On a cold, blustery Wednesday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, the Kansas University football team went through its final Wednesday practice of the 2014 season.
Just two practices remain before Saturday's game at Kansas State, which will bring to a close another KU football season filled with a couple of close calls and more disappointment.
There was nothing disappointing about the start of Wednesday's practice, which featured a World Cup-esque penalty-kick shootout-style punting drill involving some of the most unlikely candidates.
Ben Heeney and Nick Harwell were the captains for their respective squads in the best-of-five contest and Heeney was allowed only to pick offensive starters and Harwell only defensive starters. From there, the two sides took turns fielding punts from the mechanical punter to see which side could pick up the most grabs.
First up were Tony Pierson for Team Heeney and Dexter McDonald for Team Harwell. Pierson, as he's done several times throughout his playing days, dropped back and smoothly corralled the ball as it fell into his arms. McDonald, despite hearing from teammates how the pressure was on, followed suit and both teams were on the board.
Next up Jimmay Mundine for Team Heeney and Courtney Arnick for Team Harwell. Mundine also made his grab look smooth and Arnick, though under it in time, bobbled his try and watched it fall to the ground. 2-1, Heeney.
Now's when the fun really began. Next up: offensive lineman Junior Visinia for Team Heeney and defensive lineman Tedarian Johnson for Team Harwell. As the ball soared through the air and tracked into Visinia's area, the big freshman stuck his two hands out and speared the ball like a pig at a luau. No points for style here. A catch is a catch, and Junior's grab got the team fired up.
Needing to match Visinia to keep things tied, Johnson ran way too far in on his while it was in the air and watched it soar 15 yards behind him when it came down. 3-1, Team Heeney.
With Team Harwell needing to win the next two just to draw even, offensive lineman Larry Mazyck squared off for Team Heeney against D-lineman Keon Stowers for Team Harwell. Mazyck looked smooth as all get-out as he made his way to the ball but may have been a little too smooth on the catch and it fell to the ground, keeping Team Harwell alive. Stowers, however, could not capitalize, as his “ole'” attempt at the floating punt came up empty. Team Heeney put this one away, 3-1, with one kick left on the board.
Naturally, the KU offense exploded with joy over the victory and then went into the meat of practice.
Here's what caught my eye from the rest of the time I was out there:
• New father DeAndre Mann was a full participant and ran plenty of reps with the first string. Mann's absence has hurt the Jayhawks a little lately in that it's left the bulk of the running duties in the hands of true freshman Corey Avery. Avery has done well, but that's quite a load to handle and Mann's size, maturity and style certainly would've helped the KU running game. Maybe Saturday will be the day he gets a little momentum back to take into the 2015 season.
• Former KU linebacker Brandon Perkins (2002-05) showed up to practice to surprise interim coach Clint Bowen and the attempt worked. Bowen lit up when he saw Perkins and immediately had memories of a five-sack game for Perkins against Louisiana Tech in 2005. When Bowen asked Perkins what he was doing in town, the former KU linebacker said, “I came back for you, coach.” Perkins ranks fourth on KU's all-time sacks list with 20.
• Call it a hunch, but look for T.J. Semke to make an impact in Saturday's game. Listed behind Stowers as a second-string nose tackle along with Andrew Bolton, Semke looked to have a little extra nastiness to him during Wednesday's practice and seems like the kind of guy who would do well in a game like Saturday's.
• Finally, KU will practice on Thanksgiving but will go in the morning so the players can spend the afternoon of the holiday with their friends and families. Several guys from out of state will either spend the day with their teammates who have families nearby or with members of the KU coaching staff.
As has been the case throughout the past few weeks, interim KU coach Clint Bowen kicked off Wednesday's practice with a visit from a former Jayhawk. And this one meant a little more to Bowen than some of the others.
Charley Bowen, the older brother of the interim KU coach, was given the opportunity to talk to the team before Wednesday's practice and it was very clear by observing the head coach's actions that he was fired up for his big brother to speak to his squad.
During his introduction, Bowen highlighted a few of his brother's accolades — 44 starts, all-Big Eight honors, etc. — and then gave an inspired welcome as Charley stepped into the huddle to address the team.
After sharing a few words, most of which had to do with life after football and maximizing the opportunity these players had today, Charley was greeted by a rousing ovation, a few hugs and an energetic start to practice.
Charley told me it was the first time since 1992 that he had been on the practice field at Memorial Stadium. The only other KU practice he's been able to attend since then was in Arizona during the days leading up to the Insight Bowl in 2008.
Asked if being back on the field made him miss his playing days, Charley smiled and said simply, “You always miss it.”
