As the start of the college football season inches closer by the minute, here at KUsports.com and the Lawrence Journal-World we are counting down to kickoff by each day revealing a new KU player on Benton Smith’s list predicting the top 11 Jayhawks for the 2019 season.
Les Miles will lead the Kansas football team onto the field for the first time on Aug. 31 versus Indiana State.
Ahead of his senior season at Kansas, Mike Lee has a few simple individual goals in mind.
“Make more plays for the team, get more turnovers, just going each and every week 1-0,” the free safety from New Orleans said this past week.
But let Lee continue talking about objectives for the three months and 12 games ahead, especially in terms of what he wants to help the Jayhawks accomplish as a team, and those desires grow much larger in scope and include designs of playing in a bowl game or even the Big 12’s title game.
Those are holy grail types of thoughts when it comes to the long struggling Kansas football program. And Lee knows that as well as anyone, having experienced just two league victories over the course of the previous three seasons.
So what makes the impassioned senior defensive back think such dreams could be realized?
“I feel like last year we were competing with a lot of good teams,” Lee contended. “I feel like we’re more experienced enough as a defensive whole and as a team, really combined. We’re better than what we were.”
The Jayhawks will try to prove his forecast accurate in the weeks ahead. And while Lee points to the physicality emphasized by Miles’ staff as an encouraging sign entering this season, his willingness to be bold in his belief about what he wants the team to accomplish is a reminder that he’s challenging himself more these days.
Former KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, currently Lee’s position coach at safety, said Lee didn’t used to be a vocal type of leader.
“But he’s a respected player on the team, because he does show up every day and play hard and play with a little bit of an edge about him,” said Bowen, who has seen every step of Lee’s college career.
According to Lee’s teammates, that default lead by example approach has changed of late. The KU defense is manned by a veteran secondary, and senior cornerback Hasan Defense said Lee has taken more ownership and shown a willingness to steer his teammates in the right direction.
“We’re at a point where you should know what you need to do,” Defense said. “At the end of the day, if you don’t know what you need to do, Mike’s gonna let you know. Mike’s gonna hold you accountable, and nothing less, by any means necessary.”
Lee has always been a proud player. Now he’s finding greater gratification in trying to make sure the secondary is a strength for KU.
“We set the tone. We bring the energy to the team,” Lee said. “We’re experienced enough on the defensive side to force a lot of turnovers and get this team to where we want to be.”
All the defeats and disappointments the past few years also doubled as experience for KU veterans, such as Lee, Defense and Bryce Torneden.
A year ago, Lee finished tied for third on the KU defense in total tackles with 68. He also intercepted a pass, forced three fumbles and recovered a fumble. With a defensive backfield filled with upperclassmen, Lee expects more out of himself and much more out of the Jayhawks as a team.
Preseason dreams and words only carry weight if they are followed up with the kind of actions that can turn them into results. Lee is just one man on one side of the ball playing for a program that hasn’t posted a winning record since 2008.
You can’t knock his boldness.
“I’m very confident. Can’t lose no confidence,” Lee said, with his typical grin. “Once you’re confident, you’re confident.”
Predicting the top Jayhawks for 2019 season
If Kansas football coach Les Miles and his assistants currently have a depth chart they feel good about during the final stage of spring practices, they’re certainly not making it public.
However, during the Jayhawks’ open practice on Thursday — a light, pads-free warmup for Saturday’s spring game — the 11-on-11 session provided a glimpse of what KU’s two-deep just might look like right about now.
The first-string units that were in place for the 13th practice of the spring may not even look exactly the same when the Jayhawks reconvene under the lights for No. 14, when fans will get to watch KU scrimmage at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Still, this particular practice was the first prolonged opportunity those outside of the program have had this spring to watch the offense and defense go toe-to-toe.
More players will join the roster in the summer, and some undoubtedly will factor into the two-deep at preseason camp. So it’s safe to describe the current state of the various position battles as fluid.
