Charlie Weis' decision to name sophomore Montell Cozart Kansas University's starting quarterback for the 2014 season has everything to do with Cozart, his ability, his development and his potential and nothing to do with anything else.
The move, which Weis announced Thursday morning in a press release, was not about guys not getting the job done. It was not about senior Jake Heaps not being good enough. It was not about UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard not being what the coaches thought he was, junior Michael Cummings not being the right option or red-shirt freshman Jordan Darling not being ready.
It was all about Montell Cozart and the idea that plugging him into the starting spot — provided things go well from here — brings KU closer to competing with the rest of the Big 12, which ultimately, will determine whether Kansas can get things turned around any time soon at Memorial Stadium.
And it's a fantastic decision.
Cozart not only gives the Jayhawks a dynamic weapon who could become a nightmare for opposing defenses to plan for and play against, but naming him now also gives the Jayhawks a chance to pick up some serious momentum this summer.
After last Saturday's spring game, of which Cozart was named the offensive MVP, both Weis and Cozart spoke about the Jayhawks' QB competition still being wide open. Cozart, showing his true character, said he thought all — yes ALL — of the QBs on KU's roster were about equal and Weis said the coaching staff was in no hurry to name a starter because of the advantage it might give them to have future opponents attempt to prepare for multiple guys.
That stance, at least from Weis, changed quickly. As he noted in the press release that named Cozart the starter, Weis and KU's offensive coaching staff went through extensive post-spring evaluations and individual player meetings before reaching this conclusion.
It's tough to ask a coach or a player to make a definitive call about such an important issue right after a game, especially after a game that many believe is little more than a glorified practice.
But it's a great sign for the future of KU football that Weis wasted no more time after evaluating the spring.
I'm a Heaps guy. He has talent, is a great teammate and an even better person. And I like all of the rest of the quarterbacks on KU's roster, as well. But after seeing Cozart's development with my own eyes last weekend, it was obvious to me — and probably to hundreds of the rest of you, too — that Cozart was the clear pick.
He's not the next Robert Griffin III (at least we don't think he is) but he's by far the closest thing the Jayhawks have had to that, maybe ever. There will be growing pains ahead and Cozart will have his ups and downs. But making this call today instead of three or four months from now gives the Jayhawks, the coaching staff and, most importantly, Cozart a chance to work out some of those kinks during the summer before we even get to the fall.
Cozart is now this team's unquestioned leader at the game's most important position. And judging by the Twitter response from a bunch of his teammates — on both offense and defense — the rest of the Jayhawks are just as ready for the Cozart era to begin as Cozart and the coaching staff.
Here we go.
Just like that, another session of spring practice is in the books and, despite what the weather looks like in Lawrence today, we're moving on to the offseason, the upcoming summer and the final stretch of preparation for fall camp.
As always, the spring ended with last Saturday's spring game, an interesting battle that featured the first-string blue squad rallying from a 7-0 halftime deficit to top the white team 20-10.
For the most part, the game lacked the kind of highlights and excitement that many fans were hoping to see but it still had a ton of substance. We got our first look several newcomers, got a taste of the new offense (even if it was the kind of taste you get when testing how hot a soup is) and were able to see some of that depth the KU players and coaches have talked about throughout the spring.
Based off of Twitter, message boards and several reader comments, it seems as if there's some disappointment out there about the way the spring game went down. That's understandable, given the fact that most hope and expect to see fireworks and offensive explosions during these types of games and we saw an entire half played with just seven points scored. But it's important to remember that, with this KU team, the defense is way ahead of the offense, which has been using its current playbook for just five weeks. Remember, to the coaches and players the spring game is just another practice. Yes, it comes with a little more pizazz but they really do treat it as another opportunity to evaluate, execute and get better. As with any practice, there were good moments and bad, so putting too much stock into this game — particularly its outcome — is missing the point. There's still a load of time remaining before this team really needs to be clicking. Having said that, I do think this team is in better shape at this point in the season than any of the KU teams we've seen around here during the past four years.
1 – Sophomore QB Montell Cozart showed how much he's grown. Forget the fact that Cozart was by far the best quarterback in the game and that his stats were among the best on the entire roster. Let's look quickly at his development. He looked calmer, more poised, more in control and really showed how much he has matured in a relatively short time. Instead of just running around and trying to make plays as an athlete, he's now looking to make plays as a quarterback – eyes up, vision downfield, ready to run when it's there. That's a great sign for both him and the Jayhawks and it was on full display in this one. Beyond that, he may not be the most rah-rah guy, but it's clear that he's respected as a leader, as well.
2 – The defense looked pretty solid overall. It would be easy to look at the 20-10 final score and say the offenses fell flat, but the KU defense — both the first teamers and the second-string guys — had a little something to do with that. The blue team, which was punked a little by the second-string offense in the first half, stepped up after halftime and really slammed the door the way they should have. The secondary played tough throughout the game and showed its ability to lock up in coverage with Dexter McDonald and Kevin Short leading the way. There were also plenty of moments where the DBs showed they're more than willing to step up and support the run. As for the white team, there were a bunch of guys who stood out there, too, which not only seems to suggest that some of that depth is legitimate but also that, with these guys pushing the first unit, that group will keep getting better, too.
