Emmett Jones pleased with Jayhawks’ progress through 5 spring practices

photo by: Andy Eisch/Photo courtesy of KU Athletics

Interim Kansas football coach Emmett Jones addresses the team during a spring practice on April 8, 2021.

Now a third of the way through the 15-practice spring schedule, interim Kansas football coach Emmett Jones left Saturday’s session convinced the Jayhawks are on the right track.

“A lot of flying around, a lot of energy. Guys getting after each other, plenty of physicality going on. Guys playing with grit,” Jones reported following practice No. 5, which included some scrimmage situations.

Since he stepped into the program’s top leadership role a month ago, Jones, KU’s receivers coach and passing game coordinator, has preached the importance of steady progress to players at every position.

“You’re just trying to be better by 1% each day,” Jones told reporters Saturday afternoon during his video press conference. “Those guys are really doing a good job of accepting the challenges from the coaches.”

Jones and the rest of the KU staff, the interim coach said, gauge the players’ progress by challenging them physically and mentally during the closed spring practices. Jones said coaches have seen the players comprehend the curriculum and perform.

“At some point the coaches have got to step away and see if the young men can pass the test,” Jones shared. “One thing I saw today, there was excellent communication going on. Guys were relaying that message across the board.”

Jones came away impressed by how the players on both sides of the ball handled uptempo scrimmage situations.

From a broader perspective, Jones applauded the play of two position groups in particular when asked whether any specific players had stood out.

He considers first-year KU assistant Lee Grimes an offensive line coach “on the rise,” based on the group’s showing so far.

“I like how he’s getting those guys together,” Jones said of Grimes’ work with the O-line. “You see those guys, the bond is there. They’re playing for each other. And that’s him just being an ex O-lineman himself.”

Jones also saluted the play of KU’s defensive backs so far this spring.

“They go at it with those wide receivers,” the coach said. “Yeah, they can cover, they do all that type of stuff, but they’re not afraid to come up and stick their noses’ in guys’ faces and make tackles in the open field.”

Even so, one of the highlight plays of Saturday’s practice, according to redshirt freshman receiver Lawrence Arnold, came from a receiver.

Arnold said fellow redshirt freshman Jordan Brown delivered a one-handed catch for a touchdown.

“That stood out to me a lot, not only because that’s like a younger brother to me, but just because he’s in the receiver room and we’re all taught to be playmakers,” Arnold said. “Come up with the ball. If the ball is in your area, go get it.”

Arnold was on the sideline watching — at least momentarily — when the 5-foot-11 Brown made the spectacular grab.

“When he scored, I ran out there on the field with them,” Arnold said. “It was just a good time to see him do something great.”

On the other side of the ball, sophomore defensive end Marcus Harris said he produced two sacks and three tackles for loss during Saturday’s scrimmage periods.

“But that’s like every day,” Harris said of his desire to come through with highlight plays. “That’s the standard every day, to have high energy and high performance, perform to the best of our abilities.”

According to Harris, “the whole defense” has stood out during scrimmage situations.

“We’re all coming together. The young guys, the early enrollees, they’ve been making plays. Like OJ (Burroughs, a true freshman safety), he’s been phenomenal so far,” Harris said. “A lot of young guys are coming in, stepping up and filling in their spots.”

Jones’ discussion with Goff

Once Travis Goff was hired this past week to take over as KU’s athletic director, Jones was able to meet Goff and talk with him about the program.

But Jones, who spoke with reporters Saturday for the first time since Goff arrived, said the new AD’s message to the coaches about what comes next for KU football was the same one Goff presented during his introductory press conference, when the AD said he is taking an “open-minded” approach to the head coaching vacancy.

“My expectations are to get this team ready to play ball, get this team ready for the fall. That’s all I think about,” Jones replied, when asked if he had any expectations for the football team completing the spring schedule before Goff made an outside hire.

Asked what type of impression Goff made this week, Jones described the new AD as “clean cut, sharp and crazy about the University of Kansas.”

“He’s very sharp and bright. And I like the approach he’s taking, because if it was me, I’d take the same approach,” Jones added. “It’s great to have a Jayhawk back at home,” the interim coach said of Goff, a Kansas native and 2002 KU graduate.


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