Spring football came and went in Lawrence without anyone knowing for sure who will open the 2018 season as the starting quarterback at Kansas. But if forced today to take a stab at the winner of the competition nearly four months ahead of the Jayhawks’ season opener, the safest bet would be senior Peyton Bender.
So even though some KU football supporters might think new sophomore QB Miles Kendrick or redshirt junior Carter Stanley would be better suited for the job, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given the unpredictability of the battle, that Athlon Sports rolled with Bender when ranking the top starting quarterbacks in FBS.
A 6-foot-1 senior who began his college career at Washington State and played at Itawamba Community College (Miss.) one season before transferring to Kansas, Bender started eight games and threw for 1,609 yards (20th all-time at KU), 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while completing 54.2 percent of his 273 throws in 2017. Those numbers landed Bender at No. 108 out of 130 passers on the list.
“The Jayhawks have finished last in the Big 12 in scoring offense for eight consecutive seasons,” Steven Lassan wrote for Athlon. “Without better play under center in 2018, that streak is likely to extend to nine.”
Bender didn’t finish last among Power Five quarterbacks. That unflattering distinction went to Illinois’ Cam Thomas (116th). Another Big Ten QB, who happens to be on KU’s schedule this fall, Rutgers’ Artur Sitkowski (110th) also ranked behind Bender. The only other QB from a power conference lower than Bender was Oregon State’s Jake Luton (109th).
While Bender registered closer to 130th-ranked Kilton Anderson of Coastal Carolina, one of his Big 12 peers, West Virginia senior Will Grier, is Athlon’s No. 1 QB in the country.
The majority of the league’s other quarterbacks ended up closer to, or in, the middle of the pack: Baylor’s Charlie Brewer (32nd), Iowa State’s Kyle Kempt (33rd), Texas’ Sam Ehlinger (34th), Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray (35th), Kansas State’s Skylar Thompson (54th), TCU’s Shawn Robinson (70th) and Oklahoma State’s Dru Brown (77th). The only Big 12 QB in Bender’s neighborhood was Texas Tech’s McLane Carter (97th).
Although Bender experienced enough turmoil in his debut season with KU that he lost the starting job seven games into 2017, Stanley didn’t show enough to win the gig for himself entering the off-season, and Kansas brought in sophomore junior college transfer Kendrick to enter the fray this spring.
The battle to become KU’s starting QB could very well continue through the week of preparation leading up to the team’s Sept. 1 opener versus Nicholls State. Bender didn’t do well during his junior year when the offensive line broke down, so if the coaching staff envisions such scenarios becoming commonplace again in 2018, Bender might not end up starting.
But if head coach David Beaty and offensive coordinator Doug Meacham see enough promise and improvement up front from O-line coach A.J. Ricker’s group, it could become Bender’s job to lose. A fifth-year player — he took a redshirt his first season at WSU, in 2014 — Bender has studied and made throws in some version or other of the Air Raid longer than Stanley or Kendrick. Plus, Bender projects as the most consistent downfield passer.
If Kansas can find a way to balance its offense by featuring Khalil Herbert, Dom Williams and Pooka Williams in the run game, it might help the offense play to Bender’s strengths and make him a more effective QB.
Of course, all of those best-case scenarios hinge on the success of the offensive line, which lost center Mesa Ribordy to retirement this off-season.
As usual with KU football, more questions exist than easy solutions.
During the first couple of weeks of spring football, Kansas coach David Beaty hesitated to heap too much praise on individual players for their performances.
Though measured again in his tenor, the fourth-year KU coach found himself more willing to identify spring standouts earlier this week, having observed nine of the team’s 15 practice sessions.
When solicited to disclose which offensive players have delivered behind the closed gates of the practice fields, Beaty said several Jayhawks “have really stuck out” and “deserve to be mentioned.”
The first skill position player’s name to leave Beaty’s mouth belonged to the program’s newest quarterback, sophomore Miles Kendrick.
“His work ethic,” Beaty began, regarding the 5-foot-10 QB who transferred to KU from College of San Mateo (Calif.). “He's thrown 127 passes in the spring through team and seven-on-seven, and he's had two balls intercepted. That's not bad. That's good ball security. That means a guy's prepared and he knows what he's seeing.”
Next, Beaty lauded a pair of upperclassman receivers, both of whom are expected to feature prominently within the team’s passing game this coming fall.
“Steven Sims sticks out to me again, just athletically,” Beaty said of the 5-10 senior from Houston. “But just understanding how to become even more of a savvy route-runner, he's doing a nice job.”
The coach then pointed to 6-3 junior Evan Fairs, who began to stand out in November of 2017, with a seven-catch game at Texas and six receptions versus Oklahoma.
“I think he can be a really good player,” Beaty said of Fairs. “I really think he can. We have high hopes for him.”
Subsequently, the coach shifted his focus to what’s left of the team’s offensive line — numerous injuries at the position led KU to cancel a traditional spring game and replace it with a practice. Beaty began at left guard, with redshirt sophomore Malik Clark.
“He's kind of been forced to take more reps than probably he would like. But I think back to him coming in … he was 350-something pounds, and he's down to 325 or so (listed at 320), and he looks good,” Beaty said of Clark, a New Orleans native. “He's getting a lot of reps, and you're starting to see him improve.”
