Posts tagged with Ku Football

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 4 - LB Joe Dineen

As we head down the stretch of our summer countdown of the most crucial Jayhawks on the 2016 football team, we start to find some of the most talented and accomplished Jayhawks on the roster.

Beyond that, the names at the top of this list seem to be among the best leaders in the Jayhawks' locker room and players who will be counted on heavily for production and guidance during the 2016 season.

Today's entry plays in the heart of the Kansas defense and figures to play a big role in just how good this year's defense can be.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. (29) reaches for a catch during practice on Tuesday, April 11, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. (29) reaches for a catch during practice on Tuesday, April 11, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

4. Joe Dineen, Jr. Linebacker

The Lawrence native and Free State High grad has a chance to be the best player on this year’s roster. But just because people expect him to be one of the best does not mean he is the most crucial.

In fact, the bar that Dineen has set for himself has created a situation in which people are expecting a big season and therefore it will be hard for him to outdo what many think he’s capable of.

Having said that, there’s no doubt that the second-year linebacker will try.

Tough, physical, faster than you think and learning more about his relatively new position each and every day, Dineen is the perfect player to fit into the heart of the Kansas defense.

Now a junior, his leadership skills are starting to surface and his personality is one that makes him both likable and easy to follow.

He has positioned himself well to become the next great linebacker at KU on a list that features some pretty impressive names from the recent past. Late last season, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen told me that Dineen had a legit chance to crack that list and, with two years of eligibility still remaining, he appears to be well on his way.

Dineen is far from a perfect player. But his heart, desire to develop his craft and the passion for both the program and to represent the city in which he grew up helps overcome any weaknesses he has as a player.

In short, Dineen is exactly the kind of Jayhawk that head coach David Beaty is trying to sign and develop more of. And the mere thought that he has only scratched the surface on how good he can be at the position makes for an intriguing 2016 season.

We know Dineen will be a huge and crucial part of the Kansas defense. What we don’t know yet is how good he’ll be and how impressive his stats will look.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

No. 7 - OL D'Andre Banks

No. 6 - QB Ryan Willis

No. 5 - DT Daniel Wise

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 5 - DT Daniel Wise

We've reached the Top 5 of this year's Most Crucial Jayhawks list and it's time to get to some of the heaviest hitters on this year's team.

No. 5 is a name that many have heard but not everyone is incredibly familiar with. But we expect that to change in 2016, when Daniel Wise will look to build on a strong red-shirt freshman season and transform himself from a nice, up-and-coming player into an absolute monster with which opposing offensive lines are going to have to deal with in the heart of the trenches.

Hailing from Hebron High in Lewisville, Texas, Wise earned honorable mention freshman All-American honors during the 2015 season and is looking for similar accolades in 2016.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) is snagged by Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise (96) during the second quarter, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) is snagged by Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise (96) during the second quarter, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

5. Daniel Wise, Soph. Defensive Tackle

There’s no denying how huge the gap has been between the defensive linemen that Kansas has played in recent years and the talent at that position throughout the rest of the Big 12 Conference.

That’s no knock on the D-Linemen who have suited up for the Jayhawks. They’ve done their best, often in the face of tremendous adversity or while severely overmatched.

But Daniel Wise is trying to change all of that. By himself, of course, Wise is just one 290-pound man who might be able to make a few plays here and there but won’t really tip the balance of power. That’s why Wise, who enjoyed a modest breakout season in 2015, has made it a priority to push and lean on and inspire others around him.

D.J. Williams, Josh Ehambe, newcomers DeeIsaac Davis and Isi Holani all have encountered a different Daniel Wise than the one who arrived on campus before the 2014 season. This version, which enjoyed somewhat of a breakthrough season in 2015 — as measured in terms of confidence and comfort — is more of an all-business type of player who quickly is becoming one of the more consistent workers and play makers on the KU defense.

Big and getting bigger, tough and getting tougher — mentally and physically — and smart and getting smarter, Wise appears to have hit that moment in his career when he understands exactly what it takes for him to play at a high level and he’s going relentlessly after that goal day in and day out.

He played in all 12 games a season ago and started seven of them. He finished with 26 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. With a terrific offseason under his belt and all the confidence in the world after a productive and perpetually improving red-shirt freshman season, it’s easy to see Wise improving on all of those numbers in 2016, when he should be a starter from Day 1 and one of the most critical parts of KU’s defensive line throughout the season.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

No. 7 - OL D'Andre Banks

No. 6 - QB Ryan Willis

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KU coach David Beaty: The Jayhawk Nation deserves better

Heading into Year 2 in charge of the Kansas football program, David Beaty brings with him an 0-12 career record that no coach would enjoy having.

