It’s hard to imagine a moment from a spring football game enduring in the collective memory of those who follow a team for more than a few days — a week at most. Yet, for those who watched Kansas football’s mid-April scrimmage or caught up with it after the fact via social media, it will be difficult to forget the ferocious manner in which Mike Lee played in the secondary.
Lee, a 5-foot-11 safety who made his presence in the program felt as a true freshman in 2016, with a number of savage hits, appeared even more heartless a tackler than imagined during KU’s scrimmage. It was on that stage that he twice leveled teammate Ryan Schadler to break up pass attempts to the receiver.
The Jayhawks began expecting such crunching hits from Lee versus Big 12 foes, but to do that to someone from your own locker room?
Shortly after the exhibition, the faux hard-hitting question had to be asked: Have you apologized to Ryan Schadler?
The truly powerful, up-and-coming sophomore defensive back had an even better answer.
“I apologized to his mother,” Lee revealed. “His mother came after the game, came by me. She was like, ‘Why did you have to hit my son that hard?’ I was like, ‘I wasn’t trying, but Peyton (Bender, KU quarterback) was just setting him up. … I’ve just got to make a play. That’s all I was doing.”
You have to admit, the man is dedicated to his craft. The jolts Lee delivered in an inconsequential scrimmage qualified as long-lasting reminders of his impact as a defensive play-maker and just how serious he is about creeping into the minds of potential receivers — who will know the consequences of their actions, should they try and bring in a pass when Lee lurks nearby.
Schadler’s mother, Donna, just hadn’t considered all of those factors at the time.
“She was like, ‘I’m happy his ribs are OK,’” Lee added.
It was at that point in Lee’s interview that Schadler had his chance to exact revenge. The junior receiver, done with his media obligations, sneaked up behind the defensive back and grabbed his attacker — but in a display of Schadler’s admiration for Lee’s talents and his respect for a fellow competitor, rather than an angry ambush.
Though still young, Lee is widely respected by his teammates because of his approach to all things football. His commitment made him a starting Big 12 safety when he should have been a senior in high school. And his vicious plays on the ball and/or a quarterback’s intended target turned Lee into an instant fan favorite.
There will be countless more cases of clobbering in Lee’s future. But the blows he administered this spring will live on, because you wouldn’t expect an underclassman who already had made a name for himself to play — or strike — so hard in a glorified practice.
That’s just Mike Lee. He will wallop anyone on a football field wearing a uniform that doesn’t match his own. Because that’s what is asked of him.
“Really, I just run to the ball. If I know I can hit somebody hard, I do it,” Lee said, before grinning to making an addendum. “If I know I can’t, I’ll still do it.”
Spring football games are not real football games. And no one understands that better than Kansas defensive stalwarts Dorance Armstrong Jr., and Daniel Wise.
Saturday’s scrimmage at Memorial Stadium was about letting the fans get a peek at the 2017 Jayhawks, not giving away too many secrets or play-calling wrinkles along the way and keeping quarterbacks Carter Stanley and Peyton Bender healthy.
So juniors Armstrong and Wise, two of the program’s most marketable talents, who also happen to be massive defensive linemen, didn’t get to unleash their full array of skills.
The quarterbacks, receivers such as Daylon Charlot and Steven Sims Jr., running backs Taylor Martin and Khalil Herbert, defensive backs such as Mike Lee, Kyle Mayberry, Derrick Neal and Bryce Torneden, and linebackers Joe Dineen and Keith Loneker Jr., got to experience a lively, enjoyable afternoon scrimmage.
It just felt a little different for the big guys who hope to make a living in the NFL by chasing and demolishing QBs.
A 6-foot-4, 246-pound pass-rusher extraordinaire from Houston, Armstrong was credited with four total tackles and one sack. Wise, a 6-3, 290-pound versatile defensive lineman, had two tackles for loss and a sack. Not bad numbers, for sure, but also not true snapshots of how impactful they will be for David Beaty’s third Kansas football team, either.
It must have been difficult for them to exert their typical full game-day effort knowing they would have to pump the brakes if they created themselves a path to a QB, right? Sophomore safety Lee, who spoke with reporters after the open practice, confirmed as much.
“On the sideline, Dorance was really mad,” a grinning Lee reported. “He was like, ‘They keep holdin’ me! I can’t even get a sack!’ He was like, ‘I wish it was a real game, because I’d have a bunch of sacks.’ And D-Wise was just laughin’ at him, like, ‘It’s just the spring game, son.’”
The picture Lee painted gives you an idea of part of what makes Armstrong great: that competitive fire. But neither Armstrong nor Wise could show off at the spring game in the way Lee (six tackles and two crushing hits on receiver Ryan Schadler) or other defenders were able to do.