3 – KU's running game looked good yet again (even without James Sims) but I thought senior Taylor Cox was as impressive as anybody. Running behind a second-string offensive line, Cox rumbled for 63 yards on 15 carries and made the most out of every carry. He reminded me a lot of Sims the year he had been suspended and played with the white team during the spring game. And he also reminded me to not count him out of this running race. Brandon Bourbon (96, 12) and Darrian Miller (50, 7) handled blue team carries and I'm pretty high on juco transfer De'Andre Mann, who will be on campus this summer. But Cox's style and demeanor have always impressed me and that certainly held true last Saturday, especially when you consider that the guy has been dealing with an injury for most of the spring.
1 – The optimists out there would point to the white team's domination of the first half and say that's a good sign about the team's overall depth. And even though that may be true, it's not what you want to see from the first unit. I'm willing to give the blue squad a pass for a couple of reasons — they rallied and played much better in the second half and, as we mentioned above, it was just a practice — but the better outcome for the program as a whole would have been for the blue squad to come out and roll. It didn't happen and now a bunch of those questions about this team that probably would have been there anyway will linger throughout the summer and into the 2014 season.
2 – Senior quarterback Jake Heaps (3-for-9 for 41 yards) looked pretty average throughout the game. I've heard that Heaps looked good this spring overall — especially at the beginning — but he didn't look much different on Saturday than the guy we saw play in 2013. He had trouble avoiding pressure, had to throw the ball away too often and looked a little stuck in the mud. He had a few good moments and did lead one touchdown drive, but he did not use his arm strength to stand out and that's his biggest advantage over fellow blue team QB Montell Cozart. There's still a long way to go before the Jayhawks name a starter and KU coach Charlie Weis said the coaching staff wouldn't make a decision based on one day. But it's hard to look at what went down on Saturday and not think that Heaps has fallen behind.
3 – It's just one miss and it probably will soon be forgotten, but it's the last thing the Jayhawks needed. When place kicker Matthew Wyman missed an extra point midway through the third quarter after a blue team touchdown by Montell Cozart, it sent thoughts of KU's recent struggling in the kicking soaring back into the minds of many KU fans. Wyman, one of the heroes of last year's Louisiana Tech victory, made the rest of his PATs and also hit a short field goal, but, at this point, place kicking still has to be considered a question mark, which could make the summer arrival of expected walk-on John Duvic a welcomed sight.
• Junior cornerback Kevin Short looks like a big-time player. He's big, athletic, can cover and has some serious swagger.
• Greg Allen looks like a completely different guy. The biggest reason the nickel back appears to be playing so well? Confidence.
• Several running backs and wide receivers made an impact in this one as blockers, most notably Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon, who both had key blocks to help spring Cozart for key runs.
• The wide receivers looked pretty good and like a much improved group. Senior Nick Harwell is a difference maker. He gets open and makes catching passes look ridiculously easy. Justin McCay and Andrew Turzilli were pleasant surprises and the passing game looked pretty decent without Tony Pierson or Rodriguez Coleman factoring in much at all.
• Center Joe Gibson was pretty impressive for the white squad. And even though the blue team's O-Line didn't stand out, that's not always bad news.
• I actually thought junior Michael Cummings looked pretty good at QB for the white squad. He still throws the ball way too hard at times but he was decisive on the move and attacked the first-string defense with confidence. He's not going to become the starter, but it's clear that this guy is still competing to be relevant out there.
• Senior tight end Jimmay Mundine did exactly what I think we'll see him do a lot this season. He sat down in open spots, made sure-handed grabs and got as much as he could after the catch.
• The defense as a whole — white and blue — really looked to be flying to the ball more. You didn't see many cases where just one guy made a tackle. It was often three or four guys right there to bring a ball carrier down.
• Ben Heeney's numbers were modest (4 tackles) but he had a couple of moments that made you think he's still the best player on this defense.
• I was impressed by the active nature of both Tyler Holmes and Colton Goeas. Heard their names called a lot. Both are athletic, big dudes who could be a key part of KU's depth.
KU's fall camp opens in roughly three and a half months and the 2014 season kicks off 146 days from today.
By now, you've all surely heard that former Kansas University assistant coach and one of the school's all-time great players landed a head coaching job at Wake Forest after two successful seasons at Tulsa.
The stories we posted got a lot of hits and comments and, as has been the case since the late 80's, everyone in Jayhawkland seemed to be pretty pumped for Manning, his family and the handful of KU alums on his coaching staff.
Now, take that excitement and happiness and multiply it by 100. That's the kind of reaction that Manning received at Wake Forest, where students, players, administrators and fans of the program welcomed him with open arms and some serious celebrations.
Below are a few videos and links to some of Wake's coverage of Manning's arrival. It's worth a look, just as Manning is worthy of that job.
The folks at Wake even threw together this "Manning 101" infographic:
And, finally, here's a link to the photo gallery from Manning's big day:
After going through much of the spring without getting a look at the 2014 version of the Kansas University football, we got a peek and then some on Saturday morning.
Not only as the media able to attend the annual Hannah & Friends football clinic where the Jayhawks and dozens of local people with different abilities ran through football drills and had a rocking good time, but we also were treated to more than an hour of an actual practice, complete with individual drills, one-on-one competitions and seven-on-seven scrimmage.
There was too much out there to waste any more time leading into what I saw, so let's just get right to it. Short and sweet, but it should give you answers to a bunch of questions about this team.
