.

Seeing some of these young guys in pads for the first time had me thinking that quite a few of them could play if called upon. The goal, of course, is for them to not be needed so they can save the year of eligibility and continue working on their bodies and minds as they make the transition from high school to college.

The most important part of this thought, though, is that guys like Jacob Bragg, Apa Visinia, Lay'Trion Jones, Daniel Wise and many others look a little more like the kinds of guys big programs start with year in and year out. That's good for the future and for the continued development of the program.

Here's a quick look at a few things that caught my eye out there on Tuesday:

• Maybe it was just being in pads that got him fired up, or maybe he was feeling particularly good. Either way, junior center Keyon Haughton was fired up out there. He kept beating on his chest, high-fiving everyone within reach and looking generally pretty charged up. It's dangerous to read too much into any one day, but two things came to mind: 1. Maybe he's playing very well and has a ton of confidence and just can't wait to keep rolling. Or, 2. Maybe he's feeling the intensity of the battle for the top spot at center and he was trying to get himself charged up for a big day. I suppose it's possible there could be a No. 3 in play here, too. Maybe he just loved the song that was playing.

• It's been said here, written all over the place and mentioned a bunch of times already, but today gave a really good look at the transformation of Charlie Weis. Most days, he's wearing a sweatshirt or some kind of pullover with his shorts and you can't really tell how much weight he's lost. Today, though, he had black shorts and a black short-sleeve shirt and he looked great. He's lost more than 80 pounds in the past several weeks and appears to be moving around much better than in the past. The only reason this is a big deal — other than for the Weis family — is because I truly believe that a team can benefit from this kind of example of hard work, dedication and achievement coming from the top.

• The fun-and-feel-good moment of the day came right after stretching as the defensive players were running to their side of the field for drills. While sprinting to his station, junior lineman Ben Goodman was jawing with current grad assistant Darius Willis, who was a Goodman teammate just last season. It was all in good fun, of course, and it just goes to show that there are a million different ways to motivate and Willis has found one.

• Evidently I've found my early obsession: Freshman running back Corey Avery. Really, really looking forward to seeing him play. Today, with the backs dressed in full pads, I noticed Avery seemed to run low with great balance. Easy to say during a drill. We'll see if it transitions to game day or if it even matters. My guess is it will on both counts.

• With Jimmay Mundine sidelined for a couple of weeks with an injury, the door is open for someone at the tight end spot to make himself a player the coaches can't keep off the field. Trent Smiley is listed second on the depth chart, but he's more of a blocking tight end anyway – and a damn good one at that. Ben Johnson and Jordan Shelley-Smith both have a chance to step forward, but don't count out Smiley altogether. He's got the experience, he's got underrated hands and he's a senior playing his last season of college football. I noticed him really doing a lot of leading today, both of the vocal nature and by example.

Today's Videos and Podcast:


What caught my eye at Monday’s practice: Aug. 11

Freshman defensive lineman D.J. Williams goes through a drill with the rest of the D-Line during Monday's KU football practice.

Freshman defensive lineman D.J. Williams goes through a drill with the rest of the D-Line during Monday's KU football practice. by Matt Tait

We're getting closer to seeing what this team looks like in full pads...

Monday marked the first day with shoulder pads at KU football camp and, starting Tuesday, they'll be allowed to suit up in full gear.

Coaches have said for decades that the one sure way to tell if a guy can play or not is to get him in pads and then see. So many players look good running around in shorts and jerseys but then lose a step or more when they slap on the full attire.

As an aside, I've always wondered why the NFL combine doesn't take that into account and make the guys run the 40 and do those drills in full pads. To my knowledge, no football game outside of the lingerie bowl has been played with the athletes wearing underwear.

Anyway, I'm not saying a full transformation from great to good or good to bad will be the case with any of the Jayhawks, but you can bet that's when the real evaluations will begin.

With that in mind, here's a quick look at what caught my eye at Monday's practice....

Several KU defensive linemen wait for their turn in a drill at Monday's practice.

Several KU defensive linemen wait for their turn in a drill at Monday's practice. by Matt Tait

• It was defensive linemen that jumped out at me today and all in a good way. In a relative sense — understanding that these guys are naturally bigger than most other positions — I'd say the D-Line is probably the most lean and mean looking group of any out there. These guys are all significantly more cut and most of the newcomers, freshmen and juco guys alike, are starting from a fantastic spot. Here are a couple of specifics on what I'm talking about.