But Beaty never has tried to dodge the facts nor has he sought sympathy for what can only be described as a tough 2015 season.

Monday, speaking at Big 12 media days for the second year in a row, Beaty expressed his disappointment for the way his first year as the leader of the Jayhawks went and emphasized yet again that he did not hurt for himself.

“You know, my biggest ache was for our fans, our coaches and our players,” Beaty said. “Because they deserve more. They really do.

“The Jayhawk Nation deserves better than what we were able to give ’em and what they’ve gotten in the recent past. We were doing foundation work, and it’s hard, but it’s necessary.”

To that end, the Jayhawks had to start from zero and build up. That meant getting rid of some personnel, changing the way practices are run, elevating the expectations, both personal and athletic, on and off the field, and Beaty said from the beginning that he would not deviate from that plan.

“We could have probably cut some corners and maybe taken a few guys that might have got us one or two (wins). But at the end of the day it wouldn’t have been worth it because our foundation is so important and we wanted to make sure it was something that was going to be long-lasting.”

With the foundation set — and, perhaps more appropriately, his one shot at setting it now in the past — Beaty realizes what must come next.

“Our deal now is we gotta win games,” he said. “That's why we're here, so we have to win football games and we are completely and totaled focused on the most important game in the history of our program, which is the next one, Rhode Island (Sept. 3 at Memorial Stadium). I don't know who we play next. I don't care. We are focused on Rhode Island and that's the most important game that we have ever played in our lives. We are focused on that and after that it will go to the next one.”

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Kansas football coach David Beaty kicks off Q&A with heartfelt tribute to Dallas PD

Kansas head football coach David Beaty responds to questions during Big 12 media days, Monday, July 18, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Kansas head football coach David Beaty responds to questions during Big 12 media days, Monday, July 18, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) by The Associated Press

A year ago, at this very event, we learned that new Kansas football coach David Beaty was the son of a former Dallas police officer and his father was within arm’s reach of Lee Harvey Oswald when the man who assassinated president John F. Kennedy was shot.

So it’s clear that Beaty’s ties to his hometown and, in particular, the police force in his hometown, run deep and, like many things in his world, have had a profound impact on who and how Beaty is as a man.

That’s why it came as no surprise Monday, when Beaty opened his Q&A session at Big 12 media days at the Omni Hotel with a heartfelt message about the recent police tragedy that rocked Dallas, mere minutes away from the ballroom in which Beaty sat.

“Excited to be back here with you at Big 12 Conference Football Media Days,” Beaty began. “Excited to be back home in my hometown of Dallas, Texas. As many of you know, I am from the Dallas area and my father is a police officer here. My heart hurts for the Dallas communities and for the communities across the country that are suffering and in pain right now. I pray that we will begin to listen to one another, love one another and get to the hard work of healing our nation.”

Sports and political or social issues do not always mix. But in this case, and others like it in the past, countless coaches and athletes have taken advantage of their platform to push the message of peace, understanding and even reform. And Beaty was merely doing exactly that before getting into the nuts and bolts of the upcoming football season.

“I believe that college football can be an example in the midst of our struggles in America. Young men from all walks of life (and) different backgrounds coming together, listening to one another, working hard together, learning from one another, fighting together for a common goal. I think society can learn a lot from these young men and I’m excited about working with some of them at KU.”

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Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby unleashes new buzzword for Big 12 business

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby addresses the media Monday morning during his opening remarks at this year's Big 12 media days. (AP photo)

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby addresses the media Monday morning during his opening remarks at this year's Big 12 media days. (AP photo) by Matt Tait

The eyes of the Big 12 are upon Texas this week. But, hey, what’s new?

Specifically, the conference is hosting its annual Big 12 media days at the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas today and Tuesday. Included in the festivities, along with interview opportunities with players and coaches from all 10 Big 12 football programs, will be Tuesday’s Big 12 board of directors meeting.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, now in his “fifth year down the path,” kicked off the event with a state of the union address that featured everything from a recap of the past year and the various Big 12 accomplishments to a look to the future.

In it, Bowlsby dropped the latest buzzword that figures to be said often both this week and in the future. While acknowledging that the Big 12 board again will look at conference expansion as part of its Tuesday agenda, Bowlsby referred to it as “conference composition” rather than “expansion.”

