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Five things we would've liked to learn about KU football this weekend

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By the time Week 1 of the 2014 college football season wraps up Monday night, 85 games featuring FBS teams will be in the books.

Kansas University, of course, won’t be playing in any of those.

The Jayhawks are idle this week, which means we’ll have to wait another seven days to get a look at them, and find out just what they might be capable of on the field.

Kansas head coach Charlies Weis watches warmups from a golf cart during Fan Appreciation Day, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas head coach Charlies Weis watches warmups from a golf cart during Fan Appreciation Day, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Charlie Weis and his staff have spent the past two weeks, since KU’s last open practice and Fan Appreciation Day, hunkered down, preparing for the Sept. 6 opener against Southeast Missouri State — and beyond. The Jayhawks have only emerged (to the media at least) to announce seniors Ben Heeney, Nick Harwell and Cassius Sendish as team captains and rally the downtrodden KU football fan base.

Because we won’t get to see this Kansas football team today, here are five things we would’ve liked to learn if the Jayhawks actually began their season Labor Day weekend.

Kansas running back Brandon Bourbon runs through drills during a KU football practice Saturday, April 5, 2014, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Brandon Bourbon runs through drills during a KU football practice Saturday, April 5, 2014, at Memorial Stadium. by Mike Yoder

1. Who has emerged as KU’s primary running back?

Since the news of season-ending injuries to both Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox, it became clear either juco newcomer De’Andre Mann or true freshman Corey Avery would have the role thrusted upon them.

But we don’t yet know which of the two is more explosive, a better pass-blocker, more instinctive and so on. Perhaps KU will choose to split carries evenly between Mann and Avery. Maybe they sprinkle in true freshman Joe Dineen, who recently converted from playing safety.

It seems KU has some options, despite the potentially devastating injuries.

Kansas University offensive coordinator John Reagan, works with offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi (63) at KU football practice on Thursday August 14, 2014.

Kansas University offensive coordinator John Reagan, works with offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi (63) at KU football practice on Thursday August 14, 2014. by Richard Gwin

2. Does Reagan have five guys he trusts on the offensive line?

The first depth chart of the preseason listed KU’s first-string O-line as: senior LT Pat Lewandowski, senior LG Ngalu Fusimalohi, junior C Keyon Haughton, senior RG Mike Smithburg and junior RT Damon Martin.

Their backups, as of Aug. 7, were junior LT Larry Mayzck, junior LG Bryan Peters, red-shirt freshman C Joe Gibson, sophomore RG Brain Beckmann and junior RT Devon Williams.

Since then, sophomore tight end Jordan Shelley-Smith also moved to tackle.

A lot can change in three weeks, especially with a unit that could be the biggest mystery on the team. Don't be surprised if the depth chart looks a little different when KU releases it. Weis made it known a couple weeks ago it might take the entire preseason practice schedule to determine a starting five. Smithburg said in an interview the O-linemen might not know who will start until game day.

http://youtu.be/K49PNoSeqHQ?t=1m42s

Offensive coordinator and O-line coach John Reagan has a reputation for getting the most out of the big guys. It will be interesting to see which five he can rely on for the opener. And how much the go-to five changes in the weeks to come.

Kansas defender Ben Goodman (93) pumps his arms in the air to get the crowd into the game during the first-half of the Jayhawks game against KSU Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defender Ben Goodman (93) pumps his arms in the air to get the crowd into the game during the first-half of the Jayhawks game against KSU Saturday at Memorial Stadium. by Mike Yoder

3. Can the defensive line catch up with the linebackers and defensive backs?

Between Captain Heeney at linebacker and a skilled secondary featuring senior corners Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd, senior free safety Cassius Sendish and junior strong safety Isaiah Johnson (the Big 12’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2013), KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen has plenty of experience behind the defensive line.

But what about those guys in the trenches? Will senior nose tackle Keon Stowers, junior tackle Andrew Bolton and junior end Ben Goodman cause enough havoc to disrupt offensive plays before they get started? How big of an impact will senior “buck” Michael Reynolds make as an edge rusher?

If the defensive line isn’t big enough to bust through opposing lines, it will have to be fast enough to go around them. KU’s linebackers and secondary will be far more effective with a consistent push at the point of attack.

Blue Team quarterback Montell Cozart throws against the White Team during the first half of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Blue Team quarterback Montell Cozart throws against the White Team during the first half of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

4. Is Cozart becoming an accurate passer?

Thrown to the wolves as a true freshman in 2013, quarterback Montell Cozart completed 23 of his 63 passes, threw two interceptions and overthrew targets regularly. His next touchdown pass will be his first in a KU uniform.

Weis and Reagan like the sophomore starter’s mobility, because that will allow him to keep more plays alive for KU this fall. But for Kansas to actually turn out offensive production, Cozart needs to connect with senior receivers Nick Harwell, Tony Pierson and Justin McCay, as well as junior Nigel King and senior tight end Jimmay Mundine.

Plays are bound to break down. When they do, it will be up to Cozart to make something happen, and he can’t just rely on his quick feet. Busted plays need to turn into down-the-field gains for KU to put more points on the scoreboard.

Kansas running back Tony Pierson leaves Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines in his wake as he races up the sideline for a touchdown during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Kansas running back Tony Pierson leaves Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines in his wake as he races up the sideline for a touchdown during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. by Nick Krug

5. What will Reagan’s playbook look like?

KU’s offense should look a lot different than it did when Weis was in charge.

Goodbye, pro-style and complex verbiage. Hello, spread and simplicity. Those are the words out of the mouths of KU’s offensive players since Reagan’s arrival.