“It really was a defensive back game, because it’s the spring game,” Lee said. “They can’t touch the quarterback. The ball was being thrown a lot.”
Obviously the last thing any coach or player wants is to lose a quarterback due to a contact injury during a practice or scrimmage — it was only two years ago that a freak play at KU’s spring game prematurely ended Michael Cummings’ career. You’ve got to have those QBs in red jerseys and safe.
And, when you think about it, that’s probably what makes Saturdays in the fall so rewarding for standout defensive linemen like Armstrong and Wise. After months of not being able to do what you were born to do, you get to release those frustrations on an opposing quarterback.
Here’s an early bet that Armstrong and Wise this fall will improve upon their combined 13 sacks and 30 tackles for loss from 2016.
The Kansas football team is going all in on building up hype for this Saturday’s spring game at Memorial Stadium (1 p.m. kickoff).
David Beaty and company started off the week Monday by announcing the two sides for the scrimmage — Team Jayhawks and Team KU — and the coaches in charge of each. It will be Kansas associate head coach and running backs coach Tony Hull (Jayhawks) on one sideline and cornerbacks coach and co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry (KU) on the other, with Beaty observing the action in more of a neutral capacity.
How will the rosters be split up for the spring game? Well, that will be determined Wednesday afternoon with a draft.
Hull — who will be assisted by defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, special teams coordinator Joe DeForest, quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley and offensive line coach Zach Yenser — won the right to the No. 1 pick on Monday, when Perry — working with linebackers coach Todd Bradford, offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and defensive line coach Jesse Williams — lost a coin toss by picking tails.
Second-year assistant Hull had the opportunity to take either the swagged-out home KU locker room or the No. 1 pick in the spring draft by winning the coin flip, and he rightfully went with the draft rights.
So who should Hull pick for this weekend’s family-friendly affair? We got together some of our KUsports.com staff members to find out which Jayhawk they think Hull will select — and who they would take No. 1 overall.
Let us know your picks in the comments section below.
Benton Smith’s prediction and pick
Who Hull will take: Since Mr. Louisianimal himself landed the top choice, I think he will want an impact guy from “The Boot” to build his team around.
That means Hull will go with perhaps the most intriguing talent on the roster, former Alabama wide receiver Daylon Charlot, from Patterson, La. A 6-foot, 195-pound pass-catching and return threat, Charlot walked away from Nick Saban at Alabama when the most prominent head coach in all of college football tried to convince him to stay.
Teammates and coaches rave about Charlot’s athletic ability and how he can break open a play in the open field or with a deep catch. Charlot has been looking forward to playing for months after sitting out and he’ll want to make a splash in his unofficial KU debut.
Who I would take: He won’t have the same flash or fan attention as Charlot or one of KU’s top quarterbacks, but I’m taking a big man who can not only give my QB some time to make his reads, but also get out and create holes for the running backs (or speedy receivers on end arounds).
The pick is another Alabama transfer, junior offensive lineman Charles Baldwin.
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound right tackle, like Charlot, will be eager to play after sitting out 2016 as a transfer. And he has the power and athleticism to try and limit the likes of Dorance Armstrong Jr. and/or Daniel Wise, should they end up on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.
Even if QB’s won’t be hit in the scrimmage, it would be nice to have a beast like Baldwin on your side as a starting point.
Matt Tait’s prediction and pick
Who Hull will take: Junior DE Dorance Armstrong Jr.
For my money, Armstrong is the best player on the Kansas football team. As he showed last season, he’s a big-time pass-rusher at the Power 5 level and he’s only getting better.
Because it’s a spring game and the KU quarterbacks will be wearing red jerseys, you won’t see any of the bone-crushing hits that Armstrong is capable of delivering. But you might see him wreak havoc on KU’s offensive line, which, in a game that features players getting credited with sacks for just touching the quarterback, could make for a long day for the KU offense, especially if Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley aren’t getting the ball out quickly. Hull coaches offense so it won’t surprise me if he’s leaning toward picking a player from that side of the ball. For what it’s worth, I can’t see it being a running back. But with enough quality players at other positions available down his draft board, Hull can scoop those up later and take the difference-maker with the No. 1 overall selection.
Who I would take: Junior WR Steven Sims Jr.
Spring games have been known to showcase offensive firepower, and, at Kansas, wide receivers often have been the beneficiaries of that fact.
From Christian Matthews on a couple of occasions back in the day to LaQuvionte Gonzalez last season, the guys on the outside typically get a lot of space to work with and often can take advantage of being put in position to use their speed to score quickly and often, because they don’t have to worry about their teammates lighting them up. Once they catch the ball, especially in space, it becomes a foot race to the end zone and Sims, along with most of KU's wideouts, is faster than many of the defensive backs on this team and, perhaps most importantly, far more experienced.
