Saturday marked Day 2 of preseason camp for KU football. Still no pads (per NCAA rules), but still plenty of action to take in during the 20 minutes of practice open to the media.
We're fortunate enough to get this kind of first-hand look at the team nearly every day throughout August, so there will be plenty of time to dissect newcomers and all of that other stuff in the coming weeks.
Today, what jumped out to me was the portion of practice that came right after stretching in which Montell Cozart (#2) and the first-string offense ran mock offense against no defense to get into the flow.
Obviously, it wasn't impressive because of the competition. But it was impressive because it (a) gave me an early look at how the offense will operate and (b) gave me a good look at how Cozart runs the team.
Both were promising. It won't mean anything if it doesn't translate to Saturdays this fall, but it's all we have to go on as of now.
First, the offense. With offensive coordinator John Reagan standing on the sideline and signaling in the calls, Cozart looked once to the sideline from the shotgun and then jumped up to the line of scrimmage to communicate with his offensive line and skill players. There weren't multiple looks over — though there probably will be — and it didn't appear to be mass confusion. One look, I've got it and go. Efficiency was a big word brought up throughout the offseason and that was definitely the word that came to mind when watching this drill. For the record, it was the same sort of pace and procedure when Michael Cummings (#14) jumped in with the second string.
Center Keyon Haughton (#70) and Cozart were the two big communicators, which tells me something about Haughton. Obviously he was here in the spring, so that gave him some time to get comfortable. But if he's winning that battle over Joe Gibson (#77) and Jacob Bragg (#55) right now, it must be because the coaches and players trust him. Good sign.
A couple more quick things about Cozart from Saturday:
• Perhaps the thing I liked most about what I saw was the way Cozart stayed on the field and high-fived all 10 other offensive players as they came off after the drill was over. That's leadership and really gives you the indication that Cozart's in it for the team not for himself.
• During individual throwing drills with QB coach Ron Powlus, Cozart had an issue with his helmet and when the equipment manager came over to fix it, you could really see the focus on his face as he continued the drill. In general, he's a happy, fun-loving guy and likes to smile and clown around. But when he's out there working to get better, it appears as if he's all business.
• I'm not saying Cozart's going to be an all-Big 12 quarterback and that KU's issues at that position are fixed immediately. But it's clear that the young man who has been put into a huge position, is taking this opportunity very seriously and is doing everything he can to make sure lack of focus and determination won't be the reason if things don't get better.
• Finally, since I missed Nigel King (#9) at Friday's practice, I made sure to get over to the receivers today and I was very impressed by what I saw. Again, King's a big boy and he stood out for his height among the group. But every one of those guys appears to be working much harder now than I ever remember seeing them work in the past couple of years. First-year WR coach Eric Kiesau clearly has made an impact and, going off of what little I've learned about Kiesau so far, I'm guessing he's far from done with his work. Their footwork looked much better, they ran drills harder and with more purpose and they all caught the ball with their hands, away from their bodies during every drill.
• The four freshmen receivers — Darious Crawley (#12), Bobby Hartzog (#5), Derrick Neal (#7) and Tyler Patrick (#4) — really stood out to me, as well. It's clear that they're not as polished as the upperclassmen, but man are they working. In some cases, they appear to be trying a little too hard (isn't that better than the alternative?) and Kiesau kept having to remind them to go hard but to remain under control. Not too surprising, especially for Day 2, but props to the young guys for getting after it. That's a credit to the coaches and the upperclassmen, who clearly won't accept anything less.
No access tomorrow, but the blog will be back up on Monday afternoon, so be sure to check back.
Here's a quick video Benton Smith threw together from some of today's interviews with the defense.
And, in case you missed it, here's a look at the What Caught My Eye blog from Day 1
The first day of practice for the Kansas University football team meant the first chance to get a look at the newcomers and made-over faces who make up this year's roster.
For some reason, I always find myself drawn to the offensive linemen during these deals. Could be because they're the closest unit to the gate, but I'm not really a lazy person. I think the more likely reason is that they've always been a group of such question marks and this year is no different.
More on that in a minute, but, first thing's first: newcomers Larry Mazyck and Devon Williams are a couple of huge dudes.