The Jayhawks figure to have a dual-threat QB in Cozart. Will Reagan prefer to use the 6-foot-2, 200-pound sophomore as a pass-first weapon? Or will Cozart end up carrying the ball on designed runs just as much as a running back?

Who will most passing plays be designed to free up? Harwell? Pierson? Mundine? Are Mann and Avery able to contribute with receptions of their own?

How much passing will KU even attempt? Just because it’s a spread offense doesn’t mean it can’t rely on the running game. Would Reagan prefer to run the ball 60 percent of the time, with Cozart and Pierson supplementing the Mann and Avery’s workload.

So many questions. And another week of waiting before we start discovering some answers.

Comments

Doug Roberts 7 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 4 months ago

Get over it, those questions are what keep this website free instead of becoming a subscription based sit.

Jack Jones 7 years, 4 months ago

Relax, Doug ~ Is that really that big of a deal in your life? Very mature comments (NOT), by the way ~ Surely there are more important issues for you to display your profane vocabulary.

Mark Lindrud 7 years, 4 months ago

I really wish we played the first weekend of the season instead of waiting another game. I guess I missed the reason, but anyone know why that is the case?

John Fitzgerald 7 years, 4 months ago

Curious what all the Mangino homers have to say about Iowa States loss to NDSU? "NDSU would beat Alabama! They are a great team and Mangino will one day be the ruler of all that is football!" ... Sounds like a typical homer comment. Good news is we may not be the worst Big 12 team.

Mark Lindrud 7 years, 4 months ago

So we aren't hiring Mangino mid season to win the big 12?

Bryce Landon 7 years, 4 months ago

Uh, dude, we really don't have any room to talk. We lost to NDSU four seasons ago by a baseball score of 6-3.

Mark Lindrud 7 years, 4 months ago

Uh dude. We didn't have a very good baseball team 4 years ago lol. I blame our pitching.

John Fitzgerald 7 years, 4 months ago

I was pointing out that Mangino isn't a perfect coach. Sorry I wasn't clear enough.

Micky Baker 7 years, 4 months ago

One thing we learned about Iowa State so far, they lost to North Dakota State 34-14 in Ames.

West Virginia put up a good game at Alabama, but hey, Oklahoma beat Alabama and only beat Kansas by 15 in 2013. All the other games are played at either 6pm or 7pm CT. That sucks, because I want to look at these teams. So which game should I watch? TCU? Texas? OU? Texas Tech? OSU? K-State? Baylor? Choices!

Mark Lindrud 7 years, 4 months ago

According to that logic we could contend with Alabama! Lol. That is why we play the games and just hope for the best.

Micky Baker 7 years, 4 months ago

I was surprised West Virginia kept the game that close, and I was being sarcastic. I wasn't being sarcastic about Iowa State though. They were man handled at home.

Mark Lindrud 7 years, 4 months ago

Actually, I didn't mean to make fun of you. That stuff happens all the time where the one time a bad team plays well, say we lose 30-27, then the team we lost to beats an even better team that the joke always is then we can compete with both teams. Happens all the time, but I agree with ISU.

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 4 months ago

SEMO crushed an NAIA team 77-0, Stull doesn't change that KU should beat them easily.

Duke looked good today, they should beat KU, but that game will be a decent indicator of where the new offense is.

CMU struggled pretty bad against an FCS team, KU should beat them.

Iowa State looked completely inept after the first quarter today. Anybody who thinks Mangino is going make a big difference this year for ISU needs to go look at KU in 2002 when there wasn't much there. This ISU team just doesn't have any weapons and they're probably going to lose 10 games this year.

West Virginia looked a lot better than expected against Alabama. If they stay healthy, WVU could finish in the top half of the Big 12 this year.

Texas Tech is struggling with Central Arkansas right now (28-21 in the 3rd as I type this). They had a bunch of question marks this year and they aren't answering them very well right now.

Everyone else is doing about as expected (except Baylor who plays tomorrow) so we'll have to see how KU looks against SEMO, but right now, ISU is looking like a winnable game and one KU could potentially be favored in.

Mark Lindrud 7 years, 4 months ago

To win 5 games we are going to need some breaks, but with some early success that can provide some momentum who knows. The other question should have been will our receivers catch the ball besides Harwell because let's face it, he is our only proven person, on the roster at the moment. Only reason I am not mentioning Pierson is because I want him to stay healthy. I am crossing my fingers Coleman and Mundine step up this year.

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 4 months ago

Cozart getting the ball to the receivers is going to be a bigger question than can the receivers catch. Kiesau taught the receivers how to use their hands to catch over the offseason and even in the spring game the receivers looked significantly improved with regards to catching and route running.

Also, Nigel King is proven guy as well. Not to the extent that Harwell is, but King's been a solid receiver for an BCS program.

Mark Lindrud 7 years, 4 months ago

I forgot about king, but still need to see the rest during a real game. I am encouraged by the guys we brought in though.

John Fitzgerald 7 years, 4 months ago

I agree 100% with everything you said. Iowa State should be very winnable especially at home. I was extremely impressed with WVU and OSU. They played the top 2 teams in the nation very tough and even had multiple chances to win. Either the Big 12 is tougher than we expected this year or FSU and Bama are way overrated. I'm hoping the latter for KU's sake. I mean OSU is having a "down" year and WVU hasn't been great since joining the Big 12. If FSU and Bama had played OU and Baylor how would that have went? Anyways, ready for next weekend so we can see the product we've been buying into these last few weeks.

Greg Ledom 7 years, 4 months ago

@AP, Duke played Elon, they better look good. This is a measuring stick game for sure. Would be nice if we could get a win against these guys. I know they are talented offensively, and will be tough there. Solid post.

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