KU’s head coach also mentioned banged-up junior O-lineman Antione Frazier before extolling the development of redshirt junior Clyde McCauley, “another guy that nobody talks about very much,” Beaty said of the 6-5, 305-pound tackle, McCauley. “But he may be one of the more improved guys that we've had up front, which is good. He's going into year four for him, so you're starting to see guys' experience pay off a little bit.”
Beaty then circled back to the quarterback position and the improvement of senior Peyton Bender, calling him a “very, very talented guy,” who, like Kendrick, is completing more than 70% of his passes at practices, during team periods and seven-on-sevens.
“Some of the things that we're doing with understanding what we're seeing,” Beaty said in reference to Bender reading defenses, “I think it's really helping him.”
The coach closed his spiel by mentioning tight ends James Sosinski and Mavin Saunders, too, but actually led into his whole rundown of high-quality offensive performers by hailing the efforts of two special-teamers.
“Maybe one of the guys that is most well-respected on this team is Gabe Rui,” Beaty declared of the redshirt senior kicker who made 17 of 20 field goals and went 23-for-23 on extra points in 2017. “Now I know he is not an offensive football player, but he puts up a lot of numbers for us. He has had a terrific spring. He's really done well. His confidence is pretty impressive for a kicker.”
At an often overlooked position, long snapper, Beaty commended redshirt senior John Wirtel for reshaping his body.
“He's almost 255, 260 pounds now,” the coach said of the specialist who missed most of both the 2016 and 2017 seasons with injuries. “He's got NFL caliber. He's a talented guy. Having him back healthy has been good.”
The football offseason is all about gains.
Bigger, stronger, faster. You’ve heard the go-to individual goals for the months between one year’s finale and the next’s opener a thousand times.
Returning Kansas players are just more than a week into spring practices and have countless more workouts in front of them before pre-season camp opens late in the summer.
But numerous Jayhawks, thanks to sessions with strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin and his staff, already have added weight to their frames, per the recently-released first edition of the 2018 roster.
A number of players expected to play prominent roles on KU’s 2-deep this coming fall have increased their weight by double digits, compared to their 2017 listings, including sophomore linebacker Kyron Johnson (+10), sophomore offensive lineman Earl Bostick Jr. (+16), senior quarterback Peyton Bender (+15), junior running back Khalil Herbert (+10) and four of the team’s key receivers, junior Daylon Charlot (+14), redshirt junior Chase Harrell (+13), junior Evan Fairs (+15) and senior Jeremiah Booker (+12).
Below are the weight gains — and some losses — among Jayhawks who were on the roster last year.
— Note: Players still listed at the same weight as 2017 were not included.
|KU DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
|88 - Sr. DT J.J. Holmes — 6-3, 330||-5|
|91 - R-Fr. DE Jelani Arnold — 6-2, 255||+30|
|92 - R-Fr. DT Dai Coye Haley — 6-2, 280||-10|
|95 - Soph. DE Vaughn Taylor Jr. — 6-3, 248||+18|
|97- Soph. DE Sam Burt — 6-4, 272||+32|
|98 - Sr. DL KeyShaun Simmons — 6-2, 295||+10|
|9 - Soph. LB Kyron Johnson — 6-1, 220||+10|
|18 - R-Jr. LB Denzel Feaster — 6-3, 225||+5|
|29 - R-Sr. LB Joe Dineen — 6-2, 235||+5|
|30 - R-Fr. LB Cooper Root — 6-2, 232||+12|
|31 - Sr. LB Osaze Ogbebor — 6-1, 225||+5|
|43 - R-Fr. LB Jay Dineen — 6-2, 230||-5|
|47 - Sr. LB Keith Loneker Jr. — 6-2, 228||+3|
|KU DEFENSIVE BACKS
|1 - Jr. S Bryce Torneden — 5-10, 197||+7|
|4 - Jr. S Shaquille Richmond — 6-0, 202||+7|
|8 - Sr. CB Shakial Taylor — 6-0, 178||+3|
|11 - Jr. S Mike Lee — 5-11, 181||+5|
|13 - Jr. CB Hasan Defense — 5-11, 188||+8|
|16 - Jr. CB Kyle Mayberry — 5-10, 180||+5|
|20 - Sr. S Emmanuel Moore — 6-0, 208||+18|
|22 - Sr. S Tyrone Miller Jr. — 6-0, 188||+6|
|25 - Jr. CB Julian Chandler — 6-0, 187||+2|
|27 - Jr. CB DeAnte Ford — 5-10, 181||+6|
|28 - R-Fr. CB Robert Topps III — 6-2, 201||+11|
|45 - R-Fr. S Nick Caudle — 6-0, 191||+6|
|KU OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
|55 - Sr. OL Jacob Bragg — 6-4, 280||-11|
|60 - Jr. OL Beau Lawrence — 6-5, 315||+6|
|62 - R-Fr. OL Jack Williams — 6-3, 275||+5|
|68 - Soph. OL Earl Bostick Jr. — 6-6, 286||+16|
|71 - R-Soph. OL Cam Durley — 6-6, 315||+15|
|74 - Jr. OL Clyde McCauley III — 6-5, 305||-5|
|76 - Soph. OL Chris Hughes — 6-3, 310||+10|
|77 - Jr. OL Andru Tovi — 6-3, 320||+10|
|78 - Jr. OL Hakeem Adeniji — 6-4, 300||+10|
|79 - R-Fr. OL Joey Gilbertson — 6-4, 290||+5|
Quarterbacks, running backs and fullbacks
|KU OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD
|7 - Sr. QB Peyton Bender — 6-1, 205||+15|
|9 - R-Jr. QB Carter Stanley — 6-2, 198||+2|
|10 - Jr. RB Khalil Herbert — 5-9, 210||+10|
|15 - R-Fr. QB Miles Fallin — 6-5, 220||+10|
|25 - Soph. RB Dom Williams — 5-10,195||+5|
|26 - Sr. RB Deron Thompson — 5-9, 193||+8|
|32 - Sr. RB Reese Randall — 5-11, 220||+4|
|35 - Jr. FB Caperton Humphrey — 6-2, 225||+18|
|37 - R-Fr. FB Quinton McQuillan — 6-2, 265||+40|
|46 - R-Fr. FB Sam Schroeder — 6-0, 243||+18|
|49 - Sr. FB Hudson Hall — 6-2, 230||+10|
Receivers and tight ends
|KU RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS
|2 - Jr. WR Daylon Charlot — 6-0, 209||+14|
|3 - R-Jr. WR Chase Harrell — 6-4, 228||+13|
|6 - Soph. WR Quan Hampton — 5-8, 178||+8|
|14 - Sr. WR Kerr Johnson Jr. — 5-11, 193||+13|
|16 - R-Fr. WR Takulve Williams — 6-0, 196||+11|
|19 - Jr. WR Evan Fairs — 6-3, 210||+15|
|80 - R-Fr. WR Hunter Kaufman — 5-11, 183||+13|
|81 - Soph. WR Kameron McQueen — 6-0, 195||+5|
|83 - Soph. WR Kwamie Lassiter II — 5-11, 170||+5|
|88 - Sr. WR Jeremiah Booker — 6-2, 212||+12|
|37 - R-Fr. K Cole Brungardt — 6-5, 218||+18|
|38 - Soph. P Kyle Thompson — 6-4, 215||+5|
|39 - Sr. K Gabriel Rui — 5-11, 205||-10|
|46 - Soph. K Liam Jones — 5-10, 178||+8|
|67 - Jr. LS Logan Klusman — 6-1, 220||-10|
|87 - R-Sr. LS John Wirtel — 6-3, 250||+15|
Football coaches and coordinators have no incentive to divulge their game plans publicly, and that’s the primary reason Kansas head coach David Beaty elected this week to not announce a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game at Iowa State.
If you listen to offensive coordinator Doug Meacham’s perspective on the matter, though, the decision may have been an easy one.
Speaking with reporters Thursday, Meacham discussed how the staff came to a conclusion early in the week on whether Peyton Bender or Carter Stanley would hold the No. 1 QB spot at ISU (11 a.m. kickoff, FOX Sports Net), instead of letting it play out at practices.
“The team knows the plan. We’ve got a plan. We kind of like to keep it a little bit more internal to have that element of (Iowa State) not knowing,” Meacham began, regarding Beaty’s strategy.
So did either Bender or Stanley show the coaches something early in the week to end the QB debate ahead of schedule?
“It’s just a body of work over the course of time, you know. You still reflect back on that,” the first-year KU coordinator said. “I think Peyton was just going through a little bad spell there (in the loss to Texas Tech). I don’t think he’s necessarily just crummy for life.”
In theory, it’s possible Meacham could be floating the idea of Bender starting — without actually saying the junior transfer is still the starter — as a ploy to throw off the Cyclones (3-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12). But the more he spoke at his weekly media session, the more it seemed he’s not ready to move on from Bender.
A 6-foot-1 junior with past Air Raid experience at both Washington State and Itawamba Community College (Miss.), Bender at numerous times through five games has dumbfounded his coaches with mistakes. For example, Bender misfired on goal-line throws to both tight end Earl Bostick and receiver Jeremiah Booker just before halftime against the Red Raiders. KU’s coaches decided shortly after to play Stanley at QB the rest of the blowout loss.
“When he overthrew a 6-7 tight end (freshman Bostick, listed at 6-6) on the goal line I was a little nervous about throwing verticals,” Meacham said, with a wry chuckle. “Six-seven and he overthrows him. How do you do that?”
Bender’s two quarters worth of stats read: 12-for-24 passing, 146 yards, one touchdown, one interception, no sacks.
“He just had a bad day,” Meacham said. “You know, it’s like you shoot layups and all the sudden you miss five out of 10. Hard to answer why. You just keep shooting them.”
It was Bender’s fluctuating success that led to Stanley (11-for-19, 110 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, one sack, one lost fumble) finishing the fourth straight loss for Kansas (1-4, 0-2) instead of just entering for certain packages designed around his strengths as a mobile QB.
But the highs and lows of Bender’s play were nothing new.
“He’s just had moments of inconsistency that kind of come out of nowhere,” Meacham said. “We’ve just got to deal with it. There’s a lot of things that factor into it that kind of take the blame and kind of spread it around a little bit.”
While fans might see Bender throw the ball and have it picked off — through four and a half games of action he has completed 56.4 percent of his 202 passes while suffering eight interceptions — Meacham said a missed protection or bad route have led to some of the costly turnovers.
“Or a tipped ball,” Meacham continued. “Tipped ball, and then maybe a tipped ball. I see tipped balls all the time, from the line of scrimmage or wherever. It just seems like all the time somebody grazes the ball — I almost want to tell our guys, ‘If you don’t think you can catch it just put your hands down.’ Because we touch one, they pick it and then they score.”