For Thursday at least, here’s who started on each side of the ball when the team period began inside KU’s new indoor practice facility.
QB - Thomas MacVittie
RB - Dom Williams
WRs - Daylon Charlot, Andrew Parchment, Kwamie Lassiter II
TE - Jack Luavasa
LT - Hakeem Adeniji
LG - Malik Clark
C - Api Mane
RG - Chris Hughes
RT - Clyde McCauley III
DE - Cody Cole
NT - Jelani Brown
DE - Darrius Moragne
Hawk - Azur Kamara
LB - Drew Harvey
LB - Dru Prox
CB - Hasan Defense
S - Bryce Torneden
S - Mike Lee
S - Davon Ferguson
CB - Corione Harris
After all of those presumed current starters took a fair amount of reps, coaches rotated in other Jayhawks.
Here are the players who showed up most often in reserve roles as KU spent most of its afternoon session pitting the offense against the defense.
QB - Carter Stanley
RB - Khalil Herbert
WRs - Takulve Williams, Ezra Naylor, Stephon Robinson Jr.
TE - James Sosinski
LT - Earl Bostick Jr.
LG - Jacobi Lott
C - Andru Tovi
RG - Adagio Lopeti
RT - Antione Frazier
DE - Willie McCaleb
NT - Sam Burt
DE - Jelani Arnold
Hawk - Najee Stevens-McKenzie
LB - Kyron Johnson
LB - Cooper Root
CB - Kyle Mayberry
S - Ricky Thomas
S - Jeremiah McCullough
S - Shaquille Richmond
CB - Elijah Jones and Elmore Hempstead Jr.
Other reserves got their fair share of reps at the practice, as well. These are the other backups who participated during the 11-on-11 work.
QBs - Miles Kendrick and Torry Locklin
RB - Donovan Franklin
WRs - Kameron McQueen and Evan Fairs
FBs - Sam Schroeder and Mac Copeland
OL - Joey Gilbertson and Kevin Feder
DL - Jalan Robinson
LB - Robert Topps III
S - DeAnte Ford and Julian Chandler
Again, there were no pads involved, so there wasn’t any real hitting or tackling. But there were some players who stood out as the KU football program opened its practice up to both the student population and members of the media.
A senior safety, Mike Lee, intercepted two passes on the afternoon. Another defensive back from New Orleans, junior safety Ricky Thomas, made another pick.
Although several receivers had a crack or two at some deep shots, it was junior Stephon Robinson Jr. who hauled one in successfully, despite solid coverage.
What was the most impressive catch of the day? Quarterback Thomas MacVittie gave that honor to one of the tight ends.
“I think our tight end, Sosa, had a one-handed, kind of behind him,” MacVittie recalled of a snag by senior James Sosinski that drew oohs and ahhs from his teammates nearby on the sideline.
“That just shows how athletic he is,” MacVittie added of the grab.
KU’s spring game is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Saturday. It will be available to stream on ESPN+ and broadcast locally and throughout the state on various cable platforms.
After nine months of construction time, the Kansas football program’s new indoor practice facility was finally ready to be put to use on Tuesday.
Returning players and spring enrollees were up bright and early for a 6 a.m. conditioning session on the full-length turf, sprinting and cutting as head coach Les Miles and his staff instructed and observed.
While spring practices won’t commence until March, the Jayhawks are able to work out without footballs while out of season at this time of the year. NCAA rules allow college football players 8 hours of work per week, with no more than 2 hours in a week spent reviewing game footage or walking through plays.
The other six hours are limited to conditioning and weightlifting, and Tuesday’s early morning workout was all about speed, changing directions and building the stamina the players will need for spring football. No skill instruction is allowed at this time of year, so there aren’t any footballs or blocking sleds or the types of drills one would expect to see at an in-season or spring practice.
