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The Newell Post

Here’s how Charlie Weis’ juco gamble is looking so far

I talked earlier this year about how Kansas football coach Charlie Weis should embrace risk with this year's football team. If you remember, one high-risk, potentially high-reward tactic was loading his latest recruiting class with 19 junior-college scholarship players.

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt confer during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013.

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt confer during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. by Nick Krug

So is the gamble paying off? Because we now have the Week 1 depth chart, let's look at where each of those 19 players are now.

Starters (8)
• Ngalu Fusimalohi (LG)
• Mike Smithburg (RG)
• Zach Fondal (RT)
• Dexter McDonald (RC)
• Isaiah Johnson (SS)
• Samson Faifili (WLB)
• Cassius Sendish (FS)
• Trevor Pardula (KO, P)

Offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi participates in practice Friday, August 16.

Offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi participates in practice Friday, August 16. by Mike Yoder

Co-starter (1)
• Kevin Short (RC)

KU had significant offseason losses at offensive line and in the secondary, so it's not too surprising that six of the nine starters above fit into those two position groups. Looking at it now, Weis most likely identified those two spots as his team's biggest needs coming into the year, and so far, the new guys have produced enough in practice to give themselves the first shots at playing time.

Second team (5)
• Darrian Miller (H)
• Rodriguez Coleman (Z)
• Tedarian Johnson (LE/T)
• Brandon Hollomon (LC)
• Marquel Combs (N)

The surprise on this list — so far — is Marquel Combs, who was ranked the No. 1 junior-college player in the nation last year by ESPN.com. Though he still should get playing time as part of the defensive line rotation, it's at least a bit surprising he hasn't performed well enough to step into a starting role. If Combs turns out to be a better player in games than in practices, as Matt Tait suggests, then there's obviously a possibility he could move his way up the rotation in the coming weeks.

Injured/Will take red shirt (1)
• Marcus Jenkins-Moore (LB)

An offseason knee injury kept Jeninks-Moore — a juco teammate of Combs' — from competing for a starting spot at linebacker.

Likely red shirts (2)
• Andrew Bolton (DE)
• Mark Thomas (WR)

Kansas University defensive lineman Andrew Bolton stretches during practice on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, at the Jayhawks’ fall camp. Bolton, a juco newcomer, has star potential once he knocks off some rust, according to his coach on the KU defensive line, Buddy Wyatt.

Kansas University defensive lineman Andrew Bolton stretches during practice on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, at the Jayhawks’ fall camp. Bolton, a juco newcomer, has star potential once he knocks off some rust, according to his coach on the KU defensive line, Buddy Wyatt. by Nick Krug

Bolton is recovering from a knee injury, so Weis said his preference was to red-shirt him this year. If he was fully healthy, he appeared to be a guy that could have helped the Jayhawks' D-line immediately.

No longer on roster (2)
• Chris Martin (Buck)
• Pearce Slater (OL)

Martin would most likely have been KU's best pass-rusher this season had off-field issues not led to his dismissal from the team. Slater, meanwhile, is listed on the roster of his old junior college (El Camino College) after spending a few days this fall practicing with the Jayhawks. Had he stuck around, he would have competed for a starting spot at tackle.

Here's the full breakdown of KU's 2013 juco scholarship players:

KU's 2013 scholarship juco players.

KU's 2013 scholarship juco players. by Jesse Newell

Almost half of the junior-college guys have earned starting spots, while nearly three-fourths are expected to contribute Week 1 against South Dakota.

Though not all of the juco guys have been success stories, you'd have to think this kind of roster overhaul is what Weis envisioned — and hoped for — when he inked so many experienced players a year ago.

Reply 16 comments from Jjhawq Mikehawk Micky Baker Dirk Medema Carnahan Steve Corder Hawk316 Rockn_chalkn_ku John Myers Table_rock_jayhawk and 5 others

Cliff’s Notes: Charlie Weis press conference, 9/3/13

Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.

KU's updated depth chart and full press conference audio from Weis have been posted.

KU’s coaches were happy with the play of nickels Victor Simmons and Coutrney Arnick in camp. KU’s staff decided to strengthen a weakness by moving Cassius Sendish to free safety. Simmons and Arnick are playing good enough where it allowed the team the flexibility to move Sendish back to safety.

Weis said offensive lineman Pearce Slater is not on campus. The coach said he’s only going to talk about players that are here.

The college football upsets got the Jayhawks’ attention. Weis says while FBS teams have more scholarships than FCS teams, typically no one is hurt early in the season, so that’s not as big of a factor as it might be late in the season.

KU’s only injury list right now is linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore, who is out for the year with a knee injury. If Weis had to do an NFL injury report, no one would be listed below probable. It’s a pretty healthy team as of now.

Weis has showed his players video tapes regarding targeting. The staff has instructed players on the field as well. The bottom line is that Weis believes there is good and bad with the rule. The intent is good. Safety of the players should always be at the forefront. The bad part of the rule is that it’s very subjective.

Weis says he’s looking forward to the offense being more balanced. Last year, when KU had to run so often, it was challenging, but that’s what had to be done. Weis believes his team did come out of last year with a staple. At the end of the year, Weis believed that almost every team KU played would say it could run the ball and run it with toughness.

Receivers Justin McCay and Josh Ford aren’t afraid to mix it up. They aren’t guys who don’t want to get hit. Both will play a bunch of special teams. Weis says McCay is anxious to get going. Watching him day in and day out, Weis says he has a lot of attributes that still look desirable. The passing game is going to have to be a group effort, though. Weis is still expecting big things from McCay. McCay will never run a 4.3 40-yard dash. When you’re bigger, you have to find different ways to get open.

Linebacker Samson Faifili’s advantage over Jake Love was that he was about 30 pounds bigger and ran about the same. Weis says Faifili and linebacker Ben Heeney look good next to each other out there. KU now has depth at the position, too. Weis says he doesn’t hold his breath when the No. 2s are in there now. Schyler Miles and Love are pretty good, too. If you play only one deep in this league, you have no chance. KU’s coaches expected Faifili to challenge to be a starter at inside linebacker when he came to KU. Love isn’t going away, but Faifili is just a bigger, more physical presence right now. He also plays with a lot of passion.

Weis says cornerback Kevin Short is probably as good of a talent as KU has on its whole team, but he’s catching up because he got in late. KU’s coaches were concerned about the safety position because of a lack of depth. Watching Simmons and Arnick develop has allowed the team more flexibility so that KU can roll corners and safeties into the game. Sendish has been practicing at safety the last two weeks. That wasn’t based off his play at nickel; it was based on KU’s concern at safety.