Both appear to have plenty of work ahead of them to crack the starting lineup, but the size is there. Now it's about picking up the offense, getting in better shape and fine-tuning things like quick feet, perfect fundamentals and whatever other instructions line coach and offensive coordinator John Reagan wants to throw at them.
Here's a quick look at some other things that caught my eye at Friday's practice. Don't worry, there'll be plenty more of these this month. It was a little overwhelming out there today with so many new and exciting faces and places to watch. Remember, we're only invited in for the first 20 minutes, so these blogs won't have a ton of details about position battles or X's and O's.
• It was absolutely no surprise, but the first line of the stretching and sprinting drills was made up of some of the team's strongest leaders. Keon Stowers, Ben Heeney, Cassius Sendish, JaCorey Shepherd, Jake Love, Tre' Parmalee, Ben Goodman, Ngalu Fusimalohi, Pat Lewandowski, Nick Harwell, Brandon Bourbon and even punter Trevor Pardula, stretched across the field and were the first to lead the team into the 2014 season.
• One of the newcomers who jumped out at me (OK, OK, mostly because I couldn't wait to get a look at him) was freshman running back Corey Avery. The Dallas native who stands 5-foot-10, 170 pounds looks bigger than I would've expected and seems to be pretty well put together. I can see why there's talk of him getting on the field right away.
• Back to the linemen for a second... I wrote the other day about John Reagan's coaching style and it was pretty much the same. Hands-on, specific details, engaged in the action. One difference, though. In the spring, Reagan looked a little more patient. Today, you can tell that the switch has been flipped to in-season mode. Mistakes were less tolerated and not paying attention was severely frowned upon. Makes sense to me. That's the only way to see who gets it and who doesn't.
• As for some more specifics about the position, I love watching Joe Gibson work. He's got great feet and incredible work ethic. I can tell why everyone thinks he's going to be a player. And props to him for not pulling back now that he's a scholarship dude. If anything, he appears to be going harder to prove that he's worthy of it. Fusimalohi and Smithburg look like the seasoned veterans they are (even though Smithburg told me this spring that it's crazy that people see him as one of the experienced ones); Pat Lewandowksi looks a little stronger and there was some real emphasis being put on powering their way five yards down the field.
• I forgot that former Jayhawk Darius Willis is now on the coaching staff. Great to see him out there. He's a GA for defense and he's always been a guy who knows how to light up a room.
• Because he's the quarterback and because it's required, I took a couple of peeks Montell Cozart's way today. Didn't see a whole lot but what I did see stood out. His confidence is very evident. The guy believes he's right where he belongs and carries himself like a player who's ready for what's ahead.
• Another newcomer who stood out was East St. Louis, Ill., linebacker Kyron Watson. He's a load (6-0, 220). He fills out his No. 6 jersey and uniform very well but still looks light on his feet and shows good instincts. Wild that the two newcomers who jumped out at me today both wear No. 6. And, no, they weren't next to each other, they were on opposite fields. Just a coincidence, I guess.
• As for the drills we were able to see, the defense appears to be dying for the season to get here. A lot of energy on that side of the ball, and when there's not, they do it again to make sure they're at max hype. After one drill, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen called the first-string D back over to the sideline to make them take the field again because it looked like he didn't think they did it with enough fire the first time. It's that kind of attention to detail that has to be there for this talented group to achieve its goal of being the best in the Big 12.
• One last thing that caught my eye (technically as I was leaving practice) was the first look at the new decorative fence being put around the south end at Memorial Stadium. Here's a crude photo of the progress. The chain link fence will eventually be gone. It looks pretty sharp in person.
More nuggets from practice tomorrow, so be sure to check out KUsports.com throughout the month for blogs like this, videos from Benton Smith and podcasts from Tom Keegan and me.
Oh, yeah. One more thing. Coach Weis does still get the second song of the day and today it was Who Says You Can't Go Home by Bon Jovi.
Also, be sure to check out Benton Smith's videos from Day 1 and the leaders of KU's secondary...
Day 2 of the Kansas University football program's fall camp has come and gone and I left practice with a couple more early observations.
In keeping with the spirit of yesterday's season-opening blog, let's take a quick look at a few more newcomers today as well as a couple of other interesting tidbits that jumped out at me during the 20 minutes we were out there.
• By far the player who jumped out at me the most today that I did catch yesterday was wide receiver Mark Thomas. Listed at 6-foot, 210 pounds, Thomas is every bit of that. The Nassau Community College graduate has thick, powerful legs and looks like he could do some damage both after the catch and in blocking. They were just doing basic drills against no defense so it's hard to tell how physical Thomas really is. But if he's even half as physical as he appears, he'll be a load for opposing defenses.
• Sticking at wide receiver, I got my first look at Nick Harwell today. He's smaller — at least shorter — than I expected but the roster says 6-1, 193 and we know KU coach Charlie Weis does not fudge on those measurements. Forget physical appearance for a minute, though. Harwell carries himself like the polished and experienced receiver he is. He ran mostly with the second group today — opposite Josh Ford — and he had great bounce, which led me to believe that he's not going to let the fact that he can't play this year keep him from getting better and helping the Jayhawks.
• Coach Weis told me on Wednesday not to make a big deal out of the fact that offensive tackle Zach Fondal (again, pronounced Fawn-Doll) would spend some time at left tackle and some time at right tackle throughout camp while the team attempts to build some depth at both positions and waits for the arrival of juco tackle Pearce Slater, who should be in camp tomorrow. So I won't. But it was worth noting that Fondal ran drills as a right tackl with the No. 1 unit today. Riley Spencer started there yesterday. Not worth making too much out of it. Maybe they're just alternating every other day. But this much is certain; if Fondal wasn't at least someone they thought could compete for that spot you can bet they'd have somebody else in there.
• It'll be interesting to see how long it lasts, but I caught another “Start from the bottom” reference in one of the songs that roared over the speakers at camp today. That's two days of practice and two musical references to KU's position as the predicted cellar-dweller in the Big 12.
• Another musical note: There must have been something wrong with the first song on today's practice playlist because it was all treble and sounded awful. The guy in charge of the music quickly caught in and skipped ahead to the next track, but not before hearing a chorus of boos from the players during stretching.
• I'm always a big fan of checking out who the team leaders are and since captains have not been announced yet the best place to check this out is warm-ups. Which guys go first in sprints or stand in the first line during stretching? The answer? A ton. Ben Heeney, Jake Heaps, Jake Love, Keon Stowers, Ben Goodman, Pat Lewandowski, Cassius Sendish, Justin McCay, Dexter Linton, Taylor Cox, Christian Matthews, Trevor Pardula and Riley Spencer held down the first line. Remember, football fields are pretty wide.
• Finally, I think it's noteworthy that guys are going all out out there so far in camp, even during the simulated offensive snaps the team runs at the beginning of the positional drills period. It would be real easy to jog out to your position or up to the line of scrimmage, but, for the most part, these guys are sprinting to their spots to get lined up. There's been a lot of talk about the defense playing faster, but it looks like that may be a focal point for the offense, too.
In case you missed my video from Day 1, check it out:
Seeing how today marked the official beginning of the 2013, I figured I better make my first “What Caught My Eye” blog of the season one that's dedicated to beginners.
We'll have plenty of time to get into some more position-specific stuff and talk about the Jayhawks you already know about, but here's a quick first-look at a few of the newcomers, guys we got to see in a KU uniform for the first time today.
Remember, media members are not allowed to attend the entire practice, just the first 20-30 minutes, so what we see is somewhat limited. But instead of just mailing it in and pretending like it's all the same, I'll spend the month looking for the little things that stand out — at least to me — and I'll try to interpret them and analyze them as best I can.
• First, it's worth pointing out that there was a ton of energy all over the field today. That's to be expected from a first practice — I don't care if it's the first day of middle school football or the first day of NFL training camp — but it's still nice to see, considering that the last time we were invited to practice during the season, we saw a team that always worked hard but lost its bounce week after week, loss after loss. The energy did not just come from the players today, though. Tons of juice from everyone including coaches, managers and anybody else associated with the program.
• As you might have guessed, my first glances went toward defensive tackle Marquel Combs. I wanted to see how he worked, how he moved and how he carried himself. I'd give him high marks in all three areas and the best part was, he looked like he was having fun the entire time. Combs has a chance to impact this team in a bigger way than just about anybody this season and it was good to see him out there in his element.
• On the offensive line, Zach Fondal (pronounced Fawn-doll, I've been told) looks like he could jump out there right now. Great size, good feet, fluid movement. There's no doubt that he has some work to do, both in getting in better shape and in learning how to play D-I football, but the framework appears to be there. Fondal opens camp as the second-string left tackle and he'll work at both left and right tackle throughout camp to give the Jayhawks better depth at both spots.
I know I said this was about beginners today, but this would be a good time to toss in my impressions of left tackle Aslam Sterling. In a word, I'd say, 'Wow.' Not only does he look to be in much, much, much better shape than the guy who started for the Jayhawks last season, he moves like a running back. The coaches have been singing the praises of his transformation for weeks now and after seeing it with my own two eyes I can plainly say that they're not making too much of it. He's a new man. And he looks like he has a chance to be a force.
• Another guy who jumped out at me was linebacker Samson Faifili, who opens camp as a back-up to Jake Love at the Will linebacker spot. Know this about Faifili: If Love holds him off, he'll have earned it and it'll make me think even more of Love than I already do. Faifili is non-stop energy who likes to bounce around the field, talk constantly and elevate the energy level whenever possible. He's easy to spot because he's got that Troy Palamalu hair sticking out of the back of his helmet. Before too long, I'm guessing you'll notice the guy (No. 51) for something other than his hair.
• Just because we can, let's throw Jake Heaps into the “new” grouping. After all, he is new as a starter on this squad. I've seen him plenty of times now, both in practice and in game-type settings, but I still walk away impressed every time. The ball just zips off his hand. We talked with him a little earlier today and he said he wasn't going to change anything about how he does things now that camp has started. The only change you might see is a louder, more energized, more excited guy in the No. 9 jersey. He's been waiting a long time for a chance to get back out there.
• Here's another one that's in that quasi-new category. Remember former defensive lineman Max Onyegbule? He's back with the program in a coaching role and, from the looks of things today, he'll help a lot. He's young enough to relate to these guys and spent most of the stretching portion of the practice bouncing in the faces of his D-Linemen. Any guesses on the guy who got the most attention from Max? Yep. Combs.
• Finally, one quirky thing I thought was funny came when the Coach Weis song of the day came on. Yes, they're still doing it with the second song of each practice and, yes, it sounds like it's still going to be Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi every day. Today's song was Springsteen's “Born to Run” but when it came on, even the players went nuts. I never saw that last year. Like I said, there was a lot of energy out there today and nothing showed that more than a bunch of 18-20 year-olds getting fired up about a song by the Boss. One other musical mention came four or five songs in, when a track by Drake filled the air. It's name? “Started from the Bottom.” It's hook? “Started form the bottom, now we here.” Sounds like a decent way for the KU football program to kick off the 2013 season.
More to come tomorrow. See you then.
Check back with KUsports.com throughout the afternoon for more from practice, as both Jesse Newell and I got some video from the first day.
Tuesday marked the first practice of the spring that was open to the media and instead of the usual 20 minutes of stretching and warm-ups, KU coach Charlie Weis opened the door and pulled back the curtain for the entire hour-and-40-minute session.
A good chunk near the end was spent on special teams, but, with this team, even that was an area worth watching.
With that in mind, here's the first (and maybe only) edition of “What Caught My Eye” from spring drills. Grab a chair and get comfortable.
• New year, new leaders. In addition to the bounce in their step and hope in the air (none of that was there during the final few weeks of the 2012 season), it's always interesting to see what a new team looks like during spring drills. Who steps up and leads. Who is most vocal? Who leads by example? All of that and more is easy to spot during an open practice. But the easiest way to find out who the leaders are is to watch the stretching lines. Usually the guys closest to coach Holsopple are the biggest leaders and, on Tuesday at least, that seemed to hold true. The first line included quarterback Jake Heaps, linebacker Ben Heeney and running back James Sims. A couple of surprises on the first line included Keba Agostinho, Randall Dent, Dexter Linton, Jacorey Shepherd and Ron Doherty. A few of those guys are seniors, but a few are not. Nothing earth-shattering there but it was the first thing that jumped out.
