Posts tagged with Football
It may have taken a little while, but, late in the recruiting process for the Class of 2016, the Kansas University football coaching staff began to make good on its stated goal of adding more in-state players to the KU roster.
Here's the thing about that quest that KU fans may have forgotten: It's not entirely up to the KU coaches.
There's no doubt that David Beaty, Clint Bowen and the rest of the KU coaching staff can make — and have made — recruiting in-state athletes a greater priority, but those athletes still have to pick Kansas in order for the number of Sunflower State studs on KU's roster to increase.
Given the fact that so many standout Kansans have offers elsewhere — and the fact that the state produces very few D-I prospects on an annual basis — that's not always an easy task. Add to that the fact that KU is churning its way through the worst stretch in school history and it's not at all surprising to hear stories about local kids wanting to go somewhere else, no matter how great of a pitch or offer the KU coaches throw at them.
Fortunately for Beaty and company, that pitch proved to be enough recently for a pair of Free State High standouts, who chose KU over other opportunities. The first came last week, when Free State quarterback Bryce Torneden — who projects as a safety at KU — accepted a late scholarship offer from Kansas and, in turn, said no thanks to North Dakota State, where he had been committed for months.
Torneden's change of heart opened the door for teammate and fellow-Firebird Sam Skwarlo to have a change-of-heart of his own and, instead of walking on at K-State, as was his plan for most of the past few weeks, Skwarlo on Monday decided to take an offer to walk-on at Kansas.
Now, who knows if either player will ever make much of an impact on the KU program. Both are a bit undersized for Big 12 football and both have a long road ahead of them to climb into relevance on the KU depth chart.
But a case could be made that by simply choosing Kansas in the first place Torneden and Skwarlo already have made an impact.
See, these, and others like them, are the types of players that K-State coach Bill Snyder has built his program on during the past few decades. Snyder, of course, also has added all kinds of elite athletes and even a few big time recruits, but for the most part, he's made K-State into a powerhouse with overlooked, underrated, hard-nosed kids who fit his system, many of them coming from within the borders of Kansas.
I don't know the specific numbers off the top of my head, but every year when I prepared to cover the Sunflower Showdown, the number of Kansans on each roster blew my mind. It was always something like 45-17 in favor of K-State.
Adding Torneden and Skwarlo in Lawrence not only sets KU on the Bill Snyder path, with the hope that more soon will follow, but it also takes a couple of in-state prospects away from the Wildcats, making this a double victory for the Jayhawks.
The reality of the Kansas University football program's current recruiting class is this: Because the numbers are down and the program is rebuilding, there are not a ton of athletes in the 2016 class who, up front, look like players to get fired up about.
That changed a little bit Thursday night, when news broke that Free State High standout Bryce Torneden had switched his commitment from North Dakota State to KU after receiving a full scholarship offer from David Beaty and the Jayhawks.
But not because Torneden is a five-star steal that the Jayhawks pulled out of nowhere. More because he's a hometown guy with pretty good upside who Beaty and company needed to get.
I don't care where you are, any time a hometown kid chooses to stay in his own backyard for school, it adds a little excitement to the program. Because Lawrence is smaller than say, Madison, Wisconsin, or Los Angeles, California, the splash that Torneden staying home made was a little bit bigger.
But at least for my money, that had more to do with this commitment representing Beaty making good on his word to look hard at local prospects than anything Torneden might or might not do on the field during the next four or five years.
Torneden is not a legendary knight riding in on a white stallion ready to save the day. He's a terrific athlete, a little undersized and far from a sure thing, but also the kind of player you easily could see contributing someday if he continues to work his butt off and takes advantage of the opportunity to work with Je'Ney Jackson and the KU strength staff. Which he will.
If that means he becomes the type of player that others kick themselves for missing on and winds up starting at safety for three seasons or merely becomes a guy who KU uses for depth at a couple of different spots, one thing will always remain true — this was not a charity scholarship. Torneden earned it. And he got the offer because, on paper, on film and in terms of being a guy that the coaching staff already had built a relationship with, Torneden was every bit as good of an option as any of the players remaining on KU's board.
