Posts tagged with Ku Football

Most crucial Jayhawks 2015: No. 4 - S Bazie Bates IV

Number 4 on the list — and, no, we didn't pencil him into this position because he has the IV at the end of his name — is a player who could easily have the biggest impact of any Jayhawk on the defense.

A junior college transfer from Trinity Valley Community College, Bazie Bates IV not only brings good skills, size and confidence to the KU secondary but he's also stepping into a position that lost two starters from last year's squad in Cassius Sendish and Isaiah Johnson, both guys who played like long-time veterans.

Bates has some work to do to reach their level, but the physical ability is there.

Here's a look.

Blue Team running back Ryan Schadler is tacked by White Team safety Bazie Bates IV during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 25, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Blue Team running back Ryan Schadler is tacked by White Team safety Bazie Bates IV during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 25, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

4. Bazie Bates IV, 6-foot-1, 186-pound Jr. Safety

It's not every year that a team is asked to replace all four starters in the secondary yet somehow comes away feeling OK about at least a few of the positions.

Credit juco transfer Bazie Bates for part of the reason the Jayhawks feel good about the crop of safeties they'll start the season with in 2015.

Known as a hard hitter and a tireless worker, Bates already has become a huge part of the KU defense, through his time with the team in the spring, summer and preseason camp.

One of Bates' biggest assets is his confidence. The guy simply believes he is a player and demonstrates that not by running his mouth and boasting anywhere he can but by playing hard and earning the respect of his teammates.

His experience as a cornerback at Trinity Valley CC gives him that extra layer of skill that turn him from your average safety surveying the field and looking for a play to come his way into a potentially huge part of this defense — and this season — because he is willing to go out and find a way to make a play.

I talked to Bates this spring about choosing the No. 24 and how he has some big shoes to fill given that former KU cornerback and sixth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, JaCorey Shepherd, wore that number the past couple of seasons (not to mention former KU safety Bradley McDougald, now making a name for himself with the Tampa Bay Bucs) and Bates said he liked that he was wearing a number that already had high expectations.

The guy is not afraid of anything and, with his natural athleticism and extreme confidence, his number and name are ones you can expect to hear called a lot this season.

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:

No. 25 - WR Derrick Neal

No. 24 - S Fish Smithson

No. 23 - S Greg Allen

No. 22 - OL Junior Visinia

No. 21 - CB Tyrone Miller Jr.

No. 20 - OL De'Andre Banks

No. 19 - S Tevin Shaw

No. 18 - WR Chase Harrell

No. 17 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 16 - LB Courtney Arnick

No. 15 - TE Kent Taylor

No. 14 - LB Joe Dineen

No. 13 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 12 - DE Ben Goodman

No. 11 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 10 - QBs Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis

No. 9 - RB Taylor Martin

No. 8 - WR Joshua Stanford

No. 7 - OL Larry Mazyck

No. 6 - QB Montell Cozart

No. 5 - RB Ke'aun Kinner

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Most crucial Jayhawks 2015: No. 6 - QB Montell Cozart

Just a few days after he officially was named this year's starter, it's time to check off the Kansas quarterback on our list of most crucial Jayhawks for 2015.

He's a name you're familiar with and one who has started — and even won — a few games during the past two seasons.

Here's a look.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart (2) passes over the top of the Central Michigan defense during their game on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart (2) passes over the top of the Central Michigan defense during their game on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. by John Young

6. Montell Cozart, 6-foot-2, 193-pound Jr. Quarterback

If we were certain that Cozart, who earlier this week was named the starter for the season opener for the second season in a row, would finish the season and start all 12 games, he definitely would be slotted in the No. 1 spot on this list.

But when you're talking about a program that has benched its QB mid-season for five consecutive years and a player who, himself, was benched five games into a season just one year ago, you have to at least consider the fact that he might not make it all the way through.

The hope inside the KU program is that the new offense, which in many ways was tailor-made for Cozart's strengths, will fit the junior from Bishop Miege so well that he'll look like a different player and have that KU offense humming again. The proof will be in the pudding, though, and we obviously need to see that happen before counting on it.

I've written before, though, that Cozart seems like a different guy. His maturity has kicked in and he is taking a much more business-like approach to this whole thing. That can't hurt.