Here's a quick look at a few other things that caught my eye at Wednesday's practice as the Jayhawks continued preparations for Saturday's 2:30 p.m. showdown with Iowa State:
• Senior defensive tackle Keon Stowers did not practice, but was on the field and did all he could to be a part of the action. Unlike his teammates in pads, Stowers wore only shorts and a jersey, but that did not stop him from coaching up the guys who were out there getting the reps in his place. Whether it was during individual drills or during team action, Stowers always found time to offer a helping hand and seemed fully engaged in every aspect, just as if he would've been out there. Bowen said earlier this week that the team was hopeful that Stowers would play Saturday and it sounds as if that's still the case. The good news there? Stowers is such a veteran with so many games under his belt that he could probably miss most of practice and still get out there on Saturday provided he's physically ready.
• It's hard to say what to make of it, but senior tight end Trent Smiley ran some with the first team offense during Wednesday's practice. Known among KU's tight ends as a strong blocker, Smiley lined up in the backfield, at his regular tight end spot and on both sides of the formation during the portion of practice when he ran with the ones.
• As was reflected on this week's updated depth chart, sophomore linebacker Courtney Arnick ran with the first team defense in place of Jake Love, who has been dealing with an injury. Love practiced and should get plenty of reps and play plenty of snaps on Saturday, but Arnick is quietly putting together a pretty strong season. Arnick all of a sudden has the look of a player the Jayhawks will be fortunate to have back in the lineup in 2015. Should be interesting to see how strongly he finishes the final third of this year's schedule.
• Defensive backs coach Dave Campo was very vocal during Wednesday's practice and most of what Campo barked about had to do with the vision of his DBs. “Get your eyes right,” Campo continually yelled during one drill. During another, he simply yelled at one of his DBs, “Get your eyes off of him (the quarterback) and worry about your man.” Nothing Earth-shattering here, of course, but it's cool to see these types of little details emphasized on this level.
• Finally, in case you missed NY Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., doing his one-handed pregame routine during the Monday Night Football game last week, check out the video below. It's become sort of a viral video and on Wednesday a couple of Jayhawks were attempting to match the moves. One who came the closest, believe it or not, was Buck Michael Reynolds. Could an INT be in Reynolds' future this week???
In-season open practices are back at the Kansas University football complex and today was the first day for the media to go out and take a look at the way Clint Bowen runs things as the head coach.
To be fair, it's not that much of a departure from the way Bowen ran things before. It's just that now, Bowen is running the whole show and his impact on the entire team, and not just the defense, is evident.
His energy is contagious. His passion comes out in every drill. And, perhaps most importantly, his attention to detail and the demand that the players do it right or do it over has become the norm.
It's rubbed off on all of the assistant coaches, as well.
Because we haven't been able to attend in-season practices for a couple of years, and, because even when we did it was only for the first 20 minutes, it's hard to say how different or similar this is to what came before. But that hardly matters. All that matters is that it is being done and the players seem to be responding.
It won't mean much if the results on the field don't change on game days. But it definitely can't hurt.
Here's a quick look at a few other things that caught my eye at Wednesday's practice, where we were able to observe for more than 45 minutes and, as far as I've been told, will be able to every Wednesday for the rest of the season.
• KU legend David Jaynes was in attendance to speak to the team before practice and he made no bones about what he thought should be expected out of a Kansas football team. Jaynes, a former KU quarterback and Kansas native who finished fourth in the 1973 Heisman Trophy voting, did not yell and scream and spit, but he was direct. He said practice should be harder than the games. He said he always asked that the KU DBs be right on his wide receivers during practices so he would have to be as accurate as possible. That way, when they reached Saturdays and the opposing DBs played a little off for fear of getting beat deep, the throws would be easier to make and the game would seem simple. The message was well received and Bowen, when he introduced Jaynes, made sure the team looked up to the to of the bowl at the north end of Memorial Stadium, where Jaynes name is plastered on the wall. Cool moment. I heard former KU lineman Keith Loneker spoke to the team at the end of Tuesday's practice.
• One cool thing about the way practice began today (and I assume this is how it begins every day now) was how the team took the field. Instead of players strolling out to the turf one-by-one or a few at a time, they all congregated by the bronze Jayhawk outside of the locker room and took the field together. Any guesses as to who led the way? Yep. Bowen.
• I mentioned that Bowen's energy seems to have rubbed off on everyone and that includes the assistant coaches. I think the Jayhawks started doing some more physical work a couple of weeks ago, so that part was not terribly new. But the intensity of it and the urgency they operated with seemed a bit amped up. Even the assistants ran from station to station and drill to drill. No wasted time by anyone.
• One of the best soundbites of the practice came from Bowen during a linebacker drill. It was simple and to the point, directed at one player but was probably a subtle message sent to the entire team. “Quit being soft,” he barked.