Linebacker Schyler Miles has had a nice camp. This is the healthiest he’s been since he’s been at KU. The staff is high on him.

Weis is confident with Trevor Pardula for punts and kickoffs. Pardula also made a 57-yarder in practice last week by about five yards. He won’t make all of his kicks, but he’ll give you a chance at those long kicks because of his big leg. One of the biggest surprises for KU’s coaches has been starting field-goal kicker Matthew Wyman. He moved up from originally being fourth on the depth chart this year. Wyman won the field-goal kicker competition, and it wasn’t really close. He has no problem making it from 50 yards.

The advantage for KU having a first-week bye was that the team got to go through last week like it was a game week. Now, the players know what the routine is. The negative for the team is that once school starts, you want to play a game. Weis said Saturday was awful for him, as he only was able to watch football instead of coaching a game. It was one of the least favorite days he’s had in the last six months.

Right tackle Zach Fondal is the best pass blocker KU has. He doesn’t have as much girth as left tackle Aslam Sterling has, but you have to be able to do something really well. KU’s coaches believe they have two good pass blockers at both tackle positions. Fondal is at about 290 pounds, and he’s getting better as a run-blocker every day. He’s very athletic. Weis imagines a year from now he’ll be a left tackle. The coaches were counting on Fondal coming in and competing to play. The coaches thought he might even play at left tackle this year, but Aslam Sterling has done a nice job. If something happens to Sterling, Fondal will move over to left tackle.

Weis isn’t worrying about the Rice game yet or potentially showing too much of the playbook in the first game. KU struggled in its opener last year. KU isn’t at a point in its development where it can save a bunch of things for the next week. Adding some new things to the offense each week, though, is part of the natural progression.

Nose tackle Marquel Combs is more comfortable inside, and Kevin Young was playing better at left end/tackle. You have to go with what you see. Young, other than Keon Stowers, might have the second-best camp of anyone. The best guy plays.

Weis went to running back Taylor Cox when KU signed Darrian Miller and told him it was his call on a red shirt. Weis told Cox he’d play this year, but he wasn’t beating Sims out as a starter. Cox told Weis he’d like a chance to play on Sundays, and he’s an older guy. Usually, running backs have a short shelf life. Cox’s concern was that he’d be too old to have a shot to play professionally if he sat out with a red shirt. He’s had a great camp. Weis says he’s worrying about this year now. The team will worry about next year next year. Cox has beaten out Miller for the No. 2 spot. Cox is playing really well.

Weis says every time his team goes into a game, it better be counting on winning. If KU loses, it loses. Weis says part of the problem when you get in an organization that is used to losing, losing becomes OK. Losing’s accepted. If you play close to winning, it’s OK. Weis says that’s a pile of garbage. That’s a loser’s mentality. It shouldn’t matter who you’re playing; the first thing you’d better do is change the team’s mentality to where it believes it can win every game, and that’s partly his responsibility. Weis says he wants to beat South Dakota, then Rice, then Louisiana Tech, then Texas Tech. That’s what he wants to do, and the team better be thinking the same way.

Is it going to happen like that? Weis can’t say. He has no idea, but that’s what he wants to do. He’s counting that the players are thinking the same way. Weis would like to think his team has made strides, but it doesn’t mean anything until you’ve done something. Realistically, KU is picked at the bottom of the pack, and until you win games, that’s where you’re going to stay. When you start winning, those close games become wins instead of losses. The light switch comes on, and the team isn’t waiting for something bad to happen, but instead is making something good happen when it comes to crunch time.

Reply 7 comments from Mikehawk Ralster Chase Topliff Clevelandjayhawker Dirk Medema Charleslogan

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Reply 1 comment from Robin B

Why James Sims shouldn’t be a workhorse running back for KU in 2013

"Why is James Sims a good running back?"

James Sims.

James Sims. by Jesse Newell

If I asked the average Kansas football fan that question, my guess is that I would get two main responses.

• In only nine games in 2012, Sims was second in the Big 12 with 1,013 rushing yards.

• Sims led the Big 12 in 2012 with 112.6 rushing yards per game.

At face value, those feats are impressive. Still, we need to give them the proper context.

Though it is true that Sims only played nine games in 2012, did you know he was still second in the league in carries (218)? Sims averaged 24.2 rushes per game a year ago, while no other back in the league had more than 22.

This greatly impacts how we should look at his numbers.

Out of the Big 12 running backs who played in 75 percent of their team's games and had at least four carries per game, Sims ranked 18th out of 23 with a 4.65-yard-per-carry average last year.

Yards per carry doesn't tell us everything, though. My favorite running back stat is an advanced one called Adjusted Points Over Expected, or Adjusted POE for short. The number compares the production of a running back to an average back given the same carries against the same opponents with the same offensive line. A runner with a plus-6.0 Adjusted POE would have created a touchdown more for his team over that of an average back.

Here's how Sims compared to other Big 12 non-quarterbacks in Adjusted POE a year ago.

2012 Adjusted POE for Big 12 non-QBs.

2012 Adjusted POE for Big 12 non-QBs. by Jesse Newell

While the top of the list has names we'd expect (Lache Seastrunk, Tavon Austin, Tony Pierson), Sims is nowhere to be found, as he ranks 48th out of 50 Big 12 non-QBs a year ago.

To be fair, having so many carries probably allowed Sims to go further into the negative than some other backs. On the flip side, some of these players probably had their carries limited when they weren't giving better production.

Sims doesn't rank much better in Adjusted POE in his two previous years at KU.

KU's 2011 Adjusted POE leaders.

KU's 2011 Adjusted POE leaders. by Jesse Newell

2010 Adjusted POE leaders.

2010 Adjusted POE leaders. by Jesse Newell

His freshman year was his best in the measure, and even then, he produced below what would have been expected from an "average" back.

The biggest issue for Sims appears to be that his lack of speed keeps him from breaking off big runs.

Looking at the raw numbers, we might not see that from the number of "explosive" runs in 2012.

KU's explosive runs in 2012.

KU's explosive runs in 2012. by Jesse Newell

Again, those numbers above need more context. Remember, Sims had more opportunities for big runs (228 carries) compared to his teammates (Pierson had 117 carries; Cox had 91).

Breaking it down further, let's take a look at how many explosive runs each player had a season ago per 25 carries ... or roughly one game of being a workhorse back.

KU explosive runs per 25 carries.

KU explosive runs per 25 carries. by Jesse Newell

In this measure, Sims doesn't even appear to be as strong as Cox in explosive runs, especially in 10-plus-yard plays. Cox doesn't appear to be an explosive back either, but given the same opportunities, the numbers show he might be able to put up the same sort of line (or even slightly better) than Sims.

