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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Jayhawks found a few answers in spring

Kansas head coach David Beaty throws some passes during warmups prior to kickoff of the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas head coach David Beaty throws some passes during warmups prior to kickoff of the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

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Thursday marked the final spring practice of the 2016 season for the Kansas University football program and, after finishing the spring semester and surviving finals, the Jayhawks will be given back to strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson for the summer.

Jackson, who joined second-year KU coach David Beaty’s staff for his second stint at Kansas, often was lauded throughout the offseason for his work in transforming the Jayhawks’ bodies and making them both stronger and more agile and explosive.

Although that was tough to see in the spring game — mostly because of the format — it certainly showed up on a case-by-case basis, with several key returners looking much different than they did when we last saw them in November, particularly the freshmen.

Most of that work was put in during the winter months, when the Jayhawks used the disappointment and embarrassment of last season’s 0-12 record to fuel their workouts.

That mentality carried over into the spring and played a part in producing six key things we learned about this team from March and April.

1. Quarterback still a question — A wrist injury to returning starter Ryan Willis opened the door for one of KU’s other quarterbacks to storm through it. And, although Beaty said senior Montell Cozart had another solid spring, his spring game was unimpressive and left many wondering just how much the 11-game starter had improved. Carter Stanley, Deondre Ford and Keaton Perry showed flashes of improvement from time to time but also were inconsistent and could not surpass Cozart on the depth chart. At this point, it looks like a two-horse race for the starting job heading into the summer, with Willis likely having a slight lead.

2. Receiving corps deep and talented — The addition of Texas A & M transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez gives KU that No.1-type of wideout it was missing last season. His experience, crisp route-running, confidence and top-end speed bring another dimension to the offense, and his presence provides KU’s crop of promising, young wideouts the opportunity to fill in the roles around him. Sophomores Steven Sims Jr. and Jeremiah Booker have big-time potential. Juniors Bobby Hartzog and Darious Crawley could be ready for bigger roles. And fierce competitors Tyler Patrick and rookie Keegan Brewer also figure to be tough to keep off the field.

3. KU survived the coaching turnover — It remains to be seen how well the five coaches added to Beaty’s staff will do in terms of recruiting and developing talent, but the fivesome did not seem to miss a beat when it came to coaching the players already on campus. Jason Phillips (wide receivers), Todd Bradford (linebackers), Joe DeForest (special teams), Michael Slater (defensive line) and Tony Hull (running backs) all got right to work after arriving in Lawrence, some with as little as just a few days before the start of spring practice. One of the biggest reasons these coaches were able to pick up where their predecessors left off was because of their familiarity with the offensive system Beaty wants to run and their general experience as college coaches. With the exception of Hull, who came from the high school ranks in Louisiana, the four other assistants brought to town an average of 17 seasons of college football coaching experience. Compare that to the average of just five seasons by the coaches they replaced and it’s clear that the coaching staff gained some key experience in the aftermath of a wild offseason of departures.

4. Jayhawks emerged injury free — There were a handful of players who were limited and/or kept out of a good chunk of the spring session, but most of those were veteran types who needed the rest and chance to heal more than they needed the reps on the field. Not only did sitting out give those players — think running back Ke’aun Kinner, cornerback Brandon Stewart, offensive lineman Jordan Shelley-Smith and others — a chance to get fully healthy, but it also opened the door for some of the younger players to gain more reps. One year after a devastating spring-game injury to quarterback Michael Cummings cost the Jayhawks one of their more important pieces, the team was extra-cautious this spring and seemed to reach the finish line in solid shape on the injury front.

5. Better beef on offensive and defensive lines — On offense, the big boys up front appear to have more versatility than at any point in the past six seasons. Last year’s starting guard D’Andre Banks moved outside to right tackle, which gives KU decent depth at the tackle position. Clyde McCaulley ran with the ones for most of the spring at left tackle, but Larry Hughes and injured senior Shelley-Smith also have significant experience on the outside. Joe Gibson seems to have settled into the starting center position and Jacob Bragg and Jayson Rhodes appear to be the top two guards, with Mesa Ribordy also turning heads this spring. On defense, the addition of juco transfers Isi Holani and DeeIsaac Davis, along with the continued improvement of D.J. Williams, Jacky Dezir and Daniel Wise gives KU some size and power on the inside to go along with a trio of talented returning defensive ends in Dorance Armstrong, Damani Mosby and Anthony Olobia.

