Under-center work presents new challenge for KU’s quarterbacks

photo by: Chance Parker/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas quarterbacks work on drills during the first day of spring practice at the practice field on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Lawrence.

Kansas’ new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes has said his quarterbacks will take some snaps under center this year.

“How much we do under center just kind of depends on the personnel of the team,” he added.

For example, he did more when he was at Baylor with Gerry Bohanon than in later years with the Bears; he did less at BYU with Zach Wilson than he had previously.

That willingness to adapt could be good news for the Jayhawks, who under former OC Andy Kotelnicki had their quarterbacks — usually Jason Bean or Jalon Daniels, with Daniels set to start again in 2024 — rely primarily on pistol and shotgun formations and did not spend a lot of time under center. And that might be an understatement.

“It’s different for sure because obviously we haven’t (run) a lot under center other than one play last year,” said backup Cole Ballard, in an apparent reference to the quarterback sneak he ran with left tackle Dominick Puni moved inside to center during the Kansas State game.

Freshman early enrollee Isaiah Marshall doesn’t have much of a background with the style, either.

“I’ve been under center probably a couple times in high school, just for a QB sneak, I’m going to be honest,” he said. “So it’s very different. I’m learning how to get my hands right, because my hands, my first time going, it was not good.”

The quarterback-center relationship will be more important than ever and as Ballard pointed out, the center group has a new look this season. Mike Novitsky has graduated, which means the quarterbacks have been working with Tiffin transfer Shane Bumgardner and backup Dre Doiron. Head coach Lance Leipold also noted Tuesday that Michael Ford Jr., usually a guard, spent time at center that day, the first time this spring that he has done so.

“Being able to adapt with them is something that we need to work on and we’ll continue to work on,” Ballard said.

The one group that may not need to adapt much is Grimes’ fellow coaches. Co-offensive coordinator Jim Zebrowski is enthusiastically on board, as when he coached under Jerry Kill at Minnesota, their offense was primarily engineered from under center.

“I always say this: Guys who ever want the potential at the next level, all those teams still do a multitude of under and pistol and gun,” he said.

Zebrowski also explained why the style is popular in the pros and how it can help KU’s offense: “We all know you go under center, it helps with the play-action stuff, and everybody always says, pistol, gun, it’s not as much play-action as under.”

On the whole, Ballard said, the offense is “bought in like no other” to learning from Grimes.

“He’s brought in some new things that as an offense, we’re very excited to run this season. I think that whatever he says, we’re going to do,” Ballard said. “There’s a certain excitement in the room right now that I can’t explain.”

photo by: AP Photo/Colin E. Braley

Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels during an NCAA football game on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 in Lawrence.

photo by: AP Photo/Colin E Braley

Kansas quarterback Cole Ballard (15) during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Lawrence.

photo by: Henry Greenstein/Journal-World

Kansas quarterbacks Ben Easters (14) and Cole Ballard (15) take snaps under center during a drill at practice on Thursday, March 28, 2024, in Lawrence.


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