• Here's the thing about Bowen taking over and how he wants it all to go.... If you walked out to the field today to watch practice and did not know who the head coach was, you might not necessarily have picked Bowen first. That's not to say he wasn't in command or wasn't the one running the show, but it does indicate that he's not trying to tackle this thing alone. He's letting his coaches coach, he trusts them to do their jobs and wants this to be a team run by the coaches, players, fans, alums, administrators and anybody else who cares about Kansas football. It seems to me that Bowen only cares about two things and two things only out there on the practice field: Does it or does it not affect KU's chances of winning the next game? If it does, he'll deal with it. If it doesn't, he's not too concerned about it and it can wait.
• As for a detail about the whole urgency and working harder thing, I think it's important to note that it's not just the guys who aren't playing who have stepped it up. The front line guys have really led the way in this thing. Michael Reynolds, Ben Heeney, JaCorey Shepherd, Nick Harwell, guys like that have even turned their intensity up and doing so makes that the standard for practices now.
Couple of quick notes now before jumping back in to an expanded version a little later from Monday's KU football practice.
Check back in a while for more, but here are a couple that needed to get up quickly.
First, KU coach Charlie Weis called the team together during the stretching and warm-up portion of today's practice and called them out for not having any juice. It makes sense. It's hard to go through camp with great energy every day and probably even harder after a big Sunday scrimmage.
That said, Weis wasn't having it. In an attempt to inject some life into practice, he called a few more members of his staff over to the practice field so they could take their turn at the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Included in this group were assistant AD for sports medicine Murphy Grant, equipment manager Jeff Himes, media relations guru Katy Lonergan and assistant strength coach Justin Springer.
A handful of players were chosen to stand behind each person and dump the bucket of ice on their heads. It was hot out there on the turf, though, and I didn't hear any complaining.
Quickly, one newsy note from practice: Tight end Jordan Shelley-Smith, a red-shirt freshman from Waco, Texas, has moved to offensive line. He spent most of the drill I saw working at right tackle, which makes sense given the fact that, as a tight end, he's pretty athletic, moves well and may be a prime candidate to follow in Tanner Hawkinson's foot steps.
Shelley-Smith was listed at 245 pounds in the media guide. I've been told he's up to 260 now and there's no doubt that, with his frame, he could get up to the 290 range without much issue.
I thought he looked pretty strong in the drills and, from what little I do know of him, I think he may have the demeanor to play O-Line. We'll see.
More to come. Gotta take care of a couple things real quick. Quick tease: I spent a good chunk of my time today really looking at KU's three-man competition at Center between Keyon Haughton, Joe Gibson and Jacob Bragg.
Got back to this a little later than I had hoped so I'll save the center update for Tuesday.
Here were a few more quick things that caught my on Monday, though, since I promised you something.
• Still no Josh Ehambe or Damani Mosby out there, the only two players from the latest recruiting class who have yet to make it to campus. Mosby's closing in on an arrival (still just waiting for the paperwork to be graded) and Ehambe, who is still waiting for word from the NCAA on the eligibility of all Prime Prep Academy athletes Tweeted something about it being time to pack, which sent KU fans on Twitter into a frenzy about him getting good news but we've heard nothing official. Coach Weis is scheduled for a brief press conference Wednesday before introducing this year's captains so maybe we'll learn more then.
• I noticed that both the DBs and the linebackers were working a lot on the strip fumble drill during the early portion of today's practice. Nothing new there and certainly nothing they don't work on regularly anyway, but I thought it was interesting that both were doing it. Maybe the offense got the better of the defense in the Sunday scrimmage and the drill was put in to provide extra emphasis on takeaways. Purely speculation there, though. Haven't heard too much about how the scrimmage went yet.
• Weis said last week that he was hoping to be done shuffling the O-Line around after Saturday. It was just the first drill of a Monday practice but it's worth noting that the first group up in the drill for the O-Line looked like this: RT - Damon Martin, RG - Mike Smithburg, C - Keyon Haughton, LG - Ngalu Fusimalohi, LT - Pat Lewandowski.
• Finally, got a quick glance at one of those "It's Time" T-Shirts that the Jayhawks made to remind themselves that this year is supposed to be different. Nothing incredible, but they look pretty sharp.
Check Tuesday for more on the O-Line, particularly the center position.
Saturday's Fan Appreciation Day and open practice gave us our first extended look at the 2014 Kansas University football team.
And there was plenty to watch.
It's always nice to get at least one practice where we get more than the 20 minutes at the beginning. Not because we learn a ton of information that we might not otherwise see (Coach Weis is smart enough not to show too much when the eyes of the media and fans are on the field), but because it gives us a chance to look a little more closely at players and positions.
That's what I focused most of my time on during the more than 2 hours inside the gates on Saturday and several things stood out.