But such workouts still hold great value for Miles and his assistants, as the staff members get a better understanding of their players’ individual abilities and how each Jayhawk approaches all that goes into playing at this level.
While there are still more bells and whistles to come for the indoor facility, with the playing turf ready to go, the Jayhawks got a sneak peek of the pristine venue on Monday, as donors Dana and Sue Anderson welcomed them to the space where the current and future players will spend countless hours in the months and years ahead.
In a video posted to KU football’s Twitter account, a number of Jayhawks offered their reactions to being inside the practice building for the first time.
“It’s a beautiful place,” senior receiver Daylon Charlot said. “We’re thankful for the opportunity for getting this. So we’re about to come in here and work hard every day.”
Junior quarterback Thomas MacVittie, one of the top signees from KU’s 2019 recruiting class, could be seen with his iPhone in hand, letting his father, Thomas Sr., get a live look of the facility via FaceTime.
“Man, this is something special,” the KU quarterback said. “This place is going up. It’s going to be fun.”
Between the social media posts provided by the football program, Jayhawks such as Najee Stevens McKenzie, Bryce Torneden, Corione Harris, Mike Lee, Hakeem Adeniji, Carter Stanley, Miles Kendrick, Quan Hampton, Evan Fairs, Elmore Hempstead Jr., Khalil Herbert, Codey Cole, MacVittie, Ezra Naylor and Andrew Parchment could be seen taking in and/or working out in the facility.
“This is beautiful right here. We love this,” redshirt junior cornerback Julian Chandler said in one of KU’s videos. “We’re ready to get some work in right here.”
Herbert, who served as the host for a live Instagram video of the players’ initial tour, enjoyed the bouncy feel to the fresh turf, as well as the prospect of staying warm and dry during workouts.
“It’s about to snow tomorrow, but that doesn’t matter to us,” Herbert said. “We’re fixing to be inside.”
Lee, who will be a senior safety this coming season, said it felt good to finally be inside the structure.
“We worked hard for this,” Lee said. “It’s about time we change this program around and get some dubs, and turn rock chalk nation to extreme.”
The Les Miles brand grew to the height of its powers in Louisiana.
It’s where Miles coached the football team at the state’s flagship university, LSU, from 2005 to 2016. And it’s a place that he continued to call home for the past two years, during his hiatus from the sidelines.
His accomplishments there — see: Miles’ 114-34 record in 11-plus seasons at LSU, including two SEC titles and a 2007 national championship — are what made his arrival at Kansas this week so buzzworthy on the national college football landscape.
The hope among the suddenly energized KU football fan base is that the coach’s ties to the state affectionally referred to as “The Boot” will reinforce a recruiting pipeline from Louisiana that the program already has in place.
The Jayhawks’ current roster includes nine players from Louisiana: freshman running back Pooka Williams Jr., junior receiver Daylon Charlot, freshman cornerback Corione Harris, junior safety Mike Lee, redshirt freshman receiver Takulve Williams, sophomore safety Ricky Thomas, freshman running back Ryan Malbrough, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Malik Clark and junior long snapper Logan Klusman.
Most of them relocated to Lawrence because of the connection they felt with KU’s third-year running backs coach, Tony Hull, a New Orleans native with immeasurable recruiting connections down south, in The Pelican State.
Since signing his five-year contract with KU, Miles has appeared open to the idea of retaining members of David Beaty’s current staff.
“When I took the job at both Oklahoma State and at LSU, I kept guys because I wanted to work with them and I wanted to see what their conversation would be about their room, the guys that they coached,” Miles said at his introductory press conference. “I wanted to see how the recruiting end was going.”
Miles plans to sit down and “interview” every current assistant, presumably early next week, after KU finishes its season.
Although Miles told the Journal-World he never directly crossed paths with Hull while at LSU, he definitely heard about the head coach at New Orleans’ Warren Easton High, where Hull’s reputation blossomed.
