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Sizing up KU football's upcoming Quarterback battle

Despite the disappointing numbers that have been put up by Kansas University quarterbacks during the past few seasons, it's still the position everybody wants to talk about — for better or worse — and one that, at Kansas, has more drama and intrigue than at any time since the QB showdown between Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier prior to the 2007 season.

If you've been following along at all, you know how I feel about 2013 starter Jake Heaps, his ability as a player and the lack of support he received last season, be it from the offensive line early or his pass catchers throughout.

With that said, I think the upcoming spring and summer sessions could deliver one heck of a three-man race for the Jayhawks' starting QB nod heading into 2014.

By now, you likely know the candidates: Jake Heaps, who will be a senior; Montell Cozart, who will be a sophomore; and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard, who will be a sophomore, all figure to get a long, hard look from the coaching staff during spring ball and fall camp.

It's far too early to make even a decent guess about which guy will win the job — a solid case could be made for all three — and several things could change between now and the time that naming a starter really becomes necessary.

I'm anticipating a serious competition to unfold between these three guys, each of whom no doubt believes he's the right choice. That can only help KU's offense and it also can make for an interesting few months.

While the decision is still several weeks away, it's never too early to start looking at the options. So here's a quick look at the strengths, weaknesses and outlook of each of the quarterbacks heading into the offseason along with my early hunch on who the guy will be.

--- This is not to discount the other QBs on the roster, as both Michael Cummings and Jordan Darling are right there with these three in terms of work ethic, dedication and team-first mentality. It just seems that there's a clear divide between the top three and the rest that stems from a combination of experience, potential and measurables. ---

Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps looks at the scoreboard after coming off the field against Texas Tech during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps looks at the scoreboard after coming off the field against Texas Tech during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

• JAKE HEAPS — 6-foot-1, 210-pound, senior

Strengths: We already know Heaps is a great leader, well respected by teammates and the kind of guy who won't give in or get down no matter how bleak things look. Beyond that, he's got a cannon for an arm — which he was able to show when he actually got protection — and has more game experience at the Div. I level than all of the other QBs on the roster combined. Heaps is a confident player and there's no doubt in my mind that he'll take to John Reagan's offense quickly and make it awfully tough for the others to beat him out.

Weaknesses: If there's one area that Heaps is vulnerable, it's mobility. He's not all that fast and never really showed a desire to get out and run. Last season he showed a tendency to wait too long for plays to develop — which could be a knock on his receivers — which too often allowed the pocket to collapse around him. In addition, that rifle arm isn't always a good thing, as he occasionally would put too much zip on short passes that required more touch.

Outlook: Given his experience and big arm, Heaps has as good a shot as anyone to win the job and, through my eyes, is the guy to beat. A new offense puts all three on more of an equal playing field, but if Reagan's offense is at all predicated on quickly getting the ball out to playmakers in space, Heaps seems to be the right guy for that role.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart pushes aside West Virginia safety Darwin Cook on a run during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart pushes aside West Virginia safety Darwin Cook on a run during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

• MONTELL COZART — 6-foot-2, 189-pound sophomore

Strengths: By far the most mobile quarterback on KU's roster, Cozart showed in limited time last season that his ability to take off in the open field puts a ton of pressure on opposing defenses. Cozart runs with a sort of fluid stride that makes it look like he's not in an all-out sprint. But because of his long strides and powerful legs, he still manages to eat up yards in a hurry. As for his arm, he's got enough there to make all of the throws.

Weaknesses: The issue with Cozart's passing during the few appearances he made in 2013 had to do with accuracy and decision making. He overthrew wide open receivers too often and never reached the point where opponents seemed to truly respect his ability as a passer. Part of that could have been the nerves and head-spinning stuff associated with being a true freshman under fire in the Big 12 Conference. But it was there. KU coach Charlie Weis has said consistently that he has total confidence in Cozart's ability as a passer, so perhaps that little taste of experience along with an offseason devoted to getting better helped the Bishop Miege graduate reach the next level as a college quarterback.