Trust me. KU's got a handful of talented athletes coming in for a visit this weekend and most, if not all, of them would love the opportunity to compete and play football in the Big 12. There's no doubt that Beaty easily would have found someone to give Torneden's scholarship to if the 5-foot-10, 185-pound athlete had decided he couldn't say no to North Dakota State.
So don't look at this situation as a deal where KU just had an extra scholarship laying around and decided to give it to the local kid to buy some good will. That couldn't be further from the truth and is downright disrespectful to Torneden.
The kid can play. And he's going to get a chance to prove it at Kansas.
Maybe he's not Amani Bledsoe. But did anyone think Joe Dineen would become Joe Freakin' Dineen? Same high school. Same college program. Same opportunity.
The only thing left to see now is what Torneden does with it.
For those of us in or from Lawrence, who enjoy seeing local kids do well — anywhere, but especially at KU — that's why Thursday night's news added a little juice to this class.
With Torneden on board — and wide receiver Braylon Royal no longer a part of this class — KU has two scholarships remaining to pass out before next Wednesday's national signing day.
Who knows who they'll end up going to, but, for the reasons listed above, it's hard to imagine them being any more exciting than Kansas landing Torneden.
Former Kansas University cornerback Chris Harris is headed back to the Super Bowl. And this time he'll be playing.
Harris, the fifth-year pro who joined the Denver Broncos after going undrafted following his four-year career at KU, joined fellow former Jayhawk Aqib Talib in playing a huge role in Denver's 20-18, AFC Championship victory over New England on Sunday.
Dubbed by many as the top starting cornerback tandem in the NFL, Harris and Talib came up huge time and time again in the fourth quarter as Patriots QB Tom Brady tried to rally his team to a tying score.
Both players came up with crucial fourth-down stops inside the final five minutes and it was Talib's deflection of Brady's two-point conversion pass attempt that sealed the game for the Broncos, who are headed to their second Super Bowl in three seasons and eighth all-time.
Two years ago, following a record-setting season by the Denver offense, the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl but were drubbed by Seattle in one of the most lopsided Super Bowls of all-time. Harris watched from the sideline during that one, unable to play because of an injury he suffered during the playoff run.
Talib, who is now in his second season with the Broncos, watched that one from home as he spent that season with New England and was part of a different Patriots team that lost the AFC title game in Denver.
Now, in two weeks, with Superman QB Cam Newton firing the passes, the former Jayhawks will try to do what they did in 2008 at Kansas — finish their season with a victory.
For Harris, the trip back to the big game represents an opportunity to experience the Super Bowl in an entirely new way. Two years ago, with the game played in New York, Harris was celebrated for his contributions with the team but did not participate in the same experiences as his teammates from everything to game planning and practicing for the big game to media day and even traveling with the team to the Big Apple.
For Talib, the former first-round pick who will be making his first trip to the Super Bowl, the opportunity provides him with the kind of stage he was born to be on. Not only will Talib be playing in the biggest game of the season against the league's likely MVP, but he also will get two weeks to offer soundbites and entertainment that surely will not disappoint.
And for Kansas, a football program struggling through one of the roughest rebuilds in college football history, having two former Jayhawks start for the league's best defense in the Super Bowl provides head coach David Beaty and company with a little extra juice on the recruiting trail, particularly because Harris and Talib, out of high school, were unheralded, lowly ranked prospects similar to the types of players KU is recruiting and hoping to rebuild with today.
Beaty was on the sideline in Denver on Sunday — the guess here is that having the son of Denver's head coach on his staff helped him land the sideline pass — and he wisely made his presence known on various KU football social media sites by celebrating the performance of the two former Jayhawks.
That won't win KU any games in the near future, but it sure won't hurt to have two of the key starters at one of the most visible positions in this year's Super Bowl announce “Kansas” as their school when they're introduced both at the game and on television.
Here's a link to a quick video of Talib's reaction to finally reaching the big game:
While Thursday's news that four-star defensive end and Lawrence High prospect Amani Bledsoe had picked Oklahoma over Kansas certainly qualified as disappointing for the KU football program, all is not lost.