Ben Lindbergh wrote a great piece on Derek Jeter earlier this week, talking about how the eye test and defensive metrics don't agree on Jeter's defensive abilities. It's hinted in there that perhaps, because Jeter's a great player and his jump-throw from the hole at shortstop has become famous, that as humans we start to see what we want to see with his ability instead of what's actually there.

It made me wonder if we're doing the same thing with Sims. Are we noticing his great vision because we assume his high-yardage totals make him a great running back? Are we ignoring his lack of speed because he seems to move a pile a couple extra yards each game?

On a personal note, I like Sims. He's a nice guy and is respected by his teammates to the point that he was named a team captain.

He talked to me at Big 12 media days about working hard in the summer to improve his speed, and maybe we saw a glimpse of that when Sims had a 62-yard touchdown run in a team scrimmage a couple weeks ago. He also talked about how he likes to clip articles from people who doubt him next to his bed — and I'm sure I might be making an appearance soon.

The numbers are the numbers, though. Sims has lots of room to improve, and if he isn't going to break big runs, he needs to be even better at squeezing out extra yards on the shorter ones.

Either way, KU coach Charlie Weis shouldn't be looking to make Sims his workhorse back this year. With the talent he has at the running back position with Cox, Darrian Miller and Colin Spencer (and the versatility of Pierson), the coach shouldn't hesitate to get fresh legs into the game.

Given the opportunity, those backs have the potential to give KU better production than they've received from that spot the past few years.

More from Jesse Newell

  • Examining grips with KU's Jake Heaps, Michael Cummings
  • Charlie Weis should embrace risk with this year's Jayhawks
  • How does KU basketball rank compared to other blue bloods in terms of playing fast?
  • Ranking the top 10 dunks of 2012-13
  • How a fingertip, a late rotation and a great player contributed to Michigan's frantic comeback over KU
  • Reply 55 comments from Pizzashuttle Darren McSweeney Dirk Medema Max Ledom Jim Stauffer Texicalihawk Leonard Darin  Bradley Micky Baker RXDOC and 24 others

    The Sideline Report with KU long snapper Reilly Jeffers

    Today's Sideline Report is with Kansas sophomore long snapper Reilly Jeffers.

    Reilly Jeffers (KU Athletics photo).

    Reilly Jeffers (KU Athletics photo). by Jesse Newell

    Jesse Newell: What’s the best part about long snapping?

    Reilly Jeffers: The opportunity to get on the field. Being a part of the team and playing my role. There’s not a whole lot to it, but at the same time, there’s a whole lot to it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2UJmZxcw8A

    Compared to other positions that I’ve played in the past, it’s a lot more mental. Just being focused, and if you screw up, you’ve got to go get the next snap.

    JN: Is the toughest part mentally, then?

    RJ: Yeah, I’d say it’s definitely the mental. Because it becomes a point where it’s muscle memory. You’ve got to focus on where you do it the same way every time. And if you screw up, it’s different from other positions. If a guy misses a tackle, you’ve got the next play. It maybe 20 or 30 plays before you get your next snap.

    You’ve got to stay locked in mentally. I think that’s the biggest thing as far as the specialists go, kicker or snapper. If you screw up, you’ve got to go get it the next time. You’ve got to have confidence in yourself.

    JN: When did you start long snapping?

    RJ: My dad taught me how to do it in the third grade. I used always throw the ball around when I was younger. I looked up to Eric Crouch at Nebraska and quarterbacks.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJtZYKIzzZE

    I like throwing the ball, but I was a lineman-sized kid. So my dad was like, ‘Well, bend over and throw it between your legs.’ I did it in high school a little bit. I got hurt my junior year when I would have snapped it. Then my senior year, they were like, ‘Well, there’s no point. You didn’t do it last year.’ But I always knew how to do it. I was good at it. Coach Weis brought me in as a walk-on lineman, and they needed a backup long snapper. ‘Well, I know how to do it.’ The rest is history.

    JN: How did that conversation go? They were looking for somebody to long snap?

    RJ: They had some struggles as far as a backup long snapper my freshman year. They knew that I knew how to do it, because I had mentioned it. They were like, ‘Well, let’s check you out.’ After practice, I gave about five to 10 snaps, and they were like, ‘OK, you’ve got a job.’ I was like, ‘All right, well that works for me.’

    JN: So all that happened when they took you out there?

    RJ: Yeah, it was just after practice. Coach Bowen, when he was running punt team, was like, ‘All right, let’s see what you’ve got.’ I threw a couple back there, and it worked out.

    JN: What’s a common misconception about long snappers?

    RJ: Not athletic. (laughs) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not Dexter McDonald out there flying around.

    Kansas defensive back Dexter McDonald waits in line to participate in a drill during practice on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013.

    Kansas defensive back Dexter McDonald waits in line to participate in a drill during practice on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. by Nick Krug

    I guess it would be they’re not really football players; they’re just kind of out there doing their thing. I think (teammate) John (Wirtel) and myself, we’d be able to play another position if we had to.

    JN: What position would you play?

    RJ: I’m not fast enough. I’d play offensive line. That’s what I played the whole time. I’d say that’s probably the biggest misconception.

    JN: So you could play elsewhere?

    RJ: Ah, if they needed me in a pinch.

    JN: What was the highlight of your offseason?

    RJ: Really seeing the guys come together as a team.

    KU football coach Charlie Weis talks to the team during a break at practice Friday, August 16.

    KU football coach Charlie Weis talks to the team during a break at practice Friday, August 16. by Mike Yoder

    I think when you go 1-11, it can really run a team down. I don’t think that happened with this team at all. I think we came closer together as a team. I think we worked harder together as a team. I think we worked smarter together as a team. I think you could really see things start to mold together, and you could see that these guys really cared and bought in and wanted to win games. As far as me — because I want to win games as much as anybody else — I think seeing that, it gives you hope that, ‘No, we’re going to get this done.’ That would be the highlight for me.

    JN: Do you have any routines or superstitions?

    RJ: No, I’m kind of a chill guy when it comes to that. When I walk out there, I just kind of feel it. Like last year, when I played against South Dakota State, I thought I was going to be real nervous and everything. I kind of just went out there and was like, ‘All right, I got this.’ You just get loosened up and get ready to go. Just lock in.

    JN: Do you have to be like that to be a long snapper?

    RJ: At least for me, I know if I start thinking about something or I start tensing up, that’s when I’m going to screw up. I’m a relaxed, outgoing guy to begin with, so if I start locking up and start thinking about too much, that’s when I know I’m going to screw up. So I need to be out there kind of having fun.

