QB rotation a non-issue for KU wide receivers

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas wide receiver Bobby Hartzog Jr. (5) avoids a tackle from Rhode Island safety Nas Jones (27) after a catch during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

He stood out when the game was already in hand, but that did not keep the Kansas football coaches from singling out red-shirt freshman Chase Harrell following last weekend’s 55-6 victory over Rhode Island in the season opener.

Harrell, the 6-foot-4, 213-pound wide receiver from Huffman, Texas, recorded two catches for 51 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown from Carter Stanley, in the win over the Rams, but made a much greater statement by using his physicality as a blocker.

On Tuesday, KU receivers coach Jason Phillips, in a series of Tweets about members of his position group, praised Harrell with the following: “Proud of this guy! He was exactly who we need him to be Saturday!”

So much so that second-year head coach David Beaty even sent a few video clips of Harrell blocking to Mike Evans, the former Texas A&M standout and current NFL monster to whom Beaty has compared Harrell since the day he signed with Kansas.

“Chase had a couple of knockdowns that were pretty impressive,” Beaty recalled. “I even sent them to Mike Evans because he reminds me of Mike Evans. And Mike was like, ‘Yeah, that’s how we do it. That’s how we do it.’ Chase is a big, strong guy, and he had a couple of impressive blocks that really stood out to me.”

The job of the KU receivers, of course, is to catch the ball when it’s thrown to them. But Phillips, a former receiver himself who played both with the Atlanta Falcons and former Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware at Houston, has emphasized to his group that it’s much more important that they be complete products, able to catch, score, block and lead.

“A lot of times, we get focused, at that position, on just catches and touchdowns,” Phillips said. “But that’s just common work. That’s what you’re supposed to do. We’re gonna focus on that a lot more and it’s gonna be a standard that we hold throughout the rest of the season.”

It’s that mission of doing their job and letting the rest take care of itself that allows the KU wideouts to care less about which quarterback is in the game, a mindset that came in handy a week ago, when Beaty rotated Montell Cozart and Ryan Willis at QB throughout the game before letting Stanley bring it home.

Sophomore receiver Bobby Hartzog said going through so many different reps with so many different quarterbacks during preseason camp created a reality in which the Kansas receivers have confidence in whichever player is throwing them the ball and sometimes do not even actually know who it is when they catch it.

“Oh, yes sir. It doesn’t matter,” Hartzog said. “We just do our job and that’s our main focus. Our focus is not really on who the quarterback is. We have to do our job and do everything right, no matter who’s back there.”

To emphasize that point, Phillips said he often has shared a story of playing with Ware, who threw for 4,699 yards and 46 touchdowns during his Heisman season of 1989.

“He didn’t win the Heisman by throwing to himself,” Phillips joked. “It didn’t really matter who the quarterback was from that perspective, and I don’t want these guys to be concerned about who’s back there. Any guy that’s back there, it’s your job to make him look good.”

So far, so good in that department.

After struggling in the passing game during the past few seasons, the Jayhawks enjoyed a night in which 10 different players combined for 28 completions, 399 yards and six touchdowns through the air.

As long as that keeps up, Phillips will be happy and the identity of KU’s quarterback will remain a footnote.

“Whoever that guy is, we’re gonna support him 100 percent,” Phillips said. “His job is to throw balls and our job is to catch ’em. I haven’t noticed any difference in the way (our receivers) perform based on who’s back there.”