The Jayhawks, who threw all they had at the local standout and did everything humanly possible to land him, will move on and still have five spots to fill in the 2016 recruiting class.
Granted, none of them look as appealing today as Bledsoe and it's doubtful that any of them — or even all of them combined — could bring the same kind of lift and momentum to the program that Bledsoe picking Kansas would have. But what's done is done and crying about what could have been certainly will not do anything to help this rebuilding program improve.
Give Kansas credit for cracking Bledsoe's final two. Even if the Jayhawks did not get him, encouraging a player of that caliber to give the program a long, hard look eventually will be seen as a good thing.
Today, however, the news is pretty disappointing.
That said, KU coach David Beaty and company don't have time to sulk. They've got a handful of visitors lined up for this weekend and they'll start trickling in tomorrow. The last thing those kids need to see is a coaching staff that's bummed out over losing Bledsoe. And they won't. Beaty and his staff, no matter how hard they took this one, know that this is the way recruiting in the college football world goes. You win some, you lose some and you can't get too high or too low no matter what the outcome.
Here's a list of some of the most likely candidates to fill KU's five remaining scholarships in the 2016 recruiting class that we posted the other day.
But, for now, with the news of Bledsoe picking Oklahoma still so fresh, let's take a closer look at one in particular.
His name is Isaiah Bean and he's a two-star defensive end prospect from Houston.
Bean currently stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs just 210 pounds. But it's easy to see that with a year to red-shirt and the proper strength and conditioning, he could quickly add 20-30 pounds to his frame and be more prepared to operate as a speed rusher.
The Summer Creek High prospect listed by Rivals.com as an “Athlete” has shown his versatility throughout his career, playing both offense and defense, and working at various summer camps as both a defensive end and a wide receiver.
You can see his frame and athleticism in the videos below.
Is Bean a ready-made, Day 1 contributor like Bledsoe? Not a chance. Could he be an intriguing project that pans out in a couple of years and impacts the program in a positive way? You bet.
And, right now, with KU in need of a defensive end in this class to fill the void left by Bledsoe's decision to pick OU, Bean is definitely better than nobody.
Rivals.com lists KU D-Line coach Calvin Thibodeaux as the lead recruiter for Bean, who also visited Tulsa and UNLV and plans to visit Fresno State.
Bean is expected to visit Kansas during the next two weekends and also holds offers from Fresno State, Iowa State, Tulsa, UNLV, Illinois, UMass, Louisiana-Lafayette, Prairie View A&M, Texas State and UT-San Antonio.
In the mood for more? Here's a link to Bean's HUDL page, which features game videos from his 2015 season.
A pair of former Kansas University cornerbacks became the first NFL teammates to be selected for back-to-back Pro Bowls in 25 years.
Denver Broncos Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, who helped the Broncos field one of the league's top ranked defenses this season, earned the Pro Bowl nod for the second year in a row, the league announced Tuesday night.
Harris, the un-drafted free agent who has gone on to become one of the most productive and stingy cornerbacks in all of football, has started all 14 games for the Broncos this year and has totaled 52 tackles (43 solo), two interceptions (94 yards), four passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
He becomes one of just five un-drafted cornerbacks in NFL history to make multiple Pro Bowls with his original team.
Like Harris, Talib, now in his second year with Denver, also has started all 14 games for Denver and has totaled a team-best three interceptions (123 yards, 2 TDs) and 13 passes defensed to go along with 38 tackles (33 solo).
Talib was picked to the Pro Bowl for a third consecutive season, as he also earned the honor in 2013 as a member of the New England Patriots. During his three-year run as a perennial Pro Bowler, Talib is tied for fourth at his position with 11 interceptions, including four returned for touchdowns.
After having a league-best nine players selected to last year's team, Denver (10-4) had just four this season — pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware also earned the nod — and the once powerful Broncos' offense was shut out of the all-star showcase.
After another hot start, Denver has dropped two games in a row and seen its lead in the AFC West shrink to one game over the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs with two games to play.