    I think that’s the biggest thing for me. Don’t turn it into a pressure situation for myself. Because when you get out there in front of 60,000 people, there’s going to be enough pressure already. So don’t put it on yourself. I’ve just got to go out there and have fun, sling it back there and I’ll be all right.

    JN: Do you remember the first time you met Charlie Weis?

    Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt confer during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013.

    Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt confer during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. by Nick Krug

    RJ: Sixth grade. My dad is in the media in South Bend (Indiana), and I used to tag along with him around Notre Dame and see what’s going on. I remember him just being out there. I introduced myself. He introduced himself, and that was it. It kind of just went on from there.

    JN: What was the first impression when you met him?

    RJ: This guy’s in charge. I don’t think that’s changed since. Through camps and school and sports and everything, I developed a pretty good friendship with Charlie Weis Jr. Tre' Parmalee and I have been friends since freshman year of high school. We would always be hanging out together.

    Kansas receiver Tre' Parmalee has a would-be touchdown pass knocked away by Texas Tech defensive back Bruce Jones during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.

    Kansas receiver Tre' Parmalee has a would-be touchdown pass knocked away by Texas Tech defensive back Bruce Jones during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

    It’s kind of crazy how it all worked out and we all ended up in Lawrence, Kansas.

    JN: So did you have some interest in KU when Weis came here?

    RJ: Definitely, yeah. My uncle had gone to KU. I’d always been a mild fan of KU. When coach Weis got the job, it was really like, ‘Oh.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ Then they asked me if I wanted to walk on, and I was like, ‘I definitely need to check this out.’ I kind of took a chance, and it all worked out.

    JN: How much do you guys talk other sports in the locker room?

    RJ: Right now, it’s the awkward time in sports. Football hasn’t really started. You’ve got baseball that some of the guys talk. We talked a lot of basketball when the playoffs were going on. You had a lot of LeBron supporters, you had a lot of anti-LeBron guys. It’s fun to watch them jaw back and forth.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK1FPMDjLzs

    Sports are the channel that is pretty much always on downstairs. We go back and forth on it. Then during football season, it’s always … you’ve got a bunch of Cowboys fans, a bunch of Texans fans.

    JN: Who’s the loudest when it comes to cheering for their team?

    RJ: Probably Ty McKinney talking about the Heat.

    KU defensive lineman Ty McKinney.

    KU defensive lineman Ty McKinney. by Mike Yoder

    He’s not even from Miami, so I can’t even take him seriously as a Heat fan.

    JN: Ever cried at a movie?

    RJ: I’m sure I have. I can’t remember. Oh … when I was in third grade, I cried at Monsters, Inc., because it made me miss my mom or something.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN9V4LBCgSc

    It was weird. I was a little kid, and looking back, I was like, ‘What was I doing?’

    JN: That’s not the usual response, you know.

    RJ: I know. It got me.

    JN: What’s something that would stand out if I walked into your room?

    RJ: It’s actually clean. (laughs) Yeah, (offensive lineman) Joe Gibson and I try to keep our apartment pretty tidy. I think that would be your surprise: two college football players actually keeping their apartment pretty tidy.

    JN: What do you hope to accomplish here at KU?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98m5finvpyA

    RJ: Win a lot of games. And get to that point where you’re like, ‘KU’s a basketball school, but their football team is damn good.’ I want the culture to change, and I want to win a lot of games, and I want to win bowl games. I want to get back to that level of the Orange Bowl victories and the Insight Bowl victories and year in, year out, you’re competing for the Big 12 at the highest level.

    Reply 7 comments from Vajay Jack Jones Kgphoto Pizzashuttle John Myers

    Cliff’s Notes: Charlie Weis press conference, 8/23/13

    Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.

    Full audio has been posted.

    KU junior college offensive lineman Pearce Slater came into Weis’ office early Saturday morning and told Weis there was a family emergency at home. KU got him to the airport, and Slater went home. Slater said everything was going OK when he first got there. The two communicated several times over the next few days. Weis suggested — if everything was clear — that it would be best for Slater to be back at least by this Sunday, as classes start Monday. Weis says he has no idea if and when Slater will be back on campus. Weis texted Slater this morning and hasn’t heard from him, and he’s taking him for his word that he'll return. Weis said when he hears something more on Slater, he’ll make sure everyone knows.

    Weis says there have been good players at center in the past — Kevin Mawae of the Jets is an example — that have been taller players like KU's Pat Lewandowski. Sometimes shorter guys play at center because they can’t play at other positions on the line. Short arms are not a good attribute for a snapper, but sometimes, those guys can get their hands inside a nose tackle quickly. That’s the only advantage of having arms like that. Weis says there’s no disadvantages to having a tall center. Weis said he knew things were going to be rough in the beginning with Lewandowski. It took him a week to settle in with his shotgun snaps. There was a transition period, but for the last week and a half, his snaps have looked good.

    Weis says he’s going to do everything he can to make sure junior college defensive lineman Andrew Bolton doesn’t play this year. He wants to red-shirt him. Weis has had a conversation with him, and Bolton is not 100 percent about it, even though he’s recovering from a previous knee injury. Weis said you can’t bring in this many juco kids in one year and play them all and have them all graduate at the same time in two years. That would put KU in trouble with its numbers on its roster. Right now, both Weis and Bolton would favor him not playing this year so he could get his knee fully healthy.

    Weis’ next depth chart will come out a week from Tuesday. The depth chart is already done. If a junior-college guy doesn’t show up in the two-deep, you can assume that guy is probably going to red-shirt.

    Weis has had to have his scout team practice how to run a fast tempo to give his team’s defense the best look. The scout team’s goal is to get a new snap at least every 12 seconds. That’s faster than almost all the Big 12 teams’ fast-tempo offenses.

    Weis says a lot of coaches will tell TV announcers stuff they can use during telecasts. When announcers go into analysis, they usually don’t know that on their own; they are told that. Weis pays attention to what the TV analysts say when he watches TV replays of opposing teams because he can gain insight into what the coaching staff is thinking. When Weis gets coaches’ tape, he watches that without sound and uses that for scouting purposes.

    Weis says in the NFL, coaches are more cognizant of playing complementary football. That’s an art that’s lost in college. Part of the job of the offense in the NFL is to score, but part is to help save the defense. A quick three-and-out with a fast tempo doesn’t allow a defense to rest. The college game lends itself to this, as there are more players available to play. NFL players have 45 or 46 guys that can play, and college teams basically have two teams on each side of the ball to play when guys are tired. In college, there is no concern for how fast the defense has to be on the field again. When looking at the gameplan heading into the week, KU’s coaching staff has to look at which offensive tempo gives the team the best chance to win. Sometimes, the old college basketball “four corners” stall offense is best. Sometimes, a fast tempo is better. Weis says his offense has to score more points this year or it’s a moot point anyway.

    KU's players watch the tape and hear the critique from coaches after practice and can tell who is playing well and who’s not playing well. You play the guys who deserve to be out there and not necessarily the ones with reputation or so-called entitlement.

    Right now, juco defensive lineman Marquel Combs is not a starter. There are a lot of guys in that category: their reputations are high and their ceilings are high, but are they better than the guy in front of them? Combs is indicative of a group of guys. Different guys have performed at different levels. Juco safety Isaiah Johnson has been the best safety since he got to KU, so he’ll be the starting safety. At some positions, it’s not as easy to step in and perform well early, just because of the demands of the position. Juco cornerback Kevin Short, who just arrived last week, will be playing Week 1. That might be starting or backing up. The best guy plays.

    Weis says one of the guys that has had a great camp that he wasn’t expecting is Buck linebacker Michael Reynolds. Everyone’s been waiting for this, but he’s starting to deliver. He’s turned a corner. Last year, he had the most pass-rush ability on the roster, but KU couldn’t get him on the field because he wasn’t an every-down player. He hasn’t beaten Ben Goodman out, but Reynolds’ development has made Weis even more encouraged about that position, especially after Chris Martin’s dismissal from the team earlier this year.

    Everything starts with the quarterback in Weis’ system. It takes about a year for quarterbacks to figure out the system, but once you get it down, it’s pretty easy. Talented transfers have some advantages, because they have a year to get the system down before playing. KU tries to cater to do what the quarterback does best. Last year, the passing playbook got smaller and smaller because KU didn’t show it could execute the more complicated plays. Weis says he turned into an option run coach — he had never done that in his career — because that was KU’s strength. He joked that his father would probably roll in his grave if he heard him say that, because Weis has always been a guy that has believed in 50-50 run-pass split on offense.

    Quarterback Jake Heaps is unquestionably the team’s No. 1 quarterback and it’s not close. Michael Cummings has gotten significantly better from last year. The guy in the future of the program that is going to be tough to keep off the field is freshman Montell Cozart.

    Weis says KU’s offense has always had a fast pace it could go to, but it goes back to the fact that if KU goes three-and-out a lot, a fast tempo doesn’t benefit the team’s defense. Weis loves going no-huddle, up-tempo, but you have to do what’s best for your team to give yourself a chance to win the game.

    Weis wants to take another week to look at returners and especially Kevin Short, who could complete for a job there. Weis all but said Matthew Wyman will be the team’s starting kicker. Wyman came from the dorms. KU advertised to try to find walk-ons last year. He walked on in the spring and went through conditioning. He kicked OK, got to the spring game and made a few. He came into camp down on the depth chart, but he’s moved up because he’s kicked so well. He’s got good pop and good range. He has no problem making it from 50 yards. He’s been consistent.

    Weis says that KU has some bumps and bruises, but other than linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore’s knee injury that will keep him out this season and a couple of appendixes that needed removed, it looks like KU won’t have anyone that’s not ready to go for the opener. Cornerback Tyree Williams also is a question mark for the opener, but Weis said it looks like he might be ready too.

    Weis said he didn’t have to recruit new quarterback commit T.J. Millweard much. Millweard's high school coach reached out to one of KU’s staff members. He’s a top-line talent. This is a kid who’s going to come in to compete to play. His mom went to KU and lived in Kansas. Millweard spent his first eight years in Kansas. Weis had a long conversation with him. Weis said after watching him on tape, this was any easy decision. It’s nice when a top-line player wants you. Weis said he was only going to give a scholarship for a quarterback next season if a special situation presented itself, and he was was a special situation. KU is glad to have him. He’s a bright student.

    Reply 22 comments from Kevin Crook Dirk Medema Baldjedi Ken Schmidt Kingfisher Stupidmichael Njjayhawk Ashwingrao Iamakufan Jim Jackson and 6 others

    Examining grips with KU’s Jake Heaps, Michael Cummings

    In baseball, most pitchers throw fastballs in a similar way; two-seamers are thrown with the two fingers on the seams, while four-seamers are thrown with fingers going across the stitches.

    That made me wonder: Are quarterbacks the same way? Is it "one size fits all" when it comes to gripping a football?

    For help with those questions, I consulted the two people on Kansas University's campus that should know best: starting quarterback Jake Heaps and backup QB Michael Cummings.

    I started with Cummings, who admitted he hadn't thought much previously about the way he gripped the football.

    Cummings' grip.

    Cummings' grip. by Jesse Newell

    "It just feels comfortable, man," Cummings said. "I know when I was younger (around 5), I used to put my thumb over the laces, because my hand was kind of small."

    Cummings' grip as a 5-year-old QB.

    Cummings' grip as a 5-year-old QB. by Jesse Newell

    Cummings said he believed the most important part of a grip was getting one that had a "natural feel." He also said a key was for the pointer finger to be the final body part to touch the ball and even admitted he had a callus on his first finger from throwing.

    "That stuff hurts, too," he said.

    KU quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus doesn't talk about grips with his players, Cummings said, instead focusing more on the mechanical work of passing like getting the proper footwork.

    "Just try to throw with your body, not just your arm the whole time," Cummings said. "It lets you put more oomph on the ball than just throwing with all arm."

    A few minutes later, I made my way over to Heaps, who said he'd had the same grip since the first time he'd picked up a football.

    Heaps grip.

    Heaps grip. by Jesse Newell

    Heaps says it is important to have one's hand on top of the football, because the pointer finger — the last contact point with the ball — gives the ball its rotation.

    Heaps demonstrates how the ball releases off his pointer finger.

    Heaps demonstrates how the ball releases off his pointer finger. by Jesse Newell

    Heaps also believes having the pointer finger high on the ball helps give him more control. Some QBs in the past have even gone to the extreme with this, with Heaps giving the example that Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw put his pointer finger on the point of the football when he threw.

    Heaps demonstrates Terry Bradshaw's grip.

    Heaps demonstrates Terry Bradshaw's grip. by Jesse Newell

    Mechanically, Heaps said it was important to avoid two pitfalls. One is "cupping" the ball, which means putting one's hand too far over the top, which makes it difficult to snap the ball for good rotation.

    "Cupping" the ball.

    "Cupping" the ball. by Jesse Newell

    The other potential mistake is getting one's hand too far underneath the ball, which again can be a sign of poor mechanics.

    Underneath the ball.

    Underneath the ball. by Jesse Newell

    Heaps said it was important to maintain a "nice U-shape" with your hand, which allows a QB to get the proper release and rotation.

