It was just a Saturday morning in mid-April, but what interim Kansas football head coach Emmett Jones saw out of his players during the team’s first full scrimmage of the spring looked to him like a game day in the fall.
Jones told reporters during a video press conference afterward he left the team’s eighth practice of the offseason feeling good about both the offense and the defense, particularly because of the fire he witnessed out of many players.
Not only did the level of competition please Jones, the energetic coach also appreciated some good natured back and forth barking between the two sides of the ball.
“You expect that, in the trenches especially. Those guys were really getting after each other,” Jones said, noting he even saw players who are roommates jawing with each other.
“You love each other in the dorm, you love each other in the locker room, down in the weight room. But then between those white lines, ‘You’re my number one enemy,’” is how Jones put it after the closed scrimmage at KU’s indoor practice facility. “I saw that. We had to calm some guys down a little bit. I would rather calm them down than telling them to go.”
The atmosphere throughout what quarterback Miles Kendrick described as a “great scrimmage” didn’t surprise the senior.
According to Kendrick, both the offense and defense had their high points during the practice, and he saw a lot of energy and physicality out of players on both sides of the ball.
“That’s kind of what Coach Jones emphasized at the beginning of the day,” Kendrick related, “just passion, knowing assignments, flying around and being physical.”
At the midway point of the 15-practice spring schedule, Jones likes where the Jayhawks stand, because he thinks the players are answering his calls to play inspired and with energy.
Jones said that approach was on display on the perimeter, too, between the receivers and the defensive backs. And if that includes some trash talking, too, so be it.
“That’s what we experience in the Big 12. There’s no need for sugarcoating it,” Jones said of offensive and defensive counterparts trading occasional verbal jabs. “You might as well get yourself ready for it and know how to handle and carry yourself.”
Jones didn’t share whether the offense or defense fared better during the scrimmage. And the matter remained up for debate, even after Kendrick, the only player made available for interviews, provided his assessment.
“I’m a little bit biased,” Kendrick began, with a chuckle. “I’d say offense. But, like I said, I think both sides of the ball made plays and both sides of the ball have things to clean up, things to get better at.”
The Jayhawks went through some scrimmage situations during certain periods of previous practices, but most of those days they were heavy on drills and installing plays.
KU’s interim head coach said the players responded well during the scrimmage when their knowledge of the playbook was tested. Jones said the staff tried to put the players in a “hostile situation” on Saturday by pumping in noise through the facility’s speakers during the scrimmage.
“I wanted to see if the communication could get executed from the sideline to the quarterback, to the rest of the guys on the field,” Jones said, adding the defense also had to make that happen and the play signaling “flowed well” on both sides of the ball.
If one of the team’s several quarterbacks stood out during the scrimmage, Jones opted to keep that knowledge inside the team’s facility.
Jones said he likes freshmen QBs Conrad Hawley and Ben Easters, senior QBs Kendrick and Miles Fallin and sophomore QB Jalon Daniels.
“That whole unit — not one guy in particular,” Jones responded, when asked which QBs impressed him during the scrimmage. “But they’re doing exactly what we ask them to do, as far as operating the system, executing the script and putting everybody in the right position, where they need to be.”
Did one of them in particular make a play that grabbed his attention?
“I won’t give that,” Jones said. “But I saw tons of good plays on both sides of the ball.”
KU’s offense, Kendrick revealed, has shown progress with its rushing attack since the start of spring practices. And the QB said that continued on Saturday, when the run game proved to be a “huge” factor.
“That made the quarterbacks’ job today during the scrimmage much more manageable,” Kendrick said. “When we can run that ball, play action is better and you can take some shots down the field. Also, drives just continue when you can get three, four, five yards a pop.”
Kendrick also gave credit to KU’s offensive line for making the run game so effective.
“I mean those guys are working. Those guys are taking advantage of every opportunity to get better,” he said.
Two weeks ahead of KU’s May 1 spring game, Kendrick also left the scrimmage impressed by the defense. He said junior safety Kenny Logan Jr. made an impact at various points.
“He’s always one of those guys who makes plays,” the QB said of Logan, “and is flying around on that field — breaking up passes, making tackles.”
Additionally, Kendrick acknowledged the defensive line found ways to disrupt the offense up front and the linebckers “have done a great job in pass coverage,” dropping back and breaking up passes.
The veteran QB pointed to several defensive teammates for making plays, as well, mentioning sophomore nose tackle Da’Jon Terry, super-senior outside linebacker Kyron Johnson, junior linebacker Gavin Potter, freshman cornerback Jacobee Bryant and freshman safety/nickelback Jayson Gilliom.
Assessed Jones after the scrimmage: “They were getting after each other and trying to take each other’s heads off. So I’m very impressed with how things went.”