• Keon Stowers has continued to mold his body and he now looks like the kind of guy who could play defensive end or on the interior. He's big but in all the right ways, cut almost everywhere and looks to be in the best shape of his career. Perhaps the best part? He doesn't appear to be letting up.

• Andrew Bolton looks fantastic, too. No. 1, he looks healthy. Beyond that, he just has a different style about him. Maybe it's a different gear. Maybe it's his crazy powerful lower body that makes it look like he's working on a different playing surface. Or maybe it's just that this is the kind of player that's supposed to be at defensive end. Either way, he looks good and hungry.

• Ben Goodman, Tedarian Johnson and Michael Reynolds all look more lean, as well. Reynolds told me the other day that even though he's added weight and strength, he actually feels like he's faster. That's the kind of thing you want to hear at all positions.

• As for the newcomers, several of them are pretty impressive, too. Freshmen Daniel Wise, D.J. Williams and Lay'Trion Jones are big bodies who seem to be the ideal specimens for a guy like Scott Holsopple to mold. Both look like they could get out there right now. Obviously the mental part of things is a different story and may hold them back slightly, but who knows?

• As far as juco guys on the D-Line, Kapil Fletcher has a really nice blend of power and quickness and Anthony Olobia looks like a wild animal. His lower body just never stops moving and it looks as if he never goes less than 340 percent on any rep. It was just one day of watching him, so that might not be a fair assessment. But his energy impressed me today. I'll keep an eye on if that's the norm.

• A couple of non-D-Line things that jumped out today: Tony Pierson is going to be used all over the formations. I think I saw him in five different spots during the opening drill and that was just a quick-hitter, get the offense moving type of drill. Good luck to defensive coordinators who are trying to keep tabs on him.

• Keyon Haughton jumped over to left guard when Jacob Bragg got his shot at center. KU coach Charlie Weis said last week that Bragg would get a legitimate look and it appears he is. Haughton, who has played guard and center, gives the O-Line some nice options.

• Finally, a quick update on freshman running back Corey Avery, who I noted looked thicker than I anticipated the other day. It's because he is. The rosters were updated today and Avery is up 25 pounds from signing day, from 170 to 195. That's a good thing for him and KU football and also a good thing for me because he sure didn't look like a 170-pound player when I first saw him. Turns out I was right. That time.

As I mentioned, full pads tomorrow. Should give us all kinds of new things to look for. Check back then and be sure to check out Benton Smith's video of interviews with offensive leaders and the latest Spodcasters episode from Tom Keegan and me.


What caught my eye at Saturday’s practice: Aug. 9

Quarterback Montell Cozart communicates with his offense during a drill at Saturday's practice.

Quarterback Montell Cozart communicates with his offense during a drill at Saturday's practice. by Matt Tait

Saturday marked Day 2 of preseason camp for KU football. Still no pads (per NCAA rules), but still plenty of action to take in during the 20 minutes of practice open to the media.

We're fortunate enough to get this kind of first-hand look at the team nearly every day throughout August, so there will be plenty of time to dissect newcomers and all of that other stuff in the coming weeks.

Today, what jumped out to me was the portion of practice that came right after stretching in which Montell Cozart (#2) and the first-string offense ran mock offense against no defense to get into the flow.

Obviously, it wasn't impressive because of the competition. But it was impressive because it (a) gave me an early look at how the offense will operate and (b) gave me a good look at how Cozart runs the team.

Both were promising. It won't mean anything if it doesn't translate to Saturdays this fall, but it's all we have to go on as of now.

First, the offense. With offensive coordinator John Reagan standing on the sideline and signaling in the calls, Cozart looked once to the sideline from the shotgun and then jumped up to the line of scrimmage to communicate with his offensive line and skill players. There weren't multiple looks over — though there probably will be — and it didn't appear to be mass confusion. One look, I've got it and go. Efficiency was a big word brought up throughout the offseason and that was definitely the word that came to mind when watching this drill. For the record, it was the same sort of pace and procedure when Michael Cummings (#14) jumped in with the second string.

Center Keyon Haughton (#70) and Cozart were the two big communicators, which tells me something about Haughton. Obviously he was here in the spring, so that gave him some time to get comfortable. But if he's winning that battle over Joe Gibson (#77) and Jacob Bragg (#55) right now, it must be because the coaches and players trust him. Good sign.

