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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jayhawks turning former liability into strength

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart bursts off the line during running drills on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart bursts off the line during running drills on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014.

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During the first few months of Charlie Weis’ initial season back in 2012, the new Kansas University football coach and several of his assistants often stressed the need for improved speed.

As the Jayhawks prepare to head into Weis’ third season, it appears that team speed has become more of an asset and less of a concern.

“We can run,” defensive backs coach Dave Campo said during the opening week of preseason camp. “Defensively, for sure. For the first time, I feel like we’ve got guys that can line up and run with the guys (we’re) playing against.”

Upgrading the Jayhawks’ speed has been a two-part process. First, Weis and company did all they could to recruit faster players. Second, strength coach Scott Holsopple did all he could to develop the wheels of those already in the program. The result of both efforts is just one of the many things that has the players and coaches looking forward to the 2014 season.

“I think this is the fastest team we’ve had since I’ve been here, on defense and at the skill positions,” said senior linebacker Ben Heeney.

By all accounts, Heeney is one of the fastest guys on the team. He’s not Tony Pierson-fast, but, despite playing middle linebacker and standing 6-foot, 230 pounds, the guy can run. Kansas has guys like him at positions all over the field.

“We’ve got a lot of fast people on the team,” said senior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd, one of the team’s burners. “But people don’t notice because it’s sneaky speed, it’s not all like Tony.”

At least one national publication has noticed.

In a Sporting News article published in early July, David Purdum wrote a guide of 100 things college football bettors should know heading into the 2014 season. The second item on his list covered speed.

What Purdum discovered is concrete evidence that KU’s speed has improved. According to NFLDraftScout.com, Kansas, somewhat surprisingly, trailed only Texas in the number of senior draft prospects on its roster with a 40-yard dash time of under 4.6 seconds. The Longhorns have 11. The Jayhawks have nine.

Pierson, at 4.46 seconds, is by far the fastest of the bunch. But safety Cassius Sendish (4.53), Shepherd (4.54), running backs Taylor Cox (4.56) and Brandon Bourbon (4.5) — Bourbon and Cox both will miss the 2014 season because of recent injuries — Buck rusher Victor Simmons (4.52), cornerback Dexter McDonald (4.54) and wide receivers Justin McCay (4.54) and Nick Harwell (4.57) all fall in the fast category right behind him.

That’s to say nothing of KU’s quick underclassmen such as sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart, a handful of whom are closer to Pierson than they are Harwell and McDonald. In fact, during preseason camp Pierson dubbed freshman wide receiver Bobby Hartzog Jr. the player on the team who comes closest to matching him stride for stride.

In addition to those burners, senior tight ends Jimmay Mundine (4.62) and Trent Smiley (4.66) run fast times for their size, and, as senior defensive lineman Michael Reynolds put it, “even our big guys are pretty fast.” Reynolds likely is the speediest of that group at 4.77 seconds.

“There’s no question that our speed is significantly better than it was two years ago,” safeties coach Scott Vestal said.

While that acceleration is sprinkled in on both offense and defense, it’s not merely that the speed exists that’s important, rather how that speed is used and what it produces. The veteran Jayhawks are aware of that.

“You gotta keep it in your head that, yeah, you’re fast, but there are other people out there who are as fast or faster,” Shepherd said.

Added first-year offensive coordinator John Reagan of team speed: “I think it’s kind of like money. You don’t know if you ever have enough. You keep wanting more. But that has been upgraded.”

Comments

Brad Sherp 3 months ago

You should point out that the article says that KU was second in the NATION to only Texas. This is not a ranking of only Big 12 teams. Teams like Auburn, Alabama, and Florida State were ranked lower than KU when considering seniors with sub-4.6 40 times. But... that was before we lost two of them to injury.

I am excited to see how this translates on the field this year.

Doug Cramer 3 months ago

Brad - don't expect much. We don't have the size or talent in the trenches (both sides) to win at this level.

Erich Hartmann 3 months ago

Thank you, Doug, for the voice of reality and reason. I had started to get somewhat excited about the upcoming chance to face BigXII foes again, but realized how correct you are that we will just never measure up. It's almost pointless even for the team and fans to show up on Saturdays--> why should we even waste the 3hrs to even play the games...?

Ashwin Rao 3 months ago

Wow! A comment laced with sarcasm if you see one! ;)

Erich Hartmann 3 months ago

(Bingo! Mine was total sarcasm. Not unlike when Bill Self said pre-game before facing KY in the '12 NC: "You still gotta go play the actual game...(who knows the result)) Can't kill hope.

John Myers 3 months ago

Do you just wake up every single morning and start pissing in people's cheerios?

Mark Lindrud 3 months ago

This is why I don't eat cheerios anymore.

Jay Beakum 3 months ago

You should probably peruse the depth charts of other Big 12 teams and compare them with KU’s. We very much have the size of any other team in the conference. I don’t know where you came up with that.

And it’s obvious when we lack size in a particular matchup we should be making up for that with the speed.

Micky Baker 3 months ago

They are only measuring seniors. However, I believe Avery and Mann are both 4.6 and faster in the 40. Cozart ran a 4.5 40 coming out of high school. With some work, he's probably improved that by a couple of tenths of a second.

It is more speed than I thought we had. Now if they make they right cuts and the right reads in the stretch option. If the receivers catch the ball and run their routes better so that they are open. If they don't give up on the plays early.

Aaron Paisley 3 months ago

Good thing games aren't played on paper or KU would never win more than 1 or 2 games a season ever.

Doug Cramer 3 months ago

Well since Mangino was canned...we usually don't win more than one or two games.

John Fitzgerald 3 months ago

I sure hope you don't go to the games. And if you do, I pray I don't sit anywhere near you.

Brad Sherp 3 months ago

Like I said, I am excited to see how it translates to the field this year.

You are 100% justified in being down on KU. I live in SEC country, and I am tired of KU being the butt of everyone's jokes. In fact, you could have been smart enough to point out that almost all 11 players were on the field last year, and we only had 3 wins.

Still... I am optimistic because of the offensive coaching changes, offensive scheme changes, and because I hear that Cozart has the potential to be a special player.

Mark Lindrud 3 months ago

What were your college years like at Mizzou?

Richard Duran 3 months ago

They can all run the 40 in 2 seconds but if they drop every other pass it won't matter.

Mark Lindrud 3 months ago

All this article is saying is we are getting speed on this team, which we've been lacking. This is a positive. Hopefully it turns into more wins. On a big 12 preview show they asked who had the best chance to reach a bowl between Iowa state, west Virginia and us. They all said us so at least people are noticing we are improving, but words now need to be backed by actions. Crossing my fingers.

Chandler Accipiter 3 months ago

I saw that on ESPN and was very surprised and slightly more hopeful.. I also saw the Big 12 guy on Fox Sports have KU at 1-11. I guess that's why they play the games!

Mark Lindrud 3 months ago

What it tells me is that Iowa State and West Virginia are winnable games and winning 2 non conference games puts us at 4 wins. We then need two upset wins, possibly Duke and KState or TCU at home and we are bowl eligible. Possible? Who knows, but that is why they play the games.

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