He has the tools to be a big-time player — strong arm, great athleticism, solid speed and tremendous work ethic. Now he just needs to show that he's not afraid to take some hits and can be accurate with the pass in this new Air Raid offense.

His coaches and teammates seem to be very high on where he's at right now and Cozart himself, as he always has been, is full of confidence. If he can translate those things into good numbers, this offense might have a chance to be productive. If not, we might see true freshman Ryan Willis or juco transfer Deondre Ford before the season's over.

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:

No. 25 - WR Derrick Neal

No. 24 - S Fish Smithson

No. 23 - S Greg Allen

No. 22 - OL Junior Visinia

No. 21 - CB Tyrone Miller Jr.

No. 20 - OL De'Andre Banks

No. 19 - S Tevin Shaw

No. 18 - WR Chase Harrell

No. 17 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 16 - LB Courtney Arnick

No. 15 - TE Kent Taylor

No. 14 - LB Joe Dineen

No. 13 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 12 - DE Ben Goodman

No. 11 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 10 - QBs Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis

No. 9 - RB Taylor Martin

No. 8 - WR Joshua Stanford

No. 7 - OL Larry Mazyck

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What naming Montell Cozart the starting QB means for Kansas football

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart calls out a play during practice on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart calls out a play during practice on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. by Nick Krug

By now, you've all surely heard that Kansas University junior Montell Cozart has been named the Jayhawks' starting quarterback for the 2015 season.

So what does this mean for the team, for Cozart, for first-year coach David Beaty and for the upcoming season, which kicks off 12 days from today at Memorial Stadium?

A lot.

For the team, Cozart stepping under center to start the season provides a veteran presence that comes with eight starts and 14 appearances the past two seasons. A good chunk of that experience might be easy to forget, but it's still far more experience than anyone else on the roster brings and, at least right now, I think having that sort of steady hand at the game's most important position can help the rest of these new, unproven guys around him feel a little more comfortable out there.

For Cozart, heading into another season as the Jayhawks' starter gives him a chance at redemption. Cozart is a great teammate and he's all about what's best for the team, but getting benched last season during the fifth game of the year was a blow to his confidence and a blow to his pride. That's a thing of the past now and, rather than dwelling on it, Cozart is using it as motivation for this season. Having gone through that once, he knows now that he doesn't want to deal with that feeling again. Everything he's done this offseason was with that in mind. Whether it's enough to produce different results remains to be seen, but having that drive him definitely can't hurt.

For Beaty, the decision to go with Cozart will go down as his first big move as the Jayhawks' head coach. Granted, it doesn't take huge stones to pick an experienced veteran over a bunch of guys who have never played a down of Division I football, but given that it's the quarterback position and that KU fans were so down on Cozart after his performance through five games last season, it would've been easy for Beaty, who loves to be liked, to get ahead of himself and try to please people by picking one of the newcomers. He didn't. And he based the battle on who performed the best and who earned the job. That's a solid foundation from which a first-year head coach can build. And, whether Cozart at QB works out or not, it gives us a good look at how Beaty thinks.

Finally, as for how the pick of Cozart will impact the 2015 season, it's probably pretty irrelevant. For all the reasons mentioned above, Cozart seems to be the right choice and gives KU the best chance to have success on offense. But because of a lack of depth and so much unproven talent, it's harder than ever to say that one player will have a huge role in how many games the Jayhawks win or lose. True, the quarterback often has the biggest impact of any player on any roster. And, true, if you don't have a quarterback you shouldn't expect to win much. But this team doesn't figure to win much anyway, so why not give Cozart one last look to see if the new offense and a little maturity made him a different player. If the answer's yes, they might have their guy for next season. If the answer's no, then moving on from there won't be any harder anyway.

Based on the work he's put in, his veteran status and the fact that he proved to be the best of the bunch — most notably the most consistent — throughout fall camp, Cozart deserves the chance he's getting.

Now it's up to him to prove he's a different player than the one we've seen in the past.

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What caught my eye at Day 14 of KU football’s 2015 preseason practices

Throughout the offseason, spring ball and preseason camp, one of the biggest buzz words surrounding Kansas football has been competition.

On Friday, during a practice that was split between the practice fields and the turf at Memorial Stadium, we got a heavy dose of competition from start to finish.

