Posts tagged with Ku
One of the coolest things about Saturday night's thrilling Kansas University volleyball victory over top-seeded USC in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament was the aftermath that followed.
No, I'm not talking about the eruption on the floor, the celebration in the locker room that included head coach Ray Bechard getting drenched with water or the looks on the faces and sounds in the voices of the girls who made history.
Don't get me wrong; those moments and so many others were all incredibly cool. What was even cooler, at least to me, was the outpouring of love that Jayhawks past and present showered this team with on Twitter and via text messages.
Former KU football standout Ben Heeney, not long after touching down in Denver for Sunday's Broncos-Raiders game, gave a shout-out to the volleyball team on Twitter. And several other former and current KU football players did the same. The official KU football Twitter account even acknowledged the team's intentions to show up for this evening's 5 p.m. homecoming celebration at Horejsi Family Athletics Center.
In the basketball world, KU junior Wayne Selden on Twitter posted a photo of him watching the KU-USC match on his iPad on the bus ride home from the his team's own comeback victory at Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Several other KU athletes, from golf and baseball to track and tennis, also took time to congratulate the KU volleyball team on its historic accomplishment.
Lost in the euphoria, however, might have been the experience of a few former KU volleyball players who helped make a night like Saturday happen.
Former Jayhawks Bri Riley, Erin McNorton, Chelsea Albers and Jaime Mathieu, who not long ago were the toast of the KU volleyball world for becoming the first crew to reach a Sweet 16, watched Saturday's upset of USC together and celebrated every point as if they were on the court or bench in San Diego. In many ways, they were.
See, those girls, along with about a dozen others, were the ones who made Saturday night possible. That's to take nothing away from the current team or coaching staff that went out and did the deed. This year's team, in just about every way, is more talented than that first Sweet 16 team of trailblazers who played every night with the kind of grit and joy you saw on display throughout the season from this year's squad.
Hmm. Wonder where this group of girls learned to play like that?
Not everyone on this year's team played with the Riley, McNorton, Albers, Mathieu, Caroline Jarmoc, Sara McClinton, Catherine Carmichael crew that broke through and put Kansas volleyball on the map to stay. But a few did. And that's what adds an extra dose of family feels to this incredible achievement.
Junior libero Cassie Wait learned from Riley and is now playing a lot like her. Junior middle blocker Tayler Soucie, as a freshman, played a huge role on that Sweet 16 team and learned the ropes while those girls were on their way out. Senior Tiana Dockery was a consistent part of the rotation for that team, and juniors Maggie Anderson and Janae Hall were around that group long enough to understand that Kansas volleyball had entered a new era.
“I think our class really set the new standard for Kansas volleyball,” Riley said Sunday while still buzzing over Saturday's result. “We all had the mindset that we wanted to make a difference for this program and not only leave our mark but also create a legacy of consistent dominant teams to follow and this year's group has certainly lived up to that standard.
“There is such a great sense of pride knowing that the success and hard work we put in and the coaching staff has put in is being carried through by this year's amazing team that has had a remarkable season. Everyone associated with the program is just so thrilled to watch the run these girls are on right now.”
Thanks to Saturday's stunner, that run is still going, and regardless of what happens in the next week, it figures to extend well into the future because of this team, the teams that came before it and the sky-high standard this program now holds.
The No. 9 overall seed Jayhawks (30-2) will play No. 4 seed Nebraska at 8:30 p.m. (central) Thursday in the Final Four in Omaha, Nebraska.
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.
With Cliff Alexander officially announcing his decision to leave school after one season on Tuesday, we can finish the chapter of Kansas University's one-and-done players, at least for another year.
Alexander and teammate Kelly Oubre, who announced his decision to turn pro a week earlier, become the sixth and seventh KU players to go the one-and-done route and, as many of you surely know, the results of those one-year runs by some incredibly talented players have been fairly mixed.
