Notebook: Jayhawks appreciate Emmett Jones’ ‘focus,’ ‘passion’ and leadership in interim role

photo by: Andy Eisch/Photo courtesy of KU Athletics

Kansas interim head football coach Emmett Jones leads players through a drill during a spring practice at the team's indoor facility.

After weeks of uncertainty, Kansas football players should soon have some clarity on the program’s future, with Athletic Director Travis Goff’s coaching search nearing its conclusion. And many Jayhawks are glad they’ve had interim head coach Emmett Jones guiding them through a potentially tricky set of circumstances.

During interviews with the media in recent weeks, players continually have praised Jones, the team’s receivers coach and passing game coordinator, for his leadership.

Junior linebacker Nick Channel said the Jayhawks have managed to be a tight-knit group through it all because of Jones.

“He tells us to stick together,” Channel said. “He always has us improving. Nobody knows what’s going to go on, and he doesn’t know. But he says to just keep moving, stick together, just keep working toward our goal this fall.”

Jones took on a difficult role as KU’s interim coach, agreeing to lead the Jayhawks while knowing it was possible a different coach from outside the program could eventually be brought in as the new man in charge.

Senior quarterback Miles Kendrick shared his thoughts on how Jones successfully navigated the situation, impressing the QB and his teammates in the process.

“You see his focus and his passion each and every day. And the next day you expect that maybe Coach Jones is going to change his message, maybe he’s going to change his passion or his attitude — no. He’s consistent. He’s consistent every day, throughout the adversity, throughout all these challenges that we’ve been through,” Kendrick said. “I think that’s what he wants us to do as a team, to stay together and stay consistent on our mission of getting better every day.”

With a staffing change looming, Jones and the KU assistants, and perhaps the players, too, could have grown listless due to the unpredictable horizon. But players say that’s been far from the case during the team’s closed practices.

Sophomore offensive lineman Armaj Adams-Reed said under Jones’ guidance, spring ball has been like “a heavyweight fight.”

“Coach Jones is my guy,” Adams-Reed said. “He’s tremendous. His energy is high.”

O-line turning heads

Often during the past several weeks, KU players have pointed to the team’s offensive line as one of the most noticeably improved position groups this spring.

It happened again during a media session when senior defensive lineman Caleb Sampson was asked to reveal who has been winning the battles up front, between KU’s O-line and D-line.

“I mean, we’ve both been getting at each other. We’ve both been getting better every day. And the O-line, they’ve been making great strides,” Sampson said.

The Jayhawks routinely credit new offensive line coach Lee Grimes for such improvements. Sampson said he has talked to Grimes a few times himself about how the O-line is coming along.

“They’re getting a lot better in that group,” he said. “It’s been a battle for sure.”

Adams-Reed recently was asked which of his fellow blockers had impressed him.

“Every single one of us is standing out,” said Adams-Reed, a sophomore right guard. “We’re coming to work every day. Adagio (Lopeti), (Colin) Grunhard at center, they’re coming to work. (Left guard) Malik Clark, he’s the veteran. (Left tackle) Earl Bostick, he’s stepping up a lot. And (right tackle) Bryce Cabeldue, I love him.”

Young linebackers impressing

KU’s defense could end up relying on some underclassmen at the linebacker position in 2021. While their specific roles and how many in-game snaps they play won’t be determined for quite some time, a couple of young linebackers have stood out this spring, according to Channel.

“Definitely Taiwan Berryhill. He’s stepping up pretty well,” Channel said of the sophomore Berryhill. “He’s still a little shaky on things, because he’s young. But once he understands everything that he’s got to do and where he’s got to be, he’s going to be a pretty good linebacker.”

While KU’s coaches, Channel shared, haven’t reached a final verdict on whether redshirt freshman Alonso Person will play outside or inside, Person has impressed during KU’s practices.

“Either way he has to go, once he gets it down, too, he’s going to make pretty big difference for us,” Channel predicted.


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