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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Column: KU QB Cozart ‘on fire’ — Weis

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart has a laugh with quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus during practice on Monday, August 11, 2014 at the practice fields.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart has a laugh with quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus during practice on Monday, August 11, 2014 at the practice fields.

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Just about everybody looks great in batting practice and then the game starts and pitches designed to deceive arrive in unpredictable locations.

The same can be said to some extent about quarterbacks in training camps, where they seldom have to worry about getting hit and everybody in the stadium is on their side. And then the game arrives and the goal of the guys on the other side of the line of scrimmage becomes rocking the QB’s body and mind with hits that leave the sound of footsteps echoing for hours.

Even so, the words head coach Charlie Weis and offensive coordinator John Reagan spoke Tuesday about sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart didn’t do anything to douse the flames of hope that a 21st-century quarterback could fare better than the vintage models who started for Kansas University the past two years, which seemed more like decades.

The quarterback discussed bore no resemblance to the one who looked frozen by fear and ice in a 34-0 loss last November to Iowa State in Ames. For now, the midway point between the camp QB and Ames would suffice.

“He started off on fire, and then he had this little lull right in the middle of camp,” Weis said, reviewing Cozart’s camp.

The coach said he wondered if a tired arm might have caused the lull, so he “pulled way off of him,” and liked what he saw when he let go of the reins.

“Since then, I mean, he’s been on fire,” Weis said. “Knock on wood, because I’m a superstitious person, but when you’re on fire, it means you’re completing most of your passes. That means everyone around you is feeding off of that.”

Weis and transfers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps arrived in Lawrence with reputations still partially intact, even though for all three, their most recent stops (Notre Dame for Crist, BYU for Heaps, Florida for Weis) to that point had not been successful ones. The quarterbacks didn’t make it a full season before Weis replaced them, and he replaced himself after two seasons. In denial Weis is not.

“We’ve all seen it for the last couple of years since I’ve been here, the passing game has been anemic, and I have no problem being the head of the taking-the-blame crew,” Weis said. “I mean, it just hasn’t worked well from the quarterback and the receivers and all the skill guys and the offensive line and coaches and everything else. I think this just is a better fit.”

You can bet he thinks that because Cozart has the legs to deal with blockers’ deficiencies, because Nick Harwell gets open and catches what’s thrown to him and because Reagan’s spread-the-field, quick-hit offense minimizes the damage of a line that sometimes will appear overmatched in conference games.

Cozart remains the key.

“I think for us to win football games, not to be better or to be more competitive, but for us to win more football games, it starts with the guy with the ball in his hands on every play,” Weis said. “Our completion percentage was crummy. He was part of that and everyone else was part of that too, coaches, players, everyone.”

Running Weis’ offense as a true freshman, Cozart completed just 36.5 percent of his passes and didn’t throw for a touchdown in 63 attempts.

Comparing Cozart to second-stringer Michael Cummings and No. 3 QB T.J. Millweard, Weis said, “Montell was much more accurate than both those other guys — so before you even talk about their athleticism, which Montell has the most of that, too — accuracy at the quarterback position is the primary deal.”

Apparently, a more accurate arm has led to a better head.

“I think that right now he’s confident, bordering on cocky,” Weis said. “That’s a good place to be, and I never saw that at any time last year. I think just happy to be out there was one thing, maybe not happy to be out there, for that matter. I think you’re going to see a different kid.”

Reagan struck a similar tone discussing Cozart and it didn’t come off in a way that created suspicion that he was voicing his boss’ scripted words.

Reagan said Cozart, “started camp and was doing really well, had a little bit of a lull, then came out of that, and since that has been very good, and by very good, not just throwing the ball, not just calling plays and getting us in the right plays, but the way he’s handling things.”

When a young talent makes strides, it has a contagious effect on the energy of a team.

“It’s fun,” Reagan said. “It’s exciting. And he has every right to be right where he is with his confidence right now, based on what he’s been doing through camp.”

Heaps arrived in Lawrence a beaten man, having lost his starting job. Heaps talked about how his confidence was restored during his red-shirt season at KU, but he sometimes sounded like a guy trying to talk himself into believing that. He was handed the starting job at Kansas and didn’t have to earn it.

Cozart starts this season as a guy who won the job in the spring, beating out Heaps, and spent the summer growing into the role as leader of the offense. Cozart comes across as a guy comfortable in his own skin, not one trying to convince himself or anyone else of anything.

The goal of every defense Cozart faces will be to erode that confidence by getting him to run for his life, instead of for the first-down marker, get him slouching toward Ames, seeing his breath better than he did receivers.

Comments

Dillon Davis 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm predicting a lot of screen passes, quick lateral throws (which have a low percentage of working especially when you don't have great WR blockers), and little down the field action. I'm all for a more efficient offense but I hope we throw the ball down the field enough to keep the defense honest otherwise we're sitting ducks.

Jay Beakum 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Are you saying our WR’s aren’t great blockers?

Personally I think Justin McCay and Nigel King will be mauling defenders downfield. Have you seen the size of these guys? These are Dwayne Bowe size receivers. Nick Harwell is no shrimp either, and with coach Kiesau on board I think we might have an exceptional set of blocking WR’s.

