Kansas quarterbacks aren’t the only players on the football team gunning for a starting role this weekend.
Head coach David Beaty plans on using Saturday’s scrimmage, the second of preseason camp, as a proving battleground to sort out positions all over the depth chart.
And the way Beaty characterized the state of various competitions, some veterans with legitimate in-game experience are being pushed by unproven Jayhawks.
“We've got some decisions to make with guys that are returning starters that, man, these guys are learning a lot about themselves,” Beaty said, without revealing any of the closest battles. “We're learning a lot. We're learning a lot about who likes to compete, who likes to run from it. That's great. That means you got guys there that compete and are able to compete for jobs.”
Both KU coaches and players have raved the past several months about the benefits of having so many returning starters on both sides of the ball (11 who started at least four games for both the offense and defense).
But Beaty more than hinted midway through camp not all of those roles are expected to remain in place this fall.
“Some of these guys that have started, they may have a hard time keeping that job,” Beaty predicted. “That's good. That tells you where the growth of our program is.”
The Jayhawks mostly felt positive about their first camp scrimmage, on Aug. 11. The extended 11-on-11 practice allowed them to run approximately 120 plays.
Senior quarterback Peyton Bender said in that setting it was good to see who could stay focused for that amount of time.
“Basically the main thing I took away was that we need to communicate well as an offensive unit, continue to just do our job on every play,” Bender said.
While the offense, the QB related, has looked explosive at times throughout camp, the emphasis now is to experience fewer valleys.
“We’ll look great for a span of 10 plays,” Bender said, “and then we’ll have three plays where we just need to get more consistent.”
According to redshirt junior QB Carter Stanley, neither the offense nor defense necessarily won the first scrimmage.
“I think it was more balanced, honestly,” Stanley said. “Offense, we definitely had our fair share of good plays. I think the offensive line did a great job for the most part. We’ve seen some young guys step up and make some plays.”
While Beaty seemed pleased that the first scrimmage went fairly evenly, he also plans to look for specific improvements out of the defense in the second go-round.
“I’d like to see our defense create more ball strip, search, rip, interception opportunities,” Beaty said. “As a head coach, you're trying to look for a balance of both (offense and defense). And we did get a little bit of both last scrimmage. I think we had two interceptions last scrimmage. We also had a few touchdown throws, a few touchdown runs.”
Sophomore running back Dom Williams said he and fellow backs Khalil Herbert and Pooka Williams left the first scrimmage with some signs that they’re on track.
“I thought that we were moving the ball good, running the ball,” Dom Williams said. “We were efficient getting first downs and continued to move the chains, so I’m happy with how we did.”
Conversely, during the first scrimmage, Beaty said the Jayhawks lacked some down and distance awareness, and he hopes that’s another area where players will show marked improvement as they battle for starting and backup roles.
One primary difference between most practices and scrimmages is the absence of coaches on the playing field, where during regular practices they interact with players often, sometimes between consecutive snaps in 11-on-11 settings.
For Saturday’s scrimmage, coaches will be on the sidelines, as they would during a regular-season game.
“We want to see how our guys handle all situations without us being there to coach them,” Beaty said. “They're going to be out there on their own. And it's been good to see them grow over the last week. We feel they've got a pretty good handle on certain situations. That's going to be something big.”
Whether ignited by program veterans or newcomers, KU’s head coach hopes to see either the offense or the defense look like a victor at the scrimmage, as the Jayhawks get much closer to putting a stable depth chart in place.
“We're looking forward to continue to be back and forth,” Beaty said. “I want to see if one side or another can establish some dominance Saturday, and really finish a side off, not let them back up.”
Players all over the field will be geared up for the challenge, with decisions about their roles looming.
“I think that first scrimmage,” sophomore QB Miles Kendrick said, “got the jitters out, and now guys are watching that film, making adjustments and really trying to put their best foot forward as far as the second one. The second one’s definitely the big one. I think it’ll be better. I think it’ll be more crisp and guys will be flying around that much faster.”
Returning offensive players (number of 2017 starts)
OL - Hakeem Adeniji (12)
QB - Peyton Bender (8)
WR - Jeremiah Booker (10)
OL - Earl Bostick Jr. (4 as TE)
WR - Evan Fairs (2)
OL - Antione Frazier (3)
FB - Hudson Hall (2)
WR - Quan Hampton (6)
RB - Khalil Herbert (6)
OL - Chris Hughes (10)
FB - Caperton Humphrey (1)
WR - Kerr Johnson Jr. (1)
OL - Clyde McCauley III (4)
WR - Tyler Patrick (1)
WR - Ryan Schadler (1)
WR - Steven Sims Jr. (8)
QB - Carter Stanley (4)
RB - Deron Thompson (1)
OL - Andru Tovi (8)
RB - Dom Williams (1)
Returning defensive players (number of 2017 starts)
CB - Hasan Defense (10)
LB - Joe Dineen (12)
CB - DeAnte Ford (1)
DT - J.J. Holmes (11)
S - Mike Lee (8)
LB - Keith Loneker Jr. (12)
CB - Kyle Mayberry (5)
S - Tyrone Miller Jr. (8)
LB - Osaze Ogbebor (2)
S - Shaq Richmond (4)
DL - KeyShaun Simmons (2)
CB - Shak Taylor (9)
NB - Bryce Torneden (11)
DT - Daniel Wise (12)