They don't make days like Wednesday in August in Kansas very often and the Kansas University football team benefited from the beautiful conditions big time.
Just over the midway point of preseason camp, KU on Wednesday ran through its 12th day of camp and 14th practice at the turf fields next to Memorial Stadium.
A crew of referees was on hand to officiate the scrimmage that closed practice (we weren't able to stick around for that) and things were particularly spirited in the fast-start offense-versus-defense period that followed the special teams work.
The first-team offense outdid the defense in the first series, with Montell Cozart hitting Ke'aun Kinner out of the backfield for a short pass to convert a first down.
And the defense, which stopped the offense on four out of five plays, got the better of the battle when the second unit was out there.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye:
• It's cool to see all of the coaches walking through the line high-fiving players and getting them mentally ready for practice during stretching and warm-ups. This isn't entirely uncommon, as both of the previous staffs had guys do this every day. But this staff has every coach doing it and that seems a little rare.
• Offensive coordinator Rob Likens outed himself as a Montell Jordan fan, as he broke into a hip little dance while scribbling down practice notes when Jordan's “This Is How We Do It” came on the loud speaker. If we're doing a Dancing with the Coaches theme here, I'd give Likens a solid 7 for the moves which he cut short to focus on the notes.
• Here's a quick sign of progress: During the punt return drill this spring, the coaches constantly had to remind the up men both before and during the live reps to yell to the blockers in front of them “caught it, caught it, caught it.” Today, they didn't have to do that once. Not only were the guys yelling — loudly — but they didn't have to be reminded to do it once. It's a little detail, but those things can add up big time and are at least an indication that things are being taught and retained.
• No real shake up with the two-deep at offensive line, though there was one new name in the group. The first string remained the same and went like this (from left to right): Jordan Shelley-Smith, Bryan Peters, Keyon Haughton, D'Andre Banks and Larry Mazyck. The second team (from left to right): Clyde McCaulley, Jacob Bragg, Joe Gibson, Jayson Rhodes and Larry Hughes. Rhodes moved from tackle to guard and Hughes, the other “Big Larry” was a new addition to the two-deep. Who knows if that was just a one-time thing to try him out or if he's earned that spot but it's worth noting.
• South Carolina transfer Marcquis Roberts, who came to KU with injury concerns, looked good again on Wednesday and really showed his leadership skills. He's loud, intense and does not seem to care that he's been in Lawrence for just a handful of weeks. It looks as if he understands that the KU defense needs a strong presence in the middle and he's willing to be that presence.
• During the offense-defense fast start period, it was very evident that KU's defensive front is going to fly to the football in running situations. All six guys really chased the play and tried to stretch things out. It worked a handful of times and they were also gashed once by Ke'aun Kinner, who looked impressive running inside because of his quick footwork and barely noticeable change of direction.
• We'll try to find out how today's scrimmage went during our interviews tomorrow. The Jayhawks jump back out there Thursday afternoon for practice No. 15 and then we're welcome to watch the entire 10 a.m. practice on Friday. For those who might have been wondering, media access to practice on Tuesday was cancelled during the day. That's why there was no What Caught My Eye report from yesterday and also why we're getting extended time on Friday. I'll take it.
We'll stick with offense as we jump into the Top 10 of this year's summer series, where a true freshman at one of KU's deepest positions cracks the list.
It's a little early to know exactly what kind of role he'll have and player he'll be, but given the nature of the position he plays and his raw skills, it's easy to see how Taylor Martin could be very important to this team during his first season in Lawrence.
Here's a look:
Running back, for the past few seasons, has been not only one of the most productive and talented positions on the Kansas football roster but also one of the deepest.
That again appears to be the case this season, with veterans Taylor Cox and De'Andre Mann returning to a backfield that includes juco transfer Ke'aun Kinner and Wichita State transfer Ryan Schadler.
And then there's true freshman Taylor Martin. The blazing fast back from Dallas' Dunbar High might not start the season atop the depth chart, but with his solid frame, good vision and track speed, there's definitely a chance that he could factor into the Jayhawks' run game before the season is finished.
Martin rushed for 1,500 or more yards during each of his final three seasons at Dunbar. He added 71 touchdowns during that time. Fast like Kinner and tough like Mann and Cox, Martin could win up getting some regular work in the backfield at a position that typically uses three or four backs during a season because of the pounding that running backs take series after series and game after game.
