Jayhawks turn up physicality, competition in preparation for Central Michigan

Duke receiver Max McCaffrey falls into the end zone for a touchdown with Kansas safety Isaiah Johnson on his back during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2013 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.

Duke receiver Max McCaffrey falls into the end zone for a touchdown with Kansas safety Isaiah Johnson on his back during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2013 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tuesday afternoon, Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis said there was no need to worry about how physical KU’s practices would be this week because Weis and his coaching staff had plans to turn things up a notch.

Turns out, they did.

Wednesday, several members of the KU defense who still may have been nursing a little soreness from the day before, said Tuesday’s practice was the most physical they’ve had since preseason camp, and senior defensive lineman Keon Stowers even went as far as to call it “the best Tuesday practice we’ve had.”

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“Usually, when we do the pro-style period, it’s us against the twos or threes but it was ones vs. ones,” Stowers said. “It’s really getting us ready to go against quality, first-team guys, so I think that switch-up was really good.”

The idea behind the change-up was to both prepare for the tough, hard-nosed Central Michigan (2-1) team coming to town at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and also as a not-so-subtle reminder that the way the Jayhawks (1-1) played last weekend at Duke would not cut it.

Weis referred to the CMU squad as “old school,” and Wednesday, a couple of Jayhawks shared their thoughts on what that meant.

“Pretty much just downhill, power running,” senior Michael Reynolds said. “They don’t get in the gun much at all from what I’ve seen on film. We just gotta know that we have to be run-sound because that’s what’s gonna be coming.”

Added Stowers: “When I think of old school, the first thing that comes to my mind is the wishbone. But everything that they’re saying about this team is true. They’re gonna run the power, they’re gonna run the iso, they’re gonna run the draw, they have two tight ends, sometimes they have three tight ends on the field. We’re gonna have to put our big boy pants on.”

That’s just fine with senior linebacker Ben Heeney, who said Tuesday’s practice had “a lot of juice” because of all of the hitting and added that he was looking forward to Saturday’s match-up for one big reason.

“A physical offense is going to be fun to play,” he said. “I’m gonna let some aggression out, for sure. But I think as a defense we’ll be a lot more sound this week.”

Even quarterback Montell Cozart got into the spirit of the increased physicality at this week’s practices, although not as a participant but more as an observer. Cozart maintained the red, no-contact jerseys that quarterbacks typically wear during practices, but said it was obvious that the temperature had been turned up, with more hitting and wrapping up but not always tackles that took guys to the ground.

“You could definitely notice the tempo of practice was pushed up a little bit,” Cozart said. “When we did scouts, we had the first defense out there going against us. It was much more competitive.”

Senior receiver Nick Harwell saw the same thing. Instead of going against scout-team cornerbacks who typically don’t play, Harwell was lined up against KU’s top corners Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd.

“It’s more competitive,” Harwell said. “So it gives us a better feel for game day and it’s easier to transfer (that) to game day from practice.”

Cozart speaks

The KU quarterback opened his meeting with reporters on Wednesday by addressing something he never got the chance to address last weekend — his poor play against Duke.

“Last week, we were disappointed in our performance and I was disappointed in my performance, as well,” Cozart began. “Sunday, I came in and talked to coach Weis and coach Reagan and coach Powlus and we addressed the issues. We have no excuses for them, so we’re just trying to move past it, look forward to Central Michigan and get ready for this game.”

Defense ticked, too

Although the KU defense got somewhat of a pass for playing decent for a couple of quarters against Duke and considerably better than the KU offense throughout, the leaders of the unit hardly saw it as reason to celebrate.

Stowers said the defense met Sunday for a “heart-to-heart” discussion about their play and came away with one simple solution.

“It's on us,” Stowers said of the upperclassmen and defensive leaders. “It's on us to lead the other guys to a successful defense. If we're not doing it, they're not doing it. That's the biggest thing.”