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What caught my ear on Day 3 of KU football's spring practices

The Kansas University football team went through its third day of spring practices on Tuesday — the first of the spring in full pads — and, although we weren't able to watch any of the action, we did get our first chance to talk with a few of the players about how the spring has gone before they hit the practice field.

Here's the latest installment of the slightly modified “What caught my ear,” blog, with a focus on the rumblings from the first few days of spring drills.

• Ben Heeney has been an animal this spring. As you might expect, the senior linebacker has been flying all over the field and making plays like we have become accustomed to seeing, but he's also upped his game in pass coverage and actually had two interceptions during one early-spring practice. That kind of thing can be contagious and it sounds like the entire defense is following Heeney's lead.

• Wide receivers Rodriguez Coleman and Nick Harwell already have made a significant impact in KU's passing game, both in terms of getting open and making catches and becoming big-play threats.

• Based on talks with the players and coaches, if I had to pick one word to describe KU's new offense it would be "simple." Now that's not simple in that it will be easy for defenses to scheme against or figure out. That's simple in that the players grasp it, understand it and can execute it. What's more, it sounds like they like it a lot.

• Speaking of the new offense, senior quarterback Jake Heaps said it's basically a no-huddle system and that, even though the Jayhawks did some no-huddle at times last year, it was usually something they put in that week or for a specific opponent. Making the no-huddle approach the foundation of their offensive system makes it easier to learn and grasp and Heaps said the goal, particularly of the upperclassmen, is to get to the point where they know what the calls are going to be on the field before they even look over to the sideline to confirm it.

• In that same vein, Keon Stowers said the biggest difference between spring this season and spring the past couple of seasons was maturity and leadership. Now that so many key players are veterans, the question of right and wrong or responsibility is not as big of an issue. That's on the field and off the field. As Stowers put it, “It's almost like we're the coaches,” and because of that the veterans have taken some of the burden of having to watch every sprint or every on-time arrival at every meeting off of KU's coaches.

• I talked with Brandon Bourbon about his opportunity at running back and the senior who opened the spring No. 1 on the depth chart said the entire stable of running backs believes that their opportunity is a little more legitimate and real now that James Sims is gone. Sims led the Jayhawks in rushing during each of his four seasons and was the workhorse rock in the Kansas backfield. Bourbon, who is coming off of his most healthy and productive season in 2013, said the group Sims left behind has a list of lofty goals but added that the only way for the Jayhawks to enjoy continued success from their running backs was for each player to remain selfish internally while striving for the best results for the team externally. Sounded like a much more eloquent way of putting the cliché about competition bringing out the best in everyone.

• I asked several offensive players in the room about new offensive coordinator John Reagan and what they saw as his primary strengths. Here were a few of the words I heard in response: 1. Coach Reagan is very engaging. He's so into everything he does that if you're not into it right there with him, he's going to pull you into it and make you a part of it. 2. Coach Reagan has a way of communicating the ins and outs of the new offense that's easy to understand. He's fun to work with and he knows what he's doing. 3. Coach Reagan is very meticulous in the way he goes about coaching. He takes his time during installation days to make sure that we're getting it and is willing to sit down with us and go over every aspect of every play in meetings if that's what it takes for us to get on the same page.

• The Jayhawks will go through their fourth of 15 spring practices on Thursday before taking 9 days off for spring break. KU's next practice after Thursday is slated for March 23.

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Comments

Jim Jackson 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Tait, did you get any inclination of the type of sets we would be running? 2 back? Double Tight? Will there be any QB run plays designed?

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Matt Tait 5 months, 2 weeks ago

In brief talks with Coach Reagan, it sounds like all of those are in the equation... My guess is that it'll be a lot of 3 WR, 1 RB sets with a TE and five O-Linemen. Hard to say right now exactly how often they'll go with 4 WRs or 2 backs and no tight ends or what, but I think the versatility will be there as long as they've got the guys who can make plays.

As it stands right now, we're probably talking:

WR -- Coleman, Harwell, Pierson RB -- Bourbon QB -- ????? TE -- Mundine

Competitions going at each one of those spots, though, with Pierson, Mundine and Harwell having the biggest strangleholds on their spots at the moment.