Make sure you scroll down to the bottom for my best guess at what the current spring depth chart looks like, based mostly off of what I saw today.
• It looks as if senior Jake Heaps and sophomore Montell Cozart have established themselves as the top two quarterbacks. Both took reps with the first team on Saturday and Heaps was the first to go out there. After that, Michael Cummings took the next most reps followed closely by UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard.
• Offensive line coach John Reagan looks like a difference maker. He coaches with a style that is 100 percent hands-on all the time and he really emphasizes little details and gives great one-on-one attention to every player in his group. Check next week for another blog entry about Reagan. I was so impressed by what he did and how he did it that I think it warrants its own blog.
• The new KU passing game, which was featured during seven-on-seven drills, includes a variety of short, intermediate and deep routes and uses the entire field, sideline to sideline. The tempo is good, the routes appear to be simple but effective and the quarterbacks (all of them) really seemed to have a good feel for how the offense is run and how the routes develop.
• The first-string defense that KU used on Saturday featured five defensive backs and included seven seniors and four juniors.
• It may just be spring practice, but it's obvious that these guys have been working hard. Many guys look bigger and leaner and almost the entire roster gave maximum effort on every drill.
• You might have read the coaches' comments about sophomore defensive back Greg Allen having a great spring. Now I see why they were so impressed. Allen is playing with a ton of confidence and even a little swagger right now. He's big, physical and appears to be playing on instinct rather than having to think.
• It's a minor detail, but I overheard defensive backs coach Dave Campo getting after newcomer Ronnie Davis a little bit during the seven-on-seven portion of practice. It wasn't Campo's ribbing that caught my ear, rather what he said. He pointed out that Davis' feet are too good to allow a receiver to beat him to the inside and such a comment along with when he took his turn during drills leads me to believe Davis already is a second-string cornerback in KU's secondary.
• Before seven-on-seven got under way, the wideouts and DBs did a few rounds of one-on-one battles. The best battles by far were: Tony Pierson vs. Dexter McDonald; Nick Harwell vs. JaCorey Shepherd; and Rodriguez Coleman vs. Kevin Short. Each guy won a battle or two during the time these guys locked up but it was the all-out competitiveness that existed between them that most impressed me.
• I already talked about Reagan and how he coaches the offensive line, but it's worth pointing out a couple of things about the players he coaches. Walk-on center Joe Gibson has good size and appears to be in an intense battle with juco transfer Keyon Haughton at center. Haughton appears to be a little more polished and comfortable at the moment, but this one could go on for a while. Pat Lewandowski worked with the first team at left tackle and he looks a little more cut than what he played at last season. Senior Zach Fondal seems to be right there with him, competing for the job, though, so that one is far from settled. Mike Smithburg and Ngalu Fusimalohi appear to be locked in at the guard spots (both have added five pounds) and Damon Martin looks very good at right tackle. If today is any indication of how the rest of the spring has gone, it's safe to say the offensive line is coming together much more quickly and much nicer than the group did last year.
• Another new coach who I got my first look at on Saturday was wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau and I was nearly just as impressed by him as I was Reagan. Kiesau is active during drills and he goes out there and physically demonstrates how he wants things to be done and what he wants his guys to do. It was just an hour of one practice, but the receiving corps looks a lot better already.
• Nothing major here either, but the guys who went back to field punts during the final session we saw were: Tre' Parmalee, Isaiah Johnson, Nick Harwell and Kevin Short. All except Parmalee are projected starters elsewhere on the field and all should be in the mix for the job come fall.
• Here's a quick look at some seven-on-seven stats (which might very well be meaningless but give you an idea of how the passing game looked): Passing — Jake Heaps 4-for-7; Montell Cozart 1-for-5; Michael Cummings 3-for-4; T.J. Millweard 3-for-4. Receiving — Rodriguez Coleman 4 receptions on 6 targets; Nick Harwell 2 receptions on 3 targets; Tre' Parmalee 2 receptions on 2 targets; Andrew Turzili 2 receptions on 2 targets; Justin McCay 1 reception on 1 target; Jordan Shelley-Smith 0 receptions on 1 target; Tony Pierson 0 receptions on 4 targets; Trent Smiley 0 receptions on 1 target. Defensive Pass Break-Ups — Dexter McDonald 3 (1 interception), Jake Love 1, Kevin Short 1.
All right, now onto my best guess at the current depth chart, which has probably changed a lot over the spring and, no doubt, will change some more when the rest of the 2014 recruiting class arrives this summer.
WR Nick Harwell 6-1, 193, Sr.
Tre' Parmalee 5-10, 175, Jr.
LT Pat Lewandowski 6-5, 290, Sr.
Zach Fondal 6-5, 295, Sr.
LG Ngalu Fusimalohi 6-2, 315, Sr.
Bryan Peters 6-3, 295, Jr.
C Keyon Haughton 6-2, 300, Jr.
Joe Gibson 6-3, 295, RS-Fr.
RG Mike Smithburg 6-3, 305, Sr.
Joey Bloomfield 6-6, 295, RS-Fr.
RT Damon Martin 6-3, 305, Jr.
Brian Beckmann 6-6, 300, Soph.
TE Jimmay Mundine 6-2, 240, Sr.
Ben Johnson 6-5, 235, RS-Fr.