Martin lands on this list simply because of the injury history of Mann and Cox, who both have Big 12 playing experience but also are both coming off of injuries that cost them valuable time during the 2014 season.
If Mann and Cox are able to make it through the season, Martin could very well wind up a red-shirt candidate. But if the need arises for another back to get into the mix, Martin could wind up with a very important role in the Jayhawks' offense.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
We'll group these guys, because, let's be honest, they've pretty much been grouped since the day they signed and probably will be for quite some time.
The other reason we'll group them is because it's just so tough to know whether one of these true freshmen will emerge as a legitimate threat for the No. 1 job, if they'll position themselves to be the primary back-up or if they'll both take red-shirts this season and use it as a development year.
In the case of Ryan Willis, the tall kid from nearby Bishop Miege High has impressed coaches in camp with his cannon of a right arm, the thing that could set him apart in this competition could very well be his size. Taller than all of the other competitors and more mobile than he's given credit for, Willis comes to KU on the heels of a very successful prep career. He threw for 5,986 yards and 65 TDs in his two seasons as Miege's starter and earned a three-star rating from Rivals.com.
Willis comes from an athletic background. His father Steve played football at K-State and his mother Lois ran track at Iowa State. His sister Lauren played hoops at Oklahoma and his other sister Abby played basketball at St. Louis University.
As is the case for Stanley, Willis' youth and inexperience will be his biggest obstacles to immediate playing time. KU offensive coordinator Rob Likens has consistently laid out how the window for true freshmen to compete for the starting job is really more like 2 or 3 weeks than the entire four weeks of camp and first week of the season.
Likens has said it's not impossible for a true freshmen to win the job in that time but definitely very difficult.
That strong arm has really seemed to make an impact on the coaches, though, and his fierce determination and tenacity during summer workouts and seven-on-seven also turned heads.
As for Stanley, highlight videos only show the good plays, but in Stanley’s case, he didn’t have many bad ones to show anybody in his lone season as the starting quarterback at Vero Beach High. Stanley gets rid of the ball quickly, throws an extremely accurate ball, has the arm strength to make all the throws, and appears to have an elusive quality in the pocket. He only lost one game and won so many fans, including the three KU coaches involved with his recruitment: Linebackers coach Kevin Kane, offensive coordinator Rob Likens and head coach David Beaty.
Stanley had a monster season and led Vero Beach to a one-loss season. He completed 66 percent of his passes, threw for 3,070 yards and 40 touchdowns and rushed for 579 yards and seven touchdowns.
He didn’t start until his senior season and by the time word spread about his winning, accurate ways, most schools didn’t have room for another quarterback. Kansas did and was able to beat out Connecticut for him.
A bonus: His high school coach runs the same offense as Likens, so Stanley’s on the fast track regarding that aspect of his job. Starting a true freshman at QB would help Kansas at the gate and the experienced the freshman picks up will benefit him over the next three years.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
As we approach the Top 10 on our summer series of Most Crucial Jayhawks for the 2015 season, we find a player known equally for his on-the-field abilities as what he does and who he is off the field.
This Jayhawk, though, is definitely in a position to have a breakout season and, after spending two years adjusting to college football, seems prepared for whatever comes his way this season.
It's back-to-back Bens on this double-dip Tuesday… Here's a look:
Here's the thing about sophomore tight end Ben Johnson: We think we know what kind of player he will be based on his limited appearances last season and his overall demeanor as a person, player and teammate.
But we won't really know for sure until we see him on the field and he is put in a position to make plays and handle a bigger role.
Gifted with good size and speed, above-average athleticism and, at least from what we've seen so far, strong, sure hands, Johnson seems like a logical candidate to inherit a huge chunk of the stats that former KU tight end Jimmay Mundine racked up last season en route to earning second-team all-Big 12 honors.
Last season, Mundine finished with 584 yards and three touchdowns on 45 receptions and led the team in two of those three categories (yards and catches).
With just four receptions back at the wide receiver position (Tre' Parmalee), Johnson carries into the season the title of leading returning receiver. He finished 2014 with 80 yards on eight catches.
The Jayhawks have since added a couple of transfers who delivered bigger numbers at their previous schools in the form of Virginia Tech transfer Joshua Stanford and UAB transfer Quincy Perdue, but those guys are new to town and new to the program, which means, even if they outperform Johnson on the stat sheet this season — and I'm guessing the entire offense hopes they do — there still will be a pretty significant role for the tight end from nearby Basehor-Linwood High.
