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...
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.
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
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.
• 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.
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.
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: