Ask Les Miles about what he saw in his team’s first preseason scrimmage and the Kansas football coach will intentionally keep his answer vague and broad.
You know, just to be sure no one outside of the closed practice somehow discovers some nugget or piece of insight that would provide a glimpse at the Jayhawks’ plans, strengths or weaknesses.
“Offensively I think we moved the football well,” Miles said of the Wednesday session. “Pooka (Williams) ran the football well. The quarterbacks did the things that we asked them to do. I think offense won in the short term against the defense.”
Players are typically more revealing in their answers about scrimmage situations, even if they have been coached up to not divulge much, either.
Sure enough, the KU players who spoke with the media Thursday during the program’s first Q&A of the preseason actually came through with a behind-the-scenes look at the scrimmage.
Here’s what a few key players had to say.
• Thomas MacVittie, senior QB
Asked about the highlights from this week’s scrimmage day, MacVittie didn’t boast about any of his throws or start his answer by bringing up the passing game. Instead the QB shared how impressed he was with another part of the offense.
“We have depth at running back, no doubt,” MacVittie declared. “Our line held up great, and then we got the ball down field.”
MacVittie said his position coach and KU’s offensive coordinator, Brent Dearmon, teaches the quarterbacks there’s a rhyme and rhythm to everything they do offensively, and that’s why the QBs have to listen closely to every piece of advice Dearmon provides.
“You have your reads, you have your drop and if you stray away from that you’re gonna be late or you’re gonna be early,” MacVittie explained.
• Miles Kendrick, junior QB
The man competing with MacVittie for KU’s starting job, Kendrick thought the offense showed some promising signs in the scrimmage, too.
“We were aggressive,” Kendrick said of what stood out to him. “There were some shots early that we took and they counted, and we scored from those shots and being aggressive. I think that’s going to be a big part of the offense, being aggressive but taking calculated risks.”
Kendrick also brought up some of Dearmon’s philosophy while discussing what worked in the scrimmage.
“When you get the opportunity, Coach Dearmon always preaches it, you want to hurt the defense,” Kendrick said. “That’s what we want to do.”
• Stephon Robinson Jr., senior WR
Robinson thought the first deep shot the offense completed was the biggest highlight of the scrimmage.
That particular play ended with senior receiver Andrew Parchment beating the secondary and hauling in a bomb.
“It got us going real quick at the start of the scrimmage, so that was a highlight for me, getting ready and going out there right away,” Robinson said of Parchment’s initial chunk yardage contribution.
As for what he did individually that might have been a highlight, Robinson took his answer in another direction.
“I’m really hard on myself with critiquing myself, so I always feel like I can do more. I feel like I did my job to my best ability, but I can always do something better,” Robinson explained of his thinking. “There was a play I caught a slant and I could’ve gone the distance, but I got tackled. I didn’t get a lot of YAC on that play, so I can improve on that.”
• Pooka Williams, junior RB
KU’s star offensive player in the backfield, Williams didn’t point to specific highlights or big plays that resonated with him in retrospect.
“We had a lot of standout plays and fundamental plays, too,” Williams said. “If we didn’t make them it would have been different.”
• Denzel Feaster, senior LB
The only defensive player made available for interviews this week, Feaster said some of the plays that impressed him most came from Parchment in the passing game.
“Obviously AP’s catches, man,” Feaster said. “That guy’s completely explosive.”
But Feaster spoke highly of another position group for KU’s offense, as well.
“I love our backs, personally, just because of how they run the ball,” Feaster said, adding when they have the ball there’s a physicality to their rushes. “To me that’s a highlight. When my backs run physical regardless of size, that shows heart.”
Feaster couldn’t leave out the defense, though. He said watching younger players in particular proved satisfying.
“Nick Channel had a great scrimmage, great highlights,” Feaster revealed of the sophomore safety from Wichita.
Asked to confirm his head coach’s assessment that the Jayhawks’ offense won the day, Feaster delivered a veteran response.
“Whatever Coach Miles said was right,” Feaster offered.
Adapting common approaches to various aspects of life has become routine in the time of COVID-19.