Here's a quick look at most of them:
• The running back position is loaded. It's not just talk. All four of the guys competing there could start, could handle the load and/or could lead this team in rushing. That's a good thing because of the pounding backs usually take. It's an even better thing because it'll keep the Jayhawks from being too one dimensional as each guy gives a little something different. One thing I noticed Saturday that impressed me was that all four guys — Brandon Bourbon, Taylor Cox, De'Andre Mann and Corey Avery — can both run inside and catch the ball out of the backfield. Nice luxury to have.
• Sticking with the offense, I thought QB Montell Cozart looked fine on Saturday. He was mostly accurate, moved around well in the pocket and also turned it up field when he had to and, perhaps most impressively, fit the ball into some tight spots. Michael Cummings also looked really good and I've heard he's had a terrific camp. Makes sense because this style of offense fits the type of player he is, which is probably why he appears to be leading in the race to become Cozart's back-up. That said, T.J. Millweard threw some nice balls and had particularly good touch on his deep ball. He just doesn't look quite as natural and comfortable as the other two. That's probably mostly experience and confidence.
• At wideout, the Jayhawks really appear to have some players. Rodriguez Coleman had a nice day and looked really athletic and Tony Pierson had a fantastic day. As the coaching staff has mentioned, Pierson is really starting to look like a wide receiver. He was locked up with Kevin Short in several one-on-one situations during Saturday's practice and he got the better of Short more times than not. That was probably my favorite part of the day on Saturday. Not only watching Pierson and Short go toe-to-toe, but watching all of the WRs battle with the DBs in one-on-one situations. For the most part, the receivers won the battle this time.
• Speaking of wideouts, those four freshmen might be special. Tyler Patrick, Darious Crawley, Derrick Neal and Bobby Hartzog all have a real natural feel for the game and they're fiery. They all know that the deck is stacked in front of them, but you wouldn't know it by watching them compete. They're out there to push their teammates on offense and defense every single rep. That can only help a team. Of the four, my guess is that Derrick Neal might be the farthest along. He just looks to have the best feel for the offense and, although he's tiny, he really uses that to his advantage. I could even see him fitting into the passing game in some kind of specialist role. On one play, wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau turned his back to the play and told someone on the sideline what was going to happen behind him. Sure enough, Neal ran a crossing route after lining up on the far side and caught the ball in the exact spot Kiesau said he would for a gain of 20-30 yards. That's a good sign for Neal and also for Kiesau, who looks like he's been with the program for years.
• A couple of quick notes about kickoff and punt return. Isaiah Johnson, Tre' Parmalee, Kevin Short and Nick Harwell all handled punt returns on Saturday and here was how I saw it. Most sure-handed: Parmalee. Most dangerous weapon: Harwell: Biggest gambler: Short. As for kickoff return, JaCorey Shepherd, Harwell and Short all looked equally dangerous back there. Too bad they don't figure to get many chances. Not because Weis won't use them. He's said he has no problem using front-line guys on special teams. Instead because the kickoff return has been taken out of college football more and more in recent years with the rule changes.
• Speaking of Weis and special teams, his talk about giving a good chunk of his time to that unit is no joke. He's very involved with every aspect and very attentive while special teams drills are happening.
• In the kicking department, both Trevor Pardula and Eric Kahn looked good on punts and kickoffs. No surprise there, but it was nice to see Kahn has developed into a more than capable back-up. Pardula ripped off one of his signature 70-yard punts and, unlike last year, when that brought a scream of some kind from Weis, it went without much chatter this time. It's a great sign when that kind of thing is expected instead of celebrated.
• In the field goal department, freshman John Duvic hit six of the seven kicks he attempted, missing only from 42 yards. One was an extra point and the rest were slowly and steadily farther out starting at 25 yards and going to 47. He definitely outperformed returning starter Matthew Wyman, who missed four straight during the same drill. Too bad too. We talked to Wyman before the practice began and he said he's had a great camp and felt more confident and consistent than ever. Just goes to show how doing it in front of a live crowd can change the game.
• The misses might not have been all on the kickers. Long snapper John Wirtel had a rough day as he bounced several snaps back to holder T.J. Millweard and even fired a few over Millweard's head. Props to Millweard for doing a great job of getting most of them down so the kickers had a chance. Millweard looks really strong in that role. He's confident, has good hands and is constantly encouraging the KU kickers.
A few more quick notes...
• No surprise here, but I thought the DBs looked very physical. Both in the passing game and in the run game, these guys really believe in their abilities and aren't afraid to hit.
• Junior cornerback Kevin Short is a very instinctual football player. He just seems to be where he needs to be and do what he needs to do with minimal effort. He likes to talk, too.
• The area in which the wide receivers have upgraded the most is not hands, speed, routes or anything like that. It's confidence. Credit Nick Harwell for a lot of that and Kiesau for a big chunk, as well.
