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.