Good afternoon, KU fans.
The day Jayhawk football die-hards have been waiting for all summer has come and gone, and while practice — and my “What Caught My Eye” blogs — does not get started officially until tomorrow, here's my instant reaction to the first depth chart of the fall, which KU coach Charlie Weis released a little while ago.
We'll have much more from Weis' press conference later today and in tomorrow's paper, but here's the quick-hit feedback on what I saw.
• By now, I'm sure you've all seen somewhere that Weis is expecting wide receiver Nick Harwell to red-shirt. Harwell, a transfer from Miami (Ohio) University who needed just six hours to graduate and become eligible for KU this fall, was not allowed to take those final classes and instead will sit out the 2013 season. This is not all bad. Harwell will get a chance to learn KU's system, dominate with the scout-team offense and reshape his image that will make him more attractive to potential NFL employers.
• Maybe the biggest surprise to me on the depth chart was at center, where Pat Lewandowski was listed as the first-string guy. Here's the deal; I like Lewandowski a lot and thought he could be a solid tackle. I think the coaches did, too. But, according to Weis, they moved him to center a few months ago after seeing some snapping issues in the spring. The best things Lewandowski brings are size and intelligence. Besides, asking him to handle the center job, where he will be able to rely on his brain and braun might be a better thing to ask of him than putting him out on an island at left tackle and wishing him luck. Dylan Admire will push him, but Lewandowski's size may be the difference.
• I have to admit, I absolutely loved seeing the defense being listed as a nickel D instead of a base 4-3 or 3-4. Weis was very candid in explaining the reasoning behind this and it has everything to do with trying to keep up with the crazy offenses in the Big 12. Not only will the Jayhawks use five DBs as their regular look this season — Weis even hinted that six and seven DBs could be employed regularly — but the three main defensive coaches, Dave Campo (DBs), Clint Bowen (LBs) and Buddy Wyatt (D-Line) will all be coaching on the field this year, basically coaching and making calls on the fly. It'll be hectic and an absolute grind every Saturday, but it should put the KU defense in the best position to succeed. One other thing the nickel personnel indicates is that there is a lot of versatility on defense, with Cassius Sendish, who could play safety or corner, being the prime example of that.
• Nice to see Brandon Bourbon listed as the second-string F behind Tony Pierson. Obviously, these two are completely different players, but I think putting them at the same position (a) speaks to Weis' creativity with play-calling and (b) tells you how the coaches feel about Bourbon. If he were a bum, they'd just bury him on the depth chart. He's not going to take touches away from Pierson here, but he will give KU flexibility in an already versatile offense.
• Christian Matthews and Justin McCay were the top two wideouts throughout the spring and they open as the top two wideouts entering fall camp. And it doesn't sound close. Weis said Matthews was the clear leader of the position and may be the most reliable player they have and that McCay had a chance to be a top-tier wide receiver. If that's true and both back up those claims, that'll lessen the Harwell blow.
• Juco transfer Charles Brooks, a senior who played sparingly last season, was nowhere to be found on the tight end list. Four others were listed. Weis said Brooks would still have a chance to compete but added that he really wants to see what red-shirt freshman Jordan Shelley-Smith and true freshman Ben Johnson could do. Ben Johnson was cited by Weis as the top performing newcomer throughout the summer and he's up to 240 pounds. Brooks is certainly not out of it yet — Weis said everyone on the roster would get until Aug. 17 to prove their worth — but he may go down as a miss.
• The kicking game was as we expected, with juco transfers Trevor Pardula (punts and kickoffs) and Michael Mesh (place kicking) listed as first-stringers. My guess is that Pardula has both of his jobs all but locked up. The place kicker job is more open at this point, but I've been told that it would be an upset if Mesh did not win it. The crazy thing is the guy most likely to beat him out might be Pardula, but asking the newcomer to handle all three jobs could be a bit much.
• A couple of position changes that jumped out: Greg Allen is listed as a cornerback again after moving to safety last spring. I asked Weis about it and he said he's a safety with corner skills. There's that versatility thing coming into play again. Brian Maura has moved from linebacker back to safety and Victor Simmons and Courntey Arnick have moved from linebacker to nickel back. Not a huge change there, especially with the nickel defense. But notable nonetheless. Weis said Simmons was a man among boys, physically, at the nickel position, and he may have a golden opportunity waiting for him this month.
• A lot of the newcomers who we expect to be first-team, front-line guys are listed second on the depth chart today. But that's today. Give it time. Weis said the depth chart would be extremely fluid and guys like CB Kevin Short and OL Pearce Slater (the only two newcomers who have yet to arrive) could easily make their way to the top of the depth chart by the time camp closes. Others in this group who were listed with the second team include: Zach Fondal (LT), Andrew Bolton (DE) and Samson Faifili (LB). Again, give 'em time. They haven't even started practicing yet.
• Finally, one of the more incredible things about this depth chart is that Weis was able to go three-deep (sometimes four) at every position. That's a far cry from how things were last August, when he was struggling to feel good about identifying a first team and back-ups. That's gotta be a good sign for the progress of the program.
Time will tell. Practice is set for 2:50 p.m. Thursday. Be sure to check out Kusports.com throughout the day for more coverage from today's opening presser and then, around 4:00 tomorrow for the initial “What Caught My Eye” blog of the 2013 season.