• At the end, when they were running sprints — O-Line vs. D-Line, LBs vs. TEs and QBs, DBs vs. WRs — every group started its sprint from the goal line to the 50-yard line with one word... “Win!”
• After the sprints, the Jayhawks lined up for another round of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Coach Weis took the challenge on Friday night and today it was the rest of his coaching staff. 19 buckets were lined up at midfield and select players got to drench the coaches and support staff at the same time. Probably felt great out there since it was pretty hot on the turf.
• All in all it was a pretty good day. Not a lot was learned, but again, we were able to see these guys do a little more and move closer to full speed, which helps in evaluating where they're at. Only about 500-700 fans showed up but they almost all stayed start to finish and many of them hit the field for autographs afterwards. I heard several Jayhawks say sincere words like, “Thanks for the support,” to the fans who came and stuck around for a chance to meet the Jayhawks.
Here's a nice video of some of the action from Benton Smith...
And a photo gallery from Nick Krug...
It always blows my mind how, when I go out to these portions of practice that are open to the media, I kind of ignore the most talented and proven players.
That's not to say I don't toss a glance over to the linebackers to see what Ben Heeney's doing or take a peek at what Tony Pierson's hands look like during a specific drill, but I definitely don't spend the same kind of time studying those guys as I do the newcomers, the question marks and the unproven players.
I guess that makes sense. I know what Heeney and Pierson and so many others can do because I've seen it on Saturdays. Besides, there's always a little more intrigue surrounding the guys we don't know much about.
With that in mind, I tried to mix in a little of both during this morning's practice, KU's second session of two-a-days of the preseason camp.
Here's a look at who stood out...
• Junior safety Isaiah Johnson, the reigning Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year, looks even bigger and stronger than he did a season ago. I watched a good portion of the drills the DBs did with Scott Vestal and noticed that Johnson looks a lot more powerful in all of his movements. That can only help him improve on his five-interception season that earned him national praise and made him a more familiar name in Big 12 country.
• I mentioned Cassius Sendish the other day for his work ethic, but what jumped out to me today is the guy's burst. Sendish is fast. Again, he might not stand out to everybody for that or any other reason because he's not flashy, but he can fly. His legs are strong and powerful and he seems to get max strength out of every step and every plant.
• Sophomore Tevin Shaw got some love from KU coach Charlie Weis the other day for possibly being the team's most improved player so I took a look at him today, as well. I've always liked Shaw. Thought he was going to be a player right when he arrived and, understandably, it's taken him a couple of years to reach the point where he looks and feels more comfortable out there. I didn't see any of the viciousness that coach was talking about, but I was only watching drills. I'm hoping to see some more of what Shaw can do in terms of hitting and physicality on Saturday at the open practice.
• Speaking of the open practice and fan appreciation day, set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, I just got a note from KU that said they'll decide by 10 a.m. whether the show will go on or not. Sounds like there's a chance for rain and inclement weather so plans could change. As I said, we'll know by 10 tomorrow morning.
• One quick note on a newcomer, safety Fish Smithson. The guy looks good. Weis said the other day that he's pushing to be a starter (though it's hard to see him supplanting Sendish or Johnson at safety) and, it appears to me, that one of the big reasons for the push is because the guy is so technically sound. Every step during the drills I watched today was taken with purpose and in just the right manner. He's a little under-sized back there at 5-11, 190 but he packs a punch and is so fundamentally sound that I can see why they like the guy. It certainly did not hurt that he arrived early and was able to adjust during spring practices.
• Finally, a quick note about Vestal, who I think really is one of the better up-and-coming coaches on this staff. The guy's good and he's gonna be great some day. I really like watching him work with the DBs because he's so hands-on. He's right there for every step and if you take six steps in a back-pedal drill but just one of them isn't right or perfect, he'll make you do them all over again until you nail it. Another thing I like about his style is the way he comes up with little word devices to teach technique. For today's back-pedal drill, where the safeties were reading the break of the wide receivers and trying to get a jump on the cut, Vestal continually said "Read. My. Keys," as he stomped each step into the ground to try to hammer home the point. I didn't catch what the keys were, which is good because (a) that's meeting room stuff and (b) it means none of the guys forgot them, but I loved every second of watching the interaction between Vestal and the safeties.
Headed to interviews with the WRs and QBs soon... Be sure to check out our latest Podcast and also Benton Smith's video from this morning's practice.
Thursday's practice was one of the hottest of preseason camp so far for the Kansas University football team.... not that anyone was complaining.
As far as mid-August goes, what these guys have enjoyed the past couple of weeks, weather-wise, has been about as good as you could ask for.
Not a ton of things that jumped out at me out there today, but there were a couple of fun things that caught my eye and we saw a heck of a drill between the running backs and the linebackers.
It only lasted a few reps and was over just as it was starting to get good. Maybe that was by design.