    A "nice U-shape."

    A "nice U-shape." by Jesse Newell

    After talking with both QBs, I was interested to compare their grips.

    It turned out there were quite a few differences.

    As you can see from this comparison, the two view comfort in different ways. While Heaps' hands remains tight toward the top of the football, Cummings' hand has an extreme spread. Notice also the different placements of the players' middle and pinky fingers.

    Comparing Heaps' and Cummings' grips.

    Comparing Heaps' and Cummings' grips. by Jesse Newell

    So who has the correct grip? Heaps says there's no right answer.

    "If you’re going to a (quarterback specialist) that’s trying to get you to grip the ball differently, then you probably should go to someone different," he said. "Everyone grips the ball differently. It’s not how you grip it ... it’s whatever you’re comfortable with."

    Reply 24 comments from Kgphoto Actorman Brian Skelly Chris Baker Dirk Medema Inteldesign Ken Schmidt Lajayhawk Stupidmichael Ralster and 5 others

    The Sideline Report with Marcus Jenkins-Moore

    Today's Sideline Report is with Kansas junior linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore, who will sit out the 2013 season after suffering a knee injury in the summer.

    Marcus Jenkins-Moore (Rivals.com contributed photo).

    Marcus Jenkins-Moore (Rivals.com contributed photo). by Jesse Newell

    Jesse Newell: Who’s the funniest teammate you have?

    Marcus Jenkins-Moore: Marquel (Combs).

    Kansas University defensive tackle Marquel Combs, left, and linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore, juco teammates at Pierce College, are leaning on each other in their first season at KU. The pair hope to reunite on the field next season, when Jenkins-Moore will return from a knee injury.

    Kansas University defensive tackle Marquel Combs, left, and linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore, juco teammates at Pierce College, are leaning on each other in their first season at KU. The pair hope to reunite on the field next season, when Jenkins-Moore will return from a knee injury. by Matt Tait

    JN: Is he even funnier in person?

    MJM: In person? He’s funny anywhere. I’m with him 24/7, so my jaw is hurting from laughing so much. Real talk.

    JN: What do you guys do together?

    MJM: We just hang out. Play games. I haven’t beat him in 2K. He’s a really good 2K player.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTL4wv2nL1Q

    JN: Do you play as a bad team?

    MJM: He’s just been getting lucky. (smiles)

    JN: What do you remember about the first time you met Charlie Weis in person?

    Kansas head coach Charlie Weis is seen behind a blur of players running through warmups during the first day of football practice on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

    Kansas head coach Charlie Weis is seen behind a blur of players running through warmups during the first day of football practice on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

    MJM: The first time I met coach was when I came on my visit. I went up to his office, saw him. I was like, ‘OK, it’s real. It’s real.’ After seeing him on TV every Saturday on NBC, to finally get to meet him … the guy offered me a scholarship. It was a blessing.

    JN: Kind of a crazy moment, then?

    MJM: Exactly. The man’s a legend. He’s a legend.

    JN: Who’s a person you admire?

    MJM: My mom. She’s strong. After she heard what I’ve been through (with a season-ending knee injury), she didn’t cry. I did, but she didn’t. She just encouraged me to keep moving, stay strong, do what I’ve got to do to get back. All the stuff she’s been through, being a single parent, dealing with me … I admire her the most.

    JN: Were you tough to deal with growing up?

    MJM: I was. I was a little hard-headed, but she got through to me, told me what I had to do.

    JN: What makes her so strong?

    MJM: She’s been working at one job for 36 years. She had a tough time growing up. She told me some things she’s been through, and I was like, ‘Man.’ I didn’t know until she told me. I just see her as one of those parents that doesn’t ever give up on their kids.

    JN: What’s a food you can’t live without?

    MJM: Chicken. If I don’t have chicken, I’m not living. (laughs)

    JN: Is there any restaurant that does that best?

    MJM: Back home (in Memphis), we’ve got this place called 'Big Momma’s.'

    JN: That sounds like a good place.

    MJM: Sweetest cornbread you’ll ever eat.

    JN: Are they popular?

    MJM: It’s popular in the city. If you come, you’ll see.

    JN: What’s something that not many people know about you?

    MJM: I’m a very good bowler. I’ll beat anybody.

    JN: What scores are we talking here?

    MJM: My high score was 289. … I’m 250s, 260s. But 289 was my high score.

    JN: What was the toughest part about the injury for you?

    MJM: Thinking about it. Just thinking about my whole situation: what I’ve been through to get here. It was really hard for me.

    JN: When you called your mom, how did that conversation go?

    MJM: Man. I started crying. I didn’t want to tell her. She asked me, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Something bad happened to my knee.’ She was just encouraging me the whole time. She was like, ‘I don’t care what happened. Everything’s going to be all right. Just keep praying.’ And that was it.

    JN: Your favorite Disney character?

    MJM: Goofy. He’s goofy. Goofy is funny.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwbE3bPvzr4

    JN: Was he your favorite growing up?

    MJM: Yeah. I used to watch him and Donald Duck. Him, Donald, Bugs (Bunny). I’m a Mickey Mouse fan, too.

    JN: If I walked into your room, what’s something that would stand out to me?

    MJM: My shoes. I’m an Air Force Jordans guy. People are like, ‘Dang, why do you have so many shoes?’ And I don’t even wear them all.

    JN: How many you have?

    MJM: Right now, I’ve probably got like 15. Well, you know, I couldn’t take everything from Cali.

    JN: What’s an embarrassing TV show you watch?

    MJM: The Parkers.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sP4fKkXMnFg

    JN: What do you like about it?

    MJM: Man, they are cracking up. Professor Oglevee (laughs), he’ll be dissing Nikki. But it’s funny, though. It makes me laugh.

    JN: What’s something unexpected about Lawrence that you didn’t know until you got here?

    The Holiday Lighting Ceremony along Massachusetts Street kicks off Friday night with clear weather and a crowd. This photo was taken from the roof of Weaver’s Department Store, 901 Mass., facing north.

    The Holiday Lighting Ceremony along Massachusetts Street kicks off Friday night with clear weather and a crowd. This photo was taken from the roof of Weaver’s Department Store, 901 Mass., facing north. by kevin-anderson

    MJM: Man, the people. I thought it was just going to be just land, land and then a couple people. There’s people out here, and they’re really cool. I really like the city. They like the team. They support the team. I met a couple people that are really expecting us to do good things this year. So they’re really exciting me.

    JN: Is there anything interesting or unexpected that I’d find in your refrigerator?

