The media — and the rest of the free world — had the chance to check out an entire practice Saturday morning, and the longer look at the KU football team gave us a chance to see a little more than stretching and position drills.
We watched live hitting, all five quarterbacks in action and plenty of situational stuff. What’s more, the coaches operated as if no one else was in the building, ripping guys when they needed to be ripped and praising guys when they made good plays.
It’s still tough to tell too much from what we watched, but there were a few things that stood out.
Here’s a look:
• The drop-off from QB Dayne Crist to the next two quarterbacks (Michael Cummings and Turner Baty) is pretty noticeable, understandably so. During the 7-on-7 portion of the scrimmage, Crist handled 12 plays and completed 11 of 12 passes. The one that was incomplete was a drop by Andrew Turzilli, who alligator-armed the throw despite being open. KU coach Charlie Weis let him hear about it and also used the opportunity to remind the rest of the receivers how to do things. Cummings completed 3 of 6 passes and Baty completed 3 of 6. Both threw some good balls and both made some bad choices. Two TDs were converted during the drill, one from Crist to D.J. Beshears on a deep ball and the other from Baty to Tre Parmalee on a wide receiver screen.
• Speaking of Parmalee, Weis said last week that he was competing for playing time and that catch and run showed why. After looking the ball into his hands, Parmalee made one move and took off. No dancing, no fancy jukes, just cut and go. Parmalee also later scored on a kickoff return and a punt return during a special teams scrimmage. Keep an eye on him.
• One of my favorite drills of the day was the tight end drill in which TEs coach Jeff Blasko stands 10 yards away and fires passes to the middle of two lines. One tight end comes from the right and is the intended receiver and another comes from the left, in front, and tries to serve as a distraction. Mostly catches during this drill, including a one-handed stab by Charles Brooks — on a high throw — who had just been called out a couple of times in a row. It wasn’t just ripping for Brooks, though, on Saturday. A couple of drills later, Blasko praised his footwork, calling it, “Clinic tape.”
• Spent quite a bit of time watching the wideouts on Saturday. Here’s a quick run-down. Remember, though, this is just one day and one opinion, so it’s by no means the end-all, be-all read of this position. Quickets routes: Kale Pick, Josh Ford, D.J. Beshears. Best target: Ricki Herod, Andrew Turzilli, Kale Pick. Best hands: Kale Pick, JaCorey Shepherd, D.J. Beshears, Daymond Patterson, Chris Omigie. I’ll try to track this the rest of camp to see if it changes or anyone else jumps out.
• We saw a fair amount of one-on-ones between the receivers and the cornerbacks, and, on this day, the receivers dominated. So much so that defensive coordinator Dave Campo, on more than one occasion, talked about the drill being a waste of time. One thing I thought was interesting was Campo emphasizing the deep ball to his guys. “W’re not gonna get beat deep,” Campo said. It didn’t work every play as Pick and Omigie both vicitimized the DBs for deep balls, but there was marked improvement shown in that department throughout the course of the drill. One of the coolest parts of this drill was the live refereeing, which came complete with boos from the few hundred fans who showed up to watch.
• One other cool moment came when all five QBs — Crist, Baty, Cummings, Blake Jablonski and Jake Heaps — threw, side-by-side, the different routes of the route tree. Deep, intermediate, flat, out... they were all there and it was wild to see this within such a small space.
• Saturday’s action also featured a look at live running plays. Brandon Bourbon looked really sharp, running with great power and Taylor Cox was right behind him. James Sims also looked good with his reps and Tony Pierson got a few touches, as well. Just as they’ll do during the season, though, they appear to be making sure Pierson doesn’t take too much of a pounding.
• Practice wrapped with 30 minutes of special teams drills, including live returns and the do-or-die field goal that determined how much running the team did. One thing I really liked about the special teams drills is that all of the coaches remained very actively involved, especially Campo, who stayed right in the thick of things the entire time. Pretty impressive stuff from a former NFL head coach who could easily have a different attitude.
• Here’s one more good line from special teams coordinator Clint Bowen, who was trying to fire up his guys on a kickoff drills: “Coach is cheating you today, man. You guys only get two tries. Let’s make ‘em count.” Hey, whatever it takes. Gotta find any angle you can to get guys motivated.
Overall, it’s a much different picture than we’ve seen around here during the past couple of years. Guys are working their butts off and are held accountable on almost every play. I can’t tell you how many times I heard a coach say the words, “You’re too soft,” or something of the like. They don’t want these guys thinking they’re going to play just by being on the team. They want them thinking they have to work for it — at all times — and I think that’s why the effort seems so much better and the intensity so much higher.
As practice wrapped, the fans gave these guys a nice hand. People are hungry for football to be a winner around here, and, even though it might take some time, it appears as if KU is once again headed in that direction.