• The Coach Weis song of the day seems to be back, at least for now, and today, the practice DJ stacked a Bruce Springsteen song on top of a Bon Jovi song. Talk about buttering up the head coach.
• Darius Willis, who now wears No. 52, looks substantially bigger than I ever remember him being. Willis, whom Weis said recently is pushing Heeney for first-string reps at middle linebacker, looks mobile, physical and ready for a bigger role again. In short, he's everything I thought he would be when he first arrived from Buffalo.
• One of my favorite drills of the day was a drill in which five receivers ran different routes on the same play, with each one receiving a ball at the same moment. The drill was made possible by the fact that all three KU quarterbacks — Heaps, Michael Cummings and Blake Jablonski — along with QB coach Ron Powlus and one of the managers dropped back and threw to a designated guy. While this unfolded for nearly 10 minutes, Coach Weis sat in a golf cart in the end zone and coached both the receivers and the quarterbacks. The way the receivers and running backs ran routes at different depths reminded me of the fountains at the Belagio in Las Vegas dancing to the music.
• Speaking of routes, I thought it was very cool to see the different ways Tony Pierson was used. I don't think for a second that we saw even one-fifth of what KU will ask of Pierson this season, but what we did see was the dynamic junior speed back running routes all over the field. Short. Long. Seam. Post. Corner. If he and Heaps can develop some chemistry, he'll be a nightmare for opposing defenses this fall.
• Another dude we've heard about who truly has gotten bigger is red-shirt freshman tight end Jordan Smith. The guy's lower body looks like a tank. Didn't watch him a ton in route-running and pass-catching drills, but he's bulked up, no question about it.
• We didn't get to see much of the offensive or defensive lines during live action, so I'll stick with the linebackers and secondary. The first string looked like this: Courtney Arnick, Heeney and Jake Love at linebacker, with Shepherd and Cassius Sendish at corner and Greg Allen and Dexter Linton at safety. When the team went to its nickel package, Dexter McDonald checked in at nickel back. When they went dime, Allen, Linton, Shepherd, McDonald, Sendish, Tevin Shaw, Willis and Heeney were all out there.
• Remember that talk of accountability that we heard from these guys at the start of spring drills? It's legit. I heard more guys calling out other guys today than I can remember all year last year. Nothing major and nothing nasty. Just guys yelling at other guys after a dropped pass or for jogging instead of sprinting. No bad blood, no whining, just players responding to a little push from another teammate. Pretty cool to see, really.
• One of the most exciting sessions of the day was the one-on-ones, where wideouts or running backs lined up against a defensive backs and ran routes. Overall, the offense seemed to get the better of the defense during this one. By my count, the offensive player got the best of the defense 19 out of 31 times. That included nine of the first 10, though, so the DBs made a decent comeback late in the drill.
• Got my first look at new defensive backs coach Scott Vestal in action. He's intense. The guy really has a motor and he has a set of lungs to match. Really like his style and passion.
• We saw some pretty extensive special teams work and, of all the return men, Tre' Parmalee and JaCorey Shepherd stood out as the most impressive. Both had multiple long returns and looked incredibly shifty no matter where they were on the field.
• Speaking of special teams, it was cool to see the punting and kickoff drills because that gave us a good look at new kicker Trevor Pardula. I know it was just one practice, but I'd be shocked if Pardula didn't have both jobs locked up already. He's solid and consistent on kickoffs — something that even teammates paid attention to and responded with, 'We need that,' — and he can really boom his punts. On a couple of occasions, Pardula's punts inspired Weis to say the following: “Woo Hoo Hoo Hoo.” Huge upgrade.
• As for field goal kicking, it appears there's still some work to be done there. Pardula was decent and veteran Ron Doherty had his moments, but nobody stood out the way Pardula did in the other aspects of the kicking game. That's not all bad news. Remember, Hutch Juco walk-on Michael Mesh is still coming this summer and he should have a good shot of winning the job.
• Pardula did deliver when it counted, connecting on a 38 yarder to close practice. Had he missed it, the team would have run. Instead, they celebrated. Want another sign of progress? Last year, this was the drill that Weis had his team do over again because it didn't celebrate the made kick properly. No such problem Tuesday.
