Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart
It's on to No. 9 on our countdown of the Most Crucial Jayhawks of the 2016 season and that's where we find everyone's favorite KU quarterback from recent years.
No Kansas player has taken as much criticism and, at the same time, been given as many different opportunities in the past few seasons as Montell Cozart, a fourth-year junior who started — and even won a Big 12 game — as a true freshman and has been delivering a mixed bag of successes and failures ever since.
Cozart was the opening week starter in both 2014 and 2015 but was replaced each year either because of injury or ineffectiveness. It remains to be seen what becomes of Cozart this season, but there are all kinds of options still on the table as the Jayhawks prepare to kick off preseason camp in just a few weeks.
Here's a look at a few of those options and why Cozart remains an important part of this football team.
Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.
This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.
Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.
Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.
9. Montell Cozart, Jr. Quarterback
If you haven’t by now (and I’m sure many of you have), you might want to brace yourself for the possibility that Montell Cozart could be under center for the Jayhawks again for his third consecutive Week 1 start.
Yes, Ryan Willis showed some promise last season, and, more to the point, showed some ability in some of the areas that Cozart is lacking. But, Willis also injured himself playing basketball this spring and was forced to sit out of most of the physical activity during spring practices.
That gave Cozart the opportunity to take most of the reps as KU’s No. 1 quarterback and that, at least momentarily, gave him a slight lead over Willis in the race for the starting job. That fact is magnified by KU coach David Beaty’s desire to tweak the offense and go to more of a true Air Raid look, which Cozart now has much more experience running and repping than Willis.
Don’t get me wrong, the scenario exists that ends with Willis starting Week 1 and possibly even starting the entire season.
But even if he does, Cozart ranks high on this list because he will remain a crucial part of this team. And that’s for a number of reasons. Here’s a quick rundown:
• First and foremost, Cozart has developed into a terrific leader and is someone everybody on that roster — and on the coaching staff — has a great deal of respect for. Even if he doesn’t play a snap at any position (which is highly unlikely), he still would impact that locker room in a positive way.
• Beyond that, KU’s back-up QBs have been pressed into action a lot during recent seasons and having a guy like Cozart sitting in that role would give KU some depth and stability behind Willis, who will be playing behind a still-developing offensive line.
• There’s a chance that Willis could be the guy but Beaty and company could scheme up some kind of package that best utilizes Cozart’s strengths and keeps opposing defenses off balance. That could be in Wildcat or red zone type of packages or even in the middle of the field.
• Finally, there’s the chance that someone else could emerge as a viable back-up QB and the coaching staff could switch Cozart to wide receiver or punt returner to take advantage of his athleticism and ability to run. Beaty has gone on record multiple times saying that Cozart is too good of an athlete to stand next to him on Saturday and I believe he means that.
With all of those scenarios — and perhaps even one or two that we aren’t even thinking about — it’s easy to see how Cozart’s versatility and experience provide so much potential value and importance for this team.
The race between Cozart and Willis should be interesting and could easily come down to the wire. Don’t be surprised by either outcome and don’t count out the runner-up just because a Week 1 starter is named.
Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016: