Sunday, August 21, 2011

Running wild: Backs Bourbon, Pierson stand out

Running back Brandon Bourbon (25) tries to break cornerback Greg Brown’s tackle during the open scrimmage that was part of the Family Fun Fest held at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, August 20, 2011.

Running back Brandon Bourbon (25) tries to break cornerback Greg Brown’s tackle during the open scrimmage that was part of the Family Fun Fest held at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, August 20, 2011.


All offseason, Kansas University football coaches raved about their talented stable of running backs and how much the group would help improve KU’s offense this season.

Saturday, at the open-scrimmage portion of the annual Family Fun Fest, the Jayhawks received serious contributions from a couple of those backs.

Red-shirt freshman Brandon Bourbon scored two touchdowns from inside five yards, and true freshman Tony Pierson added another TD from just outside the red zone. Both were on the short list of players who stood out Saturday, and KU coach Turner Gill afterward talked about what he saw from his two explosive tailbacks.

“Brandon did some good things today,” Gill said. “He shows some flashes in practice, and then there’s always something that will come up with a little nick or an injury. It was good to get him some reps. We saw some impressive runs. He ran hard. He ran through some tackles. That was good to see.”

As for Pierson, who ripped off two of the day’s longest runs — both in the 20- to 25-yard range — Gill said his ability to contribute immediately centered on one thing.

“Obviously with him, it comes down to speed,” Gill said. “He can turn the corner, outrun some people out there and make some things happen. He brings that speed and explosiveness to our football team and to the offensive side of the ball. He did some good things there (today) too. He’s not a guy that is going to be an every-down back, just because of his size, but whenever he touches the football, he has the chance to go the distance.”

James Sims, Deshaun Sands, Ryan Burton and Josh Smith also received carries. Sims took limited snaps, and Blue Springs, Mo., freshman Darrian Miller was held out entirely as a precaution. Gill said Miller was fine and lauded that his offense was able to move the ball without big contributions from the top two players on the depth chart doing much.

“I think it just solidifies what we’re talking about,” Gill said. “We have a good, solid core of running backs that are going to help our football team this year. You need quite a few of those guys because they’re going to get banged up during the course of the season. But I feel like we have quite a few guys that, if they’re called on, they can produce.”

Although the scrimmage was more like a practice and less like a game, it did feature full contact, except for quarterbacks; first-teamers against first-teamers, for the most part; and a full crew of referees. The KU pep band, spirit squad and a few hundred fans in the stands also made it seem as close to gameday as possible in mid-August.

One day after being named the team’s starting quarterback, sophomore Jordan Webb showed why. During his first two drives, he led the first-team offense to two touchdowns.

Webb looked decisive and comfortable in the pocket, more in control on the move and in complete command of the offense.

“(He had) good execution,” Gill said. “But he has room to get better. He did some good things, and that’s why he’s our guy. He’s definitely been ahead of everybody from start to finish. I wanted to see him come back this fall and be more consistent, and he did that.”

In addition to Miller’s absence, five or six other regulars sat out Saturday’s scrimmage. Asked if there was a reason for holding out Tunde Bakare, Tim Biere, Christian Matthews and Chris Omigie, among others, Gill calmed all fears.

“Just precautionary,” he said. “If we were playing a game, they would’ve played. They’ll be ready to play. Just some bumps and bruises, nothing really major. Again, we’re getting ready for Sept. 3.”

That’s the day the Jayhawks open the season against McNeese State at 6 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

Competitiveness shows

Late in the scrimmage, freshman defensive back Adonis Saunders intercepted a pass from freshman QB Michael Cummings. The pass was intended for transfer wideout Neal Barlow but was underthrown, which allowed Saunders to make a play on it.

The two Jayhawks wrestled for possession as they fell to the ground, but the fight for the ball didn’t stop there. Long after the whistle had blown, Saunders and Barlow battled for the ball.

Gill and his coaches have talked a lot about their team’s competitiveness during the preseason. And while there were a few other plays and players who showed it Saturday, few demonstrated as well as the two in the late scrum.

Pick a prized possession

Throughout August, KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long has said that the Jayhawks would use junior wide receiver Kale Pick all over the field. Saturday, fans got a lot at what he meant. Pick lined up inside and out and caught balls near the sideline, over the middle and in traffic. He and Webb appear to have good chemistry. Look for Pick to be a big part of KU’s offense this fall.