Florida transfer Kent Taylor is another factor here. His athleticism and size give him the potential to create some mismatches for opposing defenses and he could pick up some of Mundine's stats based on that fact alone.
But there's more to playing tight end than just catching balls and making plays, and while Johnson seems to be solid in both of those areas, he's also the more solid and physical blocker of the two and that alone should keep him on the field plenty.
Beyond all of the on-the-field stuff, Johnson was one of three players picked to represent Kansas football at Big 12 media days in Dallas in late July, so he clearly has impressed the coaches in other areas, as well, enough for them to feel like he'd be a worthy representative of what this program under first-year coach David Beaty is all about.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
The rigorous KU football camp schedule put our summer series on hold for a week or so, but we're back to finish off the second half of the list in the next couple of weeks.
Let's jump right back in with a name that, unlike many on this list, is pretty well known by KU fans and has been for the past couple of seasons.
Be sure to check out the links below for Nos. 25-13 and stay tuned the rest of the week for the rest of the list.
I've always thought Ben Goodman was one of the better dudes on the KU football team. He's always been incredibly friendly, had a great personality and a smile that lit up his entire face and had a way of pushing positive vibes onto those around him.
That demeanor doesn't make tackles or win football games but it does help you stand out. Today, just a couple of weeks removed from his final season of college football, Goodman is standing out for a completely different reason.
Always a little under the radar because of bigger names and more productive players on the defense ahead of him, Goodman enters the 2015 season as one of KU's most experienced defensive players and a man possessed.
Goodman's wearing a new number this year — 10 instead of 93 — and instead of just being happy to blend in and do what he can to help the D, the Beaumont, Texas, native is doing his best to make a difference. He has emerged as one of the top leaders on the team and looks as lean and mean as he ever has.
Perhaps the best part of Goodman's strong offseason heading into his final season with the Jayhawks is that he has not become complacent because of his status as an upperclassman. In Dallas, at Big 12 media days in late July, Goodman told me that Damani Mosby and Anthony Olobia had looked so good during the offseason that he was worried about them taking his spot, even though neither one had played a single down of Div. I football.
Through the first couple of weeks of camp, it does not look like that has happened. Goodman has been a fixture with the first team and looked as determined as ever.
The next step is for him to take all of those good traits and determined feelings and turn them into production on the field. As long as Goodman has some help around him — and it's starting to look like he might have a little more there than we once thought last spring — he should be poised for the best season of his KU career.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
One thing I've learned about college football players during the past handful of years is that they're not stupid.
That was on full display Monday at practice No. 11 of preseason camp, where the lessons the Kansas University football players learned over the weekend during their first live scrimmage clearly had an impact on their sense of urgency.
As they took the field I heard a couple of guys barking, “Just like Saturday all over again. Just like Saturday.” Others, like senior center Keyon Haughton, were seen getting after teammates on the sideline between drills.
Moments after losing a drill to the first-team defense, Haughton, who has been working as the first-team center during most of camp, was jacked up and yelling, “Let's go, let's go. Push. Push, fellas,” after doing the up-downs that the losing team was required to do.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think Haughton minded doing the extra conditioning work. I think he's just really starting to feel the beginning of the season roaring around the corner.
• Speaking of urgency, boy was special teams coach Gary Hyman fired up — even by Hyman's standards — during an early-practice special teams drill. While working on punt protection, Hyman was screaming like a mad man trying to get his guys to give max effort. That's nothing new, but his choice of words was. He used things like “September 5th,” “those guys” and “get it together.” The “those guys” he was referring to, of course, are the South Dakota State Jackrabbits and they're coming to KU on Sept. 5 for the season opener. “We gotta be stout,” Hyman said. “Those guys are gonna blitz (this specific spot) every time and they're not gonna dance. So don't dance.” Like I said, everyone around camp is starting to operate like that season opener really is just a couple of weeks away.
• I really like watching safety Bazie Bates work. He's full speed all the time and you can tell that he's not taking his opportunity to play D-I football lightly. He's here to work and isn't taking for granted the fact that he might very well be the most talented safety on the roster. This showed up today during a special teams coverage drill, when he ran full speed the entire time — as assistant coach Klint Kubiak demanded — and continually checked to see if he was onsides, as instructed by head coach David Beaty at the start of the drill, even when Beaty was busy giving instructions to another player. Small detail, but one the coaches surely appreciate.
