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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Who’s No. 3? KU football looking for more productivity at WR

Kansas wide receiver Bobby Hartzog Jr. (5) heads up the sideline after catching a toss during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Bobby Hartzog Jr. (5) heads up the sideline after catching a toss during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

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In the ongoing search for a more productive offense, the Kansas football team could benefit from the emergence of a third receiving threat within the passing game.

Halfway through the season, the Jayhawks know they can rely on junior wideout LaQuvionte Gonzalez and sophomore Steven Sims Jr. However, no other player on the roster averages more than three catches a game.

Receivers coach Jason Phillips said KU’s offense “absolutely” needs another passing target to surface as a regular weapon.

“If we run four guys out there all four of them need to be a consistent threat,” Phillips said, “and that’s where we have to improve as a group — all those guys that have an opportunity to get out and play for us, that they’re all perceived as threats when they’re out there.”

Gonzalez, a 5-foot-10 junior, leads Kansas (1-5 overall, 0-3 Big 12) with 36 receptions, and has contributed 378 yards and one touchdown. Sims, a 5-10 sophomore, tops the offense with 453 yards and five touchdowns, off his 28 grabs.

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Kansas wide receiver Shakiem Barbel (82) avoids a tackle after a catch during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

At that point, the statistical output falls off a cliff. Six-foot-three senior Shakiem Barbel, in five appearances, ranks third in catches (15) and receiving yards (141). With 11 receptions apiece, junior Bobby Hartzog Jr. (82 yards) and sophomore Tyler Patrick (63 yards) are the only other Jayhawks with double-digit totals for the season.

The bulk of Barbel’s numbers came from one game — nine catches, 94 yards versus TCU. Citing that outing, Phillips identified Barbel as KU’s current third-most productive receiver. Beaty, too, preferred the look of the offense on that day, when sophomore quarterback Ryan Willis threw for a season-best 348 yards.

“We would like to be able to spread the ball around as much as we can and be able to get better distribution throughout the game,” Beaty replied, when asked if KU needs a No. 3 option behind Sims and Gonzalez. “So, yeah, we would like to be able to get the ball to more people. Two weeks ago we were able to do that with Shak, which helped us a lot, and then we need to be able to utilize our running backs a little bit more in the passing game. That will help us to kind of take some pressure off those guys.”

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Kansas wide receiver Tyler Patrick (4) pulls in a touchdown pass in the end zone past Rhode Island defensive back Abdul Ibrahim (5) during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Heading into Saturday’s 11 a.m. homecoming matchup with Oklahoma State (4-2, 2-1), the Jayhawks barely have utilized running backs in passing routes. Senior Ke’aun Kinner has six catches for 61 yards, freshman Khalil Herbert has caught five for 40 yards and sophomore Taylor Martin, in four games, has two receptions for a net total of zero yards.

In providing a counterargument to the need for receiving depth, Beaty pointed to this week’s opponent, OSU, and standout junior target James Washington (36 catches, 731 yards, six touchdowns).

“… They're going to get him the ball a bunch,” Beaty said. “And we're going to try to get the ball in our guys’ hands that we think can make the most happen as much as we can.”

Along that line of thinking, Phillips said Hartzog, a starter every week, has been the model of consistency, but just hasn’t had many opportunities to shine.

“When guys have a hot hand, you want to focus on a hot hand. In our situation, we’ve had a tendency to do that, which is very productive and positive for us. We just need to get him involved,” the assistant said of Hartzog.

KU junior tight end Ben Johnson has 107 receiving yards and a touchdown, but hasn’t been a focal point of the offense the past two weeks, a stretch during which he has no catches. The remainder of the Jayhawks’ non-Sims-or-Gonzalez receiving touchdowns have come from Patrick (one) and redshirt freshman Chase Harrell (two), a large red zone target, at 6-4.

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Kansas wide receiver Keegan Brewer (17) is brought down by Memphis defensive back Dontrell Nelson (10) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn.

Phillips sees plenty of potential throughout his group, but when asked to name one or two players he considered closest to breaking out, he chose sophomore Jeremiah Booker (four catches, 41 yards in four appearances) and freshman Keegan Brewer (seven receptions, 48 yards).

As far as Sims is concerned, he’d love to see one of his fellow receivers step up and help the offense (244.0 passing yards a game in Big 12 outings) get closer to reaching its potential.

“I want my teammates to feel confident, like, ‘Yeah, I can make a play, too.’ That’s just gonna help everybody else,” Sims said. “If we can spread the field out, we can attack people from many different ways.”

Comments

Suzi Marshall 1 year, 1 month ago

Has Tyler Patrick even played the past couple of games? H runs good routes, catches the ball and has good speed but he's completely disappeared. Has he been hurt?

David Kemp 1 year, 1 month ago

THe threats exist but you have to have someone capable of getting the ball to them!

Micky Baker 1 year, 1 month ago

I like Jeremiah Booker, Patrick, and a couple of others. I think that choosing someone with some size to be the go to guy on 3rd down would be a good idea. Booker fits that as does Ben Johnson, but the right play also has to be called.

Joe Ross 1 year, 1 month ago

I haven't been shy about my opinion: play Cozart at WR. He's as tall or taller than every receiver on the roster (10 of them) with the exception of Chase Harrell and Shakiem Barbel. If he doesn't know the routes that would be surprising. He's got good speed and would know what to do with the ball when he caught it. He is really only outsized (weight) by one or two other receivers, so combined with his strength he'd be very dangerous.

Micky Baker 1 year, 1 month ago

Might not be a bad idea, but would be limited in scope for this season for sure. That should have been done at the beginning of fall camp in my opinion and Willis should have been THE starter from day one this season.

Jerry Walker 1 year, 1 month ago

Running good routes should not be a problem for a college level athlete.

While I sure don't study game film I think it's less of a problem of "running good routes" and more of a problem with an unimaginative offensive scheme that puts little pressure on the defense.

I doubt that any opposing defensive coordinator is losing any sleep about defensing KU's dull and predictable pass routes.

Kevin Robert Fest 1 year, 1 month ago

If you squint Suzi youll see Tyler Patrick on punt coverage and other special teams units the past couple of games.

Cozart at WR is a terrible idea and I can't hold onto the ball when he's not getting hit I know he hates physical contact so how about him being put it wide receiver be a good fit I see somebody who has alligator arms, fumbling the ball, his head on a swivel and lots of dropped passes.

Kevin Robert Fest 1 year, 1 month ago

  • He can't hold onto the ball when he's not getting hit.

Jim Stauffer 1 year, 1 month ago

The WR issue will take care of itself. There are several guys who will work into the spot and be productive.

What is alarming is our refusal to realize the value of Ben Johnson. This is an excellent athlete who catches the ball and gets yac as well. We hit him a couple of times and then go away from him for multiple games. This is the most confusing thing about this offense I have seen. Find a guy who is productive and then ignore him.

Mick Allen 1 year, 1 month ago

I agree Jim. Has he even had a pass directed at him the last 2 games? He should be an integral part of the passing game instead of an after thought. Because of our limitations on the offensive line, which necessitates throwing on a 3 step drop, one would think the slant to Johnson, who will probably be covered by a linebacker, is a play that should be run.

Kyle Brooks 1 year, 1 month ago

Ben Johnson and Chase Harrell. Why are they not being utilized more, BIG targets who can sit down in a zone and bust it up. Derek Fine and Kerry Meier were big targets and could find nice holes in the zone and exploit them. I understand what really helped Meier is he understood the QB position and had a good grasp on where he needed to be to help his QB out.

Not to mention Ben and Chase are huge when it comes to the red zone area, however I guess we have to get down there for that to be a factor.

Kenneth Hillman 1 year, 1 month ago

Get Ben Johnson involved! Kills me. They talked about utilizing him more this year and they haven't. We have a big-bodied, mobile, great pass catcher in our TE and he rarely even gets looked at. With how much pressure we get on our QB he should be an automatic hot route.

Kevin Robert Fest 1 year, 1 month ago

Beaty is the HC/OC at this point why is anybody confused about anything. Useless quarterback rotation useless play calling not utilizing players that he has again why is anybody surprised Ben Johnson is not being used.

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