Despite the high rankings, McDonald's All-American tags and enormous hype and hope surrounding all seven of these players, very few of them actually lived up to what you expect from these types of players or, in some ways, what you see from one-and-done ballers at other schools.
There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is simply bad luck, but it's definitely not necessarily a KU problem.
Take Alexander, for instance. He would've been welcomed onto the roster of pretty much any program in the country, and, although he might have performed better at different places, his overall adjustment to the college game seemed like a struggle. It's safe to say then that Alexander may just have ended up being a bust no matter where he went to school. Then again, maybe not.
Such is life when covering, coaching and predicting one-and-done players. And it will be that way until something drastic changes, which may never happen.
With that in mind, here's a quick look back at the one-and-dones KU has welcomed into the fold throughout the past several seasons along with my ranking of how they performed while at Kansas.
• JOEL EMBIID • Injury limited the 7-footer from Cameroon to just 28 games during his lone season at Kansas, but boy was he impressive during those 28 games. After a relatively slow start in which he came off the bench for the first seven games of the 2013-14 season, Embiid finished with 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Modest numbers, to be sure, but when you project those out over 40 minutes (19.4, 14.0, 4.5) or 100 possessions (28.2, 20.5, 6.5) it clearly demonstrates the impact that Embiid had on the game. Of course, you did not need numbers to see that for yourself. It was very obvious that KU was a completely different team with Embiid and without him and his absence in the NCAA Tournament played a huge role in the Jayhawks going home early. As good and as important to that team as Andrew Wiggins was, one could make the case that had he been the one who was injured and Embiid stayed healthy, KU would've advanced to the second weekend. Drafted: No. 3 overall in 2014 draft by Philadelphia.
• BEN MCLEMORE • McLemore was on a darn good team during the one season he was eligible to play at Kansas, but his all-around game was a huge reason for that. The smooth shooting St. Louis native averaged 15.9 points per game and made 42 percent of his three-point shots. There were times during the middle of the 2012-13 season when McLemore was in such a zone that it seemed like 15 points per night was automatic. He also rebounded well for his position (5.2 per game) and worked defensively. Sure, he fit well into the veteran team around him, but McLemore rarely passed up shots he needed to take and was an absolute highlight machine in transition. Drafted: No. 7 overall in 2013 draft by Sacramento.
• ANDREW WIGGINS • As was the case throughout his time at KU, Wiggins probably fell to third on this list because it was impossible for him to live up to the ridiculous hype that surrounded him when he arrived in Lawrence. I was never one who thought Wiggins was anything other than fantastic as a Jayhawk, I just think those two guys above him had better seasons. Wiggins' importance to his team was undeniable. He led KU in scoring, free throw shooting, played lock-down defense and ripped down six rebounds a game, many of them coming on the offensive end on his own misses. The truth of the matter is Wiggins and McLemore finished their KU careers with incredibly similar single-season statistics, but because McLemore's came without much hype and Wiggins' numbers were “disappointing” given that most of the free world believed he would average 30 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 dunks per game. Unfair? You bet. But you'd have a hard time convincing me that Wiggins' one season in Lawrence was anything other than extremely solid. The early tournament exit and his no-show in his final game in a KU uniform certainly hurt people's memory of his time here. Drafted: No. 1 overall by Cleveland.
• XAVIER HENRY • On a team loaded with veterans, Henry was actually pretty solid. He finished with 13.4 points-per-game average and also chipped in 4.4 rebounds, a couple of steals and a couple of assists per game, all while drilling 42 percent of his three-point shots. The thing is, on a different team or even in a different time, Henry could have — and likely would have — been a guy that a coach built an entire offense around. He was a great spot-up shooter, had the frame needed to drive to the rim, hit 78 percent of his free throws and was athletic and quick in transition. He could've been an amazing player who put up huge numbers and delivered highlights night in and night out. But because he was such a good dude, such a solid team player and, let's face it, still such a kid, he happily deferred to guys like Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris. Henry left KU with tears. Based on the way his pro career has played out, it might not have been a bad idea for him to come back for his sophomore season and fine-tune those alpha dog skills. Drafted: No. 12 overall by Memphis.