Whether guys were competing for balls during seven-on-seven type drills or new faces were working in new spots in an attempt to see how so and so would hold up with the ones or so and so would react to running with the twos, all kinds of competition was on full display during the 90-plus minutes the media was invited to watch.

We did not get to stay until the last Jayhawks left the field, but it looked like they were just working on ball security and cool down stuff when we were asked to leave. And it was incredibly valuable in the fact that it really gave us a good look at how certain guys compete and how far some guys have come since we saw them in the spring or on Day 1 of fall camp a little more than two weeks ago.

Here's a quick look at what caught my eye on a gorgeous Friday morning in LFK:

• It definitely looks like a two-man race for that starting QB job and I definitely think junior Montell Cozart is the clear leader. Deondre Ford keeps getting reps and opportunities with the second unit, but, overall, Cozart looks more consistent. During the seven-on-seven stuff in the stadium on Friday, the entire 20-30 minute session included Cozart and Ford with the ones and twos on one end of the field while freshmen Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis worked the same stuff at the other end of the field.

• Right after stretching and special teams stuff that opens practice, the Jayhawks went into their fast start offense vs. defense stuff and it was by far the most competitive I've seen it. On the first three snaps, the offense got the better of the D when Cozart hit freshman wideout Steven Sims with a perfect pass in the back corner of the end zone and Ford followed that up with a bullet over the middle to freshman tight end Jace Sternberger for another TD. On the next play, senior tailback De'Andre Mann slipped through the middle for a touchdown. All of the snaps were taken from the 8 yard line. From there, perhaps thanks to the barking of defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, the defense stiffened and turned the offense away on three consecutive snaps to end the period. The first was a run stuff. The second was an incompletion by Ford. And the third was an interception by freshman Tyrone Miller, who picked off Ford's pass for tight end Kent Taylor in the back of the end zone.

• Speaking of Bowen, I freakin' love how often he yells at the KU defensive backs to “MAKE A PLAY.” Every time the ball is in the air, Bowen truly believes one of those DBs should go get it. A lot of times they'll get there to break it up or create some chaos, which clearly is good, but Bowen is not truly happy unless they intercept it. That's a great standard to set and when it does happen, he lets everyone around know how happy he is. Then he moves on to the next play and forgets all about it. Good stuff.

• One interesting thing from an early QB drill came in the form of OC Rob Likens and head coach David Beaty both riding the QBs for not putting enough air under their passes on deep balls. Beaty had to jump in and stop the drill at one point to light the QBs up and Likens just kept yelling, “more air, more air.” One thing that jumped out about it the most was that both of them were emphasizing that they're not trying to throw 50-yard passes. In fact, Likens said 35 yards max. Just more proof that this offense figures to be about shorter passes to play makers in space and the quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly. No surprise there.

• Speaking of Steven Sims Jr., the 5-foot-10, 165-pound wideout from Travis High in Houston, we keep hearing his name thrown out by the coaches and it now seems abundantly clear that the young fella is going to play and play a lot. He might even be working his way into a starting role. His camp has been that good. He's so smooth in everything he does and looks almost like a veteran at times. The TD catch he made early on showed off his leaping ability and his routes are so smooth and his hands are so sure. He's No. 16 on offense. Get used to seeing him.

• Another young guy who looks like he's going to play right away is Kingfisher, Oklahoma tight end Jace Sternberger. He looks so athletic and, like Sims, so sure-handed. Sternberger worked some with the first team and his role will definitely increase if Kent Taylor or Ben Johnson were to miss time. But even if they don't, with this up-tempo offense, Sternberger will get his time on the field and it definitely looks like he's earned it. He's a great kid, too. One of my favorites from this recruiting class when I was talking to these guys back before they signed.

• Funny highlight from the seven-on-seven stuff: At one point when a team manager batted down a pass from one of KU's quarterbacks with a giant pad, linebackers coach Kevin Kane got so fired up he ran over and high-fived the manager like he was one of his defensive players who just made a play. I guess, in that case, he was.

• Beaty talked a little about this after practice but it definitely jumped out to me during practice — freshman linebacker Osaze Ogbebor is a bundle of effort and intensity. Beaty referred to him as a puppy dog with boundless energy and it shows up constantly at practice. Whether he's tipping a pass, battling for a break-up or diving to try to secure an interception he really has no shot at getting, Ogbebor is always moving and rarely caught standing still.