A not-so-supercut of Bender’s interceptions, Meacham suggested, would leave a viewer scratching one’s head.
“That’s just like, how does that happen consistently?” Meacham said of tipped passes becoming takeaways for KU opponents. “Just freakish stuff.”
A deflection, of course, had nothing to do with a second-quarter Bender throw over the middle against Texas Tech, which Dakota Allen snagged out of the air, setting up a quick Red Raiders TD drive.
“He under-threw it. Ben (Johnson) was wide open,” Meacham said. “(Bender) just kind of panicked a little bit. If you watch the tape from the end zone the linebacker’s feet were like (more than 3 feet) off the ground, made the greatest interception of his entire life. He’ll never do that again. He jumps up in the air and just … unbelievable.”
While inaccuracy obviously has played a factor in Bender’s struggles, Meacham said he doesn’t necessarily judge the starter of KU’s first five games as an eight-interception QB.
“No, if he had (eight) picks legit and was on the wrong guy, made a horrific throw over a guy’s head and the safety picked it or he under-threw a ball or he threw it right to them (eight) times he wouldn’t be playing at all,” the man in charge of KU’s Air Raid said. “It’s just, he’s had about three of them that weren’t very good, and the rest of them are just … it’s unbelievable some of the stuff.”
Bender hasn’t produced at the level Meacham and the rest of KU’s offensive coaches hoped. That doesn’t mean they’re ready to move on from him and hand the offense over to Stanley.
“I keep thinking about the sweet’s not as sweet without a little sour,” Meacham offered, regarding how he handles the inconsistencies and turnovers. “Can’t always be good.”
As coaches tend to following any game — win or lose — Kansas football coordinators Doug Meacham and Clint Bowen saw both the positives and negatives of the Jayhawks’ season-opening victory over Southeast Missouri State when they reviewed footage after the fact.
Both spoke with media members Thursday, revealing their evaluations of a 38-16 victory.
Offensive coordinator and receivers coach Meacham began by going into the details of a solid, albeit imperfect, debut from junior quarterback Peyton Bender.
After first offering his opinion that Bender — 23-for-37 passing, 364 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions — looked “good,” Meacham immediately turned to his quarterback’s second-quarter interception as his first talking point.
“It was a great decision. That’s where his eyes should’ve been. That’s really the biggest part of all of it is him being on the right guy and triggering the right guy,” Meacham began, on Bender’s first pick, targeted for Jeremiah Booker. “He triggered the right guy and it was just a horrendous throw, which is unusual for him, because he hits the bull’s eye pretty good. He’s pretty accurate for the most part, throws a pretty nice deep ball. I don’t have an explanation for that. He just threw it way behind the guy.”
Other than that blunder, Meacham thought Bender played well, and said redshirt sophomore receiver Chase Harrell could have done a better job preventing the second interception, in the fourth quarter.
“Our receiver didn’t go up and play strong with the ball, so that was on him. But you look at the stat line and you see two picks,” Meacham said. “I think we left some points out there.”
The first-year KU coordinator went on to give examples of some other mistakes that prevented the Jayhawks from steamrolling SEMO.
“Ben (Johnson) dropped that one, had a chance to go to the crib right there. No. 3 (Harrell) makes, it’s No. 3 on ESPN,” Meacham said of Harrell’s one-handed TD grab in the first half, “and then he drops one that hits him straight in the bread basket. I don’t know what to tell you. So there’s probably another 100 yards of receiving and two more touchdowns.”
On another play, Meacham said Bender overthrew Ryan Schadler on a seam read, because the slot receiver ran a hook when he should’ve continued on a deep pattern.
“It looks like Peyton is making another bad throw when in actuality the receiver hosed him. He didn’t run a correct route. If he stays high on that route there’s another touchdown,” Meacham said. “We were close to having a better game, but it’s just a couple things. You always have four or five plays every week, even if you win or lose, there’s always that handful of plays you wish you had back.”
The former TCU and Oklahoma State assistant went on to explain passing game misfires get “magnified” but other problems inevitably show up on video, too.
“(Fans) don’t see a right guard miss a nose guard on an inside run. They see the other part, though,” Meacham said. “But I thought (Bender) played pretty good in terms of operating and having his eyes in the right spot and checks and all of that stuff. Did good.”
Kansas only rushed for 73 yards (2.9 a carry) on 25 attempts versus SEMO in its debut.
But Meacham said he wasn’t worried about KU’s progress in that aspect of the offense.
“I would have a problem with our run game if I was running into a nine-man box all day long. Then I would be upset. It’s just like, Would you get a canoe and go upstream?
“And I get it. People do it,” Meacham added. “But that’s what they do. Ohio State and LSU, that’s what they do. They’re gonna pound it and force-feed it and that’s what they do. That’s not necessarily what we do. I’m not concerned about it, no.”
First look at KU’s new cornerbacks
Week 1 also marked the KU debuts for starting cornerbacks Hasan Defense and Shakial Taylor, both of whom played at the junior college level in 2016.
Bowen wasn’t ready to thoroughly praise them, though, after Defense made five solo tackles and broke up two passes and Taylor contributed two solo stops and a pair of pass breakups.