Seeing how Wednesday night’s KU football practice was the last one I’ll be at until next spring — that’s if KU coach Charlie Weis is kind enough to let us observe again — I figured I’d spend my time watching the one position that I think could be the most key for KU entering next season: The offensive line.
I’ve watched plenty of Jake Heaps to know he can play; we know the running backs are good and all returning; we know the receivers need help (but that’ll come from guys who aren’t here yet) and we know the defense will need to and try to upgrade speed across the board as it continues its attempt to try to keep up in the track meet Big 12.
What we don’t know yet is what the offensive line will look like without Tanner Hawkinson, Trevor Marrongelli and Duane Zlatnik, all seniors who will graduate in the offseason.
There are more than a few guys on the current roster who could factor into things next season and, the likelihood also still exists that Weis and crew will look to add a couple of impact players at that position in the offseason as well.
Quickly, here’s what caught my eye during offensive line drills tonight:
• Aslam Sterling, Gavin Howard and Randall Dent all will be back and all have legit starting experience. I'm assuming all three will improve tremendously in the offseason and could enter spring ball as potential starters.
• Red-shirt freshman Luke Luhrsen looks like he could become a starter. He’s big, athletic and strong and has improved throughout 2012, even reaching the point where he landed on the two-deep at left guard. With continued work in the offseason, he could be a candidate to start at guard in 2013.
• Sophomore Pat Lewandowski is a guy you should not forget about. The guy’s a beast with a ton of potential who probably just needs a little more time to get comfortable at his new position. Remember, he’s another one of those guys who played multiple positions — on defense — before moving to the O-Line under the current coaching staff. I like his footwork and mindset. I don’t know if he’s starter material, but I like him.
• Red-shirt freshman Damon Martin has to be another guy you put on this list. Through hard work and improvement, he became a starter this season for a game or two, only to fall off the depth chart as quickly as he elevated onto it. This is a big offseason for Martin.
• Finally, don’t forget about Riley Spencer, the fourth-year junior who missed most of the season with an injury but has great size, decent experience and, if healthy, could be in the mix at either tackle spot.
• One other note that I thought was fun to see Wednesday night was wide receiver Connor Embree wearing the No. 1 jersey with the scout team. That means Embree is playing the role of West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, a burner whom Weis thinks is as good a player as there is in the conference. I’m sure it’s been fun for Embree to play that role, especially in light of the fact that his father, Jon, was just fired as the head coach at Colorado.
That’s it, folks. Back to preparing stories for this weekend’s WVU game and the KU volleyball team’s run to the NCAA Tournament.
Thanks for your contributions and participation with this blog throughout the past eight months. We’ll be back at it again, bigger and better, next season.
It was a dark and cold evening at the latest Kansas University football practice, but you never would have known it from watching what went down on the field.
From players bouncing around with energy and excitement to coaches screaming and smiling, it looked like just another week on the KU practice field for the Jayhawks, who began final preparations for this week’s match-up with West Virginia.
At this point, there’s not a whole lot new that’s going on out there. But it’s worth noting that the energy shown today was equal to what we saw during practices back in September and October.
KU coach Charlie Weis was asked earlier in the day if he thought it would be tough to get his guys fired up for one more game and his answer painted a clear picture:
“I don’t think the offseason’s even in their mind yet. You think they’re looking forward to spending extra time with (strength coach Scott) Holsopple? They’re not there yet. They’re happy we’re still playing. Maybe it’s the lesser of two evils, but I think they’re really looking forward to having one more shot.”
With that in mind, Here’s a quick look at a couple of things that caught my eye at Tuesday’s practice.
• KU’s running backs continue to work as hard as anyone on the roster and, while they’re doing it, they also have as much fun as anyone. Credit running backs coach Reggie Mitchell for some of that. At the start of individual drills, the KU RBs were on the ball and ready to work. So much so in fact, that they surprised Mitchell. “We even started before the clock,” Mitchell said with excitement. “I love it.”