• Cornerback Brandon Stewart has had a great camp but I noticed one thing that he (and everyone else on the team) does not need to do. On a pass to the flat during seven-on-seven drills, the ball was clearly going to be incomplete and yet Stewart still wrapped his arm around the receiver's waist, even though it had no impact on the play. The official — in this case, director of high school relations Gene Wier — threw the flag. Although it didn't cost Stewart on Friday, those types of little mistakes could kill any hopes of KU competing if they keep happening during the season.

• UAB transfer Quincy Perdue, who looks like he's currently holding down a spot with the second team, may have emerged as the big body wideout this team needs to get the tough yards. On one third-down play during seven-on-seven stuff, Perdue ran a dig route and then fought back to the ball to make the catch. He battled three defenders in his area to come away with the catch and used his strong hands to rip the pass out of the air to complete the conversion.

• One thing that has really started to stand out about Beaty is how often he gives one-on-one attention to his players. He's never afraid to pull a guy aside for a quick one-on-one conversation and he always has the look of a coach who not only really cares but also really wants to get his point across and make sure the kid gets it. It's rarely loud and never done to show the kid up. And it comes after good plays just as much as it does after bad plays. That kind of attention is huge toward the buy-in that we've heard these guys talk so much about.

• Finally, one thing I really enjoyed seeing was offensive GA Connor Embree, a former KU wideout, working to get extra reps for the receivers between plays. Much like an extra outfielder who goes out between innings and warms up the left or right fielder, Embree was firing passes — today they were toward Bobby Hartzog — to the receivers in the drill while the offensive coaches or defensive coaches were making a quick adjustment. It wasn't much more than two or three throws at a time and it wasn't every time. But it was a perfect example of stealing reps and working when others aren't that Beaty and company have talked a lot about during camp.

• Another big scrimmage awaits the Jayhawks on Saturday. Tomorrow could be the day when some jobs are handed out and battles are decided. We're not invited but we get Beaty again on Monday, so hopefully we'll know more about some of these competitions real soon. Enjoy your weekends!

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What caught my eye at Day 13 of KU football’s 2015 preseason practices

Thursday's practice started with a bit of patriotism for the Kansas University football team, as rear admiral Mark W. Darrah of the United States Navy spoke to the Jayhawks about leadership and the importance of operating as a team.

Although the guest speaker sounds like something that would be right up first-year coach David Beaty's alley, it was actually Darrah who requested the opportunity to address the Jayhawks.

Back in the area for a series of speaking engagements, the Shawnee Mission Northwest High and Ottawa University graduate reached out to Beaty about attending a practice and talking to the team while he was here.

“I thought it went well,” Darrah told the Journal-World at practice. “I just talked about the need to be a team and how having success isn't about the individual. I also told them that the tone that coach Beaty has set is the right tone.”

That tone, as has been well documented, is based on effort, discipline, accountability and energy. Lots and lots of energy.

Darrah, who was decked out in his white Naval uniform and given a pile of KU gear before he left practice, reminded the Jayhawks that in good times and bad their energy can mean a lot to a lot of people.

“There are people out there sitting on the edge of their seats bleeding with them and wanting them to win,” Darrah said. “Guys in combat zones all over the world are tuning in to see if their team is winning.”

Darrah, who will serve as an honorary captain at Friday's Kansas City Chiefs exhibition game, said the last message he wanted to leave the team centered on how a lot of the lessons he learned as a high school and college athlete helped pave the way for his decorated career.

“Some of these guys will wind up in the military after they're done playing here,” he said. “And hopefully they'll take the lessons they're learning today with them. I just spent a few minutes out there listening to (Beaty), but I can see it and hear it in his voice. He's got it.”

Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye at Thursday's practice:

• I watched a pretty fun drill with OC Rob Likens and the quarterbacks for a little while. It was a simple one-man drill in which the QBs simulated a snap, executed a little zone read handoff and then rolled to their left to throw at a net with three targets. As they rolled out, Likens called out which target they were supposed to hit and then offered commentary on their throws. I didn't see any of the QBs actually hit any of the targets — top right, middle or bottom left — but there were plenty of throws that came close and Likens seemed to have a blast messing with them during and after the drill.