We'll try to find out more details next time we get Weis or Reagan, but don't hold your breath for them to divulge too much. I know Keegan talked with Reagan at length the other day and also got some good stuff from some of the players, so look for a column about the offense sometime soon.

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David Williams 5 months, 2 weeks ago

From the player feedback, it sounds like Mangino offense 2.0...not a surprise since Reagan is leading the offense now. The fact that players are also commenting that it is "simpler" confirms that Weis' offense is not suited for the college game.

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Brandon Mahon 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Also the another good thing to hear is that Rod Coleman is starting to seperate himself. He is still a junior. He got granted another year because of a RS year in JUCO. Its good to see some of these guys taking a step forward and improving. We will only see once some of these freshman can come in and push or impact.

I am kinda glad to see a spread no huddle offense again. I think it is playing to the strengths of Cozart and Millweard tho. Heaps can sling the ball if granted time so we will have to see what happens. But it sounds like a spread with a little bit of pistol involved (rice ran alot of pistol). Plus with the depth that we have at RB pistol sounds like a good idea.

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Matt Tait 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Agreed. I don't see Cummings having much shot at all with the other talented QBs on this roster... Nothing against the guy. He's a great dude, a heck of a competitor and he maximized his abilities. He's just not the answer.

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Mark Lindrud 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Not a very good chance. It's a 3 man race, but I hope we don't play musical quarterbacks.

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Erich Hartmann 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Competent defense. Check.

Competent scoring offense. (TBD/work in progress...)

Competent special teams. (started off solid, then regressed to end the season. If continued work could yield consistency, it could be a reliable unit. Incremental improvement is all that is needed here. As we add more and more athletes/hungry guys...the first place we often see the 2nd/3rd string contribute is on special teams. This could thus improve naturally, and by coaching also...)

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George Pavlik 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Good recovery Tait. As a lawyer, I'm always skeptical of the basis for certain information. "Ben Heeney has been an animal this spring" -says who? "Wide receivers Rodriguez Coleman and Nick Harwell already have made a significant impact" - according to what source? You've informed us that you have not been allowed to watch practice this spring to obtain first-hand observations so be careful as to the rhetoric, lest the "you're drinking the kool-aid gang" come out in full force. (Especially on the same day you posted a piece that all is not lost with Embiid going down). I appreciate all the insight over the years and strongly believe we are in store for a surprising successful season.

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Matt Tait 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Only way I can write what I'm hearing is if I don't attribute it. Tough to do for a news story, I know, but OK in blog form. Just trust that it's coming from credible people who have been at practice.

Whether it amounts to a hill of beans is up to the reader to decide. But until we can watch them ourselves all we can do is tell you what we're hearing.

Sorry it can't be more than that.

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George Pavlik 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Gosh, don't you sleep. I appreciate that. Looking forward to the spring game so that we can get a preview of some of the improvements & new offensive scheme

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Matt Tait 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Me, too. And I mix in as much sleep as the job allows, which, some months, isn't much. Luckily, I enjoy what I do!

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Jim Stauffer 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Sorry to do this Matt, but it is "in that vein" not vain.

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Matt Tait 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Good catch. And thanks. It's fixed. Busy day. Wrote basketball, football and baseball stories yesterday and did a couple of radio shows. No excuse for bad grammar, but it seems as if I got going too fast. Thanks again!

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Matt Tait 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Haha! Hadn't seen that yet. Guess just the talk of the up-tempo offense wore me out...

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Titus Canby 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt, any word on how the new offense affects the O-line?

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Matt Tait 5 months, 2 weeks ago

It sounds like the O-Line is taking some of the coverage responsibilities from the QBs, which makes having a solid center, in particular, all the more important moving forward.

I also think that the way they want to play -- fast, no-huddle, spread out -- will allow Reagan to find the five best guys and plug them in as starters rather than worrying about whether this guy fits that mold or that guy fits that position.

Should give the line a chance to be much better right out of the gate, provided they can find guys who can get the job done.

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Titus Canby 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Thanks Matt. Great info, as always.

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Dirk Medema 5 months, 2 weeks ago

The interchangeability across the OL sounds great everywhere but OC, and especially in the spread, where the snap has to actually be a catchable ball as was unfortunately all too evident last year.

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Mark Lindrud 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt, any word on the starters for the o line? Obvious it can and will change.

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