No one likes the new normal, but most of us grin and bear it as best we can while following guidelines that hopefully make this all go away before long.
One very minor consequence of the pandemic in the grand scheme of life is the fact that Kansas football preseason practices are completely closed to the media.
In other Augusts — in the long, long ago, also known as those years that took place before 2020 — local journalists would get some peeks inside the Jayhawks’ closed practices. Nothing huge, just 15 to 30 minutes here and there, depending on the paranoia level of the head coach at the time.
Because those opportunities for insight haven’t been possible this summer, let’s use some of the images captured by the KU football program’s social media team as a jumping off point for some preseason camp thoughts.
• Oh, hey. Running backs.
It was totally appropriate the first images from camp that showed up back on July 31 included not only Les Miles, the man KU diehards hope can turn this program around, but the most talented skill player on the roster, Pooka Williams.
The offense could very well go only as far as Pooka can carry it. But this photo also reminded me that the junior back who is a known commodity also could have some huge help in his position group.
Just behind Williams in that Day 1 drill stood Velton Gardner — I also kind of love that he’s wearing No. 0 this year. There could be a nice stable of backs for offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon to feature with Williams. Gardner had some promising moments as a freshman in 2019. I’m also interested to see who emerges as the third back. Torry Locklin, Amauri Pesek-Hickson and Daniel Hishaw Jr. all could be candidates.
• Will a freshman receiver become a key target?
Seeing in person how big and fast new players are always is one of the most intriguing parts of viewing camp periods in person.
A guy I would have had my eyes on is freshman receiver Lawrence Arnold (No. 2). KU receivers coach Emmett Jones raved about the young wideouts he’s adding to his room via the 2020 recruiting class, and Arnold seems to have the body and athleticism to make it easier to crack the rotation early.
Arnold is 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds and could become an important target, especially when KU’s talented veteran receivers need a breather.
• Speaking of receivers …
KU should have some real burners at its disposal in the passing game.
Dearmon and whomever wins the quarterback battle should enjoy finding different ways to get the ball to seniors Andrew Parchment, Stephon Robinson Jr. and Kwamie Lassiter II in space.
If the offense is clicking, watching those three run away from defensive backs will be commonplace.
There was no mention of quarterbacks, position battles or depth charts, but Kansas football coach Les Miles finally spoke publicly about the Jayhawks’ preseason camp on Monday night.
The Jayhawks, now with an official season-opening date and opponent, resumed practicing in pads and prepping for a season during a pandemic.
It felt like all of college football was sitting in a holding pattern just a week ago, Miles told KU’s in-house reporting outfit after Monday’s practice. Miles has yet to be made available for interviews with local media outlets this summer, though that is expected to change later this week.
“We know that the decisions ... are being made our on our behalf and for us,” Miles said, referring to the schedule changes and pauses as the Big 12 prepared to try for a 10-game season during the COVID-19 pandemic. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I promise you this: I would want to play football. And I like the idea that somebody with a doctoral degree (medical advisers to the conference) is making decisions for us in light of how much everybody in this field likes football.”
Miles said that these days, there are a lot of things to worry about that administrators and teams can't control. But he also said the Jayhawks have managed to maintain a good attitude through it all, including the start and stop of the preseason, and he thinks that’s something they can hold onto.
KU had its spring football schedule canceled because of the pandemic and also had to pause summer workouts after positive COVID-19 tests within the program. And that was before the Jayhawks opened camp July 31 with plans to open the season on Aug. 29, only to see that date pushed back to Sept. 12 and the opponent changed to Coastal Carolina.
Miles said players powered through a crisis over the course of the past several months and had to deal with “a series of decisions that are made on your behalf that you have no way to affect.”
When the Jayhawks have practiced — they spent much of the previous week doing walkthroughs and some drills without pads — KU’s second-year coach said the players have made the sessions productive.
“You have to have that consistency of wanting to fight and dig deep,” Miles said.
The coach said the Jayhawks will have some scrimmage periods later this week that will allow them to go through a lot of situations and get players important reps.
“If we can get that done and maintain some health,” Miles said, “we’re going to like where we’re at.”