Corey Avery might be the newcomer Charlie Weis has enjoyed watching the most, but he’s far from the only one who has caught the attention of Kansas University’s third-year head football coach.
Kyron Watson, a 6-foot, 235-pound freshman linebacker from East St. Louis, Ill., has a thicker build than most freshmen and moves better than most teenagers his size. Weis sounded more than a little excited Wednesday at the mention of his name.
“I’d be surprised if those two guys didn’t play this year,” Weis said of Avery and Watson. “I’d be surprised if they didn’t play the first game. Both of them are natural. Both of them are instinctive. Obviously, they lack in experience.”
Weis said Watson is pushing those ahead of him and described him as, “a sideline-to-sideline player. He’s got leadership that’s a little bit suppressed because he’s a freshman, but he’s one of those guys a little bit down the line that you can see that in him.”
Wide receiver Nigel King, the Maryland graduate who has two remaining years of eligibility, will be counted on to help Nick Harwell in upgrading what has been the nation’s least productive receiver group the past two seasons.
“Very pleased,” Weis said of King. “He’s another big physical guy that catches the ball and he’s not falling behind.”
“He takes notes, diligent notes, asks a lot of questions,” Weis said. “A lot of times players will not ask questions because they think it makes them look dumb. He’ll ask any question, ‘Hold on a second, coach (Eric) Kiesau, explain this to me again.’ That’s the sign of a polished guy who gets it. He’s playing himself up the depth chart, not down the depth chart.”
De’Andre Mann, a juco transfer at running back, remains in the mix.
“De’Andre’s challenging for No. 1 as well,” Weis said. “I mean, Brandon (Bourbon) and Taylor (Cox) have their work cut out for them with these two guys (Avery and Mann). There’s quite the competition.
“De’Andre’s a natural runner and he also has a second gear that’s good to see on the field because sometimes you’ll watch a junior-college tape and you’ll see them running away from people and you don’t know if he’s running away from them because he’s just better than them or does he have that true second gear? He does have that. And sometimes with a guy who’s 5-9, (198 pounds), you see that short stocky guy you say, ‘He’s not going to be able to run like that,’ but he can.”
In the defensive backfield, the deepest unit on the team, juco transfer Kevin Short has serious talent, but won’t start unless he earns it by matching his effort to his talent. Depth allows coaches to use more motivational tools.
Safety Anthony “Fish” Smithson, a sophomore junior-college transfer, plays behind Cassius Sendish, whom Weis labeled the best natural leader on the team.
“Fish is that close to being a starter,” Weis said, leaving a small gap between his index finger and thumb. “... I think Fish is waiting for his opportunities for playing time.”
Defensive lineman Andrew Bolton, a juco transfer who red-shirted last season to gain strength in his surgically repaired knee, is expected to start, but still is so much in learning mode, Weis said, that he’s still thinking instead of reacting.
John Duvic, a freshman kicker from Chicago, has a good shot at winning the job in a competition with Matthew Wyman.
Ideally, the roster would be talented enough and deep enough that newcomers would have their paths blocked by more experienced players. Kansas isn’t there yet, but does seem to have more talent, especially on defense, than in the past few years.