• Speaking of quarterbacks, Keaton Perry was wearing a Go-Pro camera on his helmet for Thursday's practice. We'll try to get ahold of some of the footage and post it here or in a different blog later. I'm sure it looks pretty cool.

• It's too hard to know what any of this meant, but there were some new tackles working with the first team offense during the fast-start, 11-on-11 action that unfolded right before we left. Clyde McCaulley (previously the back-up to Jordan Shelley-Smith) and walk-on Larry Hughes (the second string right tackle on Wednesday) played left and right tackle, respectively, with the first unit on Thursday. Shelley-Smith went through position drills at his normal spot earlier in the day so maybe this was just a way to give him a rest or a way to give these guys a chance to work with the lead group in case the need arises during the season. Either way, both dudes certainly looked decent as the first-string offense got the best of the D when they were out there. The winning play in the drill came on a sweet fade pass from Montell Cozart to Tre' Parmalee for 25 yards. On the next possession, Deondre Ford hit Quincy Perdue for a first down to the give the offense back-to-back victories in the drill before the defense stood tall and sacked Cozart in Round 3 (don't worry, no actual hitting was done) and forced a drop by tight end Kent Taylor on a very good looking throw by Ford in Round 4.

• Speaking of Cozart and Parmalee, the Bishop Miege connection appears to be alive and well with those two former Stags. Cozart looks for Parmalee a lot, which makes sense given the fact that Parmalee is often open, runs reliable routes and catches everything throw his way. I know Parmalee isn't going to excite the masses, but he may turn out to be a solid contributor this season based on his veteran status and tireless work ethic alone.

• It's a 10 a.m. practice on Friday and the media is invited to attend the entire thing. We'll be out there so look for an extended practice recap tomorrow afternoon sometime.

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Most crucial Jayhawks 2015: No. 8 - WR Joshua Stanford

Entering the offseason, the identity of the player who would lead KU football in receiving during the 2015 season was a huge mystery and a tough question to answer.

It might not be quite as difficult any more.

Thanks to the addition of Virginia Tech transfer Joshua Stanford, who has stood out in preseason camp for his play, polish and poise, gave KU a proven player who had been through the rigors of college football Saturdays before.

Stanford certainly is no lock to lead the Jayhawks in receiving — mostly because the position has so many other bodies — but he is the most experienced player in a young group and his performance in camp has turned plenty of heads.

Here's a little deeper look:

Kansas wide-receivers coach Klint Kubiak, right, runs a route with wideout Joshua Stanford, center, during practice Friday at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide-receivers coach Klint Kubiak, right, runs a route with wideout Joshua Stanford, center, during practice Friday at Memorial Stadium. by Richard Gwin

8. Joshua Stanford, 6-foot-1, 200-pound Jr. Wide Receiver

If they handed out nicknames after just a couple of weeks, the Virginia Tech transfer might be given the moniker Joshua “All Business” Stanford.

All he has done since arriving on campus this summer is elevate the look of the KU receiving corps with his intense work ethic, impeccable route running, strong hands and solid understanding of what it takes to play and produce at this level.

Injuries cost him half of the 2014 season at Va. Tech, where he logged more than 200 snaps at wideout and played in six games and made three starts.

So far his addition to the roster has helped the Jayhawks' young and unproven receiving corps by giving the rest of the group a quality leader who has produced at a high level. First-year KU coach David Beaty said Stanford's skill might only be surpassed by his character and leadership ability and, by all accounts, he is a quiet guy who has no interest in beating his chest or talking about himself. He's here to play for the team and for his faith and he's going to work as hard as possible to make both proud.

Having already graduated from Virginia Tech, Stanford has two years of eligibility remaining and, according to Beaty, should make an immediate impact and help the KU passing game right away, big numbers or not.

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:

No. 25 - WR Derrick Neal

No. 24 - S Fish Smithson

No. 23 - S Greg Allen

No. 22 - OL Junior Visinia

No. 21 - CB Tyrone Miller Jr.