A couple more quick things about Cozart from Saturday:

• Perhaps the thing I liked most about what I saw was the way Cozart stayed on the field and high-fived all 10 other offensive players as they came off after the drill was over. That's leadership and really gives you the indication that Cozart's in it for the team not for himself.

• During individual throwing drills with QB coach Ron Powlus, Cozart had an issue with his helmet and when the equipment manager came over to fix it, you could really see the focus on his face as he continued the drill. In general, he's a happy, fun-loving guy and likes to smile and clown around. But when he's out there working to get better, it appears as if he's all business.

• I'm not saying Cozart's going to be an all-Big 12 quarterback and that KU's issues at that position are fixed immediately. But it's clear that the young man who has been put into a huge position, is taking this opportunity very seriously and is doing everything he can to make sure lack of focus and determination won't be the reason if things don't get better.

• Finally, since I missed Nigel King (#9) at Friday's practice, I made sure to get over to the receivers today and I was very impressed by what I saw. Again, King's a big boy and he stood out for his height among the group. But every one of those guys appears to be working much harder now than I ever remember seeing them work in the past couple of years. First-year WR coach Eric Kiesau clearly has made an impact and, going off of what little I've learned about Kiesau so far, I'm guessing he's far from done with his work. Their footwork looked much better, they ran drills harder and with more purpose and they all caught the ball with their hands, away from their bodies during every drill.

• The four freshmen receivers — Darious Crawley (#12), Bobby Hartzog (#5), Derrick Neal (#7) and Tyler Patrick (#4) — really stood out to me, as well. It's clear that they're not as polished as the upperclassmen, but man are they working. In some cases, they appear to be trying a little too hard (isn't that better than the alternative?) and Kiesau kept having to remind them to go hard but to remain under control. Not too surprising, especially for Day 2, but props to the young guys for getting after it. That's a credit to the coaches and the upperclassmen, who clearly won't accept anything less.

No access tomorrow, but the blog will be back up on Monday afternoon, so be sure to check back.

Here's a quick video Benton Smith threw together from some of today's interviews with the defense.

And, in case you missed it, here's a look at the What Caught My Eye blog from Day 1


What caught my eye at Friday’s practice: Aug. 8

KU offensive coordinator John Reagan surveys the landscape of some stretching at the opening day of preseason camp Friday.

KU offensive coordinator John Reagan surveys the landscape of some stretching at the opening day of preseason camp Friday. by Matt Tait

The first day of practice for the Kansas University football team meant the first chance to get a look at the newcomers and made-over faces who make up this year's roster.

For some reason, I always find myself drawn to the offensive linemen during these deals. Could be because they're the closest unit to the gate, but I'm not really a lazy person. I think the more likely reason is that they've always been a group of such question marks and this year is no different.

More on that in a minute, but, first thing's first: newcomers Larry Mazyck and Devon Williams are a couple of huge dudes.

Both appear to have plenty of work ahead of them to crack the starting lineup, but the size is there. Now it's about picking up the offense, getting in better shape and fine-tuning things like quick feet, perfect fundamentals and whatever other instructions line coach and offensive coordinator John Reagan wants to throw at them.

Here's a quick look at some other things that caught my eye at Friday's practice. Don't worry, there'll be plenty more of these this month. It was a little overwhelming out there today with so many new and exciting faces and places to watch. Remember, we're only invited in for the first 20 minutes, so these blogs won't have a ton of details about position battles or X's and O's.

• It was absolutely no surprise, but the first line of the stretching and sprinting drills was made up of some of the team's strongest leaders. Keon Stowers, Ben Heeney, Cassius Sendish, JaCorey Shepherd, Jake Love, Tre' Parmalee, Ben Goodman, Ngalu Fusimalohi, Pat Lewandowski, Nick Harwell, Brandon Bourbon and even punter Trevor Pardula, stretched across the field and were the first to lead the team into the 2014 season.

• One of the newcomers who jumped out at me (OK, OK, mostly because I couldn't wait to get a look at him) was freshman running back Corey Avery. The Dallas native who stands 5-foot-10, 170 pounds looks bigger than I would've expected and seems to be pretty well put together. I can see why there's talk of him getting on the field right away.

• Back to the linemen for a second... I wrote the other day about John Reagan's coaching style and it was pretty much the same. Hands-on, specific details, engaged in the action. One difference, though. In the spring, Reagan looked a little more patient. Today, you can tell that the switch has been flipped to in-season mode. Mistakes were less tolerated and not paying attention was severely frowned upon. Makes sense to me. That's the only way to see who gets it and who doesn't.