Here was the gist: Ball placed at the 3-yard line about 3 or 4 yards away from the sideline. Running back takes the ball and goes one-on-one against a backer to try to score.
The running backs won the drill by a wide margin (and they probably should have...That's tough for the defensive guy to hold his ground in that tight of an area and keep the back from scoring.)
There was one significant highlight for the defense during the drill and it came from fast-rising freshman Kyron Watson. Paired up with senior tailback Brandon Bourbon, Watson laid a serious lick and also ripped the ball out and recovered it in the end zone.
The rest of the LBs went nuts when Watson returned to the line and the freshman from East St. Louis, Ill., pretty much took it all in stride. I'm telling you; this kid looks like a player.
It should be noted that Bourbon did just fine on his couple other carries. Like I said, the backs won the drill, but the Watson highlight might have been the biggest single moment.
One of the best and perhaps most overlooked moments of the drill was the showdown between KU assistants Clint Bowen, who coaches the linebackers, and Reggie Mitchell, who coaches the running backs. The two didn't actually jump into the drill (advantage Bowen in that one) but they flashed their intensity and passion throughout the session.
Both guys are such competitors that I'm certain they wanted to win the drill as much for their position group as any of the players. You can see that in the video that Benton Smith got toward the bottom of this blog. Good stuff.
By the way, this whole story should come as absolutely no surprise... Watson's Twitter handle tells all you need to know --- @KyroGee_HitRBs
Here's a quick look at a couple of other things that stood out Thursday:
• Scouts, scouts, scouts and more scouts. It's pretty much become the norm for at least a couple of NFL scouts to be out at practice, so this may be the last time I write about it. Today's attendance was the biggest of the preseason, though, so they jumped out at me a little more. Based on the roster and the number of Jayhawks who could potentially get a shot at pro football, I'm guessing these guys are busier than they have been when they come to Lawrence.
• It looks like the offensive linemen might have got some new gloves. Either that or I'm just now noticing them. I can't imagine that would be the case, though, since these babies stood out because of the shiny, silver, metalic or chrome accents on the tops side of the hand and fingers. The shine is there on both black and white gloves. Can't imagine this will have anything to do with how the line plays this season, but you never know. Look good, feel good, play good is a mantra I believe in and I don't doubt for a second that these guys love those gloves.
• Speaking of the O-Line, after Joe Gibson ran first-team center for the past couple of days during the super-early offensive sequence that kick-starts most practices, junior Keyon Haughton was back with the 1's on Thursday. What's it mean? Who knows? Maybe this battle is still hot and heavy. Maybe it's a three-way contest with Jacob Bragg very much in the mix. Maybe it will come down to the final week or so of camp. KU coach Charlie Weis said earlier this week that he hoped to stop experimenting with the line after Saturday's open practice. I'm sure he will. I'm also sure that means very little of what we see in terms of which guy is running with which unit will mean too much on Saturday. Still, it doesn't take a genius to figure out which guys look better. Still too early to tell in that department for me. For what it's worth, the second unit in that early drill went like this: LT Larry Mazyck, LG Bryan Peters, C Joe Gibson, RG Apa Visinia, RT Brian Beckmann. The first team, as it is on the depth chart, was: LT Pat Lewandowski, LG Ngalu Fusimalohi, C Haughton, RG Mike Smithburg, RT Damon Martin.
• While watching the linebackers for a few minutes, something hit me: Don't forget about Courtney Arnick. Just a sophomore, but in his third year in the program, Arnick is bigger than he has been in the past but still looks as fast and as quick as he was. He's played some linebacker and some nickelback during his first two years and seems to fit the mold of what the defense is looking for: fast, athletic guys who can make plays in space. With his decent experience, Arnick could easily be a rotation guy. He's listed second string behind Jake Love on the depth chart, but certainly will have his hands full contending with Watson.
• Another guy who falls in the “forget me not” category is Buck senior Victor Simmons. From safety to linebacker to Buck, Simmons has been used all over the place. It takes a disciplined player to be moved around so much and not break. Simmons looks as fast as ever, is rock solid and has incredibly quick feet. If he can pick up the nuances of his latest position, he could produce some positive moments this fall.
Finally, be sure to check out Benton Smith's videos of the day and the latest KU camp Podcast from Tom Keegan and me.
It's been a lot of firsts for the Kansas University football program this week and Wednesday morning brought another: First day of two-a-days.
Session one kicked off early this morning at 9 a.m. and, appropriately, they kicked things off with “Let's Get It Started” from the Black Eyed Peas.
It's always interesting to watch the energy and vibe at these morning practices and I gotta tell ya, today's session didn't look any different than what we've seen in the afternoon the past several days.
