It appears Charlie Weis, motivated by a miserable first season as Kansas University football coach, is in the late stages of a remarkable recruiting haul on the junior-college front.
Provided all the players who have committed to Kansas honor their words and take care of remaining academic requirements, Weis appears to have upgraded the defensive line, the linebacker depth and secondary. It looks as if he has gone a long way toward filling the giant holes created by three departing multi-year starters on the offensive line as well.
All season, Weis has preached that available playing time would result in luring junior-college players to Lawrence. He was right. Strangely, however, wide receiver, the second-least-productive position (behind quarterback) for the 1-11 Jayhawks still doesn’t look strong on paper.
Weis built his coaching reputation as an NFL offensive coordinator who brought the best out in quarterbacks. Wide receivers want to play with quarterbacks who make them look good.
One lousy season of quarterback play does not a coach’s reputation destroy. Or does it in the minds of recruits easily persuaded by negative recruiters preying on athletes raised in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture?
It’s not tough for the negative recruiters to zero in on an alarming statistic to pack in the briefcase they pop open in living rooms during recruiting visits.
That stunning statistic illustrates better than any other the ineptitude of the passing game. As everybody with a passing knowledge of local football must know by now, Kansas wide receivers did not catch a single touchdown pass in 2012.
Quarterback Dayne Crist, a fifth-year transfer from Notre Dame, ranked last in the nation among the 116 quarterbacks who threw enough passes to qualify for passing-rating leaders. He was hyped to the moon and fell far short of the clouds.
Now it’s Jake Heaps’ turn. He won the starting job at Brigham Young early in his freshman season and lost it early in his sophomore season. He’s the object of hype now the same way Crist was a year ago. Negative recruiters could use Crist’s season against Kansas in trying to woo receivers, but anyone who believes that comparison is more shallow than KU’s kicking depth was this season.
Crist had two serious knee injuries, and after Kansas opened its season with a victory against South Dakota State of the Football Championship Subdivision, Weis touched on a concern he had coming into the season.
“It’s actually good that he got hit a couple of times,” Weis said of Crist. “You’ve been injured a whole bunch, and sometimes quarterbacks get a little gun-shy, but that certainly wasn’t the case tonight. I think that was a good first step for him.”
One good step followed by the thundering sound of footsteps. Crist looked gun-shy. It very well could have been the central issue in his disappointing season without Crist even knowing it.
The only injury Heaps had at BYU was a broken rib, and he threw four touchdown passes with it in a 52-24 victory against UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl as a freshman.
Nothing suggests wide receivers should be anything but salivating when picturing running under Heaps’ passes. He threw 24 touchdown passes for BYU, and 23 were to wide receivers: Cody Hoffman (eight), Luke Ashworth (seven), Ross Apo (six), McKay Jacobson (one), J.D. Falslev (one). Tight end Matthew Edwards, grandson of former BYU coach LaVell Edwards, was the only non-wide receiver to catch a Heaps touchdown pass.
Heaps finished his freshman season with a hot hand, throwing 13 touchdown passes and two interceptions in his final five games.
He also performed well at the end of his sophomore season. Riley Nelson, the since-benched QB who beat out Heaps, suffered an injury in the first quarter of a 42-7 victory against Idaho, and Heaps completed 15 of 20 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. The following week, Heaps led another 42-7 victory, against New Mexico State. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 238 yards and four touchdowns and threw one interception. He threw just one pass in the remaining two games and decided to transfer to Kansas.
Negative recruiters can’t point to Weis’ Notre Dame teams to try to say his offense doesn’t highlight wide receivers. In Weis’ first season heading the Fighting Irish, wide receivers Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall combined for 26 touchdown catches. They had a combined seven career touchdown receptions heading into that season.
Three wide receivers are among the 23 players to commit to Kansas, but the list of schools pursuing them isn’t as impressive as the schools who tried to land KU recruits who play other positions, most notably defensive linemen.