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Spring Game Rewind

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Blue Team running back Brandon Bourbon (25) celebrates with quarterback Montell Cozart after a touchdown by Cozart against the White Team during the second half of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Blue Team running back Brandon Bourbon (25) celebrates with quarterback Montell Cozart after a touchdown by Cozart against the White Team during the second half of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

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.

Quick takeaway:

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.

Blue Team receiver Nick Harwell is tackled for a loss by White Team defenders Marcus Jenkins-Moore and Tyler Holmes during the first half of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Blue Team receiver Nick Harwell is tackled for a loss by White Team defenders Marcus Jenkins-Moore and Tyler Holmes during the first half of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

Three reasons to smile:

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.

Blue Team offensive lineman Keyon Haughton (70) gives a slap on the helmet to running back Darrian Miller after Miller's second-half touchdown against the White Team during he Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Also pictured is receiver Rodriguez Coleman, back. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Blue Team offensive lineman Keyon Haughton (70) gives a slap on the helmet to running back Darrian Miller after Miller's second-half touchdown against the White Team during he Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Also pictured is receiver Rodriguez Coleman, back. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

Three reasons to sigh:

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.

A few thoughts for the road:

• 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.

White Team receiver Andrew Turzilli (82) catches a touchdown pass against Blue Team cornerback Dexter McDonald (12) during half of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

White Team receiver Andrew Turzilli (82) catches a touchdown pass against Blue Team cornerback Dexter McDonald (12) during half of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

• 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.

White Team quarterback Michael Cummings pitches the ball to a teammate as Blue Team defensive lineman Andrew Bolton closes in during the second half of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

White Team quarterback Michael Cummings pitches the ball to a teammate as Blue Team defensive lineman Andrew Bolton closes in during the second half of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo by Nick Krug

• 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.

Next up:

KU's fall camp opens in roughly three and a half months and the 2014 season kicks off 146 days from today.

Comments

Mark Lindrud 7 years, 7 months ago

Any word on TJ? Am curious if he is making any headway as our other QB. It seems we have heard nothing about how he is doing.

Brandon Mahon 7 years, 7 months ago

After watching the spring game I think starters go Cozart, Cummings tied with Millweard, then Heaps and Darling. Heaps did not look great and the "accuracy" wasnt there.

Mark Lindrud 7 years, 7 months ago

So how did he look? I didn't ask about Heaps, no offense.

Brandon Mahon 7 years, 7 months ago

Millweard didn't look terrible, he led the white team down the field a couple times

Ethan Berger 7 years, 7 months ago

What makes me happy is we still have some beast players yet to come. One of the top centers, top linebackers and running backs. Plus a stable of very good athletes. This year might not be a good year, but the foundation is shaping up.

I'm excited to see how Wrench is. He runs like Adrian Peterson and has very good size for a running back. Adding some more speed on the outside helps. Now we just need to win the trenches in recruiting. Always a good start to have a 4* center coming in from football happy Texas.

Brandon Mahon 7 years, 7 months ago

I think Wrench RS this year. There is alot of competition coming in this summer and I think the team we saw on saturday will be different for the home opener. The only position group I don't see too much changing is the DBs. I even think the RBs might have a lil shuffle.

Ethan Berger 7 years, 7 months ago

I agree unless he just turns out to be a beast day 1.

Matt Tait 7 years, 7 months ago

Hey folks -

We're still in the process of doing some testing to fix a site issue and in order to do so we had to turn off the viewing of threaded comments. That's why you're not seeing some replies and also why some comments are disappearing randomly.

We apologize for the inconvenience... Hang with us for the next couple of days while we test and we'll be sure to let you know if any permanent changes are coming your way.

If there are, I assure you that it'll be a workable system that you can all adjust to easily and quickly.

Thanks and have a great rest of the day!

  • Matt

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 7 months ago

The spring game went almost exactly how I imagined it would go. Defense was way ahead of the offense. It's not a dominant defense, but it looks to be the best one of the Weis era so far. The offense is still a work in progress and will likely be a work in progress throughout the season. The OLine may not be quite as good as the 2012 OLine, but I thought it was better than last year's OLine. I would say that Cozart's mobility will be the determining factor in the QB battle because the read option becomes a part of the playbook with him at QB and that just puts more pressure on opposing defenses. I still didn't see anything standout about the WR's other than Harwell, but I wasn't yelling about drops either, so there's at least progress being made on that front. All in all, there wasn't anything in the spring game to get overly excited about, but it also didn't raise any new concerns which isn't a bad thing either.

Suzi Marshall 7 years, 7 months ago

The only OL guy that stood out was the guy Tait discussed, Gibson. If Weis leaves him at Center and this kid from Nacogdoches, TX turns out to be effective at the D1 level, Center may be our only really good 2 deep position.

Who is the Gibson fellow anyway? I don't recall ever seeing a mention of Weis signing the kid.

Jim Stauffer 7 years, 7 months ago

If and it is a big if, the D-Line can bring some pressure on the QB this year, we could have dominant defense. But, if not, our defense will be tolerable but will need the offense to control the ball and the clock some.

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