• Cornerback Matthew Boateng was wearing No. 27 today. Not sure why. I'll be sure to ask. He moved from No. 1 to No. 33 in the offseason but was wearing the new digits on Monday. Could've been as simple as a laundry issue.
• During one drill where the KU quarterbacks worked on rolling out left and hitting receivers near the sideline, back-up quarterback T.J. Millweard, who isn't really in the race for KU's QB job, actually caught a pass. It didn't look like any kind of trick play — I just saw the catch — and it didn't happen again. Could've just been a weird challenge or a dare of some type. Either way, Millweard looked pretty sure-handed. Good to see from the team's holder. Speaking of QBs, it looked like Montell Cozart ran with the ones and Deondre Ford ran with the twos while we were out there today.
• On the B field, during live team action, juco transfer Will Smith, an offensive lineman, went hog wild after LaQuivionte Gonzales broke a long run for a touchdown and raced untouched through the KU secondary. Maybe Smith is just that type of dude but it sure seems like it's more likely that that's a product of the energy of the coaching staff rubbing off on these guys and one guy looking to jump to the A field figuring out how little things like that can make a big difference.
• Earlier in the day we got to talk with linebackers coach Kevin Kane, so it was only natural for me to watch Kane coach a little more closely during practice. The guy's a stud. Not only is he in complete command of his group at all times — he even proved to be incredibly comfortable in front of the cameras when meeting with the media — but he also is crazy detailed and direct in his coaching. During one tackling drill, the former KU linebacker demonstrated the proper way to step toward the ball carrier when he made his move. Instead of stabbing the ground right in front of the other foot while changing direction, Kane explained that doing so prevented the linebacker from exploding into the tackle and turned the whole thing into an arm tackle because of the poor base. It took one time for him to show it before everyone in line did it correctly the next two times through.
• Tuesday marks the second and final day of two-a-day practices for the Jayhawks, who will go once in the morning and again at 5:45 tomorrow night. In between, we'll get a chance to meet with O-Line coach Zach Yenser and the offensive linemen.
We talked to WR coach Klint Kubiak earlier in the day Friday so I guess it was only natural that I spent my time at practice this afternoon watching Kubiak and his crew.
The vets on the coaching staff all really like Kubiak and believe he has a bright future. The reason is easy to see: He does not waste a single second of practice time.
He's direct with his instructions, makes them easy to understand and is not afraid to repeat them if needed. Like the players, he runs from drill to drill and position to position and he has the kind of demeanor that makes him easy to follow and want to play hard for.
This all shows up without him screaming and hollering. Don't get me wrong, he can get loud, but it's usually loud in the sense of trying to get guys fired up to work harder not loud in the way of disciplining a guy. There's nothing wrong with either style, Kubiak just chooses the former. And it fits his personality.
A few of the wideouts we talked to Friday morning said they really like the way he coaches because they truly feel he cares about them, he cares about football and he cares about Kansas. He's young, but he's been around a lot of football and a lot of good coaches and, he already seems like a bargain and a great guy to have on this staff.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye at Friday's practice, the last one we're invited to until Monday.
• I watched Virginia Tech transfer Joshua Stanford — and, yes, he prefers Joshua to Josh — a lot more closely at today's practice and it's very easy to see why the coaches like this guy. He's all business, very polished and has a nice combination of good feet, good hands and good route-running ability. His ability to get off the line against press coverage was particularly impressive — and speaks to his veteran status — and he has so much success there mostly because of his feet, though his hands definitely play a role. Very nice late addition who should contend to lead the Jayhawks in receiving this season.
• Six or so years removed from playing defensive back at Colorado State and getting a chance in the Washington Redskins camp, Kubiak showed he can still cover a little bit. We've routinely seen him line up and jam the receivers at the line while working on beating press coverage, but during one drill on Friday, he actually dropped into coverage and ran with these guys, too. He's not as young or as athletic as these guys so they most always got by him, but you could tell he enjoyed pushing them and no doubt had a few words for them when they went by him.
• I noticed new DBs Bazie Bates and Brandon Stewart talking to each other a lot when they weren't in drills. It's cool to see the team's top corner and potentially top safety developing that kind of bond and chemistry. Fish Smithson has emerged as a leader in that secondary but there's no doubt that both Stewart and Bates have strong leadership qualities and could help Fish lead the defense this season.
