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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Keegan

Column: KU offense’s recent woes warrant closer look at hype

Kansas receiver Nick Harwell pulls in a pass in the end zone during warmups prior to start of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Kansas receiver Nick Harwell pulls in a pass in the end zone during warmups prior to start of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

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The average Kansas University football fan brings healthy skepticism to any conversation regarding the offense.

Let’s look at the most common sources of suspicion and label each one fair or unfair.

Doubt No. 1: We were told by Charlie Weis and the media that Dayne Crist was going to light the Lawrence skies with spirals for one season on his way to a long NFL career. He didn’t make it past midseason before being replaced. Jake Heaps, we were told, would be better than Crist because he would have more elusiveness in the pocket. If anything, he was less productive than Crist. Now we’re supposed to believe that slot receiver Nick Harwell, another transfer, has All-American potential? Not going to buy the hype again.

Ruling: Unfair.

Crist and Heaps came to Kansas because they lost their jobs with subpar performance at their first schools, Notre Dame and Brigham Young. They were five-star recruits in high school, but never lived up to that in college.

Harwell not only never was replaced as a starter for football reasons, he set a slew of records and as a sophomore ranked second in the nation in receiving yards per game (129.5), behind only Western Michigan’s Jordan White.

Doubt No. 2: Harwell played in the MAC, so what he did for Miami (Ohio) means nothing because the defenses he will face will be so superior.

Ruling: Unfair.

Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the second-leading receiver in the NFL last season with 110 catches, played his college ball in the MAC for Central Michigan. Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots, fourth in the NFL with 105 catches, also played for a MAC school, Kent State.

If that doesn’t ease concerns about Harwell’s switch to the Big 12, this should: Two of his 15 games with at least 100 receiving yards came against Big Ten schools Ohio State and Minnesota.

Doubt No. 3: OK, so let’s assume Harwell is the real deal and again will do a terrific job of getting open, catching what’s thrown his way and gaining big yards after the catch. Does KU have anybody who can get him the ball consistently?

Ruling: Fair.

Montell Cozart was forced into action as a true freshman because the offense was going nowhere with Heaps ducking for cover in the face of a relentless pass-rush week after week.

Cozart encountered difficulties typical for freshmen, including adjusting to the speed of the game, the size and speed of the defenders. He sometimes looked as if he were trying to avoid injury and too eagerly headed out of bounds, at times just shy of the first-down marker. As a thrower, he completed 36.5 percent of his passes, averaged 3.6 yards per attempt and did not throw a touchdown pass in 63 passes. Too many broken plays ended with him throwing balls out of bounds, instead of trying to make something happen by scrambling for more time or running for a gain.

A year of experience, film study, and body building could empower Cozart with the confidence necessary to make better, sometimes bolder, decisions.

Plus, new offensive coordinator John Reagan’s offense promises to cut down on the number of high-degree-of-difficulty passes. The addition of Harwell and the polishing of fleet receivers Tony Pierson and Rodriguez Coleman won’t hurt.

Still, it takes a leap of faith to believe that, considering his passing statistics from a year ago, he can improve enough to become an average Big 12 passer. Watching whether he can makes KU worth watching.

Doubt No. 4: Even if the wide-receiver unit improves from worst in the nation to solid, the running backs do well enough to soften the blow of losing James Sims, Reagan’s college offense creates more opportunities, tight end Jimmay Mundine stops dropping passes and Cozart makes monumental improvements, an offense, to some extent, is only as good as its offensive line and KU’s doesn’t look very good on paper.

Ruling: Fair.

The outrageous shortage of offensive tackles has been addressed with the addition of Larry Mazyck, a 6-foot-8, 340-pound left tackle who originally had committed to Maryland, and the move of Damon Martin from guard to tackle. Pat Lewandowski adds depth and Brian Beckmann could help the situation if he’s ready this year and not still a year of weight-room growth away from contributing.

Still, the outlook of the O-line is iffy and until Kansas can get into a rhythm of developing high school prospects, things will remain shaky up front.

Legitimate doubts abound, but hope peeks its head into the room and most of it comes in the form of fast athletes, never a bad quality for an offense.

Comments

Suzi Marshall 4 months, 1 week ago

If Harwell is so good, why didn't he just go to the NFL instead of sitting out a year? How old is he now....24?

Aaron Paisley 4 months, 1 week ago

Harwell didn't get kicked out of school until after the draft and most NFL teams weren't going to sign a kid with character issues at the time. He tried to become eligible last season, but Miami wouldn't let him him complete the one course he needed to graduate so that meant he was no longer a graduate transfer, just a regular transfer who had to sit out a year. That year off also completely took his name off the NFL's radar so he was basically forced to come back this year to get his name back out there. Harwell is an NFL talent, and KU is fortunate to have him for this season to help Cozart out because he is far and away the best WR KU has had since Briscoe and Meier 5 years ago.

Brett McCabe 4 months, 1 week ago

Why the hate for Harwell? All he's done is play well and choose Kansas.

Jay Beakum 4 months, 1 week ago

Doubt 4 is also being addressed by Reagan.

Michael Leiker 4 months, 1 week ago

The vicious cycle KU Football is in stems from the marketing department's constant requirement to over hype the team just to sell a few more tickets. Over promise, under deliver equals a yearly disappointment. This pressure trickles up (or down) to our coaches and they start to try to "win games" instead of just being able to focus on coaching good football, recruiting good hard working kids and letting the chips fall where they may. Allowing some of this pressure to be relieved might allow the program to develop an identity for what KU Football is and what that looks like on and off the field. In football especially, without that kind of identity it's tough to produce success.

If we could go one or two years without the marketing barrage telling us how great everything is, how great the new coach is and/or how this is the year, let the team do what it does and the folks who want to come, come and just be a little happy with the TV revenue, sharing money, etc, I think over the course of a few years you would see people's attitudes towards the team start to change. A lot to ask for.

Brett McCabe 4 months, 1 week ago

Are you seriously suggesting that KU coaches and players are under pressure? Players throughout the SEC are now falling over and laughing.

We've been horrible for a long, long time. Pressure hasn't been the problem.

Robert Brock 4 months, 1 week ago

Harwell will earn a decent draft spot if he can show that he can catch and make plays against the likes of OU and UT. I suspect that he is capable of doing big things. My main concern is that Cozart will be unable to get the ball to him. Cozart likes to run, run, run. And when he throes...it ain't accurate.

Bob Bailey 4 months, 1 week ago

Biggest problem the last two years, is coaching,

Crist threw over their heads. Heaps threw behind them. What coach would be totally incapable of correcting that error? Didn't happen at their old schools.

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