Who knows if that was by design — conference composition seems to have a cleaner, friendlier sound to it than “expansion” — or if Bowlsby was merely going with the thesaurus.com approach to how he talked about the ongoing issues impacting the Big 12.

If I had to bet, I’d bet the word choice was the result of some kind of consultant or behind-the-scenes advisor who thought the Big 12, which has been at the center of expansion and realignment talk for the past several years, would benefit greatly from a fresh, new sound to something that has become somewhat of a nasty issue.

With that in mind, nothing changes with regard to what’s actually being talked about. It’s still (1) should we expand from 10 to 12 or higher? (2) if yes, which programs should the Big 12 grab? and (3) when is the right time to make a move?

Last spring, Bowlsby not-so-indirectly hinted that he hoped that there would be a definitive answer about the Big 12’s direction on this topic by this summer. Does that mean we’ll know anything coming out of Tuesday? Not exactly. But we could.

If anything, though, it’s likely we’ll learn whether the Big 12 will or won’t move forward with expansion — excuse me, conference composition — and not necessarily who those teams will be.

Stand by.

And be sure to check back with KUsports.com throughout the day for blog entires, videos and player interviews and soundbites from Big 12 media days.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 7 - OL D’Andre Banks

Back-to-back entries for the offensive line on our list of the Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016, with senior D'Andre Banks following up Thursday's No. 8 player on the list, sophomore Clyde McCauley.

From the left side of the line yesterday to the right today, KU's tackle positions now are manned by players with legitimate game experience and an extra year's worth of work in the weight room.

That's not to say they automatically will keep all comers away from KU's quarterbacks, but their experience, strength and consistency should give the Jayhawks a shot to be much improved up front during the 2016 season.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas offensive linemen Joe Gibson (77) and D'Andre Banks (62) catch a breather on the bench during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas offensive linemen Joe Gibson (77) and D'Andre Banks (62) catch a breather on the bench during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

7. D’Andre Banks, Sr. Offensive Lineman

One of the most consistent and well-liked players on KU’s offensive line, former junior college transfer D’Andre Banks, in about a year, transformed himself from a nice player who added depth and reliability to KU’s offensive line into the kind of player the coaching staff believed it could put wherever it needed without worrying about whether he was up for or could handle the challenge.

That’s high praise for any player but particularly high praise for a player entering just his second season in the program.

After starting nine games at right guard during his rookie season with the Jayhawks, Banks has been moved from the inside to the outside, where he will open preseason camp as the favorite to start the season at right tackle.

Banks will be the first to tell you that he does not put too much stock in tracking his status on the depth chart or where he stands with the coaches. His philosophy is simple: Go out and work every day and the rest takes care of itself.

That mentality, however natural it may be, has, by default, put Banks into a bit of a leadership role on the KU O-Line. He’ll never be the guy who yells and screams at a teammate or grabs someone’s face mask, but he will show others what he believes should be done play in, play out, day in and day out. Whether that’s playing hard through the end of the whistle or playing smart before the ball is even snapped, Banks believes it all contributes greatly to both how well the offensive line executes its job and, in turn, how confident that group is when going about it.

Because so many of those bodies up front are in a similar position to Banks — no longer in their first year and no longer as overwhelmed by the newness of everything — Banks believes this could be a big year not only for himself but for the entire crew.

“It definitely feels a lot more comfortable than last (year) and I’m just ready to go,” Banks said this spring. “All of us got bigger, faster, stronger and I’m so excited to see what this new O-Line can do.”

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

As we continue to climb toward the top spot in this year's Most Crucial Jayhawks for the 2016 college football season, we run into the fourth offensive lineman on our list so far at No. 8.

KU's offensive line, which OL coach Zach Yenser said back in June was starting to play with that mean streak that all good offensive lines need to have, will be under the microscope again for this young offense in 2016.

Regardless of who's taking the snaps, running the ball or catching the passes, the offense figures only to go as far as the offensive line will take it. That's why so many linemen have shown up on this list already and that's why entry No. 8 figures to have an important role no matter where he plays or how often.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas linemen Clyde McCauley III (74) and D'Andre Banks run through drills during practice, Thursday, April 7, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas linemen Clyde McCauley III (74) and D'Andre Banks run through drills during practice, Thursday, April 7, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

8. Clyde McCauley, Soph. Offensive Tackle

Whether he wins the job at left tackle, where he is battling returning starter Jordan Shelley-Smith, or is beaten out, the second-year Jayhawk will have a huge role on this team in 2016 — and beyond.