No. 20 - OL De'Andre Banks

No. 19 - S Tevin Shaw

No. 18 - WR Chase Harrell

No. 17 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 16 - LB Courtney Arnick

No. 15 - TE Kent Taylor

No. 14 - LB Joe Dineen

No. 13 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 12 - DE Ben Goodman

No. 11 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 10 - QBs Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis

No. 9 - RB Taylor Martin

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What caught my eye at Day 12 of KU football’s 2015 preseason practices

They don't make days like Wednesday in August in Kansas very often and the Kansas University football team benefited from the beautiful conditions big time.

Just over the midway point of preseason camp, KU on Wednesday ran through its 12th day of camp and 14th practice at the turf fields next to Memorial Stadium.

A crew of referees was on hand to officiate the scrimmage that closed practice (we weren't able to stick around for that) and things were particularly spirited in the fast-start offense-versus-defense period that followed the special teams work.

The first-team offense outdid the defense in the first series, with Montell Cozart hitting Ke'aun Kinner out of the backfield for a short pass to convert a first down.

And the defense, which stopped the offense on four out of five plays, got the better of the battle when the second unit was out there.

Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye:

• It's cool to see all of the coaches walking through the line high-fiving players and getting them mentally ready for practice during stretching and warm-ups. This isn't entirely uncommon, as both of the previous staffs had guys do this every day. But this staff has every coach doing it and that seems a little rare.

• Offensive coordinator Rob Likens outed himself as a Montell Jordan fan, as he broke into a hip little dance while scribbling down practice notes when Jordan's “This Is How We Do It” came on the loud speaker. If we're doing a Dancing with the Coaches theme here, I'd give Likens a solid 7 for the moves which he cut short to focus on the notes.

• Here's a quick sign of progress: During the punt return drill this spring, the coaches constantly had to remind the up men both before and during the live reps to yell to the blockers in front of them “caught it, caught it, caught it.” Today, they didn't have to do that once. Not only were the guys yelling — loudly — but they didn't have to be reminded to do it once. It's a little detail, but those things can add up big time and are at least an indication that things are being taught and retained.

• No real shake up with the two-deep at offensive line, though there was one new name in the group. The first string remained the same and went like this (from left to right): Jordan Shelley-Smith, Bryan Peters, Keyon Haughton, D'Andre Banks and Larry Mazyck. The second team (from left to right): Clyde McCaulley, Jacob Bragg, Joe Gibson, Jayson Rhodes and Larry Hughes. Rhodes moved from tackle to guard and Hughes, the other “Big Larry” was a new addition to the two-deep. Who knows if that was just a one-time thing to try him out or if he's earned that spot but it's worth noting.

• South Carolina transfer Marcquis Roberts, who came to KU with injury concerns, looked good again on Wednesday and really showed his leadership skills. He's loud, intense and does not seem to care that he's been in Lawrence for just a handful of weeks. It looks as if he understands that the KU defense needs a strong presence in the middle and he's willing to be that presence.

• During the offense-defense fast start period, it was very evident that KU's defensive front is going to fly to the football in running situations. All six guys really chased the play and tried to stretch things out. It worked a handful of times and they were also gashed once by Ke'aun Kinner, who looked impressive running inside because of his quick footwork and barely noticeable change of direction.

• We'll try to find out how today's scrimmage went during our interviews tomorrow. The Jayhawks jump back out there Thursday afternoon for practice No. 15 and then we're welcome to watch the entire 10 a.m. practice on Friday. For those who might have been wondering, media access to practice on Tuesday was cancelled during the day. That's why there was no What Caught My Eye report from yesterday and also why we're getting extended time on Friday. I'll take it.

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Most crucial Jayhawks 2015: No. 9 - RB Taylor Martin

We'll stick with offense as we jump into the Top 10 of this year's summer series, where a true freshman at one of KU's deepest positions cracks the list.

It's a little early to know exactly what kind of role he'll have and player he'll be, but given the nature of the position he plays and his raw skills, it's easy to see how Taylor Martin could be very important to this team during his first season in Lawrence.

Here's a look:

Kansas freshman running back Taylor Martin runs the ball on a drill in a KU football practice that was part of fan appreciation activities Saturday August 8, 2015.