• During his Friday meeting with the media Beaty talked about how they're still a little ways away in figuring out the whole QB position. It's hard to know exactly what that meant, but he said he was hoping to give all of those guys a little more time so the coaching staff can make a full evaluation. Cozart continues to be the unquestioned No. 1 guy during drills and Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis seem to be rotating at that No. 2 spot right now. Willis had held it down more regularly during the early part of camp, but Stanley got in the mix there a little more on Friday. During one drill, which worked receivers down the seam and on the back shoulder on the outside, Willis and Cozart stayed at one end while Stanley and Deondre Ford went to the other end. Who knows if that means anything, but I'm betting it does. If I had to rank the QB depth chart right now, I'd say it goes: Cozart, Willis, Stanley, Ford. I'm guessing the bulk of what they're trying to sort out is who the immediate back-up is to Cozart, not who the starter is. There's still more than half of camp left, though, so there's no telling what could still happen.
• The last thing that jumped out at me on Friday was from the O-Line station, where coach Zach Yenser was really requesting that the scout guys get after the first and second stringers. He kept talking about being physical, playing tough and really getting after them. That's the kind of stuff these guys are gonna see on Saturdays — and then some — so it was good to see Yenser asking for more.
• KU is set to run through a live scrimmage on Saturday. Media members are not invited to the scrimmage but you can bet some details will leak on Twitter, Facebook and message boards from those who are able to attend as well as the players and coaches themselves. We'll be back out there on Monday and have plenty of stories planned for the site over the weekend so be sure to check it out.
Trying to predict the make-up of any team's depth chart can be a pretty tricky deal.
Especially at a place like Kansas in a year like this, when so many positions are full of unproven players, newcomers and true freshmen trying to make a name for themselves and impress their coaches.
Because of that, I'm not quite ready to take a stab at a complete two-deep depth chart. But coming up with where things stand today with the first string does not seem all that difficult.
With that in mind, let's post this thing before the Jayhawks scrimmage tomorrow and it changes completely.
Since predicting things is part of the fun, right or wrong, I'll put a predicted back-up in parentheses at each spot.
Here's how things look — at least through my eyes — as of August 14, 2015:
QB – Montell Cozart — The real battle here appears to be which of the true freshmen — Carter Stanley or Ryan Willis — will open the season as Cozart's immediate back-up or if it'll be juco transfer Deondre Ford. Beaty continues to say Cozart has the inside track on the No. 1 spot and he is by far the most experienced player of the bunch. (Ryan Willis)
RB – Ke'aun Kinner — Kinner's healthy, explosive and has been with the team since the spring. That could give him the early nod. But watch out for incoming freshman Taylor Martin and, if they can stay healthy, veterans Taylor Cox and DeAndre Mann also could carry the rock their share of times. (De'Andre Mann)
LT – Jordan Shelley-Smith — Added 60-plus pounds and not only looks the part but also has the right mentality to play the position. Should be one of the more entertaining players to watch this fall. (Clyde McCaulley)
LG – Bryan Peters — We've only seen limited action from Peters over the past couple of seasons but he seems to me to be another Gavin Howard in the making — smart, versatile and ultra-reliable. (Jacob Bragg)
C – Keyon Haughton — Call it senior urgency or serious motivation. Either way, Haughton has worked his butt off this offseason and taken most of the first-team reps at center as a result. (Joe Gibson)
RG – D'Andre Banks — This was Junior Visinia's spot until he left the program. That opened the door for Banks, a talented and versatile juco transfer who arrived in the spring, to make his case for a starting role. (Will Smith)
RT – Larry Mazyck — Took advantage of another offseason to work on his skills and his body, and the big man could be a nice option here in a slightly less stressful position than the one on the opposite end of the line. (Jayson Rhodes)
TE – Ben Johnson — Filled in nicely for Mundine from time to time and brings similar athleticism and good hands. Could split time with Kent Taylor here, but seems like the more complete player of the two and his emergence as a leader should help keep him on the field. (Kent Taylor)
WR – Joshua Stanford — His experience from his days at Virginia Tech is so key and gives him the automatic edge over a bunch of unproven wideouts. (Steven Sims)
WR – Tre' Parmalee — It's possible one of the young guys beats Parmalee out, but he's a solid route runner and a reliable option who's been out there plenty. Plus, it sounds like he has emerged as a team leader. Hard to keep guys like that off the field. (Derrick Neal)