• Speaking of the running backs, I noticed that KU senior D.J. Beshears, who has played wide receiver, running back, defensive back and returner during his KU career, was working with the backs. Maybe Beshears will be KU’s answer to WVU’s Tavon Austin. For more on him, check tomorrow’s paper.
• The first-team offensive line, which has been a revolving door at times during the season, shaped up like this on Tuesday: RT Aslam Sterling, RG Randall Dent, C Trevor Marrongelli, LG Duane Zlatnik, LT Tanner Hawkinson. Hard to believe that Hawkinson, is going through his final week of practice at KU.
• Finally, the season may be winding down and many on that field may be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the focus seemed squarely on the task at hand, with several coaches shouting several colorful things designed to pump the Jayhawks up for their 1:30 p.m. meeting with the Mountaineers on Saturday at WVU.
As I stood there and watched tonight’s practice with just one other member of the media and two members of KU’s sports information staff, it occurred to me that we now have just two practice reports remaining in the 2012 season.
The Jayhawks are off next week and then I’ll be back out there Tuesday and Wednesday of the week leading up to the season finale against West Virginia. That’s it.
I know I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to go up to practice twice a week and get an up-close and personal look at the Jayhawks. As you all know, I haven’t been privy to watching the gameplans get installed and schemes be tweaked, but I still think you can — and I have — learn a lot from just being around these guys and watching them work.
You can see who’s serious about their craft, who’s a natural athlete and who has to work hard every single second to get the most out of their abilities.
What’s more, I’ve been able to observe the lingering effects of an injury or two with my own eyes, something that I think is way better than just taking the word of the coaching staff for it.
Why am I getting into all this now? I guess I’m just taking the long route toward a thank you to KU coach Charlie Weis. He doesn’t have to let us in, and many coaches don’t. But I know I’ve gotten a ton out of it and, more importantly, I’ve heard a lot of feedback from readers about how much they enjoyed these brief practice reports. I know we’ve got two left, but I’m definitely looking forward to getting out there again next season, music or no music.
As for what caught my eye today, here’s a quick look:
• For the first time in a while, senior wide receiver D.J. Beshears was in full uniform going through practice with his teammates. Beshears did have to be taped up at the beginning of individual drills, but it looks like he’ll be out there for his Senior Day. That’s good news. He, like many of his teammates, didn’t have the best season, but he’s given a lot to this program during the past four years and he certainly deserves to run out onto the field one more time and to be honored by the home fans.
• Running backs coach Reggie Mitchell deserves a ton of credit for what he’s been able to get out of James Sims and Tony Pierson during the past couple of years.... but apparently the KU assistant thinks there’s more to pull. Mitchell was riding Sims and Pierson throughout the start of practice Wednesday — mostly with a smile — begging Sims to use a stiff arm “just one time,” and dogging Pierson for running out of bounds whenever he can. Both KU backs have had terrific seasons, so I’m sure Mitchell’s ribbing was merely in good fun, but it gave me a little insight into how these coaches think and operate. They could have Collin Klein, Manti Te’o and Matt Barkley on the roster, but you can bet that wouldn’t stop any of them, position coaches, GAs or Weis, from getting after a guy when it was needed. That’s how you develop players and it’s good to see that even KU’s best players are continuing to be pushed by the coaching staff.
• We all know that Tyler Patmon had a pretty rough week last week against Texas Tech, but you’d never know it from watching him at practice. I know we’ve talked about this a lot this season, about how these guys really have been able to put the past behind them and move on to the next week with good energy, and Patmon is just the latest example that I saw.
• Off topic a little bit, I’m really interested to see what kind of crowd turns up Saturday at 6 p.m., when KU takes on Iowa State at Memorial Stadium. Weis has made it a point this week to push for a great crowd and, overall, I think there are still a ton of people backing this team, even with its 1-9 record and basketball season under way. To me, that’s as much a sign of the progress that has been made this year as anything.
There’s no better sign that the end of the season is approaching than the image of bright lights standing tall above a Kansas University football practice.
That was the scene Tuesday, where the Jayhawks began preparations for Saturday’s 6 p.m. Senior Day showdown with Iowa State at Memorial Stadium.
For the first time I can remember this season, there was not one specific thing that I went to practice hoping to learn more about.
