Now that spring football has come and gone and the Kansas University athletes eagerly looking for to the 2014 season have shifted into full off-season mode, it's time to look back at the biggest winners from spring ball.
The list of guys who helped themselves and their standing on the team with solid springs is long, but here's a look at the five guys who made the biggest move toward landing a big-time role this fall during the past five weeks.
• Greg Allen – Seemingly overnight, Allen transformed from a guy that didn't really make much of an impact on the field into a guy who played like he was a returning starter. The sophomore nickel back oozed confidence throughout the spring and used his size, speed and athleticism to make sure his sharpened mental game delivered plays on defense. Allen played for both sides in the spring game and KU coach Charlie Weis said in the postgame news conference that the 5-foot-11, 210-pound defensive back was making a strong push to be included with the first unit.
• Montell Cozart – Cozart's solid spring game is what most people will remember, but it was his development and surge that came before the glorified scrimmage that put him in position to head into the summer as the guy to beat in the Jayhawks' quarterback race. No longer just an athletic guy with the ability to hurt you with his feet, Cozart looks like a much more polished and comfortable passer and seems to be playing with the kind of poise and confidence of a guy who wants to prove he's a complete quarterback, not just a dynamic runner.
• Kevin Short – Weis said at the start of spring ball that passing either of last year's starting cornerbacks (Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd) on the depth chart would be a serious challenge. And then Short went out and did it. Tall, long, athletic and a blessed with the coverage instincts of tin foil, Short showed enough this spring to earn a promotion to first-team cornerback, which also allowed KU to slide the versatile Shepherd into the nickel back position.
• Damon Martin – Martin entered the spring with 13 games on his resume and just five starts. All of those came at guard. But this spring, under the tutelage of new offensive line coach John Reagan, the junior lineman widely known as the strongest of KU's big bodies up front, showed enough consistency, improvement and understanding of the Jayhawks' new offense to play every first-string snap at right tackle.
• Rodriguez Coleman – He was quiet during the spring game, but his spring as a whole was lights out. The junior deep threat not only was one of the most popular answers to the questions about which guys looked the best during spring practices, but he also elevated himself from big-time question mark to near-lock status for one of KU's three first-team wide receiver spots.
After going through much of the spring without getting a look at the 2014 version of the Kansas University football, we got a peek and then some on Saturday morning.
Not only as the media able to attend the annual Hannah & Friends football clinic where the Jayhawks and dozens of local people with different abilities ran through football drills and had a rocking good time, but we also were treated to more than an hour of an actual practice, complete with individual drills, one-on-one competitions and seven-on-seven scrimmage.
There was too much out there to waste any more time leading into what I saw, so let's just get right to it. Short and sweet, but it should give you answers to a bunch of questions about this team.
Make sure you scroll down to the bottom for my best guess at what the current spring depth chart looks like, based mostly off of what I saw today.
• It looks as if senior Jake Heaps and sophomore Montell Cozart have established themselves as the top two quarterbacks. Both took reps with the first team on Saturday and Heaps was the first to go out there. After that, Michael Cummings took the next most reps followed closely by UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard.
• Offensive line coach John Reagan looks like a difference maker. He coaches with a style that is 100 percent hands-on all the time and he really emphasizes little details and gives great one-on-one attention to every player in his group. Check next week for another blog entry about Reagan. I was so impressed by what he did and how he did it that I think it warrants its own blog.
• The new KU passing game, which was featured during seven-on-seven drills, includes a variety of short, intermediate and deep routes and uses the entire field, sideline to sideline. The tempo is good, the routes appear to be simple but effective and the quarterbacks (all of them) really seemed to have a good feel for how the offense is run and how the routes develop.
• The first-string defense that KU used on Saturday featured five defensive backs and included seven seniors and four juniors.
• It may just be spring practice, but it's obvious that these guys have been working hard. Many guys look bigger and leaner and almost the entire roster gave maximum effort on every drill.
• You might have read the coaches' comments about sophomore defensive back Greg Allen having a great spring. Now I see why they were so impressed. Allen is playing with a ton of confidence and even a little swagger right now. He's big, physical and appears to be playing on instinct rather than having to think.
• It's a minor detail, but I overheard defensive backs coach Dave Campo getting after newcomer Ronnie Davis a little bit during the seven-on-seven portion of practice. It wasn't Campo's ribbing that caught my ear, rather what he said. He pointed out that Davis' feet are too good to allow a receiver to beat him to the inside and such a comment along with when he took his turn during drills leads me to believe Davis already is a second-string cornerback in KU's secondary.
• Before seven-on-seven got under way, the wideouts and DBs did a few rounds of one-on-one battles. The best battles by far were: Tony Pierson vs. Dexter McDonald; Nick Harwell vs. JaCorey Shepherd; and Rodriguez Coleman vs. Kevin Short. Each guy won a battle or two during the time these guys locked up but it was the all-out competitiveness that existed between them that most impressed me.