WR – Shakiem Barbel — With new coaches comes new opportunities and Barbel might be taking as much advantage of that as anyone. He looked the part during 2014 after joining the team out of nowhere but never got a chance to show what he could do. This offseason, he started on equal footing with everyone else and has been getting first team reps. (Quincy Perdue)
DE – Ben Goodman — Now that he's back at his natural position, Goodman should be ready and able to deliver his best season as a Jayhawk. (TJ Semke)
DT – Kapil Fletcher — Played in seven games a season ago and is one of the few guys on the roster with the size needed to hang in the interior. (Jacky Dezir)
DT – Daniel Wise — Goodman mentioned Wise as “one to watch out for” back in July at Big 12 media days in Dallas, and since then I've seen the red-shirt freshman trot onto the field with the first team just about every time. It will be interesting to see what kind of push Miami transfer Corey King gives Wise for this spot. (Corey King)
DE – Damani Mosby — Had as good a spring as anyone on the roster and appears to be ready for a big time role on the KU defense. (Anthony Olobia)
WLB – Courtney Arnick — He quietly had a solid season and fits the mold of the modern-day Big 12 linebacker. Not as big as you'd like, but plenty fast and a natural play maker. (Joe Dineen)
MLB – Marcquis Roberts — This position was a serious question mark before Roberts showed up. Now, it's his job to lose. Both Beaty and DC Clint Bowen have raved about him during preseason camp and the South Carolina transfer appears to be a lock to start the season as one of KU's top LBs. (Schyler Miles)
CB – Brandon Stewart — His presence during spring ball helped tremendously and he enters the fall as the most likely candidate to be KU's top corner. (Matthew Boateng)
CB – Tyrone Miller — Mature beyond his years, this Michigan product is a guy who is used to playing man-to-man coverage and isn't afraid to mix it up while maintaining solid coverage skills and using his speed and athleticism to make plays. (Ronnie Davis)
FS – Bazie Bates IV — Bates could easily be one of the most impressive players on this year's defense. He's got all of the parts you want in a safety — size, speed, swagger, etc. — and will hit the field full of confidence. (Greg Allen)
SS – Fish Smithson — Solid, physical player who gained valuable experience in a supporting role last season. He should be able to step right in for Cassius Sendish. (Michael Glatczak)
NB – Tevin Shaw — Shared time here with Greg Allen (a possible candidate to move to cornerback) and showed good toughness and improved coverage skills. (Greg Allen)
Thursday turned into Corey King day at KU football practice, the eighth practice on the seventh day of preseason camp.
Nobody knew it would become King day when the sun rose on Thursday and the 6-foot-1, 295-pound defensive tackle who is transferring to KU from Miami, Florida, did not actually even do much during practice. But he was out there. And his presence is big news.
A graduate of Miami, King brings four years of experience in a big time program to a team that is in big time need of bodies at his position.
His stats were not amazing at Miami, but he battled against and with some of the best players in the country and, as a native of Miami, has a good football pedigree going all the way back to high school.
It remains to be seen what kind of impact he'll have here, but he definitely looks the part. He's thick, solid and carries himself with confidence. During team drills on Thursday, he was actively engaged in cheering for the defense and his eyes did not leave the field.
Seems like a very solid pick up and it definitely can't hurt.
Here's a quick look at some other things that caught my eye at Thursday's practice:
• Special teams coach Gary Hyman — in only the way that Gary Hyman can do it — really emphasized mental reps during the special teams portion of practice we were able to watch. This is nothing new nor is it specific to Hyman or special teams. Just the other day the KU quarterbacks were all taking repeated mental reps — taking the fake snap, dropping back, simulating a throw — when they were not the one in the drill. The only thing interesting about this on Thursday was how heavily it was emphasized. If nothing else, this staff is going to continue to emphasize every little detail at all times.
• Speaking of special teams, these drills look like no fun at all. I mean, who wants to chop their feet, sprint back to a spot, set up, get square and then run the direction you just came from while blocking somebody who wants to run you over? That said, most of these guys give max effort even during the special teams drills, a sure sign that the message from the coaches is getting through. There are a couple of guys who dog it, but I'll watch 'em a few more times before calling them out just to make sure it wasn't a fluke thing.
• The 11-on-11 stuff was pretty good today. First off, transfer RB Ryan Schadler took a carry to the house that set the sideline on fire. He also fumbled a few carries later and that set RBs coach Reggie Mitchell on fire. Schadler's got talent, but he can't keep fumbling and keep alive any hopes of having a significant role. I'm sure he's more than aware of that. In addition, the DBs and WRs really competed for every ball in the air.