“They did OK. We’re obviously going to face a lot better competition, though. No discredit to SEMO,” Bowen said. “But they didn’t get in there and panic. They held in there and competed and were assignment-sound. I don’t know that they were 100 percent technique-sound, but they did challenge and they did compete.”
The Big 12’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. didn’t have a monster statistical day by his standards in the opener. The all-league pass-rusher came away with three total tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries.
Of course, much of SEMO’s offensive game plan revolved around preventing Armstrong from wreaking havoc.
Bowen said he began seeing KU opponents give that much attention to the star D-lineman during his sophomore season.
“That was kind of the norm from what we were seeing out of him last year,” Bowen said of double-teams and schemes designed to limit Armstrong. “By Week 7 or 8 last year, it wasn’t too hard to figure out he was pretty good by then. What we got on Saturday was pretty much what we got all of last season.”
While sometimes SEMO simply called rushing plays away from Armstrong’s position, Bowen said there was more to the relatively small statistical output than that.
“We didn’t get a lot of drop-back pass game. We hardly got any, and when we did there was attention paid to him,” Bowen said. “That was kind of SEMO, their plan anyway. I think they did a nice job of understanding what their strengths are, and sitting in the pocket and throwing the ball downfield wasn’t going to be one of their strengths going into that game, so they didn’t do it. If you’re not good at it, don’t do it.”
No one expected Peyton Bender’s Kansas football debut to be a flawless one. Aside from perfectionist Peyton Bender. For all the positive plays the program’s new starting quarterback made during his introductory performance, as he prepares for his second game Bender is most concerned with his shortcomings — and fixing them.
By the end of a four-touchdown, 364-yard outing against Southeast Missouri State, the former Washington State and Itawamba Community College (Miss.) QB had thrown 14 incompletions and two interceptions — one in each half.
Those are the plays he’ll study and learn from most frequently in KU’s quarterbacks room this week; not the TD passes to Steven Sims Jr., Chase Harrell and Ben Johnson.
On Bender’s first turnover, in the second quarter, with the Jayhawks aiming to improve upon a 14-7 lead, he looked for junior receiver Jeremiah Booker, who had lined up wide right, and began breaking toward the middle of the field roughly 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. The ball went behind Booker, and into the hands of SEMO corner Shabari Davis.
[Check out Scott Chasen’s video breakdown of Bender’s debut at the conclusion of the blog.]
“On the first one,” Bender said Tuesday of his first major mistake with the Jayhawks, “I tried to throw it a little bit too early and didn’t let Booker get into his route long enough.”
Not that he was perfect for the ensuing two quarters, but Bender’s next costly blunder came on a throw in the fourth quarter, with the Jayhawks in position to officially put SEMO out of reach.
The QB looked deep down the left sideline for long, agile wideout Chase Harrell. Bender should have put the ball out farther in front of his target, because Harrell had no one in front of him and the speed to beat his man in a foot race to the end zone on a longer throw. Instead, Bender left it short, Harrell tried to slow down and make a play, but lost a tug-of-war for the ball to SEMO’s Al Young.
“Then on the second one I just under-threw Chase,” Bender admitted. “Those are fixable. My eyes are in the right spot on both of them. I just didn’t make the best throw.”
KU’s head coach was more forgiving of his quarterback in his assessment. David Beaty thought Bender “did a really nice job” throughout the KU win, the two interceptions notwithstanding.
“As we go back and look at the first pick that he throws, I think we were a little deep on that route, which that will affect the timing sometimes,” Beaty said. “It's just got a chance to keep you off of being on the same page when you're not at the right depth. So we've got to be better there.”
Among Bender’s 14 incompletions, Beaty admitted some balls looked under- or over-thrown as he watched from the sideline. But the coach said when he reviewed the game footage on video, missed assignments often were to blame.
“The guy just misread what was going on with the safety, and (Bender) put it right where it was supposed to be,” the coach said of his general takeaway on perceived off-the-mark passes. “If he'd have been there (a receiver read a route option correctly), it would have been a big play.”
Outside of his two give-aways, which Bender and his coaches vow to learn from, Bender felt encouraged by the offense’s 437-yard night in the first game for both the quarterback and offensive coordinator Doug Meacham.
“I thought we converted on all of our third-and-mediums, but we put ourselves in bad position on third-and-long, so we have to do a better job on first and second downs. So that’s an emphasis going into this week,” Bender said ahead of Saturday’s non-conference matchup with Central Michigan. “We just want to clean up what we can do on first and second down and make it easier for us on those third downs.”
The lack of consistency stood out to the quarterback when he went back and reviewed the video, a sign he’s striving for perfection, even after putting up the best numbers from a KU quarterback since the days of Todd Reesing.
“I think we did a lot of things well as an offense, but we also have a ton to improve on, which is a good thing,” Bender said. “I think overall we just saw glimpses of how good and explosive we can be.”
— Bender breakdown video from Scott Chasen:
Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.
The first Saturday of the Kansas football season is upon us, and so, too, is the highly anticipated KU debut of junior quarterback Peyton Bender.
Expected to be the kind of QB the program has lacked for years, Bender, a 6-foot-1 former Mike Leach protégé at Washington State, where he spent his first two seasons, has the familiarity with the Air Raid offense to not just hit the ground running, but hit the turf throwing.