Sims has been KU’s most consistent wide receiver during the past two seasons and I think he’s ready for an even bigger role now that he’s an upperclassman. I think that role begins Saturday and I'd gladly welcome him onto my team if I had the No. 1 pick.
He catches everything, knows how to get open and has proven to be a favorite target of quarterbacks because of his reliable hands and precise route running.
Give me Sims to start my team and I’ll build around him.
Bobby Nightengale’s prediction and pick
Who Hull will take: Joe Dineen.
When a coach or front office is making a pick at the top of the draft, it’s always important to consider all of the intangibles. That’s why I think Hull is going to pick junior middle linebacker Dineen, aka Local Boy, with his first pick.
Perhaps no player will be more excited to step on the field Saturday than Dineen, who missed nearly all of last season with a right hamstring injury. The 6-2, 230-pound linebacker was a captain for the defense and is essentially another coach on the field. People know what to expect out of him — a run-stopper capable of running sideline to sideline, and a good pass-rusher on blitzes.
Who I would take: Mike Lee.
With a young, inexperienced secondary, Kansas sophomore-to-be safety Lee stands out because of his talented freshman campaign. The 5-foot-11, 176-pounder proved that he’s a threat to stop rushing attacks (70 solo tackles last year) and his big hits make receivers think twice on balls floating over the middle.
In the spring game, the key to slowing either quarterback, Stanley or Bender, will be strong coverage against top receivers Sims, Gonzalez, Charlot and others. Surrounded by young cornerbacks, Lee is the best weapon in the Jayhawks’ secondary and can provide leadership through his experience.
Plus, as a bonus, Lee isn’t going to shy away from the top moments. His interception in overtime against Texas helped seal Beaty’s first Big 12 victory in November, providing momentum into the offseason.
According to the most important numbers — the ones corresponding with wins and losses — 2016 didn’t look too remarkable for the University of Kansas football program, as the Jayhawks won two games and lost 10.
Using only those digits, the season seemed similar to the six before it for KU, during which three head coaches and one interim coach led the team. In a seven-year stretch from 2010 to 2016, Kansas never won more than three games in a season, and finished with an average record of 2-10.
So it’s easy to lump the latest campaign with the rest of the ugly falls that preceded it. However, doing so doesn’t take into account the context of watching David Beaty’s second KU football team far outperform his first in terms of competence and competitiveness. The numbers 2 and 10 don’t factor in the many talented players who improved this past season, positively impacting the product on the field and giving the fan base some signs of real progress
Here is a look at the 10 Jayhawks who made the biggest impact for KU football in 2016 — a year that could end up marking a turning point for a long-struggling program.
No. 10: Running backs coach Tony Hull
For all the work assistant coach Hull put in during practices and with game preparation for the team’s running backs, he also quickly established himself as an important individual in KU’s recruiting strategy during his first year with the program.
A former high school coach in New Orleans, Hull’s ties to the region already have helped Kansas bring in talents such as safety Mike Lee, who became a key defensive starter, and quarterback Tyriek Starks, who took a redshirt season. Hull also served as lead recruiter on Class of 2017 commitments Takulve Williams (two-star receiver) and Travis Jordan (three-star athlete). Plus, his presence has helped the Jayhawks earn consideration from still available touted prospects, such as Brad Stewart, a four-star defensive back.
With Hull in place, Kansas seems in position to target quality recruits in a part of the country where it otherwise might not have been able to get involved.
No. 9: Offensive tackle D’Andre Banks
During his senior season at Kansas, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound offensive lineman played anywhere position coach Zach Yenser needed him. Banks began the year playing left tackle, because Jordan Shelley-Smith was injured and true freshman Hakeem Adeniji wasn’t ready yet. The Killeen, Texas, native even started a game at right guard at Memphis, as KU continued to tweak its O-line combinations.
The final eight games of the year, Banks returned to his rightful spot at right tackle, and down the stretch KU’s O-line became more effective, with the help of the senior leader.
No. 8: Quarterback Carter Stanley
True, the redshirt freshman quarterback only started three games for Kansas this past season, but Stanley’s presence on the field coincided with by far the best stretch of 2016 for the Jayhawks.
Stanley, of course, controlled the offense during the team’s overtime victory over Texas — KU’s lone Big 12 victory. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound QB actually had better individual numbers in KU losses against Iowa State (26-for-38, 171 yards, TD, interception) and at Kansas State (24-for-44, 302 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions).