• Back to the drills, Ben Goodman was wearing a blue jersey (reserved for the offensive players) during a special teams drill and the minute it was over he said something about, 'Get me outta this weak blue.' Now that's a guy who's defense for life.
• I mentioned this in the spring but I'll mention it again: I love watching D-Line coach Calvin Thibodeaux coach. His demeanor is so smooth and yet so effective. The kids relate to him, listen to him and respect him and he gives all kinds of energy without looking like a crazy man. He's a star in the making in the coaching profession and I've heard that from guys on KU's staff and guys who knew the Tulsa staff he previously worked on. One of the coolest drills he ran on Thursday was an explosion drill, where the D-Linemen got low in their stances and then took one step on Thibodeaux's command and launched their bodies as far as they could onto a mat. It looked like a bunch of guys belly-flopping into a swimming pool.
By Matt Tait email@example.com
Wednesday was the first set of two-a-day practices for the Kansas University football team this preseason camp and KU coach David Beaty said that gave him another opportunity to see which guys were ready to step up and which guys were simply going through the motions.
To be fair, most players on this roster have met every one of these types of challenges with great energy and enthusiasm, but having these benchmarks built into the practice schedule is a huge tool for the coaching staff, particularly a first-year staff that is trying to find some separation at each position group any way they can.
The morning session was run in pretty good conditions. Cool temperatures — by Kansas in August standards — and calm conditions made it ideal for football practice. When Beaty came in to talk with reporters after practice he was sweating profusely. I mentioned something to him about being hot out there and he remarked, “It's actually pretty nice.” Guess that was just an indication of how hard he was getting after it.
Here's a quick look at some other things that caught my eye at Wednesday's second of two practices:
• Speaking of Beaty getting after it, the first-year KU coach is definitely getting more and more intense by the day. There's nothing choir boy about the way he rips into guys when they're not doing something right or up to the standard he's trying to establish for Kansas football. There was a hint of that during the spring, but it's definitely on another level right now, which makes perfect sense given that the season opener is fast approaching.
• Spent some time watching KU's punter battle at practice today and it looks like a good one. Eric Kahn, the back-up to Trevor Pardula last season, has been around and has a big leg, but he's a little slow in getting the kicks off and is not yet terribly consistent. Walk-on Ruben Guzman, a University of Hawaii transfer, had great hang time on his punts Wednesday and definitely looked more consistent. That's just one day and, really, one 10-minute drill, but it'll be interesting to see how this one plays out. It's just a hunch, and, again, it's just one day, but something about Guzman stood out to me. Like fellow-transfer Nick Bartalotta — they call him “Yoda” — who is battling place kicker Matthew Wyman for the starting job, Guzman's a short, stocky dude. It would be a heck of a duo if Guzman and Bartalotta wound up as KU's first-string kickers.
• Beaty announced Tuesday that freshman wideout Jeremiah Booker injured his shoulder and would probably miss a couple of weeks and that gave me an opportunity to get my first look at Booker in street clothes. Big kid. He's long, all limbs and has a good frame that looks like it could be pretty imposing when he fills out. Remember, this is a true freshman who already is listed at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds. The injury's a bummer. I'd heard he was looking really good and may have been earning some early playing time. There's still time, but the injury's a setback.
• A couple of notable reserves who were running with the first units on Wednesday: Red-shirt freshman Josh Ehambe got a turn opposite Ben Goodman at defensive end with the first-team defense. And running back Ryan Schadler, a former Wichita State sprinter who arrived at KU as a receiver and moved to RB in the spring, got a turn with the first-team offense. Running backs coach Reggie Mitchell had some impressive things to say about Schadler — a guy who caught my eye at every spring practice I went to — earlier in the day, so keep an eye out for that story soon.
• Finally, I got my first chance to see injured quarterback Michael Cummings at practice today. He was walking without crutches and seemed to be in good spirits, but it still sucks. It's not like I was on the verge of tears when I saw the guy or anything like that, but my heart goes out to him for the bad luck. Very cool to see him stay so involved. Not only is he mentoring the young QBs, but he's also signaling in plays to the offense and even drops down and does push-ups with whichever group gets punished for losing a drill. You could turn over a lot of rocks and travel to all corners of the world and you wouldn't find too many better human beings than Michael Cummings.