Although the hundreds of quick reads and releases he has made at KU practices through the spring, summer seven-on-sevens and preseason have come almost exclusively behind closed gates, fans and everyone else who cares enough to follow the Jayhawks closely will finally see what Bender can do to invigorate a long-stumbling offense this weekend, versus Southeast Missouri State (6 p.m. kickoff, Memorial Stadium).
Third-year head coach David Beaty hasn’t said as much publicly, but Bender is the inevitable starter entering the season, and is poised to take off with the help of first-year KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, a deep receiving corps and what Beaty extols as a much-improved offensive line.
No one is proclaiming Bender as a program-altering talent, but Beaty, Meacham and his teammates often during the past several weeks have referenced the ball security displayed during practices and scrimmages.
“The thing that has stuck out to me is just management of a team, and management is a lot of things,” Beaty said of what encouraged him during camp about Bender and redshirt sophomore Carter Stanley. “The number one thing is taking care of the football, not putting the ball in jeopardy and seeing us really focus on an area that we were not very good at last year, which was throwing the ball to the other team.”
And while Bender so often is characterized as a smart read-and-react pocket passer, his position coach, Garrett Riley, says the aspiring Air Raid expert can do more than put the ball on the money.
“I’ll tell you what, Bender can really make some plays with his feet, as well,” Riley said of the former juco standout’s ability outside of the pocket.”
Bender won’t be asked to play like a young Peyton Manning, but he will be charged with distributing the ball expediently to a variety of targets.
Expect to see more moving chains and scoring drives out of a KU offense than you have in nearly a decade — if you’ve bothered keeping up that long.
The Peyton Bender era is here, and for a change, the Kansas offense shouldn’t be unbearable to watch.
KU football's top 25 difference-makers
When David Beaty leaves a preseason practice, it’s difficult for the upbeat Kansas football coach to limit the best plays he saw to one or two.
So when asked Friday morning following the Jayhawks’ scrimmage what stood out on both sides of the Ball, Beaty proceeded to identify more than a dozen players who pleased him with their contributions.
Beaty said KU emphasized a lot of situational work during the morning session, and highlighted the following athletes as standouts from his perspective.
• Travis Jordan, fr. WR: “Stuck out to me a lot. He had several targets that came at him and he had some health issues early in camp, and he’s coming back off that and he made several plays today, which were really nice plays — required strong hands and powerful attempts at the ball with guys hanging all over him. That was impressive.”
• J.J. Holmes, jr. DT: “Made a couple really nice plays in there today.”
• KU’s defense as a whole: “We were down on the goal line a few times today, and watching Joe Dineen, Mike Lee, Osaze Ogbebor, (Keith) Loneker … Daniel Wise made a couple great plays today. Those guys up front, it seems like the tighter we got down the better they played.”
• KU’s secondary: “Defensively, we’ve got to get more turnovers. But Shak Taylor still continues to show out to me, and Tyrone Miller was running around knocking people out today. Enjoyed watching him play.”
• Taylor Martin, jr. RB: “Has played really well over the last week-and-a-half. He’s been explosive. He had a couple of unbelievable runs today. Another one in that stable of backs that really is doing a good job for us.”
• KU quarterbacks: “I thought all three quarterbacks played pretty good today, made good decisions. We’ve had one interception in the last three scrimmages, and it was by a brand-new guy. It wasn’t by Peyton (Bender) or Carter (Stanley). So they’re taking care of the ball, which is something (offensive coordinator Doug Meacham) has done a great job of stressing.”
• Kerr Johnson Jr., jr. WR: “Everything gets quiet and the next thing you know he’s making a play.”
• Quan Hampton, fr. WR: “Just the little Mighty Mouse. Number six, Quan Hampton. That dude is fast,” Beaty said, mid-chuckle, “as all get-out. He is quick and he is strong. I saw him stiff-arm somebody — I’m not going to mention him, because they’ll wear him out over it. But that little dude is strong. He is really fun to watch, man. I’m excited to see what Coach Meacham does with that guy.”
• Steven Sims Jr., jr. WR: “Another one. Really good, talented guy.”
• Dom Williams, fr. RB: “Man, he had a couple of really good runs today. He’s hard to tackle now. … It was early in the scrimmage and I basically put a big challenge in front of our defense about, ‘Are you gonna be able to get this guy down? Really. I mean, he’s a freshman. Can you get him down?’ And they hit him later,” Beaty said, with a laugh. “They got him one good time, knocked the breath out of him. But that dude, he can run.”
Players’ scrimmage perspective
After Beaty spoke, a few KU players offered their thoughts on the most memorable plays from the morning’s scrimmage.
Dorance Armstrong Jr., jr. DE
“The big stops in the red zone,” the Big 12’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year said. “The offense was at the five-yard line or closer and then we would come out with two or three stops like that. I think that was the most impressive thing.”
As Beaty alluded to, Armstrong thinks the defense has a tendency to respond when the players’ backs are against the wall.
“I think that’s how we’ve been for a while,” Armstrong added. “We need it to be like that every down — not just in the red zone. I like how we’ve come together. We’re like a brick wall, nothing gets through us.”
Peyton Bender, jr. QB
“There was a third down in the red zone where we just had four verticals called,” Bender shared, “and we converted that. That kind of stood out to me that everyone was dialed in, and it was good converting on third.”
On the vertical, Bender hit redshirt sophomore Chase Harrell, listed at 6-foot-4.