RB Brandon Bourbon 6-1, 225, Sr.
Darrian Miller 5-10, 195, Jr.
QB Jake Heaps 6-1, 210, Sr.
Montell Cozart 6-2, 195, Soph.
WR Tony Pierson 5-10, 175, Sr.
Andrew Turzilli 6-3, 194, Sr.
WR Rodriguez Coleman 6-3, 190, Jr.
Justin McCay 6-2, 210, Sr.
LC Kevin Short 6-2, 190, Jr.
Ronnie Davis 6-0, 185, Jr.
NB JaCorey Shepherd 5-11, 190, Sr.
Greg Allen 5-11, 210, Soph.
LE/T Andrew Bolton 6-3, 285, Jr.
Tyler Holmes 6-3, 280, Soph.
N Keon Stowers 6-3, 297, Sr.
Tedarian Johnson 6-2, 290, Sr.
RE/T Ben Goodman 6-3, 250, Jr.
T.J. Semke 6-2, 265, Jr.
BUCK Michael Reynolds 6-1, 240, Sr.
Victor Simmons 6-1, 225, Sr.
RC Dexter McDonald 6-1, 205, Sr.
Brandon Hollomon 5-10, 175, Jr.
SS Isaiah Johnson 6-1, 210, Jr.
Tevin Shaw 5-11, 192, Soph.
MLB Ben Heeney 6-0, 230, Sr.
Colton Goeas 6-2, 245, RS-Fr.
WLB Jake Love 6-0, 220, Jr.
Schyler Miles 6-2, 235, Jr.
FS Cassius Sendish 6-0, 195, Sr.
Fish Smithson 5-11, 190, Soph.
While the news about Danny Manning being hired by Wake Forest obviously is a big deal for the former Kansas University star and assistant coach, it's also potentially huge news for another former Jayhawk.
Brett Ballard, a former KU player and assistant in his own right, now sits in the win-win position of either moving on with Manning to Wake Forest or gunning to become the next Tulsa head coach himself.
Ballard, 34, may be considered a longshot for the job given his lack of Div. I head coaching experience, but those who know him know that he is absolutely ready for this kind of challenge.
For Ballard, the chance to run his own program at this high of a level at this point in his career would be considered a major coup. But he should not be overlooked simply because of his age. He's one of the sharpest guys I know and has dedicated himself completely to every coaching position he's ever had. From his time as the KU video coordinator who used to hit up his friends for VCR help back in the VHS days to his two seasons as the head coach at Baker University, where he engineered a strong turnaround and brought a new kind of commitment, discipline and standard to the BU program, Ballard always has seemed to be on the right path to a coaching career.
Ballard also has proven his mettle in different roles along the way, most notably KU's director of basketball operations. And few young assistants have the kind of sterling resume that Ballard has, having played under Roy Williams and coached under Williams, Bill Self and now Manning. You don't spend as much time as Ballard has around those guys (and several top-flight assistants) without picking up a few tricks of the trade.
Look no further than former KU assistant and current Southern Illinois head coach Barry Hinson for proof of that.
“It’s a mini-Kansas,” said Hinson of Ballard's time at Baker during an interview with KUsports.com's Tom Keegan. “They’re running all of our stuff, and they’re running it great. Matter of fact, I’m sitting here thinking, ‘Gosh, some of the stuff they’re running better than we are.’ And, obviously, you can see he’s got a touch of coach Self in him because here we are with two minutes to go in the ballgame and the other team has 38 points.”
For Tulsa, hiring Ballard would be a gamble but it would give the Golden Hurricane an opportunity to obtain something they have struggled to find throughout the years — consistency and stability.
Known as a launching pad for some future big-time coaches — Manning very well may be en route to becoming the latest — hiring Ballard would give Tulsa the chance to lock up a young coach who likely would be very happy to stick around for several years while building both his own career and the program. It also would give TU the chance to keep alive the momentum that Manning created during the past two seasons and be a strong hire for the hope of keeping Tulsa's talented roster in tact.
What's more, Ballard probably could be had for relatively cheap, leaving room to hand out more money to top-notch assistants who have strong experience in Ballard's perceived areas of weakness.
Beyond that, it's not as if hiring guys around Ballard's age is at all unheard of. Current Florida coach Billy Donovan got his first Div. I coaching job at age 28 (Marshall), Shaka Smart was hired by VCU at 32, Richard Pitino was hired by Minnesota at age 30, Kevin O'Neill was hired by Marquette at age 32 in 1989 and that same school just recently announced the hiring of 37-year-old Steve Wojciechowski, who comes from Duke and has no head coaching experience.
Although it was Manning's name, vision and direction that engineered the Tulsa turnaround that led the Golden Hurricane back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 in just the staff's second year, Ballard was his top aide from Day 1 and put in the kind of time and effort that made it abundantly clear that he not only was serious about his craft but also capable of making an impact at a big-time program.
The Tulsa opening is a great job and it will attract all kinds of fantastic candidates, both up-and-comers in the business and older, veteran-type guys who may be looking for one last stop to settle into. The TU administration will have several good choices as it seeks to fill the vacancy created by Manning's departure.
Even if he's not the guy they end up going with, Ballard should be one of the guys TU strongly considers.
By now, you've surely heard KU football coach Charlie Weis and offensive line coach John Reagan say — on separate occasions — that they have eight offensive linemen that they feel pretty good about at this point in the spring.
