Three questions to ponder as KU football camp opens

Kansas cornerback Cobee Bryant (2) intercepts a pass intended for West Virginia wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton (0) during overtime of an NCAA college football game in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Kathleen Batten)

The Kansas football team is in uncharted territory, facing the highest expectations in over a decade, but this year’s fall training camp should feature a refreshing familiarity.

Practically all of the coaches and players are back from last season, and certainly little of note has changed on the roster since spring practice.

As a result, fall camp, which begins Tuesday, should serve as a demonstration of what the Jayhawks have done to take advantage of their unprecedented levels of continuity. On the other hand, there are a select few new arrivals, and a host of returnees further down the depth chart, who will contend for more playing time after additional time at KU. That leads into the first of these four questions to consider as camp unfolds this August.

What does it actually mean, practically speaking, for someone to break out during this time of year? Think about who’ll be catching passes from Jalon Daniels, for example. Last year, Kansas players — wide receivers, running backs and tight ends — caught 242 passes for 3,307 yards. This season, KU returns the players responsible for 235 of those passes and 3,245 yards. That includes wide receivers Lawrence Arnold, Luke Grimm and Quentin Skinner and tight ends Mason Fairchild and Jared Casey, who combined to account for more than two-thirds of that returning production. All five remain firmly ensconced in their roles, which prompts the question of how someone like receiver Tanaka Scott, whom safety Kenny Logan Jr. cited as a potential breakout candidate at Big 12 Conference Media Days, or former two-sport standout and tight end Trevor Kardell can even work his way into the rotation.

photo by: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Kansas tight end Trevor Kardell is chased by Duke defensive back Joshua Pickett as he scores a touchdown during the game on Sept. 24, 2022, in Lawrence, Kan.

Practically every non-special-teams, non-defensive-line role is like this to some extent for KU this year. Offensive line, with transfers Logan Brown and Spencer Lovell entering to uncertain playing time with such a strong group of returners, is another position group that fits this description. So when a position coach at fall camp tells reporters that such-and-such reserve has been impressive, the immediate follow-up question should be how the team can actually get him involved.

How does the secondary cohere? This offseason, assistant coach Jordan Peterson has earned praise for his recruiting and a promotion to defensive pass game coordinator. Cornerback Cobee Bryant earned a preseason all-conference nod after a first-team honor at the end of last year; Logan, after leading the team in tackles in 2022, is back at safety; and as with most positions so is everybody else. You wouldn’t necessarily know that the Jayhawks finished 108th of 131 teams in passing yards allowed in 2022 at 260.2, which was the worst mark in Peterson’s three seasons. The question will be whether an offseason’s worth of additional experience, practicing against the high-octane KU offense, actually leads to overall on-field improvement, as well as a continued upward trajectory for peripheral (but still key) players like cornerback Kalon Gervin and safety Marvin Grant.

photo by: Missy Minear/Kansas Athletics

Kansas safety Marvin Grant Jr., right, defends wide receiver Doug Emilien during a training camp practice on Aug. 9, 2022.

The Big 12 is not shedding its identity as a high-flying passing league any time soon and Kansas will again have to line up against quarterbacks like Quinn Ewers and Dillon Gabriel. Fall camp will provide the first clue as to whether the Jayhawks are up to the task — especially with Peterson and defensive coordinator Brian Borland slated to speak to media pretty early in the process.

What does Jason Bean’s role look like this year? Few teams have as compelling a reason to get their backup quarterback off the bench and as strong a justification to keep him on it. On the one hand, Bean has five years of college football experience under his belt, including 13 games as the Jayhawks’ starter, most notably last year’s win over Oklahoma State that got KU to the magical six-win bowl-eligibility mark, and stayed in Lawrence when many players with similar resumes would have parlayed such experience into a favorable transfer-portal destination. And even when he wasn’t starting, offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki and company showed a desire to work Bean and his athleticism into the attack with a variety of trick plays.

Kansas quarterback Jason Bean is jubilant during the Spring preview at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Friday, April 7, 2023.

However, the argument for keeping Jalon Daniels on the field as much as possible has never been more persuasive, following last year’s breakout campaign, as his hype entering the season continues to mount — preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year, preseason Maxwell Award watchlist, etc. The final play of KU’s 2022 season saw Bean sail a throw on an overtime two-point conversion attempt; many argued then that the ball should have stayed in Daniels’ hands, and it’s easy to see that same old conversation revving up again every time Bean takes the field this year.


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