What about the other QBs?

Senior Quinn Mecham looked about like you’d expect a back-up to look during his drives. He was efficient and effective but showed nothing spectacular. Mecham led KU to back-to-back field goals on his first two drives. The rest of the snaps went to reserves Cummings and Blake Jablonski. Both had good and bad moments throughout the scrimmage and showed that the gap Gill had talked about between his top two QBs and the rest is very real. Colorado freshman Brock Berglund was not in uniform.

Kickers on display

True freshman Alex Mueller handled most of the kicking duties. Mueller connected on field goals of 35 and 24 yards before missing from 42. Later in the day, Ron Doherty, whom Mueller is battling for the starting job, hit from 45 yards on his only attempt. Seconds later, from the other hash, Mueller made one from 47. It was as if the kicking battle were playing out in front of fans’ eyes.


Randy Bombardier 2 years, 8 months ago

I for one will be really happy to see us under center for 3rd and short, not in a shotgun formation, as though the only way we can possibly get three yards is to throw it. Even when we had Reesing and the spread it was always an embarrassment. Now, we will line it up and stuff it. Anyone remember when OU was in the redzone against Florida in the NC game and they were running it out of the shotgun? They start with a QB five yards deep and all they need is three or four yds for the TD. I was thinking, wow, the mighty Sooners can't line up and punch it in from three yards out? Mark my words, when we can do this and do it well a lot of things are going to fall into place! I get it Coach Gill. Keep on.


JHWKDW 2 years, 8 months ago

One thing is for sure every team we play will have 8 men or heck even 9 in the box up against the run tempting to have Webb throw the ball up like Reesing did!The TEs and Wr have to step up and make the catches!This offensive line better step up and protect!

Yeah the defense is a concern still!But they seem to be bringing in guys to make plays!Going from 4-3 to 3-4 will be a big change hope they can put it together!


Mike Nicco 2 years, 8 months ago

SI has us going 1-11 overall and 0-9 in conference. How about that for a lack of respect!!


Gregor Southard 2 years, 8 months ago

Hey Tait! Yahoo sports doesn't have Albert Collins with any NFL team. What did I miss?


okiedave 2 years, 8 months ago

The Tulsa World Football section today were listing for players to watch for each team. Not one player was listed for Kansas. The lack of respect irritates me. I hope we surprise many teams this year and earn some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.


Funhawk 2 years, 8 months ago

Lawrence Journal World, Thursday, October 11, 1979. Johnson Still Can't Move Up by Chuck Woodling, J-W Sports Editor. Not much has changed at Nebraska. Craig Johnson is still the Cornhuskers' third string tailback. Johnson, you may recall, is the fellow who ran wild on Kansas last year, gaining 192 yards in 10 carries and catching a 78-yard touchdown pass. Now a junior, the 6-1, 180-pound Johnson hasn't been able to move ahead of veteran I. M. Hipp and transfer Jarvis Redwine in the Nebraska tailback pecking order. If Johnson were at Kansas, chances are he'd be No. 1. He knows that, too. But the Omaha high school product made his decision. "Kansas was the first school to contact me," Johnson explained, "and the first school I visited. I'm a business major and KU has a good business school. I liked it. Probably the only thing missing was a winning team." Two days later, Craig Johnson, the third string tailback, had 138 yards on nine carries. Final score = NU 42, KU 0.
Roger Craig was to be a starter in 1982, but Mike Rozier was a complete surprize and took Craig's starting position. Rozier eventually won the Heisman in 1983. Turner Gill was the quarterback at this time. Probably more than you ever want to know about Husker football, but the big bully on the block has left our conference.


KirkwoodHawk 2 years, 8 months ago

Dagger, if you are thinking about the same game I am, it was I.M. Hipp or Jarvis Redwine that 100 in the 1st Qtr, the other had 100 in the 2d Qtr, and Roger Craig had 200 in the 2d half, including a 99 yd TD.


KGphoto 2 years, 8 months ago

It's hard to tell until you play the games, but there is no doubt we are a better running team than last year.

Last year: Sims Sands Beshears

This year: Sims Miller Bourbon Pierson Sands Beshears

We upgraded at the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th RB slots. That's ridiculous!