Last season McCauley made three starts along the O-Line and played in six games as a true freshman, giving him the valuable experience that sometimes does not arrive until a player’s second or third year on campus.

Not all of McCauley’s time on the field was memorable or even mentionable, but he held up well enough to keep trotting back out there.

There’s no doubt that what he experienced while facing some of the bigger, stronger pass rushers in the conference, along with what was taught to him by his coaches and teammates helped McCauley make it through his first season of college football, and he almost certainly used that information this offseason to better prepare himself for Year 2.

KU coach David Beaty recently said that McCauley and Shelley-Smith were in a too-close-to-call type of battle for that starting spot. But, with preseason camp yet to begin, it’s what they will do in the next few weeks that will determine who starts and who does not.

Even if he does not get the nod, McCauley will have value on this team as a swing tackle, joining Larry Hughes in providing depth behind Shelley-Smith and new right tackle D’Andre Banks.

If McCauley, 6-foot-5, 307 pounds, is like most of his teammates and transformed that freshman frame into a leaner and meaner version in the offseason, both his footwork and stamina should be improved, giving him a chance to be more explosive both in the run game and pass protection.

The Jayhawks absolutely need their offensive line to hold up this season if they hope to be competitive or push for a couple of victories. And while McCauley’s most exciting days might still be down the road, he will be given every opportunity to be a part of that line again in 2016, a year older and wiser than he was during his first try.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

It's on to No. 9 on our countdown of the Most Crucial Jayhawks of the 2016 season and that's where we find everyone's favorite KU quarterback from recent years.

No Kansas player has taken as much criticism and, at the same time, been given as many different opportunities in the past few seasons as Montell Cozart, a fourth-year junior who started — and even won a Big 12 game — as a true freshman and has been delivering a mixed bag of successes and failures ever since.

Cozart was the opening week starter in both 2014 and 2015 but was replaced each year either because of injury or ineffectiveness. It remains to be seen what becomes of Cozart this season, but there are all kinds of options still on the table as the Jayhawks prepare to kick off preseason camp in just a few weeks.

Here's a look at a few of those options and why Cozart remains an important part of this football team.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart drops back to pass during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart drops back to pass during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. by Nick Krug

9. Montell Cozart, Jr. Quarterback

If you haven’t by now (and I’m sure many of you have), you might want to brace yourself for the possibility that Montell Cozart could be under center for the Jayhawks again for his third consecutive Week 1 start.

Yes, Ryan Willis showed some promise last season, and, more to the point, showed some ability in some of the areas that Cozart is lacking. But, Willis also injured himself playing basketball this spring and was forced to sit out of most of the physical activity during spring practices.

That gave Cozart the opportunity to take most of the reps as KU’s No. 1 quarterback and that, at least momentarily, gave him a slight lead over Willis in the race for the starting job. That fact is magnified by KU coach David Beaty’s desire to tweak the offense and go to more of a true Air Raid look, which Cozart now has much more experience running and repping than Willis.

Don’t get me wrong, the scenario exists that ends with Willis starting Week 1 and possibly even starting the entire season.

But even if he does, Cozart ranks high on this list because he will remain a crucial part of this team. And that’s for a number of reasons. Here’s a quick rundown:

• First and foremost, Cozart has developed into a terrific leader and is someone everybody on that roster — and on the coaching staff — has a great deal of respect for. Even if he doesn’t play a snap at any position (which is highly unlikely), he still would impact that locker room in a positive way.

• Beyond that, KU’s back-up QBs have been pressed into action a lot during recent seasons and having a guy like Cozart sitting in that role would give KU some depth and stability behind Willis, who will be playing behind a still-developing offensive line.

• There’s a chance that Willis could be the guy but Beaty and company could scheme up some kind of package that best utilizes Cozart’s strengths and keeps opposing defenses off balance. That could be in Wildcat or red zone type of packages or even in the middle of the field.

• Finally, there’s the chance that someone else could emerge as a viable back-up QB and the coaching staff could switch Cozart to wide receiver or punt returner to take advantage of his athleticism and ability to run. Beaty has gone on record multiple times saying that Cozart is too good of an athlete to stand next to him on Saturday and I believe he means that.

With all of those scenarios — and perhaps even one or two that we aren’t even thinking about — it’s easy to see how Cozart’s versatility and experience provide so much potential value and importance for this team.

The race between Cozart and Willis should be interesting and could easily come down to the wire. Don’t be surprised by either outcome and don’t count out the runner-up just because a Week 1 starter is named.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

As we jump into the Top 10, it's offense that's up first.