With Stanley at QB, KU consistently competed, and that couldn’t be said for other stretches of the season.
No. 7: Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen
In 2015, the Kansas defense routinely blew tackles and coverages, contributing mightily to a woeful 0-12 campaign. A year later, Bowen and his assistants turned the Jayhawks’ defense into a strength.
In Big 12 play this past year, KU ranked first in the conference in third-down conversion defense (37.4 percent), second in pass defense (248.0 yards allowed a game), third in red-zone defense (78 percent), and fifth in interceptions (eight), sacks (22) and opponent first downs (24.2 a game).
The work Bowen, linebackers coach Todd Bradford, cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry and D-line coach Michael Slater did with their players set the tone for a season highlighted by headway.
No. 6: Safety Mike Lee
When the true freshman safety graduated early from high school and arrived on campus ready to play a year ahead of schedule, no one expected Lee to transform so quickly into a play-maker.
The 5-foot-11, 176-pound defensive back from New Orleans came off the bench in his first three appearances for Kansas and did not play at all in Week 2. But Lee’s hard hits became one of the consistent bright spots for Kansas, beginning with the team’s Big 12 opener at Texas Tech.
From that point on, while at times learning on the fly, the first-year safety started the final eight games. Lee, whose overtime interception versus Texas will be remembered for a long time at Memorial Stadium, finished second on the team in total tackles (77), while tying KU’s leader in that category, senior safety Fish Smithson, for the most solo tackles (70).
No. 5: Wide receiver Steven Sims Jr.
The Kansas offense often didn’t look pretty this past year, but when it peaked Sims often played a prominent role. The 5-foot-10, 176-pound wide receiver became someone opposing defensive coordinators had to game-plan to stop.
Sims’ breakout sophomore season included four games of 100-plus yards, as he led KU in receptions (72), yardage (859) and touchdowns (seven). His confidence and maturity showed on the field and off, as he worked to become an impact player as an underclassman while operating in a system that used three different starting quarterbacks and ranked eighth in passing (231.9 yards per game) and last in scoring (17.8 points a game) in Big 12 play.
No. 4: Head coach David Beaty
The head coach’s first season doubling as offensive coordinator might not have gone as well as he wanted, but ultimately the notable overall progress within the program happened under his watch, and Beaty deserves credit for the strides made by the players and in recruiting.
Beaty’s undying positivity trickles down throughout the team, and that showed during the final month of the season. Although the Jayhawks struggled much of the year, they finally began playing at a higher level in the final weeks, when players under a lesser leader could have mentally and physically checked out.
Day after day, Beaty found ways to win over players and prospects, building momentum for a 2017 with increased expectations.
No. 3: Safety Fish Smithson
Speaking of positivity, you won’t meet many more upbeat players than Smithson, a defensive captain and outgoing senior. Week after week for the past couple of seasons, the safety had to answer media questions about KU’s shortcomings, and never did he let it impact him negatively.
Smithson’s personality helped his production on the field, too. Even when he made a mistake on one snap, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound safety would come back the next ready to demand more of himself.
As he walks away from the program, the Jayhawks will not only miss his 93 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and seven pass breakups, but also his leadership and ability to get his teammates in the right spots.
No. 2: Defensive tackle Daniel Wise
When the Kansas defense needed a stop, the man breaking through with a crucial push at the point of attack tended to be Wise, the powerful, 6-foot-3, 285-pound defensive tackle form Lewisville, Texas.
The talkative sophomore had the sills to back up any in-game (or pre-game) chatter he sent in the direction of the opposition, thanks to an offseason filled with work toward vastly improving his strength and technique. Playing a position where it can be difficult to accumulate much statistical proof of one’s worth, Wise finished seventh on the team in total tackles, with 38, while making 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, and even blocking two extra points.
Wise’s presence made it easier for his teammates around him to do their jobs, too, as offenses game-planned to limit how the tackle could impact the line of scrimmage.
No. 1: Defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr.
In his sophomore season at KU, Armstrong transformed into one of the most feared defensive ends around, easily making him a consensus All-Big 12 first-teamer.
Fittingly, the 6-foot-4, 246-pound lineman from Houston’s most complete performance came in the Jayhawks’ victory over Texas — the program’s beacon of better things to come. Armstrong not only made 11 total tackles, but aded two sacks, three tackles for loss, while both forcing and recovering a fumble.
Armstrong’s 20 tackles for loss on the season made him the Big 12’s leader in that category, and he finished second in sacks (10) to Kansas State senior — and fellow all-league D-lineman — Jordan Willis (11.5).
If Kansas, under Beaty, can start climbing out of the ditch it has lived in since Mark Mangino left, Armstrong is the type of star player the coach needs to make it happen.