With five spots making up an O-line that means the Jayhawks are potentially set with a starter and a back-up at three spots and looking for help at two others.
One of the most important things to remember about KU's new-look offensive line under John Reagan is prototypes need not apply. Sure, Reagan would love to have a 6-foot-6, 340-pound left tackle who moves like a middle linebacker and wreaks havoc like the Incredible Hulk, but that guy is not on the roster. So there's no point in worrying about him.
Reagan's focus is on finding the five best linemen and then finding a way to make them work together up front to protect the quarterback and open holes for the guys in the backfield. If that means they're undersized at one spot or another, Reagan likely won't lose too much sleep over it because his goal is to put the best five guys out there and I can't see him letting anything change that.
With that in mind, let's dive into the math and use a little logic to predict what things might look like as the KU offensive line heads into the final third of spring practice.
Here's a quick guess, in alphabetical order, at the identity of the eight guys Weis and Reagan were talking about followed by how they might fit into the plans:
Brian Beckmann — 6-6, 300-pound Sophomore, Overland Park
Zach Fondal — 6-5, 295-pound Senior, Navarro College
Ngalu Fusimalohi — 6-2, 315-pound Senior, CCSF
Joe Gibson — 6-3, 295-pound RS-Freshman, Rockhurst
Keyon Haughton — 6-2, 300-pound Junior, Georgia Military College
Pat Lewandowski — 6-5, 290-pound Senior, Overland Park
Damon Martin — 6-3, 305-pound Junior, Arlington, Texas
Mike Smithburg — 6-3, 305-pound Senior, Iowa Western
This still seems to be a question mark (perhaps the biggest question mark on the team) but it's not necessarily because of a lack of bodies. Fondal and Lewandowski both spent time at left tackle in 2013, but that might not necessarily be a good thing given the struggles KU's O-Line endured last season. It makes sense to suggest and expect that both guys have improved a great deal in the offseason, both in terms of getting stronger and into better physical shape and in terms of their comfort and familiarity with the position. Both were going through things as front-line guys for the first time and although both have good size and athleticism, they definitely need to be more consistent to make a difference at one of the team's most important positions.
Weis said early this spring that Fusimalohi had emerged as a leader on the line, most likely as one of those lead-by-example-and-raw-energy kind of guys. So it's safe to assume he'll be pencilled into the same spot where he started 12 games a season ago. It seems they may still be searching for Fusimalohi's back-up, but junior Bryan Peters is a name to keep an eye on there. He doesn't have any game experience but he has been in the program for a few years and could be ready to play a role.
In addition to being one of the O-line's most important positions, center is also one of the most intriguing. With two guys with next to no experience battling for playing time, it could come down to whichever guy shows more consistency, even if one of them is a better physical or mental option. The candidates appear to be Gibson, the former walk-on whom former line coach Tim Grunhard and several teammates have talked up quite a bit during the past six months, and juco transfer Haughton, who arrived in January and so impressed Weis early on that the KU coach openly said the young man would play a lot and we'd be writing about him. There might not be two guys on this team who spring ball is more important to.
Smithburg, who started eight games at right guard in 2013, returns a year old, wiser and stronger and seems to be a likely choice to settle back into this spot for his senior season. Earlier this week I talked to Smithburg about this spring compared to last and although he said it was “just another spring,” he also said it felt weird being considered one of the leaders because of age alone. That's not to say he's not ready for the role. Smithburg's a no-nonsense kind of guy who doesn't mind mixing it up and should be much more comfortable in his role now that he has a full year — on the field and in the weight room — under his belt.
Martin is one of the more intriguing prospects at this position and he could be a diamond in the rough waiting to be unleashed. Weis said a couple of weeks ago that if Martin was not the team's starting right guard he'd be the team's starting right tackle. Provided the junior from Arlington, Texas, hasn't done anything to back Weis off of that stance, I like him at tackle because of the strength of KU's other guards and Martin's physical strength. Beckmann's young, but he's physical and athletic and might be ready to slide into a back-up role.
Although they're not here for spring ball, the Jayhawks have a handful of offensive linemen coming this summer who could provide instant depth and seem to have bright futures. They are: Devon Williams — 6-4, 340-pound Junior, Georgia Military College; Apa Visinia — 6-4, 380-pound Freshman, Grandview, Mo.; and Jacob Bragg — 6-4, 305-pound Freshman, Naogdoches, Texas.
Tuesday afternoon marked our second chance this spring to chat with a handful of Kansas University football players and all five offensive position groups were represented.
As the Jayhawks prepared for their ninth practice of the spring, several offensive players discussed the team's progress thus far and the evolution of offensive coordinator John Reagan's new offense.
Here are a few things that caught my ear, while remembering that Saturday morning will be our first chance to actually see some of these players and things in action, so be sure to check the site (or at least this blog) at some point over the weekend for some coverage from that.
• Nothing has been announced and we're probably still a little ways away from a decision, but the confidence that Jake Heaps is carrying himself with these days is impressive. I've been saying that Heaps would win the QB job since December and I still feel that's the case, but hearing him talk about the offense, his confidence, his excitement and the way things have gone this spring make me believe he's the guy. That's not a knock on Montell Cozart, T.J. Millweard or any of the other QBs. More just a read that Heaps has done well this spring and has put himself in a position to enter his senior year as KU's starting quarterback. Time will tell.