Kansas freshman running back Taylor Martin runs the ball on a drill in a KU football practice that was part of fan appreciation activities Saturday August 8, 2015. by Mike Yoder

9. Taylor Martin, 5-foot-10, 180-pound Fr. Running Back

Running back, for the past few seasons, has been not only one of the most productive and talented positions on the Kansas football roster but also one of the deepest.

That again appears to be the case this season, with veterans Taylor Cox and De'Andre Mann returning to a backfield that includes juco transfer Ke'aun Kinner and Wichita State transfer Ryan Schadler.

And then there's true freshman Taylor Martin. The blazing fast back from Dallas' Dunbar High might not start the season atop the depth chart, but with his solid frame, good vision and track speed, there's definitely a chance that he could factor into the Jayhawks' run game before the season is finished.

Martin rushed for 1,500 or more yards during each of his final three seasons at Dunbar. He added 71 touchdowns during that time. Fast like Kinner and tough like Mann and Cox, Martin could win up getting some regular work in the backfield at a position that typically uses three or four backs during a season because of the pounding that running backs take series after series and game after game.

Martin lands on this list simply because of the injury history of Mann and Cox, who both have Big 12 playing experience but also are both coming off of injuries that cost them valuable time during the 2014 season.

If Mann and Cox are able to make it through the season, Martin could very well wind up a red-shirt candidate. But if the need arises for another back to get into the mix, Martin could wind up with a very important role in the Jayhawks' offense.

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:

No. 25 - WR Derrick Neal

No. 24 - S Fish Smithson

No. 23 - S Greg Allen

No. 22 - OL Junior Visinia

No. 21 - CB Tyrone Miller Jr.

No. 20 - OL De'Andre Banks

No. 19 - S Tevin Shaw

No. 18 - WR Chase Harrell

No. 17 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 16 - LB Courtney Arnick

No. 15 - TE Kent Taylor

No. 14 - LB Joe Dineen

No. 13 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 12 - DE Ben Goodman

No. 11 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 10 - QBs Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis

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Most crucial Jayhawks 2015: No. 10 - QBs Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis

Freshmen QBs Carter Stanley, left, and Ryan Willis, right, are trying to make a name for themselves early on in their KU careers.

Freshmen QBs Carter Stanley, left, and Ryan Willis, right, are trying to make a name for themselves early on in their KU careers. by Matt Tait

We'll group these guys, because, let's be honest, they've pretty much been grouped since the day they signed and probably will be for quite some time.

The other reason we'll group them is because it's just so tough to know whether one of these true freshmen will emerge as a legitimate threat for the No. 1 job, if they'll position themselves to be the primary back-up or if they'll both take red-shirts this season and use it as a development year.

10.Ryan Willis, 6-foot-4, 205-pound Fr. and Carter Stanley 6-foot-2, 188-pound Fr. Quarterbacks

In the case of Ryan Willis, the tall kid from nearby Bishop Miege High has impressed coaches in camp with his cannon of a right arm, the thing that could set him apart in this competition could very well be his size. Taller than all of the other competitors and more mobile than he's given credit for, Willis comes to KU on the heels of a very successful prep career. He threw for 5,986 yards and 65 TDs in his two seasons as Miege's starter and earned a three-star rating from Rivals.com.

Willis comes from an athletic background. His father Steve played football at K-State and his mother Lois ran track at Iowa State. His sister Lauren played hoops at Oklahoma and his other sister Abby played basketball at St. Louis University.

As is the case for Stanley, Willis' youth and inexperience will be his biggest obstacles to immediate playing time. KU offensive coordinator Rob Likens has consistently laid out how the window for true freshmen to compete for the starting job is really more like 2 or 3 weeks than the entire four weeks of camp and first week of the season.

Likens has said it's not impossible for a true freshmen to win the job in that time but definitely very difficult.

That strong arm has really seemed to make an impact on the coaches, though, and his fierce determination and tenacity during summer workouts and seven-on-seven also turned heads.


As for Stanley, highlight videos only show the good plays, but in Stanley’s case, he didn’t have many bad ones to show anybody in his lone season as the starting quarterback at Vero Beach High. Stanley gets rid of the ball quickly, throws an extremely accurate ball, has the arm strength to make all the throws, and appears to have an elusive quality in the pocket. He only lost one game and won so many fans, including the three KU coaches involved with his recruitment: Linebackers coach Kevin Kane, offensive coordinator Rob Likens and head coach David Beaty.