“It was Cover-2 and he got a good release,” Bender said. “Hit him at about the three-yard line and he just kind of reached out his arm and got it in.”
According to the junior transfer QB, Meacham called more rushing plays than usual Friday morning, to involve running backs.
“Taylor (Martin) had a really nice run on an inside zone that he took for probably 45 or 50 yards,” Bender revealed. “So I’d say out of all the plays those two kind of stood out to me.”
Carter Stanley, soph. QB
“I haven’t watched the film yet so I can’t think of one in particular, but we had some great situations,” Stanley began. “We had our first four-minute situation of camp today, which is when the offense is up and you’re just trying to run out the clock at that point and win the game.”
In that period, Stanley said he was encouraged by the consistency of the offensive linemen in front of him.
“I don’t think we had any busts up front,” the QB explained. “We ran the ball and we converted on third down, which is nice. Got the ball out to Bobby Hartzog for some first downs, so that extended the drive.”
Now in the eighth month of their competition to become the Kansas football team’s starting quarterback, redshirt sophomore Carter Stanley and junior transfer Peyton Bender haven’t allowed the stress or length of the process get to them.
One of these days (or weeks) one of them will be named the team’s starter and the other will become a backup. Still, both say their similar personalities have allowed them to push and challenge each other on the field while also coexisting peaceably — under the same roof, no less.
Both Stanley and Bender were prep quarterbacks in Florida, and similar interests helped strengthen their bond over the past several months. Bender said they’re both into water sports and KU linebacker Joe Dineen took them and other teammates out on his boat this summer.
It’s not that the two KU quarterbacks disparage competition. Even video game sessions at their house can turn fierce. They simply both know when to turn it on and when to tone it down.
“I think when it comes to football time, as far as practice and seven-on-seven and those sort of things, we’re all-out competing,” Bender said. “We’re going head-to-head. But off the field we have similar interests and like similar things. I think that just created a friendship. And we know on the field we’re competing, but off the field we can still be friends.”
That friendship, Stanley added, allows them to work well together on and off the field as they pursue the same end goal.
“We definitely work hard together and encourage each other to improve, because we know whoever it is — who knows, shoot, it might be both of us — but just for the betterment of the team we have to be at our best so this team can be at its best,” Stanley said.
Kansas quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley doesn’t know that their sound working relationship impacts the competition positively or negatively, but he sees them out at preseason practices constantly challenging each other. Plus, their position coach is pleased to see them taking on a team-first mentality above all.
“You would think maybe it’s unnatural for them to be as close as they are. But I think we talked about it a bunch in our room and job number one is to make everybody else around you better,” Riley said. “Job number two is being a great teammate. That’s in our position room and that’s with the rest of the team, and I think they’ve really embraced that and kind of bonded off the field socially.”
The quarterbacks, of course, feel their battle intensifying of late.
Said Stanley: “I think it’s amplified a little bit, just being fall camp, just knowing you’re that much closer to the season and the potential of a decision being made.”
According to Bender their competition has been escalating since the team returned from a brief July 4 holiday.
“There’s no more breaks. We’re here until the season’s over,” Bender said, explaining that’s it hit him last month that the Sept. 2 opener versus Southeast Missouri State is right around the corner. “It’s really time to start getting serious and really get down to business.”
Their head coach has noticed at August practices both quarterbacks doing all they can to reach the top of the depth chart. David Beaty said during live segments of camp both handled game-like situations well.
“Watching those guys have to play out there by themselves with blitzes coming, and understanding, recognizing coverages, different fronts that were getting thrown at them, I thought they did a really nice job of getting into the correct checks when they needed to,” Beaty said, “getting us into the right calls, and just quite honestly taking what the defense was giving you.”
As David Beaty embarks on his third preseason camp as head coach of the Kansas football program, some areas of the roster are far more solid than others.
While Beaty should be able to operate with much greater optimism in 2017 than he did entering his first fall in Lawrence, thanks to the gradual improvements to personnel and culture brought about by he and his staff, some questions remain entering Tuesday’s first practice.
Everyone knows how impactful veteran talents such as Dorance Armstrong Jr., Daniel Wise and Steven Sims Jr. can be in the months ahead.
But, as is the case with any rebuilding program, the abilities of just a handful of players won’t allow KU to make further progress in Year 3 for Beaty.
Before the practices begin, here is one key question for every position group.
Some answers could be revealed during preseason camp. Others might take months — and wins and losses — to resolve.
Who is KU’s starting QB?
This is the biggest and most obvious question entering camp. Will incumbent redshirt sophomore Carter Stanley, who helped Kansas beat Texas late last season, beat out former Washington State QB Peyton Bender? Or will, Bender’s Air Raid background and quick release send him to the top of the depth chart?
The battle figures to be decided during the hot August practices ahead.
“Both of them are very talented,” Beaty said recently. “A little bit more similar than you’d think. Both of them move really well.
“I think that both of them are play-makers in a sense,” the coach continued, “which is something that you like to see. Neither one of them are robotic, which is something I’m really excited about.”
Who knows how many hundreds of throws Bender and Stanley will make in preseason camp. But every one will be charted and examined by Beaty, new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley, because KU needs a far more effective offense this fall.
Will Kansas have a No. 1 RB or use a committee?
You could make an argument that any of the following running backs would lead the team in rushing this season, and I’d at least listen.