• Speaking of Cozart, I got a chance to catch up with him today, too, and the more I talk with the young man, the more I like him. Aside from learning that he's currently going for the Mohawk look at the urging of his mother, Cozart also has become a much more confident quarterback than the guy who stepped onto the field as a wide-eyed freshman in 2013 and had plenty of good moments and a handful of bad ones, as well. Cozart said he's more patient now than ever before and that patience has allowed him to be a better passer. He has more command in the pocket, trusts receivers more and sees the field better.
• If I had to guess today, I'd say Heaps is currently atop the depth chart and Cozart is pencilled in at No. 2. Again, though, that's a guess and that's today. Still lots of time left for the competition to rage on.
• During recent years, the quarterback position at KU has been full of guys who like to have a good time and who have great chemistry and it seems like that's still true. Cozart said he and Heaps have a great relationship and he stressed that all five quarterbacks on KU's roster (Michael Cummings and Jordan Darling included) go out of their way to try to help each other out and push each other, everywhere from the weight room to the practice field. Cozart said the group, including QB coach Ron Powlus, is extremely competitive and during a recent practice they went after each other in a competition that involved throwing 40-yard fade routes into trash cans. It sounds like Powlus had won the competition before that one (an accuracy drill) so the young guys tried to make sure to take care of business in the fade competition. It's that kind of atmosphere that makes guys better and it sounds like these guys are having a lot of fun while pushing each other at the same time.
• It was good to see junior running back Darrian Miller again on Tuesday. He looks good and seems to be in good shape. During the session, Miller was asked if he expected to be able to make it through a full season in 2014 without some sort of off-the-field issue creating problems. His answer was great to hear both from a football standpoint and from the standpoint of hoping the young man is in a good place.
“I know for sure I’ll be here for the whole year," Miller said. "I’m glad I got to leave and go home and take care of that and that was one of the best things. I definitely think I’ll have a good year. I didn’t want to leave the team high and dry, but everyone was understanding and Bourbon did a great job of coming in and taking over and James did a great job of doing what he was doing. So everything worked out”
Asked if it felt like he had been playing catch-up since returning, Miller's response was again rock solid.
“No it didn’t," he said. "Because when we came in coach Reagan came in at the same time and we all just started fresh and hopped on the new offense and we’ve been going from there.”
• Senior offensive lineman Mike Smithburg said it was an odd feeling falling into a leadership role because of his age despite just having been here for one full year now. Smithburg, who likely is one of the eight guys up front that Reagan and KU coach Charlie Weis have said they feel good about, said that role has fallen on the older guys almost by default. That includes him and Ngalu Fusimalohi, whom Weis said had emerged as a leader earlier spring, as well as junior Damon Martin. Smithburg did not divulge which guys were playing where as of this time but said he's been playing inside, which was his expected landing spot. Smithburg said the group has made it a point to make chemistry a priority this spring and they've been doing all kinds of extra things away from the football complex to reach that goal. Not surprisingly, one of their favorite bonding rituals is going out to eat together, most often at 23rd Street Brewery.
• Wide receivers Nick Harwell and Rodriguez Coleman were two of the more popular players available at Tuesday's media session and both said they felt good about the progress KU's receivers have made under first-year WR coach Eric Kiesau. Harwell talked a lot about his path and his progression while at Kansas and had some interesting comments about his role as a leader, both at the position and of the team.
“I guess it came out because of my past performances,” the Miami (Ohio) transfer said. “I didn't go out there with the intent on being a leader. I just wanted to compete with those other guys, try to bring them up with me and basically be a leader off of skill.” Because his career statistics outshine those of all of KU's other receivers combined, Harwell has become a natural front-line guy and does not appear to be shying away from that role.
So 2 p.m. central time Monday (or today, depending upon when you're reading this) is the official time for the announcement we've all known was coming since last May.
All signs point to Kansas University freshman Andrew Wiggins being headed to the NBA.
Almost everyone I know, along with many of you I don't, accepted this fact a long time ago and most people did not have much issue with the fact that Wiggins' time in Lawrence was going to last one season, win, lose or draw.
So here we are at the end of the road. All that's left to do now is make it official, which Wiggins will do at Allen Fieldhouse on Monday next to head coach Bill Self, who likely will be sitting there with one heck of a smile on his face.
For all of the things Self does well, this is one of his more underrated areas of strength. Never does he make a young man's decision to stay or go pro about him or the program or winning. It's always about the kid. And even if Self really is sad to see a guy go, you'd never know it on announcement day.
Today's press conference is as much for Self and KU as it is for Wiggins. Sure, Wiggins has to make his intent to enter the draft official, but he could do that in a statement or even a phone interview. Having him sit in the Allen Fieldhouse media room one more time, in front of the Jayhawk backdrop, with all of the local media there is nothing but good news for Kansas and its future recruiting.
It'll probably last about 10-15 minutes and Wiggins will gush about KU, all he learned while he was here and why Kansas was absolutely the right school for him to choose. The best part about it is it will all be very genuine. Everything about Wiggins has been since the moment he first stepped on campus and I can't see him going out any other way.
Future one-and-dones will be listening and watching, and even if they're not, they'll surely read or hear his comments at some point in the near future. Whether they realize it or not, Wiggins' words will stick with them in some manner.