“I know Tony Hull — not necessarily so much him, but I know guys that know him and I did research on him,” Miles told the Journal-World. “He’s a very quality person.”
Hull, also currently KU’s associate head coach, was the lead recruiter for three of the team’s most heralded signings from the past few years: Williams, Harris and Lee.
According to Miles, he didn’t have any prior relationship with those talented Louisiana prospects when he was at LSU.
“No, I think that they got recruited when I was disposed,” Miles said. “But I can tell you that I watched those guys and they're quality men, and the corner, Corione? Yeah, he's, in my opinion, he's going to grow up to be a really good player.”
During the past several months, Miles repeatedly was spotted at high school games in Louisiana.
And Lee, who remains in touch with those he knows back in his home state, thinks KU’s coaching move created some excitement there, as well.
“Coach Miles, he’s caught a lot of Louisiana guys’ attention. And most of them are going to either commit here or they’ll be thinking about committing here just because Coach Les Miles got the head coaching job,” Lee said, speaking generally on the new KU coach’s name recognition in “The Boot.”
Norman, Okla. — It’s rare to find Kansas safety Mike Lee in a bad mood.
The junior from New Orleans loves to talk, and that makes him all the more affable in a postgame interview setting. Unless you’ve just asked Lee about a specific mistake he made on the field he’ll respond to most inquires with an honest answer and a smile.
Even though the Jayhawks lost at No. 6 Oklahoma, 55-40, Saturday night at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Lee’s mood perked in the interview area near KU’s locker room because he got to spend a chunk of it discussing the exploits of fellow Louisianan Pooka Williams.
“That guy is tough. I ain’t even gonna lie to you,” Lee said after Williams, KU’s true freshman running back, rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns, averaged 16.8 yards per carry and even threw a TD pass to Jeremiah Booker.
Naturally, I thought Lee might have an opinion on another prominent man with Louisiana ties. So I asked him what he thought of the growing speculation that Les Miles will become KU’s next head coach.
“I don’t know,” a grinning Lee replied. “I ain’t worried about it. If he come, he come. If he not, he not.”
With contract negotiations between KU and the former LSU head coach reportedly in the final stages as of Friday, speculation only increased Saturday, with the help of Miles’ pal, Tim Brando, who was on the call for FOX’s OU-KU broadcast.
Nothing is official. But it sure seems as if Miles could soon be in charge of KU football. Is that good news?
“We’ll see,” Lee responded, this time laughing.
As much as he wanted to play it off, and surely had been instructed not to talk about the Miles-to-KU smoke, Lee’s face beamed during his answers. Read into his body language what you will.
As for Joe Dineen, KU’s redshirt senior hometown linebacker, who grew up watching winning football in Memorial Stadium, when Mark Mangino ran the program? Even though Dineen won’t ever play for the Jayhawks’ next head coach, you know how this all plays out really means something to him.
What does Dineen make of the Miles rumors and reports?
He all but physically bit his lip.
“Not… Not discussing that right now,” Dineen said, fighting back a smile. “Yeah, refraining from discussing that right now.”
Senior quarterback Peyton Bender took a similar stance when I asked what he thought about all the Miles chatter.
“I’m not really concerned about that right now. Just focused on next week versus Texas and finishing out this season strong,” Bender said in his typically serious interview tone.
I told him it was a well rehearsed answer. The laid back QB flashed a Mike Lee-level grin.
The Jayhawks are doing their best to tune out all the Les Miles buzz. But they’re only human. They know about it. And because they care about the KU football program they’re excited about it, too. Even if they’re not supposed to say so. Yet.
The closer the Kansas football team gets to its season opener, the more likely it seems fans who show up Sept. 1 at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium will get ample opportunities to watch freshman Corione Harris.
One of the most eagerly anticipated debuts in the program’s recent memory might kick off with Harris, a four-star cornerback from Louisiana, on the bench as a reserve. But the way his teammates and coaches speak about the young defensive back who turned down scholarship offers from Mississippi State, Florida, LSU and many other programs, it sounds as though Harris’ talents are too considerable to leave unutilized on the bench for long.