• I already talked about Reagan and how he coaches the offensive line, but it's worth pointing out a couple of things about the players he coaches. Walk-on center Joe Gibson has good size and appears to be in an intense battle with juco transfer Keyon Haughton at center. Haughton appears to be a little more polished and comfortable at the moment, but this one could go on for a while. Pat Lewandowski worked with the first team at left tackle and he looks a little more cut than what he played at last season. Senior Zach Fondal seems to be right there with him, competing for the job, though, so that one is far from settled. Mike Smithburg and Ngalu Fusimalohi appear to be locked in at the guard spots (both have added five pounds) and Damon Martin looks very good at right tackle. If today is any indication of how the rest of the spring has gone, it's safe to say the offensive line is coming together much more quickly and much nicer than the group did last year.
• Another new coach who I got my first look at on Saturday was wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau and I was nearly just as impressed by him as I was Reagan. Kiesau is active during drills and he goes out there and physically demonstrates how he wants things to be done and what he wants his guys to do. It was just an hour of one practice, but the receiving corps looks a lot better already.
• Nothing major here either, but the guys who went back to field punts during the final session we saw were: Tre' Parmalee, Isaiah Johnson, Nick Harwell and Kevin Short. All except Parmalee are projected starters elsewhere on the field and all should be in the mix for the job come fall.
• Here's a quick look at some seven-on-seven stats (which might very well be meaningless but give you an idea of how the passing game looked): Passing — Jake Heaps 4-for-7; Montell Cozart 1-for-5; Michael Cummings 3-for-4; T.J. Millweard 3-for-4. Receiving — Rodriguez Coleman 4 receptions on 6 targets; Nick Harwell 2 receptions on 3 targets; Tre' Parmalee 2 receptions on 2 targets; Andrew Turzili 2 receptions on 2 targets; Justin McCay 1 reception on 1 target; Jordan Shelley-Smith 0 receptions on 1 target; Tony Pierson 0 receptions on 4 targets; Trent Smiley 0 receptions on 1 target. Defensive Pass Break-Ups — Dexter McDonald 3 (1 interception), Jake Love 1, Kevin Short 1.
All right, now onto my best guess at the current depth chart, which has probably changed a lot over the spring and, no doubt, will change some more when the rest of the 2014 recruiting class arrives this summer.
WR Nick Harwell 6-1, 193, Sr.
Tre' Parmalee 5-10, 175, Jr.
LT Pat Lewandowski 6-5, 290, Sr.
Zach Fondal 6-5, 295, Sr.
LG Ngalu Fusimalohi 6-2, 315, Sr.
Bryan Peters 6-3, 295, Jr.
C Keyon Haughton 6-2, 300, Jr.
Joe Gibson 6-3, 295, RS-Fr.
RG Mike Smithburg 6-3, 305, Sr.
Joey Bloomfield 6-6, 295, RS-Fr.
RT Damon Martin 6-3, 305, Jr.
Brian Beckmann 6-6, 300, Soph.
TE Jimmay Mundine 6-2, 240, Sr.
Ben Johnson 6-5, 235, RS-Fr.
RB Brandon Bourbon 6-1, 225, Sr.
Darrian Miller 5-10, 195, Jr.
QB Jake Heaps 6-1, 210, Sr.
Montell Cozart 6-2, 195, Soph.
WR Tony Pierson 5-10, 175, Sr.
Andrew Turzilli 6-3, 194, Sr.
WR Rodriguez Coleman 6-3, 190, Jr.
Justin McCay 6-2, 210, Sr.
LC Kevin Short 6-2, 190, Jr.
Ronnie Davis 6-0, 185, Jr.
NB JaCorey Shepherd 5-11, 190, Sr.
Greg Allen 5-11, 210, Soph.
LE/T Andrew Bolton 6-3, 285, Jr.
Tyler Holmes 6-3, 280, Soph.
N Keon Stowers 6-3, 297, Sr.
Tedarian Johnson 6-2, 290, Sr.
RE/T Ben Goodman 6-3, 250, Jr.
T.J. Semke 6-2, 265, Jr.
BUCK Michael Reynolds 6-1, 240, Sr.
Victor Simmons 6-1, 225, Sr.
RC Dexter McDonald 6-1, 205, Sr.
Brandon Hollomon 5-10, 175, Jr.
SS Isaiah Johnson 6-1, 210, Jr.
Tevin Shaw 5-11, 192, Soph.
MLB Ben Heeney 6-0, 230, Sr.
Colton Goeas 6-2, 245, RS-Fr.
WLB Jake Love 6-0, 220, Jr.
Schyler Miles 6-2, 235, Jr.
FS Cassius Sendish 6-0, 195, Sr.
Fish Smithson 5-11, 190, Soph.
The Kansas University football team went through its third day of spring practices on Tuesday — the first of the spring in full pads — and, although we weren't able to watch any of the action, we did get our first chance to talk with a few of the players about how the spring has gone before they hit the practice field.
Here's the latest installment of the slightly modified “What caught my ear,” blog, with a focus on the rumblings from the first few days of spring drills.