In fact, 7 of the final 10 in this summer's list of the Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2016 come from the offensive side of the ball, lending support to the claim that it's the KU offense that has the most room to improve and needs to elevate its production to something that more closely coincides with the rest of the Big 12.

In David Beaty's Air Raid offense, there are plenty of ways to get that done, but few are as important as through the air. The Jayhawks have a deep and talented — but still green in a lot of ways — group of receivers and one of those with the greatest potential comes in at No. 10.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas wide receiver Jeremiah Booker (88) is wrapped up by Texas Tech defensive back Nigel Bethel (1) and defensive back J.J. Gaines (3) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Jeremiah Booker (88) is wrapped up by Texas Tech defensive back Nigel Bethel (1) and defensive back J.J. Gaines (3) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

10. Jeremiah Booker, Soph. Wide Receiver

An injury that kept him out for most of camp and a good chunk of the 2015 season severely limited Booker’s productivity, but there’s no denying the impact he made when he was on the field.

The long, tall, big target who showed up for fellow-freshman Ryan Willis down the field made in some tight spots made a few tough catches and finished his freshman season fourth on the team with 23 receptions and 228 yards in just six starts.

Imagine, then, what Booker could have done had he never been injured and been able to (a) compete at a high level immediately and (b) develop a better rapport with KU’s QBs more quickly instead of having to wait until the midway point of the season to get his legs under him.

It seems safe to say that his numbers easily could have doubled, which would have produced one of the better years by a KU wide receiver in recent years.

Fast forward to 2016, when you find a healthy, leaner and stronger Booker who no longer seems like a freshman trying to figure things out. Even though he looks slightly smaller, Booker said he dropped all of his bad weight this offseason and was moving better than ever. He worked hard this offseason on his route running and footwork and figuring out how to maneuver at his new playing weight.

If that translates into being a little faster — whether that’s straight-line speed or just perceived speed because he’s in and out of breaks quicker — then Booker could be poised for a big sophomore season and could be in line to give the Jayhawks the much-needed second or third weapon in the passing game to ensure that opponents can’t just key on junior transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez game in and game out.

Whether the results come remains to be seen, but there’s no doubting that Booker will put in the work. He’s a great young man and a great teammate who puts the good of the program above any personal goals and, according to teammates, is easy and fun to be around. Because he is so polite and kind, he often comes across as quiet upon first meeting, but teammates and coaches say he’s one of the funniest guys on the roster and can really get people going when he’s on.

All KU fans need is for Booker to be “on” on Saturdays this fall. If he is, it will go a long way toward helping this offense climb out of the rut it has been in during the past six seasons.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

Today's entry on the Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016 list is a name that's both wildly familiar to KU fans and wildly unusual in the dictionary of baby names.

It also belongs to one of KU's top returning players from 2015 and likely falls a little lower on the list than many people expect simply because we now know what this player is capable of and the standard for his season is higher than the one for most KU players, old and new.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas University safety Anthony Smithson? No, the junior-college transfer prefers to be called ‘Fish,’ a nickname given to Smithson by his grandmother when he was an infant.

Kansas University safety Anthony Smithson? No, the junior-college transfer prefers to be called ‘Fish,’ a nickname given to Smithson by his grandmother when he was an infant. by Mike Yoder

12. Fish Smithson, Sr. Safety

They don’t make ’em much more consistent than KU safety Fish Smithson, but, according to Fish himself, they do make ’em better.

That’s why the senior returning for his third season in the program who led the Big 12 in tackles (111) and the nation in solo tackles per game (7.9) in 2015 spent the entire offseason working as if he had yet to accomplish a thing.

Named to the all-Big 12 second team following a strong junior season, Smithson returns as not only the most accomplished player on KU’s defense but also one of its anchors.

He’ll have more help and experience around him this season, which should give him a better opportunity to make more plays. But he does not figure to stray too far from the traits that made him one of the more sure tacklers in the Big 12 a season ago — toughness, intelligence, effort and pride.

Like many players on the KU roster, Smithson leaned up and got stronger this offseason. That, he believes, will make him a better all-around player. He also emphasized becoming a better leader and more polished in coverage and said after the 2015 season that he would like to be known as more than just a solid tackler.

No matter how much they appear to have improved in 2016 — if at all — the Jayhawks are going to need Smithson to continue to clean up the back end of their defense. But if he can capitalize on the work he put in on the other aspects of his game and add it to what people already know he’s capable of, Smithson can take that step forward that he wants to take.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

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