The candidates are sophomore Khalil Herbert, junior Taylor Martin, true freshman Dom Williams and junior transfer Octavius Matthews.
Herbert and Martin have an edge in the experience department and both, unlike Williams and Matthews, were able to spend spring taking reps within Meacham’s offense. Both looked more powerful and polished as ball-carriers during March and April, too.
On the other hand, Williams is a versatile back whose 28 total touchdowns and 1,922 rushing yards as a senior at Class 5A Independence High (Frisco, Texas) earned him a four-star recruiting ranking from Rivals. He has enough talent and moves that he might be difficult to keep off the field.
Matthew is the wild card. At 6-foot-1, he’s the biggest back of the group. Plus, he spent 2016 in the same backfield as Bender, at Itawamba Community College (Miss.), so getting acclimated to the Air Raid won’t be an issue.
Which receivers will help Sims and Charlot open up the passing attack?
It’s been clear for some time now third-year wideout Steven Sims Jr. and sophomore transfer Daylon Charlot (formerly of Alabama) are the two best receivers on the roster. The race for No. 3 became wide open with the dismissal of would-be senior LaQuvionte Gonzalez.
Some of KU’s other receivers will have to convince opposing secondaries not to send double coverage toward Sims and/or Charlot on every throwing down.
There’s a chance junior Ryan Schadler, a former running back, could do that from the slot. And 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore Chase Harrell gives KU quarterbacks a long, agile target.
Still, with the help of their new position coach, Meacham, any number of other receivers could emerge. It’s impossible at this point to count out senior Bobby Hartzog, junior Jeremiah Booker, or junior transfer Kerr Johnson Jr. What’s more, true freshmen Quan Hampton, Kenyon Tabor, Takulve Williams and Travis Jordan will try to prove they’re worthy of the 2-deep.
And while senior Ben Johnson ins’t technically a receiver, you have to think Meacham will find ways to get the 6-foot-5 tight end way more involved than a year ago, when Johnson only caught 10 passes.
Is Charles Baldwin who Kansas thought he was?
Just like Charlot, former Alabama offensive lineman Charles Baldwin’s debut has been anticipated for almost a year now. We’ll soon find out if the projected starting right tackle, listed at 6-5 and 305 pounds, can turn KU’s offensive line into a Big 12-level unit.
Both left tackle Hakeem Adeniji and center Mesa Ribordy learned and grew as blockers while starting as freshmen (Ribordy red-shirted in 2015) a year ago.
If Baldwin lives up to the hype of his one-time five-star juco ranking at ASA College (N.Y), the offense will have an easier time staying on the field and putting together scoring drives.
Adeniji and Ribordy are the O-line’s leaders. They need Baldwin following their example and work ethic, because according to evaluators he should have the talent and size to be the best blocker in coach Zach Yenser’s group.
Which D-line co-stars will step into the spotlight?
We know preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Dorance Armstrong Jr. will find ways to dominate as a defensive end and junior tackle Daniel Wise’s combination of power and speed make him a problem wherever he lines up. But the opportunity exists for a lesser-known role player to shine, too.
Armstrong and Wise will be the focal points of every scouting report. Any number of defensive linemen — if they dedicated themselves thoroughly this offseason — could surface by making some big tackles for loss of their own this fall.
At end, junior Josh Ehambe, sophomores Isaiah Bean and Maciah Long and junior transfer Willie McCaleb are among the candidates to break out.
At tackle, seniors Isi Holani and DeeIsaac Davis have experience to build upon, while junior college transfers J.J. Holmes and KeyShaun Simmons aim to contribute, as well.
Can a true freshman become an effective Big 12 linebacker?
Junior linebackers Joe Dineen, Keith Loneker Jr., Denzel Feaster and Osaze Ogbebor likely enter preseason camp occupying the four available spots on the 2-deep. But it’s possible a true freshman could knock one of them from their slots before the season concludes.
When the name Kyron Johnson comes up in conversations with players and coaches, only positive evaluations follow.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound first-year linebacker might be undersized at this point (and we should discover soon if he’s put more weight on his frame this summer) but his speed and instincts could get him on the field ahead of schedule.
Johnson graduated from Arlington Lamar High (Texas) early in order to enroll at KU in the spring, so he’s more experienced than most freshmen already. We’ll see if he can fast-forward his development enough in practices to leapfrog his way to substantial playing time.
Other than Mike Lee, who are these defensive backs?
Actually, we know their names. We just don’t yet know what to expect out of their games.
KU’s secondary is the least-experienced group on the roster. And those are words no football coach or fan ever wants to read or hear.
Hard-hitting sophomore safety Mike Lee is the only sure talent among the defensive backs. The rest of the backfield has everything to prove.
Both starting cornerback jobs are up for grabs. Transfers Hasan Defense (sophomore) and Shakial Taylor (junior) have a chance to win them, as do sophomores Kyle Mayberry and Julian Chandler. The names of redshirt freshman Shola Ayinde and sophomore Julian Chandler also came up in corner discussions this past spring.
Lee will play more than anyone in the secondary, but it’s unclear at this point who, other than senior Derrick Neal, is most likely to earn the Saturday snaps to play back there with him at the other safety spot and/or as a nickelback. Juniors Tyrone Miller Jr. and Emmanuel Moore, sophomores Bryce Torneden and Shaq Richmond, and junior transfer Antonio Cole all seem to have a shot.