When news broke Friday morning that four-star Lawrence High defensive end Amani Bledsoe was making an official visit to the Kansas University football program this weekend, the question begged, how much of a shot do the Jayhawks really have at landing him?
Kansas coaches can't talk about Bledsoe — or any other recruit — in any way, shape or form, so we'll have to lean on a little history to examine the odds.
Should Bledsoe pick Kansas, he would become the highest rated recruit to ever sign with Kansas football. That alone would make him a part of KU history for life. From there, anything he did on the field simply would add to his legacy.
After looking at it a little closer, I can't help but see strong comparisons between Bledsoe and former KU great Gilbert Brown.
Like Bledsoe in Kansas, Brown was one of the most highly decorated players during his senior season at Detroit's Mackenzie High. Named Michigan's Gatorade Player of the Year, the defensive tackle easily could have gone to in-state power Michigan or any number of other big time programs. Instead, he picked Kansas, where he helped build one of the best defenses in school history, was a part of the 1992 Aloha Bowl championship team and started all but two games during his four-year Kansas career before going on to enjoy a 10-year career in the NFL, where he won Super Bowl XXXI with the Green Bay Packers after being selected in the third round of the 1993 NFL Draft, No. 79 overall, by Minnesota.
Brown was in town for a KU game during the 2015 season, and I remember then asking KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen about his former KU teammate's path to Kansas.
Bowen said he used to ask Brown all the time why in the heck he chose to come to Kansas instead of joining the Wolverines and playing in front of 100,000 fans every Saturday. The answer, according to Bowen, was simple: Brown wanted to play for a program where he thought he could make a more immediate and meaningful impact and help build something out of nothing.
There isn't a more nothing program out there right now than Kansas, which just wrapped up an 0-12 season, and Bledsoe picking the Jayhawks could have the kind of impact that Brown choosing Kansas did for Glen Mason.
There's no doubt that the tall, lean and athletic 6-foot-5, 272-pound D-End would be in line for some serious playing time right away at KU. Heck, he probably could have logged some serious snaps for KU in 2015 as a high school senior.
Bledsoe has a final five of Baylor, Kansas, North Carolina State, Oklahoma and Oregon. And he already has visited the other four programs. The fact that he chose Kansas as the place to take his fifth and final official visit — instead of picking some place like UCLA — shows just how serious he is about the Jayhawks. The fact that it is believed Bledsoe will be the only official visitor in town provides KU coach David Beaty and company a golden opportunity to put on the full-court press to convince Bledsoe that staying home is the right move for him. They might not fly planes around town pulling signs with Bledsoe's name and jersey number in crimson and blue, but you can bet that the 2015 all-state selection, Sunflower League MVP and recent Buck Buchanan Award winner will have the full and undivided attention of every KU coach and staff member in town this weekend.
From the sound of things, Oklahoma appears to be KU's biggest competition for Bledsoe. And isn't OU an awful lot like Michigan?
The only question left to answer now is whether Bledsoe is an awful lot like Brown.
Every season at just about every school, one of the most-asked questions around football programs is about red-shirts.
Who are they? How many will there be? Which ones will help most in the future? And have you told them yet?
It may be handled differently at different places and at some of the power programs that have guys lined up down the block to come play, they probably do tell kids before the season begins that they're going to red-shirt.
Not at Kansas. At least not with head coach David Beaty.
Don't get me wrong, there are definitely a few guys who Beaty and his coaching staff targeted with the idea of red-shirting them. But if any of them could have helped the Jayhawks on the field at all during the 2015 season, the red-shirt would've come off in a hot minute. Beaty said as much throughout the season while also saying, at times, that there were specific guys he would've liked to red-shirt.
He didn't always name names, but would say something like, “We'd like to keep the shirt on one of the two freshmen QBs.” It worked. Ryan Willis played. Carter Stanley did not. Willis has three years left. Stanley has four.
There were other instances along those same lines, but now that the season is officially over and the red-shirts are official, here's a quick look at seven guys who saved a season of eligibility that could help this program as soon as 2016.