There was a time when these things felt a little strange at KU. People still held out hope that the announcements would favor KU and shock the world. These days, they're old hat, as common as listening to Self stress how tough winning the Big 12 yet again is going to be at the beginning of a new season.
Monday's announcement will favor KU, but not because a superstar is sticking around. It will favor KU because that superstar will say everything Self and the program need him to say on his way out the door — and he'll mean every word.
When the press conference was announced late Sunday night, I posted on Twitter the details and told my followers I'd let them fill in the rest... Here's a quick look at some of the best and most laugh-inducing responses:
• He's obviously a four year player Matt
• Mission trip then back another year....
• Skipping the NBA draft to go barnstorming with Niko, Tarik and Justin obviously.
• Redshirt is obvious
• 2? 2 = second year of college obviously
• Maybe he will say he's no where near ready for the NBA... Lol and his teammates as well
• Self is going pro and Wiggins will coach through graduation?
• He should announce it early so we don't start believing he is coming back
• Come back!
• The Decision Part II. Why isn't ESPN televising this?
A few quick thoughts from today's news conference with KU football coach Charlie Weis and a handful of offensive assistant coaches.
The Jayhawks returned to practice for Day No. 5 on Sunday night and are out there for Day No. 6 this afternoon.
We did learn today that we'll get an opportunity to watch practice on April 5, so between that and the spring game on April 12, we'll soon get a lot of live, visual action to go along with what we're hearing.
For now, though, another installment of “What Caught My Ear.”
• Although there remains a long way to go, it seems like the quarterback battle is becoming clear. Weis did not go into detail about who was doing what, but he did say the separation at the position has been easy to spot. The guess here, as it has been all along, is that Jake Heaps, T.J. Millweard and Montell Cozart, in that order, have established themselves as the main contenders in the race.
• Speaking of the offense, I thought it was interesting that Weis pointed out that he is doing his best to stay out of the way during practice and is letting the offense be put in by the offensive coaches. That's not to say he doesn't have input. But his input comes before or after practice, not during. What's more, he said he has spent the better part of his time during practices watching the areas of greatest concern, specifically the offensive line, the wide receivers and the defensive line.
• As is the case with the QB battle, there's a long way to go and a lot of competition still to be had at the RB spot, but Weis said senior Brandon Bourbon has done a nice job of transitioning back into a full-time running back role. Bourbon spent much of last season playing the F position, which primarily was used in the passing game, but he entered the spring as the No. 1 running back on the depth chart and appears to be doing well there.
• Speaking of depth charts, we haven't receive one yet, but Weis said the players are well aware of where they stand.
• Quickly, a few notes about specific players:
--- Weis said sophomore defensive back Greg Allen has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the spring. He's done well behind Kevin Short at nickel back, so well, in fact, that Weis said he would feel comfortable moving Short to cornerback if the need came up.
--- Senior wide receiver Justin McCay is working at the No. 2 spot behind junior Rodriguez Coleman, whom Weis said has been one of the best performers on the offense all spring. A big thing for McCay is learning that he and Coleman are different players and will be asked to do slightly different things. Weis credits wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau for doing a solid job of helping McCay understand that.
--- Senior wide receiver Tony Pierson has taken his first couple of hits this spring in live action and, evidently, responded well. Weis reiterated that he was not going to be careless with Pierson in the spring and that he would have him go through a lot of days with the no-contact rule. But he also said that Pierson getting that first big hit out of the way was good for his mindset and should help him reach a full recovery from his concussion issues much sooner.
It seems fitting that in the hours following KU's 60-57, season-ending loss to Stanford in the round of 32 at the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis, that snow is falling in Lawrence on a rather gray day.
After all, the end of the college basketball season — no matter when it comes — almost always brings a serious stretch of mourning to Kansas fans.
Given the inconsistent nature of this year's team and the fact that they were trying to survive and advance without their most important player — freshman center Joel Embiid — it's not all that surprising that the Jayhawks did not advance to this weekend's games in Memphis. What is surprising, though, is the way they bowed out. I'm still scratching my head and trying to figure out how the Jayhawks lost to Stanford and why they could not use their athleticism, quickness and a faster pace to run past the Cardinal into the Sweet 16.
I'm sure I'm not alone.
With that said, here's the final Day After blog of the 2013-14 season. As you surely know by now, just because basketball season has ended does not mean our coverage of the team will with it. Thanks to Gary Bedore's 24/7/365 dedication along with steady insight and stories from Tom Keegan, Benton Smith and me, you'll be able to find plenty of KU basketball news right here on KUsports.com as you wait for another season to arrive.
Now, onto one more look back at what brought an abrupt end to a wild season.
To me, the most glaring reason the Jayhawks fell to Stanford in the round of 32 was not the Cardinal's size or their experience or even the fact that the Jayhawks missed so many shots at and around the rim. To me, it was the product of the one thing that plagued the Jayhawks — at least at times — all season long. This team was full of nice, team-first guys who wanted others to succeed and did not necessarily have the cut-throat mentality to go out and kick somebody's butt. That's not a knock. I enjoyed this team a lot. It is, however, something that can hurt you in the NCAA Tournament, when other teams are gunning for you with every ounce of their fiber and you need that one guy to step up and carry you through a rough day. Tarik Black certainly tried to be that guy in his final game, and, had he not fouled out, I believe KU would have won. But he did. And Stanford made a few more plays. I'm sure that this was one of those games that KU's players would rather have lost by double digits. Because when you lose by just three after playing and shooting so poorly, it can take a long time to get over that whole, “if only I would've done this or that here or there” mindset. Give credit to Stanford for getting the job done, but that's a team that KU beats seven or eight times out of 10 if they played an extended series and I'm sure that, as much as anything, is what makes this one sting.