Stanley had a monster season and led Vero Beach to a one-loss season. He completed 66 percent of his passes, threw for 3,070 yards and 40 touchdowns and rushed for 579 yards and seven touchdowns.

He didn’t start until his senior season and by the time word spread about his winning, accurate ways, most schools didn’t have room for another quarterback. Kansas did and was able to beat out Connecticut for him.

A bonus: His high school coach runs the same offense as Likens, so Stanley’s on the fast track regarding that aspect of his job. Starting a true freshman at QB would help Kansas at the gate and the experienced the freshman picks up will benefit him over the next three years.

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:

No. 25 - WR Derrick Neal

No. 24 - S Fish Smithson

No. 23 - S Greg Allen

No. 22 - OL Junior Visinia

No. 21 - CB Tyrone Miller Jr.

No. 20 - OL De'Andre Banks

No. 19 - S Tevin Shaw

No. 18 - WR Chase Harrell

No. 17 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 16 - LB Courtney Arnick

No. 15 - TE Kent Taylor

No. 14 - LB Joe Dineen

No. 13 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 12 - DE Ben Goodman

No. 11 - TE Ben Johnson

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Most crucial Jayhawks 2015: No. 11 - TE Ben Johnson

As we approach the Top 10 on our summer series of Most Crucial Jayhawks for the 2015 season, we find a player known equally for his on-the-field abilities as what he does and who he is off the field.

This Jayhawk, though, is definitely in a position to have a breakout season and, after spending two years adjusting to college football, seems prepared for whatever comes his way this season.

It's back-to-back Bens on this double-dip Tuesday… Here's a look:

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson takes off up the field after a catch against West Virginia during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014 at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson takes off up the field after a catch against West Virginia during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014 at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia. by Nick Krug

11. Ben Johnson, 6-foot-5, 234-pound Soph. Tight End

Here's the thing about sophomore tight end Ben Johnson: We think we know what kind of player he will be based on his limited appearances last season and his overall demeanor as a person, player and teammate.

But we won't really know for sure until we see him on the field and he is put in a position to make plays and handle a bigger role.

Gifted with good size and speed, above-average athleticism and, at least from what we've seen so far, strong, sure hands, Johnson seems like a logical candidate to inherit a huge chunk of the stats that former KU tight end Jimmay Mundine racked up last season en route to earning second-team all-Big 12 honors.

Last season, Mundine finished with 584 yards and three touchdowns on 45 receptions and led the team in two of those three categories (yards and catches).

With just four receptions back at the wide receiver position (Tre' Parmalee), Johnson carries into the season the title of leading returning receiver. He finished 2014 with 80 yards on eight catches.

The Jayhawks have since added a couple of transfers who delivered bigger numbers at their previous schools in the form of Virginia Tech transfer Joshua Stanford and UAB transfer Quincy Perdue, but those guys are new to town and new to the program, which means, even if they outperform Johnson on the stat sheet this season — and I'm guessing the entire offense hopes they do — there still will be a pretty significant role for the tight end from nearby Basehor-Linwood High.

Florida transfer Kent Taylor is another factor here. His athleticism and size give him the potential to create some mismatches for opposing defenses and he could pick up some of Mundine's stats based on that fact alone.

But there's more to playing tight end than just catching balls and making plays, and while Johnson seems to be solid in both of those areas, he's also the more solid and physical blocker of the two and that alone should keep him on the field plenty.

Beyond all of the on-the-field stuff, Johnson was one of three players picked to represent Kansas football at Big 12 media days in Dallas in late July, so he clearly has impressed the coaches in other areas, as well, enough for them to feel like he'd be a worthy representative of what this program under first-year coach David Beaty is all about.

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:

No. 25 - WR Derrick Neal

No. 24 - S Fish Smithson

No. 23 - S Greg Allen

No. 22 - OL Junior Visinia

No. 21 - CB Tyrone Miller Jr.

No. 20 - OL De'Andre Banks

No. 19 - S Tevin Shaw

No. 18 - WR Chase Harrell

No. 17 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 16 - LB Courtney Arnick

No. 15 - TE Kent Taylor

No. 14 - LB Joe Dineen

No. 13 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 12 - DE Ben Goodman

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