    MJM: Unexpected … I’m not a yogurt guy, but I just started eating it. Interesting would probably be Kool-Aid.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBeUGqeYsQg

    JN: Man, I love Kool-Aid.

    MJM: Kool-Aid’s the thing, man. Kool-Aid will take you as far as you want it, but you’ve got to have sugar. You can’t drink Kool-Aid without sugar.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66njeIMpv5U

    JN: What’s your favorite flavor or color?

    MJM: See, the trick is, you’ve got to get Tropical Punch, Grape, Orange, but you’ve got to have a Lemon to mix it with. Always mix a strong flavor with a Lemon, so it tastes like lemonade, but it’s really Tropical Punch.

    JN: But that makes it look kind of brown, doesn’t it?

    MJM: Nah. If it’s green, it’s going to be green, because it’s yellow.

    JN: Oh, the yellow mixes into it.

    MJM: Exactly.

    JN: What do you hope to accomplish before your career is over at KU?

    MJM: Just to build this program back up.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xd8WiMCoMf8

    Just to get all the people off coach Weis’ back. Everybody’s doubting him, so I want to be a part of the team that helped him accomplish something big — (when) people weren’t planning on us to even be a talked-about team in the nation. I just want to help him have that story from what he did with this team a year ago to what we’re going to be.

    And, you know, I want to be a cool guy. I like people. As long as they’re nice, it’s cool.

    Reply 9 comments from Baldjedi Oklahawk58 Doug Roberts Inteldesign Iamakufan Ken Schmidt RXDOC Atljaybird Tommiesmithelbow

    Charlie Weis should embrace risk with this year’s Jayhawks

    Kansas head football coach Charlie Weis goes over his depth chart and other changes to his team with an audience of media members on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013.

    Kansas head football coach Charlie Weis goes over his depth chart and other changes to his team with an audience of media members on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. by Nick Krug

    SB Nation college football writer Bill Connelly never understood why former Kansas football coach Turner Gill ran the type of offense that he did.

    Because KU faces a talent discrepancy against nearly every program it faces in the Big 12, Connelly believes Gill would have been better suited with an offensive philosophy more creative — or at least something that would give Big 12 defenses a different look.

    “The bottom line is if (Big 12 heavyweights) are well-coached and recruiting well, you can’t beat them just trying to push them around and staying conservative,” Connelly said. “You have to figure out ways to take chances.”

    According to Connelly, that’s the continuing mission for second-year KU coach Charlie Weis, whose team will most likely be an underdog in each of the nine conference games it plays this season.

    Connelly — his advanced college football metrics like S&P+ and PPP+ have been used by teams like Texas and Ohio to get a deeper understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses — devotes a chapter in his recently released book, “Study Hall: College Football, Its Stats, and Its Stories” to underdog tactics. In that section, Connelly examines strategies that less-talented teams should use to try to gain an edge.

    It basically comes down to this: As an underdog, you want to increase the variance — or the number of possible outcomes — in a game.

    “You might lose by more sometimes,” Connelly said, “but you’re more likely to steal a win here or there, too.”

    Connelly says Weis is off to a good start already as far as risky strategies go. The coach has brought in more than 20 junior-college players this year while looking for a quick fix to KU’s talent woes.

    “If it weren’t high risk, then everybody would be doing it. Everybody would just be recruiting half their class from jucos,” Connelly said. “So clearly there is a downside to it, and it could very much not pay off. But if you’ve got a situation like what Weis inherited, where Gill just didn’t recruit very well … (Weis) is trying to win quickly, and this is the path to that.”

    So what are some other high-risk, high-reward strategies that Weis should consider to increase his chances of pulling off a Big 12 upset or two?

    Give different looks

    One way an underdog can get a slight edge is by giving opponents something completely different to prepare for in the span of a week.

    A good example of this was Texas Tech’s “Air Raid” offense under former coach Mike Leach. The Red Raiders found their own niche with the offense and thrived by doing something that no one else was doing.

    Connelly believes KU might already have some of that covered with the pro-style offense that Weis runs. The coach’s announcement that he was going to play Tony Pierson as both a running back and wide receiver — much like West Virginia’s Tavon Austin was used last year — also could give KU a new offensive wrinkle.

    Connelly says there are other ways teams can succeed by being different. For example, Iowa State has been able to pull off some upsets in recent years with a run-based offense that works because instead of trying to get smaller and quicker, the Cyclones have focused on making their players bigger and stronger.

    Defensively, Connelly says a team that plays a base formation out of the ordinary — like a 3-3-5 — can potentially gain an advantage by making opponents prepare for something they don’t normally see.

    Go for it

    Many statistical studies have said the same thing in recent years: Football coaches don’t go for it enough on fourth downs.

    In many instances, the benefits outweigh the risks.

    Connelly gives the example of fourth-and-goal at the opponent’s one-yard line.

    “Really, not going for it is the risk,” Connelly said. “In those types of situations, the field position that you give your opponent if you don’t convert the fourth down, it’s still worth something.

    “A lot of coaches play it safe to their own detriment, because it’s less risky to go for it at that stage, and a lot of people don’t look at it that way.”

    Though there are situations when a field goal is the call on fourth-and-goal at the 1 — down two with three seconds left would be one — for the most part, teams are giving away potential points because of conventional coaching wisdom that actually isn’t beneficial. These types of fourth-down decisions aren’t limited to the red zone either. Connelly said once a team crosses the 50, going for it on fourth-and-short isn’t tremendously risky, and in fact, could pay off big.

    One coach who believes in this is Bob Stitt, who has led Colorado School of Mines — a school with major recruiting obstacles because of its high academic standards — to 11 winning seasons in the last 13 years.

    Stitt views a fourth-down conversion as a “turnover” for the offense. If his offense converts on fourth-and-3, then the opposing defense has to stay on the field after believing it had already accomplished its goal on third down.

    “That’s a great situation to take advantage of a defense that might be more talented than you,” Connelly said.

    Weis already appears to be a high-risk guy when it comes to fourth downs, as the Jayhawks’ 32 fourth-down conversion attempts in 2012 tied for the eighth-most in Division I.

    Playing against tendencies

    Connelly groaned every time he heard a TV announcer talk about how much Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez had improved his throwing mechanics in 2012.

    Connelly knew from watching that wasn’t the case.

    “His passing motion still was just awful to watch,” Connelly said, “but they were much more successful because they were passing at times that opponent really thought they would run.”

    The Cornhuskers were putting Martinez in a position to thrive by passing on downs like first-and-10 and second- and third-and-short.

    By being unpredictable, the Huskers allowed Martinez to complete a high number of short passes while also keeping themselves out of third-and-longs.