By the time they suit up, get treatment, get taped up and all of that, you'd think they'd have no problem waking up and being ready. But you have to remember these are college kids and 9 a.m. comes pretty early. Heck, it comes pretty early for me most days. So good for them for looking sharp and being ready to get after it at the first morning practice of the season.
That's not a huge deal and they should be expected to do just that, but it's definitely possible that they could've been sluggish and, if they were, I didn't see it.
Here's a quick glance at what else caught my eye this morning. KU coach Charlie Weis will be available for a press conference at 11:45 a.m. and we'll have all kinds of nuggets and sound from that this afternoon.
• One thing that has impressed me most from the coaches in the early going is how they get prepared for practice. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in there behind closed doors when they're having their coffee and getting ready to hit the field. But during stretching and warm-up type stuff when they're just waiting for Scott Holsopple to get done with the players, they're coaching then, too. A lot of times it's just high-fiving the guys or slapping them on the helmet to make sure they're ready to go. But today I noticed that, in the name of efficiency, there was a lot of prep work being done. Particularly with John Reagan. Instead of just walking around or jamming to the music and waiting for them to finish, Reagan was talking to each lineman about what drills were up first and reminding them of little tips and tidbits that might help them get to work a little faster. Again, efficiency is the key word there and these guys don't appear to be wasting any time.
• I took a longer look at the linebackers and Bucks today and the thing that jumped out at me was their athleticism and mobility. So many of those guys can move, are light on their feet and can change direction very well for guys who play those positions. Michael Reynolds, Victor Simmons, Ben Heeney, Kyron Watson, Courtney Arnick. All of those guys and more really showed some good agility during the drill I saw them working. Gotta think that can only help when chasing down a ball carrier.
• So much of the early portion of camp is about guys getting shots and a couple of young guys on offense are definitely getting theirs. For the second day in a row, Joe Gibson worked in with the first team at center during the fast-paced offensive drill. Also working in with the first team today was freshman running back Corey Avery. I've thought this for a while and I think it more and more every day: Avery's going to play.
• Want to know how you get to be a captain in your first year in the program or a two-time Big 12 media days representative or one of the most respected guys on the team? Watch Cassius Sendish. The senior safety, who also happens to be one of the best dudes on the team, is one of the hardest working guys out there day in and day out. Talk about efficiency, Sendish looks to get every ounce he can out of every drill he does and never goes half-speed or takes a rep off. That kind of thing is contagious and really sets a good tone for the younger guys who are looking up to and learning from him. It's that kind of effort that's required to help rebuild a program.
More to come a little later on. For now, be sure to check out Benton Smith's video from this morning's practice.
Pads were popping and it finally looked like the first day of football season at the Kansas University practice fields on Tuesday.
The Jayhawks, after four days of drills in jerseys, helmets and shells, strapped on pads for the first time and showed a different look.
Some guys maintained the quickness they showed during the first few days. Others looked a little more sluggish and, somehow, others looked a little faster.
In preparation for Day 1 in pads, the Jayhawks watched a video, during their morning meetings, about the proper tackling techniques and other safety precautions that go into full contact. Happens every year, but it's great to see the coaching staff put such serious emphasis on something so important.
Seeing some of these young guys in pads for the first time had me thinking that quite a few of them could play if called upon. The goal, of course, is for them to not be needed so they can save the year of eligibility and continue working on their bodies and minds as they make the transition from high school to college.
The most important part of this thought, though, is that guys like Jacob Bragg, Apa Visinia, Lay'Trion Jones, Daniel Wise and many others look a little more like the kinds of guys big programs start with year in and year out. That's good for the future and for the continued development of the program.
Here's a quick look at a few things that caught my eye out there on Tuesday:
• Maybe it was just being in pads that got him fired up, or maybe he was feeling particularly good. Either way, junior center Keyon Haughton was fired up out there. He kept beating on his chest, high-fiving everyone within reach and looking generally pretty charged up. It's dangerous to read too much into any one day, but two things came to mind: 1. Maybe he's playing very well and has a ton of confidence and just can't wait to keep rolling. Or, 2. Maybe he's feeling the intensity of the battle for the top spot at center and he was trying to get himself charged up for a big day. I suppose it's possible there could be a No. 3 in play here, too. Maybe he just loved the song that was playing.
• It's been said here, written all over the place and mentioned a bunch of times already, but today gave a really good look at the transformation of Charlie Weis. Most days, he's wearing a sweatshirt or some kind of pullover with his shorts and you can't really tell how much weight he's lost. Today, though, he had black shorts and a black short-sleeve shirt and he looked great. He's lost more than 80 pounds in the past several weeks and appears to be moving around much better than in the past. The only reason this is a big deal — other than for the Weis family — is because I truly believe that a team can benefit from this kind of example of hard work, dedication and achievement coming from the top.