• Ben Heeney has been an animal this spring. As you might expect, the senior linebacker has been flying all over the field and making plays like we have become accustomed to seeing, but he's also upped his game in pass coverage and actually had two interceptions during one early-spring practice. That kind of thing can be contagious and it sounds like the entire defense is following Heeney's lead.
• Wide receivers Rodriguez Coleman and Nick Harwell already have made a significant impact in KU's passing game, both in terms of getting open and making catches and becoming big-play threats.
• Based on talks with the players and coaches, if I had to pick one word to describe KU's new offense it would be "simple." Now that's not simple in that it will be easy for defenses to scheme against or figure out. That's simple in that the players grasp it, understand it and can execute it. What's more, it sounds like they like it a lot.
• Speaking of the new offense, senior quarterback Jake Heaps said it's basically a no-huddle system and that, even though the Jayhawks did some no-huddle at times last year, it was usually something they put in that week or for a specific opponent. Making the no-huddle approach the foundation of their offensive system makes it easier to learn and grasp and Heaps said the goal, particularly of the upperclassmen, is to get to the point where they know what the calls are going to be on the field before they even look over to the sideline to confirm it.
• In that same vein, Keon Stowers said the biggest difference between spring this season and spring the past couple of seasons was maturity and leadership. Now that so many key players are veterans, the question of right and wrong or responsibility is not as big of an issue. That's on the field and off the field. As Stowers put it, “It's almost like we're the coaches,” and because of that the veterans have taken some of the burden of having to watch every sprint or every on-time arrival at every meeting off of KU's coaches.
• I talked with Brandon Bourbon about his opportunity at running back and the senior who opened the spring No. 1 on the depth chart said the entire stable of running backs believes that their opportunity is a little more legitimate and real now that James Sims is gone. Sims led the Jayhawks in rushing during each of his four seasons and was the workhorse rock in the Kansas backfield. Bourbon, who is coming off of his most healthy and productive season in 2013, said the group Sims left behind has a list of lofty goals but added that the only way for the Jayhawks to enjoy continued success from their running backs was for each player to remain selfish internally while striving for the best results for the team externally. Sounded like a much more eloquent way of putting the cliché about competition bringing out the best in everyone.
• I asked several offensive players in the room about new offensive coordinator John Reagan and what they saw as his primary strengths. Here were a few of the words I heard in response: 1. Coach Reagan is very engaging. He's so into everything he does that if you're not into it right there with him, he's going to pull you into it and make you a part of it. 2. Coach Reagan has a way of communicating the ins and outs of the new offense that's easy to understand. He's fun to work with and he knows what he's doing. 3. Coach Reagan is very meticulous in the way he goes about coaching. He takes his time during installation days to make sure that we're getting it and is willing to sit down with us and go over every aspect of every play in meetings if that's what it takes for us to get on the same page.
• The Jayhawks will go through their fourth of 15 spring practices on Thursday before taking 9 days off for spring break. KU's next practice after Thursday is slated for March 23.
No open practices this spring for the Kansas football program, so the "What caught my eye" blogs of the past are going to have to be replaced by these "What caught my ear" blogs until we can see these guys play for ourselves.
I should be able to bring plenty of information to the table, I just won't be able to get much of a feel for the physical abilities and make-up of the players and the team dynamic. No sweat, though. It's still just spring.
With that said, four members of KU coach Charlie Weis' staff were made available to the media today and each made it incredibly clear that they're ready to go.
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, Offensive coordinator John Reagan, Defensive backs coach Dave Campo and Wide Receivers coach Eric Kiesau spent about 30 minutes chatting with various media members about the outlook for this spring.
I spent most of my time with Kiesau, who impressed me a great deal. I like his attitude, I like his philosophies and I like that he seems fired up to be here. I'll have a story on him in tomorrow's paper (and online) so be sure to check that out.
With that in mind, here are a few other tidbits from the day that caught my ear...
• Campo said it's great to go into a spring knowing your personnel and having seen what they can do…. Said they feel good about KU's secondary because so many guys who played well last year are returning this year.
• Bowen said he and the staff have a much better grasp on who the leaders of the D will be this spring vs. last spring. Mentioned specifically Ben Heeney, Ben Goodman, Cassisus Sendish and Isaiah Johnson. And there's no doubt that Keon Stowers is a part of that group, as well.
• Bowen also said having a year of the defensive system that KU runs under their belts & in place gives players & coaches a lot of confidence and allows them to start the spring way ahead of where they started last season with installation and things basic philosophies.
• Kiesau said the process of getting hired by KU was a whirlwind and came, pretty much, in one day. He visited campus right before a family vacation to Hawaii and liked what he saw. Also admired Weis and Reagan and wanted to work with them.
• Kiesau said has 3 key things he likes in WRs: 1. Natural hands. 2. Precise route runner. 3. Able to release at the line. There's a lot more that goes into coaching the position than that, of course, but those are the things he looks for first.
• Even though everyone and everything here is new to him, Kiesau said he was going to set the bar very high & push and inspire the KU WRs to catch up to that standard. Sounds like a sound approach and won't allow for much wasted time.
Here's a quick video that Benton Smith of Smithology and Hawks in the NBA fame threw together from today's availability...