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. ---
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.
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.
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.
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.