Column: Tackle knows Cozart’s health critical

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An athlete carrying a football is as susceptible to injury as just about any performer in any sport. Losing senior running backs Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox for the season reminded us of that.

So it becomes more important now than ever for quarterback Montell Cozart, a big-play threat as a runner and potentially as a long-ball thrower as well, to stay on his feet. That’s where Larry Mazyck, a 6-foot-8, 360-pound left tackle in his first season at KU after two years of junior-college football, can help.

“It’s like a bodyguard relationship,” Mazyck said of how O-linemen view quarterbacks. “Just got to protect that guy, keep him safe.”

The guys under the spotlight need to be surrounded by strong men in the shadows.

“We’ve just got to keep guys off him,” Mazyck said. “The defense is rushing, and he’s like that one performer on stage we’ve got to protect. That’s how I look at it. You’ve got to keep him safe so he can do his performance, do his job, make plays so we can get us some points on the board.”

Making plays just became more difficult for a KU offense that hasn’t been able to consistently make noise since gunslinger Todd Reesing rode his horse back to Texas, leaving a ghost town in his wake.

The loss of Bourbon and Cox doesn’t necessarily weaken the top two spots of the depth chart — Corey Avery and De’Andre Mann might prove more talented — but the ice just became dangerously thin, which already could be said of quarterback and the offensive line.

The top three running backs on the depth chart — Avery, Mann and true freshman Joe Dineen — have combined for zero carries in Div. I football. The top three quarterbacks — Cozart, Michael Cummings and T.J. Millweard — have combined for four career touchdown passes, all thrown by Cummings.

Suddenly, wide receiver is as deep a position as any on the offense, thanks to newcomers Nick Harwell and Nigel King and returning lettermen Tony Pierson and Rodriguez Coleman.

Cozart has the responsibility of making it all work, getting the most out of the talented receivers and making the defense respect his running ability so much that it creates space for the team’s talented yet inexperienced running backs.

“He can definitely play,” Mazyck said of Cozart. “For him to be so young, his maturity level definitely surprised me. He’s a good kid.”

Suddenly, Cozart will have plenty of young, fast company standing in the backfield with him, counting on the big men up front keeping him safe.