1 – It won't erase the pain of the loss, but you can't help but feel good about the way Tarik Black went out. Black played one of his best games and nearly single-handedly willed the Jayhawks into the Sweet 16. He was strong inside, smooth at the free throw line and tough on defense. As it turned out, the one thing that haunted him all season was his undoing, as the senior transfer fouled out with five and a half minutes to play in the game. Black's time at Kansas, though short, will likely be remembered fondly. Can you imagine what this team would have been without him?
2 – KU's full-court press was fantastic and it nearly stole the Jayhawks this game. Forget for a second about why KU coach Bill Self doesn't press more or didn't start doing it earlier in the season. He did it in this game, it was the right move and it nearly saved the day. Jamari Traylor, Frank Mason and Andrew Wiggins were sensational in the press and it sure sped up the game whenever Kansas used it. Self has his reasons for not using it more often, but if I'm coaching all of that athleticism, depth and talent, I'd definitely make it more of a staple of what I do. Again, though, he pulled it out when Kansas needed it and it almost worked brilliantly. It's important to remember, too, that part of the reason Stanford struggled with it was because they probably had not really seen it and could not prepare for it.
3 – How about a tip of the cap to Conner Frankamp, who played another solid game and gave the Jayhawks a chance. Forget the three-point stroke or the steady job he does with the ball in his hands. For my money, the young man's mental toughness is one of his best attributes. He goes from averaging around 6 minutes a game to being one of the key players relied upon to save the season on the biggest stage in the world and looks like a champ doing it. That finish should be huge for his confidence and development heading into his sophomore season.
1 – It's definitely tough to watch Andrew Wiggins go out the way he did, but I think it's wildly unfair if the young man is remembered for his flop in his final game. Wiggins, as you know, scored just four points on 1-of-6 shooting and committed four turnovers in what figures to be his final game as a Jayhawk. It certainly was not the kind of game we've seen from him of late and nothing close to what was expected of him when he signed with KU last May. Just the other night he was pretty quiet overall and still led all scorers with 19 points. Not only were his shots not falling, Wiggins wasn't really looking to take them. He had trouble off the bounce, could not find room to finish over Stanford's front line and looked a little frantic when he had the ball. Tough night and a tough-luck ending for a guy who had a fantastic season and was one of the more pleasant young men to be around.
2 – With all that size out there, you can't help but wonder what Joel Embiid could have done offensively had he been able to play in this one. While Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor struggled to go up and over Stanford's trees and shot just 4-of-18 combined because of it, it's worth imagining how many of those shots would have gone to Embiid had he been able to play. At least half would be my guess. And instead of the 6-foot-8 Ellis or Traylor trying to go into and over guys, the 7-foot Embiid may have been able to go above and drop shots down behind them. We'll never know, of course, because the back injury that kept him out of action from March 2 on made Embiid a non-factor down the stretch.
3 – The round of 32 loss to Stanford marked the fourth time in 11 seasons under Self that KU has lost during the first weekend of the tournament. While he's reached at least the Elite Eight in five of those seven other seasons (and the Sweet 16 in the two others), most fans still have a hard time digesting the early exits. There are very few people out there who would not admit that the KU fan based has been spoiled by an incredible amount of consistency and success and that's probably what makes losses like this so tough for them to take. It's definitely worth noting, though, that this isn't just some kind of KU thing here. All of the other major programs have had their ups and downs, such is the nature of the NCAA Tournament, which may very well be the toughest event to win in all of sports. Heading into this year's tournament, only KU and Florida had been in three straight Sweet 16's. And Self has 26 NCAA Tournament wins in his 11 seasons at Kansas, just eight fewer than Roy Williams had in four more seasons.
KU's season-ending loss to 10th-seeded Stanford:
• Ended Kansas’ season at 25-10, giving KU its first double-digit loss season since going 24-10 in 1999-00.
• Made Kansas 11-9 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games, 5-3 on neutral floors).
• Changed the Kansas-Stanford series to 8-3 in favor of Kansas.
• Made the Jayhawks 96-42 all-time in NCAA Tournament games and 8-2 in NCAA Tournament games played in St. Louis.
• Marked KU’s first loss to a No. 10 seed (4-1) and moved its record to 19-6 as a No. 2 seed.
• Made head coach Bill Self’s record to 325-69 while at Kansas and 532-174 overall. Self is now 36-15 all-time in the NCAA Tournament (26-10 at Kansas).
• Moved Kansas to 2,126-822 all-time. With Kansas and North Carolina now out of the NCAA Tournament, only Kentucky remains as a top three program that can still add to its win total this season. Kentucky leads with 2,137 all-time wins. KU is second. North Carolina is still third with 2,114 while Duke (2,027) and Syracuse (1,902) round out the top five.
The countdown to Late Night 2014 is on... (according to a KU spokesperson, no official date has been set yet)