• WR LaQuivionte Gonzales — “Quiv” (who really should be nicknamed “Speedy”) sat out due to NCAA transfer rules after coming to KU from Texas A&M, but there's no doubt he'll have a major role on this team next fall. Beaty has said Gonzales is as fast and dynamic as any player on the roster and he should help immediately in the return game as well as on offense, where KU rolls seven, eight and nine receivers onto the field throughout each game.
• WR Chase Harrell — Don't forget about this kid. He graduated early and came with some serious hype so the fact that he did not become an immediate star turned some people off. But he made serious strides toward building his body and learning the offense and should not only be more ready to compete for a role in the offense but also more driven after watching other true freshmen take snaps ahead of him. The future is still bright for Harrell.
• LB Keith Loneker Jr. — Local prospect from Free State High who transferred to KU before the season after a freshman All-American year at nearby Baker University. Loneker's name kept coming up for his work on the scout team and there is no doubt that this fast, tough, instinctual football player will have a big time chance to play a huge role at a thin position for KU next season. Don't be surprised for a second if he's out there starting alongside fellow former Firebird Joe Dineen Jr.
• OL Mesa Ribordy — Walk-on and in-state prospect from Louisburg High, Ribordy was one of those names I kept hearing when I went out to practice as an O-Lineman who could have a bright future and get into the mix quickly. KU needs as much help as it can get up front and Ribordy, an athletic 6-foot-4, 270-pound lineman who moves well and is getting stronger, could compete for a spot up front at least as a part of the regular rotation.
• DB Shaq Richmond — Cornerback from Grand Prairie, Texas, was very well thought of by the KU coaching staff when he committed — recruiting coordinator Reggie Mitchell landed him — and his natural skills and increased bulk and speed should give him a shot at cracking the field at a position of great need. KU will continue to address the cornerback position in the 2016 recruiting class, both through high school and juco players, but Beaty is big on development and this is a guy who is already a year into his.
• QB Carter Stanley — Here's another guy you should not write off yet. I know the focus is on Ryan Willis being the QB of the future, and that is well deserved given the way Willis competed, performed and led the offense as a true freshman. But he's not going to be handed the job without others coming after it. And Stanley, who knows the offense and desperately needed a year to get bigger and stronger, could still be Willis' biggest competition heading into spring football. A more mobile QB than Willis, Stanley has a good arm and should feel more comfortable competing for the job in Year 2.
• TE Jace Sternberger — This guy is a beast. He has great size (6-4, 225) and good hands but still looks ultra-athletic all over the field. It won't be easy to crack the lineup given the fact that both Ben Johnson and Kent Taylor will be back. But Sternberger's one of those guys who will find a way to make the coaches play him. At worst, he'll play a complementary role to those other tight ends next season. But you can bet you'll see him on the field in some capacity.
Say what you will about Kansas State coach Bill Snyder and his dominance of the Jayhawks over the years. That has not taken away from the man's ability to operate as a classy individual.
We've seen plenty of instances of this throughout the years and we recently got another one when KU quarterback Ryan Willis, who just wrapped up his freshman season as KU's all-time leading freshman passer, posted to Twitter a note he got from Snyder following last week's 45-14 K-State win in the season finale.
Here's the note:
This means a lot to me and my family, pretty classy move by Coach Snyder pic.twitter.com/e2igZsOSJv— Ryan Willis #1⃣3⃣ (@RyanWillis14) December 3, 2015
Now before you go off about the purple ink or the fact that Snyder should stick to worrying about his own players, remember that Willis' dad, Steve, is a former K-State football player and the young man, though not seriously, was recruited by K-State out of Bishop Miege High School.
The Snyder way has long been synonymous with "family" and this kind of gesture shows what that's all about.
Like it or hate it — like him or hate him — you have to at least tip your cap to Snyder's sportsmanship and the fact that receiving the note clearly meant a lot to one of the KU football program's most promising young players.
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.
Check Tuesday for more on the O-Line, particularly the center position.
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.
• 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.
• 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...