• The fun-and-feel-good moment of the day came right after stretching as the defensive players were running to their side of the field for drills. While sprinting to his station, junior lineman Ben Goodman was jawing with current grad assistant Darius Willis, who was a Goodman teammate just last season. It was all in good fun, of course, and it just goes to show that there are a million different ways to motivate and Willis has found one.
• Evidently I've found my early obsession: Freshman running back Corey Avery. Really, really looking forward to seeing him play. Today, with the backs dressed in full pads, I noticed Avery seemed to run low with great balance. Easy to say during a drill. We'll see if it transitions to game day or if it even matters. My guess is it will on both counts.
• With Jimmay Mundine sidelined for a couple of weeks with an injury, the door is open for someone at the tight end spot to make himself a player the coaches can't keep off the field. Trent Smiley is listed second on the depth chart, but he's more of a blocking tight end anyway – and a damn good one at that. Ben Johnson and Jordan Shelley-Smith both have a chance to step forward, but don't count out Smiley altogether. He's got the experience, he's got underrated hands and he's a senior playing his last season of college football. I noticed him really doing a lot of leading today, both of the vocal nature and by example.
Today's Videos and Podcast:
We're getting closer to seeing what this team looks like in full pads...
Monday marked the first day with shoulder pads at KU football camp and, starting Tuesday, they'll be allowed to suit up in full gear.
Coaches have said for decades that the one sure way to tell if a guy can play or not is to get him in pads and then see. So many players look good running around in shorts and jerseys but then lose a step or more when they slap on the full attire.
As an aside, I've always wondered why the NFL combine doesn't take that into account and make the guys run the 40 and do those drills in full pads. To my knowledge, no football game outside of the lingerie bowl has been played with the athletes wearing underwear.
Anyway, I'm not saying a full transformation from great to good or good to bad will be the case with any of the Jayhawks, but you can bet that's when the real evaluations will begin.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at what caught my eye at Monday's practice....
• It was defensive linemen that jumped out at me today and all in a good way. In a relative sense — understanding that these guys are naturally bigger than most other positions — I'd say the D-Line is probably the most lean and mean looking group of any out there. These guys are all significantly more cut and most of the newcomers, freshmen and juco guys alike, are starting from a fantastic spot. Here are a couple of specifics on what I'm talking about.
• Keon Stowers has continued to mold his body and he now looks like the kind of guy who could play defensive end or on the interior. He's big but in all the right ways, cut almost everywhere and looks to be in the best shape of his career. Perhaps the best part? He doesn't appear to be letting up.
• Andrew Bolton looks fantastic, too. No. 1, he looks healthy. Beyond that, he just has a different style about him. Maybe it's a different gear. Maybe it's his crazy powerful lower body that makes it look like he's working on a different playing surface. Or maybe it's just that this is the kind of player that's supposed to be at defensive end. Either way, he looks good and hungry.
• Ben Goodman, Tedarian Johnson and Michael Reynolds all look more lean, as well. Reynolds told me the other day that even though he's added weight and strength, he actually feels like he's faster. That's the kind of thing you want to hear at all positions.
• As for the newcomers, several of them are pretty impressive, too. Freshmen Daniel Wise, D.J. Williams and Lay'Trion Jones are big bodies who seem to be the ideal specimens for a guy like Scott Holsopple to mold. Both look like they could get out there right now. Obviously the mental part of things is a different story and may hold them back slightly, but who knows?
• As far as juco guys on the D-Line, Kapil Fletcher has a really nice blend of power and quickness and Anthony Olobia looks like a wild animal. His lower body just never stops moving and it looks as if he never goes less than 340 percent on any rep. It was just one day of watching him, so that might not be a fair assessment. But his energy impressed me today. I'll keep an eye on if that's the norm.
• A couple of non-D-Line things that jumped out today: Tony Pierson is going to be used all over the formations. I think I saw him in five different spots during the opening drill and that was just a quick-hitter, get the offense moving type of drill. Good luck to defensive coordinators who are trying to keep tabs on him.
• Keyon Haughton jumped over to left guard when Jacob Bragg got his shot at center. KU coach Charlie Weis said last week that Bragg would get a legitimate look and it appears he is. Haughton, who has played guard and center, gives the O-Line some nice options.
• Finally, a quick update on freshman running back Corey Avery, who I noted looked thicker than I anticipated the other day. It's because he is. The rosters were updated today and Avery is up 25 pounds from signing day, from 170 to 195. That's a good thing for him and KU football and also a good thing for me because he sure didn't look like a 170-pound player when I first saw him. Turns out I was right. That time.
As I mentioned, full pads tomorrow. Should give us all kinds of new things to look for. Check back then and be sure to check out Benton Smith's video of interviews with offensive leaders and the latest Spodcasters episode from Tom Keegan and me.