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What caught my ear on Day 11 of KU football's spring practices

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.

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Comments

Matt Tait 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I've heard Jake talk a lot about his "speed" and the difference between a running quarterback and a mobile quarterback and where he thinks he falls in that whole deal.

My take?

Jake's not fast. But he can move way better than we saw last season. He's not going to be the threat that a guy like Montell Cozart is but as long as he's confident in the offense, his line and his play makers, I think he can move well enough to make positive plays and I think getting away from the pro style, drop-back offense will allow him to show that.

We'll know a little more after Saturday's practice and the spring game, but I'm guessing we won't fully see it or understand it until they unleash it for real in September...

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Lance Cheney 5 months, 2 weeks ago

All joking aside, I am looking forward to seeing this new offense and how he does in it.

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Mark Lindrud 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Heaps success will start from the protection he gets. The line must improve first and foremost for any QB to have a chance to do his job.

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Titus Canby 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Other QBs with no speed (in the NFL): Peyton Manning Dan Marino Joe Montana

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Jim Stauffer 5 months, 2 weeks ago

One of my concerns last year with Jake was his tendency to hold the ball too long and get the sack. There were many contributors to that. The O-Line and Receivers last year were not what they should be.

I am interested to see if the offense, including Jake, can run a play where everyone knows what to do and Jake can release the ball well before the defense gets there.

In the Big 12 the offenses often look one step ahead of the defense. We must be that way also.

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Matt Tait 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Between a new offense, an O-Line coached a little differently and Heaps' understanding of what went wrong last year so many times, I think there's a good chance that the whole game plan will be designed to get the ball out quickly this year so he's not even in a position to hold it too long.

We'll see, but I'm a believer in Jake's ability and think he could run an offense like that very well.

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Mark Lindrud 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I am hoping we have shorter QB step drops and not always worry about the deep ball, but getting quick yardage that can develop a sustainable drive instead of chucking the ball down the field as much as we did when receivers were hardly open or dropped the ball.

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Jonathan Allison 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Can't wait to hear the take aways from Saturday's open practice. I'm sure that you'll get some pictures and video. It will be good to see that what you've been hearing by word of mouth about practice is consistent with what you see on the field this weekend.

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Matt Tait 5 months, 2 weeks ago

You betcha. It's one thing to hear about it from the players and coaches and it's another to see it for yourself. There's so much out there to keep an eye on, I wish I had two or three extra sets of eyes and hands to take it all in and take notes. Luckily, we'll have a few guys from our staff out there.

Stand by...

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Jay Beakum 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Anybody who has followed Reagan the last two years as an offensive coordinator at Rice, knows he’s going to run a ton (effectively), but that includes the quarterback. McHargue ran it 10-12 times a game last year. The year before he ran for 667 yards and 11 TDs!

See where I’m going with this? How can Heaps possibly run Reagan’s offense? He’s no threat to run. EVER! Reagan would have to scrap what was working at Rice, and become a predictable running team, with the occasional 3rd down pocket pass. Basically a run-heavy, pro-style offense, with a statue for a QB. It’d be just like last year.

It’s gotta be Cozart. He has he ability to duplicate what McHargue did for Reagan the last two years. He can pass it at a 53-60% clip if the receivers get open better and can catch. And he can run 10-12 times a game, possibly even more effectively than McHargue did.

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Jay Beakum 5 months, 2 weeks ago

And I don’t want this to come off wrong. I’m a Heaps fan. I like the kid and I hope he proves me wrong. It would be great. I’m just using the info at hand and some logic. Things would have to go very differently in Reagan’s offense for Heaps to be successful.

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Mark Lindrud 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Keep in mind Reagan is adjusting the offense to suit the talent he has. There is nothing wrong with a pro-style offense, but my guess is we will see a variety of the spread too.

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Jonathan Allison 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Coach Reagan has indicated that he's not simply implementing the system that he ran at Rice. He's developing a taylor made offensive system to fit the personnel that he has.

He doesn't have McHargue. So he'll have a system that fits whatever QB he intends to have in the game.

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John Randall 5 months, 2 weeks ago

You are certain sure those numbers shouldn't be 52.5–59.7 ???

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