Sunday, April 17, 2005

Pickoffs plentiful

Quarterbacks struggle in Kansas' spring game


Call it a pick party. An interception invasion. A takeaway tilt.

With multiple quarterbacks fighting for one starting spot on Kansas University's football team, the Jayhawk defense did nothing to make the decision any easier on the coaching staff, intercepting six passes at the annual spring game, won by the Blue squad, 24-6, Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

No quarterback was safe from the thievery of the defense during KU's final practice of the spring season.

Brian Luke was intercepted three times.

Jason Swanson was picked twice on consecutive series.

Then Adam Barmann joined the ranks, surrendering a pick to Darren Rus that was returned 44 yards and nearly into the end zone.

Considering the proven personnel roaming on the defense, and the familiarity it has to KU's offensive play-calling, it might have been downright unfair for the quarterbacks to face such obstacles in what essentially was a glorified scrimmage.

But that's just how coach Mark Mangino wanted it.

"The defense could blitz at will today," Mangino said. "They could do anything they wanted, because that's what we'll see in games. We have to put our quarterbacks in a tough situation."


Kansas defensive back Aqib Talib (28) returns an interception against the White team in the spring game. Talib had two interceptions in Saturday's game -- a 24-6 Blue team victory -- at Memorial Stadium.

Somehow, of the six passes that were picked off, none was by Charles Gordon, who led the nation with seven interceptions last season. Instead, two were by freshman safety Aqib Talib, and cornerback Theo Baines and linebackers Rus, Nick Reid and Banks Floodman each snagged one.

"They see us a lot," Barmann said of the KU defense. "They know what we're going to do."

With the quarterback situation in the spotlight this spring, Saturday's scrimmage showed that nothing definitive came from the last month of workouts. Swanson and Barmann switched off on the first team (Blue), while Luke took care of most of the snaps on White.

Barmann finished 14-of-29 passing for 124 yards and a touchdown, while Swanson was 11-of-20 with 110 yards and a touchdown.

So the answer to the quarterback question? There isn't one, yet -- a few more rounds remain in this fight, and it probably will last into August.

"It's a good, fierce competition," Mangino said. "Nobody's pulled ahead, nobody's fallen behind. We'll continue with it."

6Interceptions thrown by three KU QBs7-110Catches-yards for juco transfer Brian Murph1.9Yards per carry for KU's White team0.3Yards per carry for KU's Blue team

And the QBs will do so with a potentially impressive fleet of new wide receivers. The top returner, Mark Simmons, caught six passes for 51 yards, but the big play-making out wide came from Brian Murph, a transfer from Butler County Community College who had seven catches for 110 yards and a touchdown.

Murph was on the receiving end of Barmann's and Swanson's longest throws of the day. Murph nearly had a third 30-plus yard reception, but the ball squirted away from him when he landed on the turf.

Still, not a bad day, considering he had something to prove to the 3,000 KU fans who showed up who hadn't seen him in action before.

"I've been waiting for this opportunity for a long time," Murph said. "I had to go to juco for two years. When you get the opportunity, you've got to go for it."

Murph was one of 13 players to catch a pass Saturday. Marcus Herford had three receptions for 20 yards, Marcus Henry had three for 33 yards and a score, and Dominic Roux caught two balls for 38 yards.

"I'm pleased," Mangino said. "I thought today was a day that they really showed collectively and individually that there's some play-makers there."

The festive day -- which started with an alumni seven-on-seven game and concluded with several of the players signing autographs for fans -- wrapped up the month-long spring season, which featured several position changes, several assistant-coaching debuts and what Mangino said were obvious strides in all areas of his program.

Formal practices are finished until August, but most of the players will participate in voluntary workouts over the summer. It's all with Sept. 3 in mind -- that's when KU takes on Florida Atlantic to open the 2005 season.

"This spring was better than last spring," Mangino said. "Now the goal is to make next fall better than last fall."

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