Lucas Town 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I like the way Weis is criticizing the offense, but I do not like the way he comes out and says that Cozart is "on fire". Weis says, “I think that right now he’s confident, bordering on cocky,” Weis said. “That’s a good place to be," Cozart has no reason to be cocky. He should be humble and how is being cocky a good place to be. I have not heard one coach in the last 5 years say anything like this. How about keeping your players focused and on an even keel? Never too high or too low.

Aaron Paisley 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Sorry, but I want my starting QB to feel as confident as possible heading into the season. We saw what fake confidence led to last year with Heaps. Not all players respond to the same motivational tactics. Cozart is probably someone who responds well to positive reinforcement. There are other people out there who you have break a foot off in their butt to motivate them. Figuring out how to motivate your players and build their confidence is one of head coach's biggest responsibilities.

Jason Keller 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Haha, all Weis can do is compliment this team. He's a bad leader, period. We might go undefeated this year but it would be under a bad leader which is not likely.

Jason Keller 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Maybe this is our great comeback though. A quarterback who has IT is the great equalizer. Like Trevor Knight for OU last year against Bama. Cozart will have to be sensational for us to have a good season, which could happen.

Erich Hartmann 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Hope you are right on this point...we shall all see how Cozart does.

Joseph Kuebel 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm of the opinion that cockiness is a good thing for a football team and a leader. When you look at the Miami Hurricanes of the 80's-90's their cockiness was not a downfall, and the swagger they had did nothing to hurt them, if anything it helped. I think it is a much better attitude than the "expecting to lose", or even "expecting not to lose" type mentality that has seemed to be customary of our teams demeanor for a while now. I like the fact that there is an attitude and I believe it is needed. You don't see teams like Alabama go in and expect to lose, they have demeanor about them to crush the other team.

Going along these same lines, of "poor sportsmanship" or "running up the score" (such as what Miami was criticized for when playing Notre Dame for instance) well, if your 2nd and 3rd stringers are killing the other teams starters- what are they supposed to do? Lie down on the field? Punt on first down? "You play to win the game"... this isn't pony softball where everyone should get a chance to score, or "be special". Competition is necessary or it isn't a competition at all and that rewards lackadaisical, not caring, and non-competitive elements that defeat the purpose of competition itself. Perhaps that is what is wrong with society today. I'd much rather be of the state of mind to crush the other team and believe that you will win, rather than lie down and not score because "you are winning by too much". If you take that type of loser mentality then you can expect to lose. Overconfidence can occur as we've seen first hand with our Jayhawks in the NCAA tourney by taking teams lightly, but I'd rather have a cocky team than one with a lackluster, limpahem, team of chumps. Save that type of "we are all special and everyone is a winner" for the little leagues, please.

Erich Hartmann 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Of course most of the fanbase will be skeptical of anything Weis says remotely resembling praise for how a QB's practices are going. Im sure those fans will put it in the category of "we've heard this before", right? And Jake Heaps was the same 'thing' as Dayne Crist, and now Montell Cozart is the 'same' lackluster as the previous two, right? Am I right in my sarcasm?

Come on, we know how this no-hope football fanbase thinks, so where are all the sarcastic comments ridiculing the coach, players, record, AD, Gill, etc, etc, etc? Come on, get it out of your system...

Eventhough some of us may have hope (lessened now a bit with Bourbon and Cox gone for the season), there are many other ku fans who 'sound like' they have no hope at all...(maybe nothing will give them hope unless Zenger hires Urban Meyer who brings 30 5star players with him, right? Have I got my reverse-sarcasm on target yet?).

For those KU people who have no hope for football: My advice is to wait for LateNight, in October. And you dont have to go crazy over Naadir Tharpe anymore either, right? (lol)

Joseph Kuebel 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Critiquing the critics there, eh? Interesting view, but I don't think it solves much. I'm assuming you're in in the spectrum of cautiously optimistic but won't give an opinion- which isn't meant to be a knock on you. But despite your knock on these complaining lingerers...that's what these boards are unfortunately used for-- to complaint, or to give an opinion whether it be on the article or team. I'd agree that everyone that has no hope and dismay/ negative things to say I prefer they take it elsewhere, such as a misery website. The last thing our team needs is more negative energy.

Mark Lindrud 2 months, 3 weeks ago

When Heaps and Crist were here the word cocky was not uttered. Let's hope that his self-confidence produces a productive passing game. If we can just have a balanced offense then this defense we have been touting can get the needed rest and not tire out at the end of games.

Brad Sherp 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Here is a thought. The two NFL QBs that Weis is given credit for developing, were both back-ups behind well-established starting QBs. They only saw action because of injuries. There was no pressure or hype surrounding their development.

Every QB that he has hyped up, and built up tremendous expectations for has failed to live up to those expectations. Most people do not respond well to that kind of pressure. Manziel, Winston, Tebow… they are all exceptions, not the rule. Most players… most people… struggle under pressure when they do not have the fundamentals established before that pressure is applied.

Weis coached under Parcells, so it is safe to assume that Weis knows this. When Parcells had a young Tony Romo in Dallas, Parcells was so concerned about the hype that he wouldn’t even mention Romo by name to the media.

Weis needs to stop sabotaging the development of his QBs by setting unrealistic expectations for them. I believe Cozart has the potential to be great… but the last thing we need is his development stifled by unnecessary pressure. Being shoved into the starting line up before he is ready is pressure enough.

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