Less than two weeks into preseason camp, KU coaches haven’t yet published or discussed publicly any sort of depth chart. So whether Harris starts or enters as a substitute versus Nicholls State in week one isn’t exactly concrete at this juncture.
A 6-foot-1, 180-pound freshman, Harris joins senior Shakial Taylor; juniors Hasan Defense and Kyle Mayberry; junior transfers Elijah Jones and Elmore Hempstead Jr.; and sophomore transfer Ricky Thomas, among others, as cornerbacks vying for the most coveted spots on the two-deep.
The group’s position coach, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, likes Harris’ ability and potential, but he doesn’t broach the subject without quickly pointing out the first-year corner’s flaws, as well.
“He’s a talented kid. He’s got a long, rangy body. He has a good skillset. He’s a competitive, high-energy guy. He has tools,” Bowen began. “There’s techniques that need to be mastered and some fine-tuning. He’s not there yet; he’s not even close right now in terms of do it perfect every down mentality. But in terms of the skillset, he has it.”
What’s more, the man who will determine how much Harris plays in his first season as a Jayhawk thinks cornerback is a position where “God-given” talent factors more into a young player’s chances to succeed than his current stage of physical development.
“Let’s face it,” Bowen said. “Donkeys don’t win the Kentucky Derby, you know.”
At least for now, no one on KU’s staff wants to go on record anointing Harris, who goes by “Coe,” as a can’t-miss thoroughbred. However, when asked how realistic it would be to expect a freshman to come in and play cornerback effectively, Bowen didn’t come across as a coach ready to keep Harris off the field until he matures.
“At corner, it’s realistic. Because it’s not a position where your physical strength and physical development’s going to get tested,” Bowen said. “The things that are going to get tested are how quick your feet are and can you run. You can either do that or not. The difference between being 180 (pounds) and 200 at that position, who really cares? You’re not going to get tested physically like that. Whereas, at those big-body positions, a grown man at 21 that has some ungodly strength, I don’t care what you do, if you’re underdeveloped, he’s going to win.”
Per KU football policy, freshmen are not allowed to do interviews. But the more experienced Jayhawks who will play alongside Harris in the coming months don’t mind talking up the touted freshman’s qualities or pondering his potential as a playmaker in the secondary this fall.
“He’s a stud, man,” redshirt senior linebacker Joe Dineen said. “He’s really raw. Talentwise, it’s all there for him. Sometimes the technique, just as a freshman, gets a little off. But he’s as good as I’ve seen coming in new.”
Dineen went on to predict “big-time minutes” for the Louisiana native this season, and the linebacker, like many KU fans, is excited to see what Harris can do.
Junior safety Mike Lee, a graduate of Landry-Walker High, just like Harris, knows the freshman as well as anyone in the program. Lee, who attended Harris’ signing ceremony in New Orleans this past December, thinks his former prep teammate has adapted well since enrolling at KU this past January.
“Coe’s just doing him, playing his game. Being a competitor out there,” Lee said. “He learned the new plays. He’s getting the hang of it. He’s getting the hang of what to do and what not to do.”
It’s likely to take at least a couple years for Harris to begin to reach his full potential at the college level. Even when miscalculations inevitably pop up for him as a freshman, though, his older teammates think he has the ideal temperament to survive them and keep on developing.
“Corione, he just has that demeanor,” junior cornerback Defense said. “Like I tell everyone, corner’s all about confidence. He has that mentality that, ‘if I did get caught on one play, I’m going to come back on the next play with the same energy, same enthusiasm.’”
Harris will need to take that approach with him into every snap this season, Defense added, in order to make it as a Big 12 cornerback. And the junior figures the freshman will.
“He definitely has that,” Defense said of the psyche required to thrive, “so that’s a big plus for him.”
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.