No Tony Pierson injury. No wondering if Daymond Patterson would be out there. No closer look at that week’s starting quarterback or the first string guys on the offensive line.
It was a little weird, to be honest. And it was made even weirder by the continued absence of music during the early portion of KU’s practice.
With all that said, I still did notice a few things. It’s hard being out there without having something catch your eye. But none of it seemed all that earth-shattering.
We know Michael Cummings is starting at quarterback — although KU coach Charlie Weis said senior Dayne Crist may play some because it's Senior Day — and we know what he can do. We know Pierson is healthy again — boy, do we — and even though he had a small wrap on his left elbow, we know that probably won’t be there on Saturday and, therefore, the elbow probably won’t hinder him in any way.
So while I could tell you about watching senior Duane Zlatnik get nearly all of the reps with the first team again — remember, red-shirt freshman Damon Martin didn’t even make the trip to Lubbock, Texas, last week — or how there were more NFL scouts in attendance today than there had been in quite some time, yet another sign that the season is ending and the chance to get a look at some of KU’s potential future pros is dwindling, I’ll stick with the one thing that caught my eye the most.
Not surprisingly it was the running backs.
But it wasn’t the running backs in the way you might think. I wasn’t awed by Pierson or James Sims running the ball or making cuts. I was awed by the way these guys — all of them — work on blocking.
They don’t let up, they hit the sled, the bag or each other as if they were playing a live game, and they do it over and over until running backs coach Reggie Mitchell or Weis says stop.
It’s impressive. Because don’t you think if there was one group that deserved the chance to take it a little easier during practice that it would be the running backs? Me, too. But that’s kind of the point. Even as impressive and important as they have been, they’re not treated any differently than anyone else.
When you play for Charlie Weis you do three things or you don’t play: You work hard, you play team football and you bring extreme focus to everything you do.
No position illustrates this better — in practice or in games — than KU’s running backs. They truly have been one of the things that has made covering a 1-9 team that has struggled to keep up with the rest of the Big 12 an absolute joy week in and week out.
We’ll get back to our regular look at practice tomorrow, but I thought this was worth getting into.
Another quiet one at Kansas football practice today, as the Jayhawks ran through this afternoon’s drills without the aid of music to entertain them.
The more I think about it, the more I’m wondering if the no-music policy for this week lines up with KU coach Charlie Weis mentioning on Tuesday that he’s not in the best mood right now.
I know some of you think that the music is just Bon Jovi or Springsteen, but the majority of the tunes that blare are songs that the players would like and not having them could make it tough to get going. Just a hypothesis.... I love that word!
Anyway, here’s a quick look at what caught my eye during Wednesday’s practice. As has happened in the past, because there were just two members of the media present, Coach Weis allowed us to observe (but not necessarily write about) three extra periods today. Great stuff that will come in handy for future coverage and questions.
• Practice was moved indoors to Anschutz today in an effort to better simulate the conditions that the Jayhawks will face this weekend in Lubbock, Texas. The heat was cranked up and it definitely was warm inside. The forecast calls for sunny and 78 for Saturday’s game, but I also noticed that high winds are expected. This isn’t ground-breaking stuff, but I do like how Coach Weis tries to prepare for particular situations in this manner.
• There were several players who caught my eye throughout the extended time today, but one guy who continues to look better and better every time I see him is cornerback JaCorey Shepherd. With just three games remaining, it wouldn’t surprise me if the coaches started working Shepherd into the defensive gameplan more and more. Might as well get him those reps and see what you've got.
• I know I’ve mentioned this with regard to the senior transfers, but I think it’s important to point out that KU’s longtime seniors, guys like Greg Brown and Daymond Patterson and Bradley McDougald and Lubbock Smith and Toben Opurum — and several others — continue to work like they’re playing for an 8-1 team and not a 1-8 team. Some of them have pro futures to consider and that, of course, keeps them motivated. But I think another big factor is pride. These guys have been through a ton and they’ve been quality players and people every step of the way. They’re not about to change that now. That’s just one of the reasons to point to when thinking about how big a win in the final three games of the season would be. If these guys get one — and that’s definitely a big if — they’ll celebrate it like nothing before. And, you know what, they’ll deserve to.