What caught my eye at Day 1 of KU football's 2015 Spring practice
Tuesday marked the third time I've seen a new coaching staff kick off spring practices with the KU football program and the one thing that stood out above all else was that there was very little about Tuesday that looked a spring practice at all.
The coaches and players operated with urgency, energy and intensity and reacted to mistakes with much more fire than an aw-shucks, oh-well attitude.
A big part of that likely came from the fact that everything is up for grabs on this team. The coaches and players are in the process of learning about one another and proving things to each other and each guy wearing a helmet is competing for a job he likely truly believes he can win.
That reality can only help the Jayhawks in their latest rebuilding process but also serves as a reminder that there's a long way to go.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at a few things that caught my eye from Day 1 of spring drills.
• Several former Jayhawks, many in town to go through Wednesday's pro timing day in from of NFL scouts, were on hand to watch the early portion of Tuesday's practice. The guys I saw included: Jake Heaps, JaCorey Shepherd, Keon Stowers, Nigel King, Nick Harwell, Trevor Pardula, Tedarian Johnson, Pat Lewandowski and one or two others. Pretty cool to see those guys show up to support their former teammates and the future of the program.
• KU coach David Beaty jumped right into the thick of all kinds of drills during Tuesday's practice and was all over the field. He seemed most fired up during the special teams drills — which he deems incredibly important — and even said after practice that it was tough for him to not be able to fully dive into the drills the way he could as a position coach.
• Beaty said not to read too much into which guys went out there with the first unit, but also said that those who were out there first were there for a reason. And I couldn't help but pay close attention to what things looked like at offensive line. The first group — at least for Tuesday — included: right tackle Larry Mazyck, right guard Junior Visinia, center Jacob Bragg, left guard Bryan Peters and left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith. Versatile center/guard Joe Gibson is currently recovering from an injury and could be another guy who factors into the mix along the O-Line before it's all said and done.
• Speaking of Jacob Bragg, the red-shirt freshman center looks pretty thick and put together. Several guys looked bigger than I remember (safety Fish Smithson was another who looked noticeably bigger), something that Beaty said was the product of the work strength coach Je'Ney Jackson and his staff had done with the physical make up of this team. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I thought juco transfer Ke'aun Kinner looked thinner than I expected, but also blazing fast. Josh Ehambe (a monster) and Bazie Bates IV (a newcomer who's clearly ready to play) also caught my eye in terms of physical size.
• Several coaches really emphasized the pace and tempo of practice throughout the day with subtle but pointed instructions that included, “Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry,” (O-Line coach Zach Yenser), Don't walk, don't walk,” (Yenser) and “I like that tempo,” (Special teams coach Gary Hyman). They weren't the only ones to talk about tempo, but they were two of the loudest.
• Speaking of the coaches, I thought it was interesting that Hyman, Yenser and offensive coordinator Rob Likens all wore head sets during one particular offensive drill. Looking forward to finding out the reason behind that when we talk to one of them.
• Cornerbacks coach/co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry is fiery. I mean, real fiery. And it's pretty awesome to watch. He's not simply content with these guys trying hard. He expects them to pay attention, retain instruction and then execute what's asked. And if they don't, he rips into them. On one particular play, Perry got after cornerback Ronnie Davis after Davis jumped to break up a pass and let the ball hit the turf instead of intercepting it. “Make a play,” Perry screamed. “That's gotta be picked.” The emphasis on turnovers was in line with what Beaty said Monday would be an important part of the spring.
• There's definitely no hurry on the part of the coaching staff to identify the starting quarterback. Michael Cummings was the first guy to go out there during most offensive drills, followed by Montell Cozart (who looked pretty good with the deep ball) and T.J. Millweard (whose intelligence Beaty marveled at). Those three, along with a few others and the newcomers who arrive in June, will all get a fair shot at winning the job, but I thought it was particularly cool to see how much Cummings and Cozart communicated during Tuesday's practice. Remember, these guys are (a) friends and teammates and (b) trying to learn a new offense at the same time. Good for them for using every resource available to them.
• KU will be off on Wednesday and get back after it on Thursday for practice No. 2 of the 15-practice spring. We'll be there and will bring you plenty more reaction, analysis and information nuggets.