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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

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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.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart drops back to pass during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart drops back to pass during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. by Nick Krug

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:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

Comments

Brett McCabe 5 years, 4 months ago

Wilis QB'd most of last season so, while missing spring practice hurt, he's the clear leader in the race for No. 1. I'd be sorely disappointed to not see him under center as the clear starter in game one. Those who talk about "earning it" need to remember what this kid did last year. Double groin pulls and scrambling for first downs, taking a beating, getting back up over and over and over, and throwing effectively given the overall capability of the offense. If anyone earned it, he did.

Montell is important because all teams need a solid QB2 in case of injury. I think the most likely scenario is the "special package" mentioned by Matt - though I'm wary of breaking the rhythm of an offense simply to try and utilize a guy's talent. It seems that this approach fails more often than it works, because it's telegraphing the the play to the opposing DC and the players on the field. Other than the Belldozer, it just doesn't seem to work that often.

I was not a fan of Keegan's proposal to move Montell to a different position but now I'm wondering if it might not have been a smart move. His size, athleticism and leadership could be valuable on the field - on the offense or the defense.

Matt Tait 5 years, 4 months ago

All valid points, Brett... The one thing that you have to remember though is it's almost an entirely new offense (yet again) and Cozart, after the spring, has real experience running it and got a head start on Willis.

Not saying Willis won't win the job. He certainly will have a damn good shot. But so will Cozart.

It's going to be interesting to track...

Michael Maris 5 years, 4 months ago

So Matt, what you're saying is that the entire offensive scheme has changed again (from last season)? Hasn't Coach Beaty and staff basically running some kind of the ''Spread Option'' offensive scheme?

If not, won't this be about the 3rd times in the last 4 years (if memory serves me correctly).

Originally, Weis brought in his Pro-set Offensive scheme, then supposedly attempted to employ some of the ''Spread Option'' offensive scheme (prior to getting fired).

I believe that when Coach Beaty was hired, he stated that his offensive scheme will employ the same style of offensive. But, now your statement above (to Brett) says that the Jayhawks will now employ ''almost'' an entirely new offense (from what we seen last season).

So, what style offensive scheme is going to be employed in 2016?

Matt Tait 5 years, 4 months ago

I can't be sure because I haven't seen the playbook... But here's the way I understand it:

This SHOULD be the second year of a new offense but Likens and company did not run exactly the offense Beaty had hoped they would last season. Plenty of reasons for that exist, from Likens' comfort level to the ability of the players to execute and everything in between. That's why Beaty's calling plays this year and also why the emphasis has been on a different scheme altogether, much closer to what Beaty thought they were going to be able to run a year ago.

Hope that makes sense.

Michael Maris 5 years, 4 months ago

Thank you for the clarification. Much appreciated.

Ryan Woods 5 years, 4 months ago

Am I the only one who was at the spring game? He's not a gamer. If he starts week one, we have a great chance of losing the easiest team on the schedule.

Chris Bailey 5 years, 4 months ago

No you aren't the only one. I can't stand the thought of him starting. I don't care how many damn reps he's had he's not a starter in this conference. He's done nothing but proven for 3 straight season's that he is incapable of running the offense period. No matter what we're running.

Dirk Medema 5 years, 4 months ago

I wasn't at the spring game, but even from 2,000 miles away it looked like pretty strong evidence why Cozart won't be the starting QB, or we sure better hope not. We're in a heap trouble if he is.

It's even scary to think of him as a QB2, but until Stark develops, it doesn't appear (from the Spring game results) that we have a reasonable alternative. I can applaud the effort, but this ain't tee ball.

Michael Maris 5 years, 4 months ago

I have nothing against Montell Cozart at all. I understand that the Offensive Line protection for Cozart over these past seasons has not been up to par (to block the Elite Big XII Defensive Lineman).

But, as a true Freshman, Ryan Willis QB'ing skills looked a lot more promising (in his timing pass patterns and deep ball routes) than what I've seen from past season out of Cozart.

And, the Jayhawks Offensive Line hasn't improved that much (if any) last season in blocking Elite Big XII Defensive Lineman.

So, I'd have to say that Cozart's past performances have not lived up to what we Jayhawk Football fans expect from a Collegiate QB.

Chris Bailey 5 years, 4 months ago

"Beaty and company could scheme up some kind of package that best utilizes Cozart’s strengths." What exactly are his strengths? He runs out of bounds really well. He could hit a receiver with any kind of accuracy if his life depended on it. He's a practice QB and nothing more! When are we gonna learn this?????????????????????? Did Beaty not see film of him "in game?" He can't play in a game. He needs to move positions. Why do we keep having to endure this crap year after year?

Dirk Medema 5 years, 4 months ago

I wasn't thinking of quite those strong of words, but definitely the same concept.

I'll accept that Montell is athletic, but I haven't heard of him and contact being used positively in the same sentence. Football is a contact sport, and if your motor doesn't somehow get going to hit someone - hard, then there isn't much probability of success for you in it. Regardless of how athletic a player is, and regardless of what position played - unless maybe if you have 4.2-4.3 speed. Even them you better be ready to hit or be hit.

Chris DeWeese 5 years, 4 months ago

It's crucial that he stays away from under center.

Chris Bailey 5 years, 4 months ago

Haha Dirk yeah I know. I'm just sick of year after year him getting another chance. This is year four and it ain't apt to get any better. But yeah harsh words I know.

Matt Schierlman 5 years, 4 months ago

I agree 100% that Cozart is not a gamer. He has the ability; however, the guy does not have the "it" factor that I'd be looking for in a QB. Outside of that amazing 1st quarter against SE Missouri State 2 years ago, I can't recall any times where he was playing really good football. He's especially faltered against the Big 12 competition.

With that being said, I like Cozart, just not at the teams most important position. Given that he has two years left, keeping him as a backup wouldnt be ideal if he's too good to keep on the sidelines. WR probably seems like the most logical move - even though there's a log jam. It's worked decently before (i.e. Meier, Pick).

Hopefully Starks can catch on quickly (like Willis) and be given that opportunity. Everything I've read, he seems like a guy will give Willis some good competition. I'm also really intrigued by Dagan Haehn - but he'll probably redshirt given his injury last December. Not sure if everyone is familiar with Haehn's background, so here are two articles (below) that sum up his production and toughness. He's been on campus for the entire Spring semester, he seems like a legitimate gamer, and wouldn't be shocked if he's fully recovered by camp.

http://www.dentonrc.com/sports/high-schools/high-school-football-headlines/20151212-football-falcons-ousted-in-triple-overtime-thriller.ece

http://m.kusports.com/news/2015/dec/23/dual-threat-texas-qb-headed-ku/?templates=mobile

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