Outlook: Cozart has the look of a guy who, with some time, could put the Jayhawks on a more even playing field with what the rest of the Big 12 Conference throws out there year after year – big, fast, athletic, agile and a nightmare to account for. He's got a big arm that needs some cultivation, incredible athletic ability that makes him a dangerous weapon all over the field and the confidence you need from your quarterback. If after this battle Cozart has not separated himself as the clear-cut No. 1 or No. 2 guy, I think it'd be a great idea to move forward with the hope of red-shirting him in 2014 and giving him a chance to become a three-year starter down the road.

Kansas University quarterback transfer T.J. Millweard speaks to the media on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, at the Anderson Family Football Complex.

Kansas University quarterback transfer T.J. Millweard speaks to the media on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, at the Anderson Family Football Complex. by Mike Yoder

• T.J. MILLWEARD — 6-foot-3, 210-pound sophomore

Strengths: Millweard's biggest advantages in this race appear to be frame and mobility. He's bigger than both Heaps and Cozart and seems to be the kind of guy who can scramble both to gain yards and to keep plays alive behind the line of scrimmage. Though not blazing fast, moving around with the football certainly seems to come naturally for him.

Weaknesses: Millweard has not taken a single snap in a real college football game so the first time he goes out there — whenever that may be — will be his first time on the field with live action and opponents looking to rip his head off. If he demonstrates that he's clearly better than the others in terms of his command of the offense, ability to make accurate throws and not turn the ball over, then that won't matter. If it's close, his inexperience could cost him.

Outlook: I can't help but think about Millweard when I look at the Rice offense and what Reagan did with Owls QB Taylor McHargue, who stands 6-2 and weighs 220 pounds. Like McHargue, who was one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country during the past couple of seasons, Millweard is mobile, can spin it and has a good frame that can withstand the beating that comes with playing outside of the pocket. Reagan said comparing anybody to McHargue and thinking that meant something was a bad idea, given the fact that the Rice offense was built around what McHargue could do and not the other way around.

• Early Hunch

I think this is Jake Heaps' job to lose. I do think he'll be pushed a ton and I think both Cozart and Millweard have a legitimate shot to overtake him. But I like Heaps' combination of arm strength and experience along with the sense of urgency that comes with not only being a senior and playing his last season of college football but also wanting to atone for a largely disappointing season in 2013.

Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps throws out of the Jayhawks endzone against Texas Tech during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps throws out of the Jayhawks endzone against Texas Tech during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Comments

Brandon Mahon 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I know this is about the QBs but questions are rising about Hyman not being on the roster.... Matt do you know anything?

He could be a huge asset and big building block.

Matt Tait 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Well he's not any longer. Coach made it clear today that he wasn't going to talk about guys who were not on the roster, which Hyman no longer is.

Let me just say this: His absence in no way shocked me. Some guys just don't wind up fitting where they initially enroll and I never really felt that Hyman fit here.

He's got talent and he's a great athlete so I'm sure he'll land somewhere. But it's not a situation where losing him is catastrophic for KU. The receivers they brought in in this latest class are all solid players who should more than make up for his departure.

Brandon Mahon 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Thanks for clearing this up as much as you can Matt. I wonder if it was the new change in staff, or what made him not fit in.

I follow him on twitter and it still shows him in his #13 jersey. He just has good size and speed, and would definitely help us out.

Who do you think could step in and fill the role if he does end up leaving, which may sound like the case.

Jim Jackson 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree, still curious as to what the situation is. This is very odd. Kid is a stud, we need him on the team.

Matt Tait 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I understand that you liked his upside and all of that, but there's really nothing that odd at play here. This kind of thing happens all the time all across the country...

Given the fact that he's never played a snap in college, it's really too hard to predict what this means for the program, if anything.

I know the staff is high on Tyler Patrick (6-foot, 170), Bobby Hartzog (5-11, 180), Darious Crawley (5-11, 183) and Derrick Neal (5-10, 155) (not to mention 5-foot-10, 170 Corey Avery as a slot guy)... Most, if not all, of those guys will have a chance to fill the role that Hyman (6-foot, 170) would've played, provided he panned out.

Ron Prichard 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I know not everyone shares my opinion, but man, I love the gray uniform combination showcased by Cozart in the pic above.

Dirk Medema 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Up close they're not as bad as the old sweatsuit look from a distance.

$0.02

Andy Tweedy 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I love the gray uniforms, too, Ron...think they're sharp. What I do know about the QB battle is you can run the ball without a mobile quarterback, but I'm not sure you can throw the ball with a QB who can't throw. Last fall, Cozart couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat. The athleticism was surely there though, so I hope Matt is right in his assessment. I'd probably have to agree that Heaps would seem the logical bet to win the job early.

Mark Lindrud 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I like the uniforms myself and I do agree that we need an accurate QB more than anything. Since the unis are all blue and gray, maybe a blue helmet next time, but that is nit picking lol.

Mark Lindrud 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I guess the question comes down to which QB best fits the style of offense Reagan plans to run. Mobility could be a factor if we are mixing in the spread and how well the line blocks I am sure will make a difference too. We have the running backs to help out and I do believe the receivers will be improved. Heaps has the intangibles I like to be the man this year. I think Cozart is still raw and needs to improve his accuracy. I do agree that his youth had a big factor in the way he played and it is highly possible down the road he could be really good. I hope that whomever is chose that we don't play musical QB's in the middle of a game because you can't get a rhythm in the game and it really messes up the flow of the offense. The winner of the battle needs to be the guy, period.

Matt Tait 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Here's the interesting thing about the whole deal... Reagan has made it clear that he's not going to be so rigid about it. They'll install the basics of the offense, let the guys battle it out and then fit the rest of the offense around the guy who wins the job.

So it's not as simple as saying which guy fits Reagan's offense because he's really going to leave a lot of room to fit the offense to the team's best QB...

Mark Lindrud 9 months, 3 weeks ago

That is the best way to go about it. I'm liking Reagan more and more. He maybe the biggest addition to our team this year.

Eliott Reeder 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Yes, the Reagan quote above about how Rice's offense was built around what McHargue could do and not the other way around is exciting. I really feel like in the past couple of years Charlie was searching for a QB that he could plug into HIS offense, instead of building an offense around what he had available. Good signs...

Savion Havon 9 months, 2 weeks ago

If the offense is anything close to what rice ran. The qb best suited for the job is the one for some reason is getting wrote off. I understand that most hc like to use their recruits but in the game of football the best players should play period. In terms of someone telling us who's got this and that and has it and doesn't id question what tools they are using to assess talent . What gave we seen to show TJ is mobile in the film I've seen if him looks about like Jake If we are going to be a winning program playing favorites and pouring up more kool aid has to stop

Matt O'Leary 9 months, 3 weeks ago

If I were the coach, I'd go with Cozart.. I say that because he has so much potential as a dual-threat QB.. Look at Rg3, he was similar, he wasn't always the gifted passer that he is now but being a 4-year starter did nothing but shape him into Heisman winner.. I think he's worth a shot..

Dirk Medema 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Griffin earned Big 12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year honors, and Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors with 59.9% comp%, 15 TD's to 3 INT's, and a 142 QBRating.

What part of that resembles Cozart's play last year?

Be in Montell's corner, but let's not get silly about it.

Michael Maris 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Tait, is Jordan Darling relegated to Scout Team QB work? He always seems absent in any mentioning of QB's. I know in the past, you have stated that Michael Cummings isn't really in the running for a starting QB position. Is Darling not truly D1 material? Yeah, I live in St. Charles, Missouri. So, I'm not able to visit on a regular basis to see what's going on with the team. I rely on the LJW Sports Dept. staff to keep me informed as to what's going on with the Jayhawks program. Thank you all for the work that you put in at the LJW.

Matt Tait 9 months, 3 weeks ago

He hasn't been ruled out of anything yet and will get a chance to compete for the job, as well. I'm basing my take almost entirely on the fact that he was behind Heaps and Cozart in 2013 and was a scout-team guy last year.

He's got good size and throws a good ball, but his mobility is a major question and, for whatever reason, he obviously fell behind Cozart a year ago after coming in with him at the same point.

We'll obviously know soon enough if he makes a charge, but I'm not expecting him to move past any of the three guys I highlighted above.

Greg Ledom 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Having talked with a former KU qb, I can tell you he doesn't think Darling will ever see the field in a real game situation. Darling would be better off looking at another position like tight end.

Vernon Riggs 9 months, 3 weeks ago

I think Heaps looks a whole lot better with a stronger group of WR's and a better OL. It is his spot.

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