    “They took advantage of defensive tendencies and defensive assumptions,” Connelly said, “and stole free yards via the air.”

    In the end, Connelly says it comes down to doing whatever you can to keep a defense that might be bigger, stronger and faster than you from becoming comfortable.

    Results?

    So what can a high-risk, high-reward strategy do for a team?

    Connelly says it’s a lot like a college basketball team shooting a lot of threes and pressing against a heavy favorite.

    “It might fail miserably,” Connelly said, “but if it succeeds, you can actually pull an upset here or there.”

    In college football, where wins are most important, a coach can be rewarded if he’s not afraid to “risk it up,” even if that means that a blowout loss is possible.

    Connelly gives the example of going for it on fourth-and-4 from an opponent’s 40-yard line. Yes, an incomplete pass could give the opponent the ball near midfield.

    But what would a conversion do for the underdog?

    “You’re giving yourself a chance to win that you didn’t have before,” Connelly said. “ If you’re at a program that has hardly won any games over the past two years, why wouldn’t you do that?”

    Reply 22 comments from Kuhawkhead Pbouldenv RXDOC Crystaljones Ralster Azhawk97 Atljaybird Nebraskajayhawk Rockn_chalkn_ku Neworleans and 7 others

    How does KU rank compared to other blue bloods in terms of playing fast offensively?

    Until a few weeks ago, the best way for us to determine how fast a college basketball team played offensively was to look at the adjusted pace on KenPom.com.

    There was a flaw in that, though. The goal of many teams is to play quick offensively (score in transition) and force other teams into bad shots on defense (resulting in longer possessions). With those teams, it would have been difficult to tell if a faster pace was caused by a run-and-gun offense or a defense that allowed quick shots.

    It's become much easier recently. Last month, Ken Pomeroy posted a new statistic on his site: average possession length (APL) for both offense and defense. This new number is simple: Pomeroy says it "is not adjusted for competition and it measures the length of an entire possession, so offensive rebounds count."

    Though Pomeroy says shooting the ball faster on offense has a weak correlation to scoring more points per possession (shooting faster generally means more transition shots, which are more successful because they're against an unset defense), what's more interesting is that now we can better determine a team's offensive style.

    And to take it a step further, if a recruit wants to go to a school that "plays fast," we now have a better way to show exactly which schools do just that.

    So let's say Recruit X is a top-10 prospect in the class of 2014, and he wants to go to a school that plays fast offensively. Which are his best choices?

    Let's take a look.

    (Note: To determine the "blue bloods," I took the six schools from this list and added in Syracuse and Michigan State, who have had plenty of recent success.)

    Which blue bloods play fastest offensively?

    Which blue bloods play fastest offensively? by Jesse Newell

    Not surprisingly, North Carolina plays the fastest of the top teams, ranking or tying for first in offensive APL in three of the last four seasons.

    Though Syracuse has ranked in the top half of the NCAA in adjusted tempo just once in the last four years, it turns out that most of the reason for that was its tough-to-score-on matchup zone defense. In actuality, the Orange are one of the fastest-playing teams offensively in this list, ranking first (tie), third and second in the first three years of the study before dropping to a tie for fourth last year.

    KU coach Bill Self also should have a good recruiting pitch if a recruit is looking to play fast. His team has played consistently fast offensively despite having teams that were better built to run (2010-11 with the Morris twins) and ones that might not have been (2009-10 with Cole Aldrich).

    Some other interesting notes:

    Kentucky doesn't play as fast as I'd expect given the athletes that play there. The Wildcats usually are a good offensive rebounding team, which might be causing their offensive APLs to tick up a bit, but the possession times are still higher than expected. It still hasn't appeared to hurt UK's efficiency, as it has ranked in the top 15 in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency in three of the last four seasons.

    • Indiana and UCLA both appear to have made concerted efforts to play faster offensively in the last two seasons. With IU, this also might be the "Cody Zeller" effect, as his ability to run the floor in transition made it beneficial to play a more up-tempo style. UCLA appears to have had some success speeding it up, as its adjusted offensive efficiency went from 79th nationally in 2011 to 72nd in 2012 and 38th in 2013.

    Duke and Michigan State were the two slowest-shooting teams a year ago, and Duke is the real surprise to me. MSU is known for a bit of a plodding style and also for being strong on the offensive glass (41st nationally).

    Duke, though, was a terrible offensive rebounding team last year (270th nationally) and still was taking 17.7 seconds to shoot it each possession. As you'd expect, coach Mike Krzyzewski still knew what he was doing, as even with the slow pace, the Blue Devils had the fourth-most efficient offense in the nation. That's tough to do with limited scoring in transition.

    Just for fun, I went ahead and graphed out the Big 12 teams and how they ranked the last four years. I didn't include West Virginia or TCU, who just joined the conference last season.

    Big 12 offensive APL

    Big 12 offensive APL by Jesse Newell

    As you'd expect, KU plays one of the fastest tempos, though Iowa State is right with the Jayhawks and even passed them last season.

    A few other notes:

    Oklahoma — like Syracuse — plays much faster offensively than what we'd expect because of stingy defense. The Sooners had the Big 12's longest average defensive possession length a season ago (19.1 seconds), and that might have masked the fact that OU's 16.7-second average offensive possession length tied for the second-fastest in the conference with KU.

    It's also interesting to note the distinct change in offensive style since OU coach Lon Kruger took over for Jeff Capel after the 2011 season. The Sooners have drastically decreased their average offensive possession time, and their offense has improved every year, going from 136th in adjusted efficiency in 2011 to 127th in 2012 to 36th in 2013.

    Also, do we think there's anything to NBA-style coaches having a preference to play faster offensively? Is it a coincidence that the coaches with the most NBA background in the Big 12 (Kruger, ISU's Fred Hoiberg) have ranked in the top three with KU in offensive APL the last two seasons? Might be something to watch in future years.

    Texas has gone from playing extremely fast to extremely slow. The Longhorns still top-35 offenses in 2011 and 2012 before bottoming out last year (161st). Getting a few more easy buckets certainly couldn't hurt a UT team that had severe shooting and turnover issues a year ago.

    • Kansas State appears to be one of the teams that is able to succeed offensively with longer possessions. You'd have to think the Wildcats' recent success on the offensive glass is a big reason their possession times have been among the longest in the league.

    Let's get back to Recruit X. If he's wanting to play fast offensively, North Carolina should immediately be on his list, as should Syracuse and even KU. Indiana and UCLA have shown recent tendencies to play faster, while Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State have had a tendency to slow down their offensive tempos.

    If he's only looking to the Big 12, then KU and Iowa State would be the top choices, with Kruger quickly catching up in his two years at OU.

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