Obviously the D is looking soft because of all the speed at Turner's disposal right now. The Bonneville Backfield is gonna give a lot of teams fits this year. And all the talk of moving Bourbon to RB is finally, rightfully, starting to quiet down (Keegan). No way do they pull a guy with that kink of running ability out of there. I can definitely see him doing kick returns in addition, but not exclusively. I can't wait for that first complete breakaway. Blue Flame baby!


troutsee 2 years, 8 months ago

Brock's heart is not in playing college FB.


TaskForce 2 years, 8 months ago

Tait must have been on a long bathroom break as many in attendance at the scrimmage thought Blake Jablonski had a very impressive showing yesterday. Jablonski drove the team down the field passing 3 for 3 on a 70 yard scoring drive (longest drive of the day). Jablonski then drove his unit 50 yards down the field ending in a field goal. Not quite sure what "bad moments" Jablonski might have had as he looked very sharp out there and was in command. It is encouraging to know that when Jablonski is called upon, he can move the team down the field and score. He did it in the Spring Game on two long drives and then yesterday again on two long drives. Also, it was nice to see the band charged up on both of those long drives yesterday.


Dirk Medema 2 years, 8 months ago

Sounds a bit like the bug-boyz from the 80's, when their 3rd string TB (Ahman Green?) would rush for 200 yds in the 2nd half. Okay, just a little bit. It will help to get a few more classes full of 6-5, 300lb HS OL.

It also sounds like this staff may use Kale even more diversly than Meier was used. I'm recalling comments during last year's camp about Kale being the more active leader through last summer. Really glad to have that leadership on the field beyond the QB.


jhawk613 2 years, 8 months ago

I think the highlight is 2 different kickers making a 45 and 47 yard field goal... maybe we won't have to go for it on the 30 every time.


Randy Maxwell 2 years, 8 months ago

Tuned Bakare is a freak. If he was 6-1 or 6-2 KU wouldn't have had a chance at getting him he would be at Clemson or Tenn. Etc. He alone will make the defense better. Add Willis and a healthy Lewandowski and this defense will be ok.


Jim Baker 2 years, 8 months ago

Webb/Pick = Reesing/Meier Lite


Jayhawk1116 2 years, 8 months ago

Really happy to see Kale Pick successfully transitioning to wide receiver. I was looking forward to him being the heir apparent to Reesing. Looks like he's (hopefully) going to be Meier's heir instead. I still say keep him practicing with the quarterbacks. I love the idea and possibilities of having two guys who can throw the ball on the field at the same time.


kujayhox 2 years, 8 months ago

I still think we are going to surprise a few teams. im optimistic!



troutsee 2 years, 8 months ago

Being able to make first downs consistently takes the pressure off the defense. Hopefully our defense surprises us. I have a fairly good feeling about this team. We'll see.


John Randall 2 years, 8 months ago

This season has the makings of a watershed year. It will be tough to do more than avoid embarrassment with nine games in the number 2 or 3 conference in the land (four teams in pre-season top10).
Winning early is crucial for confidence, and getting a few breaks (like happened in '07) could be key.
With such a young and thin defense, I don't see Jayhawks winning any games without a decided edge in offensive snaps, so O-line will be the bellweather. Staying on the field is more important than anything else – both for this year's record and for overall team growth.

Rock Chalk! Go 'Hawks!


Chris Bailey 2 years, 8 months ago

Thanks Matt Tait! Thanks for giving my boy Josh Smith props! Glad to see his name in an article! Doesn't mean his a big player but he's on the team and obviously playing well enough to get a few carries. I can't wait for the first game! Bought my tickets yesterday and also for the Baylor game! Gonna be a fun season. Glad to hear Webb was playing well and that he is much improved. Let's hope the offense was really good yesterday because it sounds like they moved the ball at will on the defense.


minipman 2 years, 8 months ago

Look at the glass half full. Maybe our o line and runnings backs are amazing


texashawk10 2 years, 8 months ago

It sounds like KU's run defense is as bad as last season which could mean a lot of long Saturdays if the offense isn't really improved. It sounds like KU's lack of size of up front is going to open up a lot of running lanes for opposing offenses. I've been trying to be optimistic about the defense this year, but I haven't seen a lot of positives about the DLine this offseason and combined with the switch to the 3-4 and the injuries KU has already had on the DLine, KU better be good at forcing a lot of turnovers or KU's ppg allowed will not be improved by much, if any this season.


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