6. New leaders stand out — Junior linebacker Joe Dineen and senior safety Fish Smithson are the unquestioned leaders of the Kansas defense, and Gonzalez got the most love from his teammates when they were asked about a leader on offense. This team has several other lead-by-example types of players, but in terms of vocal leaders who will rally the troops, say something when necessary and set the standard of hard work that is absolutely crucial if this team hopes to escape the dark shadow of last season’s disappointing finish, this trio seems to be the most comfortable doing that and the players the rest of the team automatically looks to follow.

Comments

Brett McCabe 5 years, 7 months ago

Can't agree with Tom on point one. The QB race has been over since Willis started his first game last year. Unless he has a cast on, he'll be starting from day one.

Relating back to a previous article, I've been giving some thought on how to measure improvement this year. Assuming we don't have a major jump in wins, I'll be looking at first-half statistics. There are a few problems in looking at NCAA football statistics, in general, and at KU's specifically.

The relatively short season of college vs. NFL, the powder-puff scheduling options and the difficulty in calculating strength-of-schedule makes NCAA stats a little tougher to dissect.

For KU, add-in the "blowout" factor, and using last year's game and season statistics becomes less valuable in measuring improvement this year.

So, for me, I'll be looking at first-half performance of each game. This is when both teams have the starters in, the game is still in question and it's easier to see how we are competing. I'll be looking at first-half stats but I also think that KU will require a good deal of the "eye test" eval. this year.

Calvin Miller 5 years, 7 months ago

Keegan didn't write this. It was Matt Tait. The concern is still the coaching staff. No way to know if the coaching turnover has made any difference until at least a few games are played.

Michael Lorraine 5 years, 7 months ago

Surprising to hear the QB race is so close. Based on last year Willis should be the clear cut leader unless his wrist injury is more severe than we've been led to believe.

Dirk Medema 5 years, 7 months ago

Fortunately Willis is throwing again but if it's a 2 horse race we're in trouble. Cozart has proven he is what he is. Good teammate and athlete but not a D1 QB. Unfortunately he's the 2 best option available and it is really unlikely that KU makes it through the season without needing 2 QBs. The only real hope for a 2 horse race is for Stark to come in and play much better than expected. That seems like a bit of a pot of gold sort of hope. The more realistic hope is for continued improvement. At least one W and competitive games.

Aaron Paisley 5 years, 7 months ago

OLine is the biggest key for KU next season. If Willis has some time to throw, the WR's can actually get down field a bit and spread out the defense. If the OLine doesn't give Willis any time, defenses can play tight and KU's recievers won't the space to work and get separation from the defense. I still would like to see KU do what Texas Tech did when Leach was there and have the OLine take extra wide splits so the defense has further to go to get to the QB which should give the WR's an extra second to get further down field.

Edward Daub 5 years, 7 months ago

The Picture shows Beaty throwing a pass with excellent form. David has taken over the play calling from Likens. The next logical step is to then play QB?

Don't feel too sad for Likens , he still earns a 3 year $1.05 million salary. $335,000 per year is a nice pay check , more than most KU employees earn!

Maria Ungaro 5 years, 7 months ago

I love the passion on this site for KU Football. But, Coach Beaty needs time. What is the goal for 2016? 3-5 wins?, Bowl Game in December? , BIG 12 Championship? Once you have answered this question then fill in all the expectations.

I will say besides Willis, QB is not looking good. I am disappointed with Carter Stanley bc. when he was recruited Coach Rob said he ran the same offense in Florida. Which gave the idea he was ahead of the curve, from what I heard at spring practices not good news.

I like the new coaching staff and I feel they will be here for next 3-5 seasons.

My goal for 2016 is a December Bowl game. I see a lot more strength and speed and there are some solid recruits coming this summer. They will give ample competition for starting spots. This will be a tough season vs. the top tier teams of the Big 12, but we will start the season 4-0. Then we can beat Iowa ST. and shock KSU to stamp out ticket.

The recruits are coming, the coaches are in place, and KU football will earn the respect it deserves in 2017.

Lucas Town 5 years, 7 months ago

I don't think we will beat KSU in Manhattan. They were not good last year and beat us by 31. This year the prognosticators have them being much better this year. You know who I think we can beat...TCU and Iowa State, that would be huge for this team and staff. I think we start 2-0, the Ohio game will really let us know where we are. That game will be tough, but I think we win it. Memphis and Tech on the road. KU desperately needs to win a game away from Lawrence. So by that count we are somewhere between 4-6 wins.

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