• KELLY OUBRE • It took Oubre a while to get going, but once he did, he had plenty of nights where he looked like the Jayhawks' most valuable player. For the first 10 or so games of the season, Oubre could barely get off the bench. But after cracking the starting lineup mid-way through the season, Oubre started every Big 12 game except one (Senior night) and started every game of the postseason. When he was on, he was on, whether that meant getting to the free throw line or raining from three-point range. And, defensively, he used his length and drive to frustrate opponents and help on the boards. But he never truly developed into a highly skilled offensive player and struggled to use his off hand throughout the season. Those skills are the type that can be honed in the NBA, where working on his game will be his full-time job, and Oubre's time as KU likely will be remembered by most as solid but not spectacular. Drafted: To Be Determined in June.
• CLIFF ALEXANDER • Alexander avoided the cellar on this list because of his solid production out of the gate and the way he impacted games when he was able to play double-digit minutes or greater. His double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds against Oklahoma in Allen Fieldhouse was critical and his early-season strategy of go-get-the-rebound-and-dunk-it helped him break out quickly. But as the demands from the coaching staff grew, Alexander struggled to stay caught up and that left him watching from the bench more often than not. Add to that his eligibility mess that kept him out of the final eight games of the season and it's hard to call Alexander's lone season as a Jayhawk anything other than a disappointment. Drafted: To Be Determined in June.
• JOSH SELBY • The No. 1 ranked player in his recruiting class sure knew how to make an entrance. But after his hot-shooting, 21-point game against USC in his first game as a Jayhawk (after a nine-game suspension due to eligibility concerns) Selby pretty much disappeared for the rest of the 2010-11 season. A lingering foot injury contributed to some of his lack of production, but the Baltimore native never appeared to fully buy in or get into the flow during his one year of college ball. He averaged 7.9 points per game and made 36 percent of his three-point attempts but played just 20.4 minutes per game and shot just 38 percent from the field overall. Drafted: No. 49 overall by Memphis in second round of 2011 NBA Draft.
For most people, the next summer Olympics, set for 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, remain in the distant future.
But not for former Kansas University pole vaulter Jordan Scott, a Watkinsville, Georgia, native and 2011 KU grad who hopes to make the U.S. Olympic team for the first time.
Scott, who recently stepped away from his full-time job in the KU Athletics IT department in order to focus all of his time on training for the Olympic trials, currently is in the middle of a fund-raising effort similar to the Kickstarter campaigns used by musicians, filmmakers, artists, designers and actors.
Through rallyme.com, Scott hopes to raise $20,000 by March 17 that will aid his training expenses for the next year or so — $12,000 for travel expenses for practice and competitions, $5,000 for monthly training trips to work with his coach in Knoxville, Tennessee, and $3,000 for training equipment, which includes turning his garage in Lawrence into a weight room.
Scott came across the rallyme.com idea with help from AthleteBiz, an organization that helps promote and support track athletes across the country.
“It's such a different sport than football or basketball,” Scott said of track and field. “We're not really part of teams, but that's an organization that tries to rally support. The rallyme.com idea is for athletes and teams in sports. It's relatively new and I don't know many other track athletes who have done it.”
As of Thursday morning, Scott had reached 27 percent of his goal.
Finding the money for proper training is only half of the battle. After that, Scott would still have to make the team. He reached the final round of Olympic qualifying in both 2008 and 2012 but came up just short in the finals. However, he spent the past year ranked in the Top 5 nationally among all male pole vaulters and believes he's in the best vaulting shape of his life. Twenty-four vaulters are selected for the qualifying round and 12 of those go on to the finals. From there, the top three make the Olympic team and two others sign on as alternates.
“My goal is to win a medal in the Olympics,” Scott said. “But obviously my first goal is to get there.”
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.