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