• As for some more specifics about the position, I love watching Joe Gibson work. He's got great feet and incredible work ethic. I can tell why everyone thinks he's going to be a player. And props to him for not pulling back now that he's a scholarship dude. If anything, he appears to be going harder to prove that he's worthy of it. Fusimalohi and Smithburg look like the seasoned veterans they are (even though Smithburg told me this spring that it's crazy that people see him as one of the experienced ones); Pat Lewandowksi looks a little stronger and there was some real emphasis being put on powering their way five yards down the field.

• I forgot that former Jayhawk Darius Willis is now on the coaching staff. Great to see him out there. He's a GA for defense and he's always been a guy who knows how to light up a room.

• Because he's the quarterback and because it's required, I took a couple of peeks Montell Cozart's way today. Didn't see a whole lot but what I did see stood out. His confidence is very evident. The guy believes he's right where he belongs and carries himself like a player who's ready for what's ahead.

• Another newcomer who stood out was East St. Louis, Ill., linebacker Kyron Watson. He's a load (6-0, 220). He fills out his No. 6 jersey and uniform very well but still looks light on his feet and shows good instincts. Wild that the two newcomers who jumped out at me today both wear No. 6. And, no, they weren't next to each other, they were on opposite fields. Just a coincidence, I guess.

• As for the drills we were able to see, the defense appears to be dying for the season to get here. A lot of energy on that side of the ball, and when there's not, they do it again to make sure they're at max hype. After one drill, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen called the first-string D back over to the sideline to make them take the field again because it looked like he didn't think they did it with enough fire the first time. It's that kind of attention to detail that has to be there for this talented group to achieve its goal of being the best in the Big 12.

• One last thing that caught my eye (technically as I was leaving practice) was the first look at the new decorative fence being put around the south end at Memorial Stadium. Here's a crude photo of the progress. The chain link fence will eventually be gone. It looks pretty sharp in person.

Work has begun on the installation of the black, decorative fence that will enclose the south end of Memorial Stadium this fall.

Work has begun on the installation of the black, decorative fence that will enclose the south end of Memorial Stadium this fall. by Matt Tait

More nuggets from practice tomorrow, so be sure to check out throughout the month for blogs like this, videos from Benton Smith and podcasts from Tom Keegan and me.

Oh, yeah. One more thing. Coach Weis does still get the second song of the day and today it was Who Says You Can't Go Home by Bon Jovi.

Also, be sure to check out Benton Smith's videos from Day 1 and the leaders of KU's secondary...


Former Jayhawks to host NFL-style combine Saturday

A handful of well-known former Kansas University football players are getting together this weekend to help out young athletes who hope to have a future in football.

Several of the Jayhawks running this weekend's Next Level Youth Training Combine on Saturday morning (April 26) at YSI Sports Complex in Lawrence were members of KU's 2008 Orange Bowl team and their expertise stretches to nearly every position on the field, making the affordable event helpful for any young football player in fifth through 12th grade who might wish to participate.

The former players who will run the camp include:

WR Dexton Fields
WR Raymond Brown
RB Brandon McAnderson
DB Justin Thornton
DB Lubbock Smith
LB Eric Washington

And it's possible that former KU running back Jake Sharp and former KU linebacker Mike Rivera also might stop by to help out.

According to their web site, “This camp is designed to help young athletes prepare for higher levels of sports. We are striving to provide quality training and education from coaches who have played football at an elite level. We will test all aspects of what it takes to be a top level athlete through mental, physical and social tests. These traits are the key components to being successful in taking football to the next step. We have put together a competitive plan that will provide the best coaching experience for our participants.”

The day will begin with registration at 7:30 a.m. and run through 2 p.m. It will be broken down in the following manner:

  1. Testing - 40 Yard Dash, Agility Shuttle, Broad Jump, 3 Cone Drill

  2. Skills - Speed, Agility, Cardiovascular, Explosion

  3. Team Drills - These drills will be very challenging, but will serve the purpose of teaching young athletes that it takes hard work to be successful and make it at the next level.

According to Fields, “these drills will be very challenging, but will serve the purpose of teaching young athletes that it takes hard work to be successful and make it at the next level.”

Anyone interested in participating in the unique, NFL-combine style camp can show up the morning of and register there.

You may also get more information or pre-register online at


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