Air Raid Offense.
Just the name alone brings with it visions of long bombs, deep passes and footballs flying.
And while that might have been the way it was run in some of the more famous offenses that chose to run it, it does not necessarily mean that the team that utilizes it is going to air it out all the time.
Under first-year head coach David Beaty and first-year offensive coordinator Rob Likens, the 2015 Kansas University football team will run some version of the Air Raid offense this season. Our first look at it will come Saturday, when the Jayhawks play host to FCS foe South Dakota State at 11 a.m. at Memorial Stadium.
But a look back at what both architects of KU's new offense did during previous stops as offensive assistants at Cal and Texas A&M might provide a hint at a more balanced offense than one might expect.
The Kansas game notes claim that “Kansas' philosophy under head coach David Beaty and offensive coordinator Rob Likens is to run fast and put the ball in the air as much as possible,” but that might not be completely accurate.
The run fast part? Sure. Absolutely. Fast-paced, upbeat, relentless tempo will be a huge part of what KU's offense is all about under these two coaches.
But I'm not sure they'll look to put the ball in the air as much as possible. They might. But based on what I've been told about this offense, these guys are striving for a balanced attack that never lets up not a Mike Leach aerial assault that rarely runs.
Under OC Tony Franklin at Cal, Likens was a part of an offense that ran the ball 440 times and threw it 535 times during the 12-game regular season. That's an average of 37 runs and 45 passes per game and a run-pass split percentage of 45-55.
That's not exactly the stuff air-it-out dreams are made of.
Under OC Jake Spavital at Texas A&M, Beaty was a part of an offense that ran the ball 373 times and threw it 479 times during the 12-game regular season. That's an average of 31 runs and 40 passes per game and a run-pass split percentage of 44-56.
Again, not exactly a go deep and let it fly mindset.
Now, these numbers might be a little skewed because of lopsided scores and games against inferior opponents where the run worked and there was no need to throw too often.
But even with that being the case, those two offenses combined to call more runs than passes six times last season, with Cal doing it four times and A&M doing it twice.
Beyond that, it's not like Likens and Franklin or Beaty and Spavital are the exact same people and have the exact same minds when it comes to how to attack opposing defenses. But more often than not, guys who progress in the football coaching ranks tend to resemble and copy the guys they learned under.
Perhaps in time the Leach approach will be what the offense becomes at Kansas. Perhaps in time, when the pieces fit better and the coaching staff has had some time to get their own guys in here, that's the direction they'll head. But I don't think it'll be that way in Year 1 and I don't necessarily think it'll be that way at all.
Time will tell. And I, for one, will sure be interested to see what the final run-pass split looks like when Saturday's opener is over.
What began eight weeks ago with the first entry in this year's list of the 25 most crucial Jayhawks for the upcoming football season has reached its peak.
No. 1. Numero uno. The top dog. The head honcho.
It's no secret that left tackle is one of the game's most important positions at any level, but for this KU team, which features question marks at QB and all of the skill positions on offense, holding down the left side with some stability and consistency will be as critical as ever.
That responsibility belongs to a former tight end who's just one year into the switch to the offensive line, but the reports on Jordan Shelley-Smith from camp have been favorable.
Here's a look:
Shelley-Smith's move from tight end to offensive tackle a year ago made sense for the player and the program.
His natural athleticism, including his footwork and agility, stand out for an offensive linemen. His next challenge was to put on weight, which he accomplished in impressive fashion.
Among other things, Shelley-Smith spent a long period of time setting his alarm clock for 3 a.m. so that he could have another protein shake.
He’s still in the process of getting his technique down and has earned the respect of the coaching staff by working so hard at it as well as by getting the rest of the blockers to fall in line.
At left tackle, Shelley-Smith bears the important responsibility of protecting the quarterback’s blind side. It’s imperative he does a strong job of that because no attractive option is available.
A lot is being asked of a player so new to his position and there is a reason for that. His coaches believe in him and his hunger grows in lockstep with how much they put on his plate.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
According to KU junior Damani Mosby, his first name means "tomorrow" in Italian, and for this summer's list of the most crucial Jayhawks there is no tomorrow.
We'll plug in No. 2 right now and come back with the top pick in about 30 minutes.
If you've been following the coverage all summer, you already know how important Mosby could be to this defense and this team.
If you haven't, here's a look:
Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan has labeled Mosby the best player on this year's roster. Time will tell if that proves to be true, but the defensive end from Mesa College is definitely in the conversation.
Blessed with a solid blend of strength, size and speed, Mosby's impact as an edge rusher this season could be huge for the green Kansas defense that is filled with inexperience at nearly every position.
One thing about good pass rushers: They have a way of making even the most average secondaries look solid. And they also can spark the excitement in the stadium with a single play.
Mosby is not alone in carrying the burden of getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Seniors Ben Goodman (No. 12 on this list) and T.J. Semke (No. 22 if we had known Junior Visinia was going to leave the program) and junior Anthony Olobia (No. 13) will be right there with him every step of the way, helping to keep a steady presence on the edge and keep fresh legs in the game. But Mosby appears to have the best pure talent of all four of them and his potential seems to be the highest.
After a year off because of his transfer, Mosby is happy to be back and hungry for sacks.
He has known and recited the number of days remaining to the season opener since mid-June — 11 a.m. Sept. 5, Memorial Stadium — and you can bet that he'll be ready to come out of the gates with a memorable debut.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
We've reached the Top 3 of this year's list of Most Crucial Jayhawks for the upcoming season, and, given the fact that KU plays in the offensive madhouse that is the Big 12, it should come as no surprise that 2 of the 3 are defensive players at critical positions.
We'll unveil all three by the end of the day today and we'll start with No. 3, a juco transfer who has some mighty big shoes to fill at cornerback.
Here's a look:
In the Big 12 Conference, cornerbacks are tested like nobody else at an alarming rate. Week to week, game to game, snap to snap, if you don't have competent corners in this conference, you don't have a chance.
That's why the play of Stewart, a junior college transfer who nearly went to Cal but chose KU after taking some advice from his high school coach, is so critical for the Jayhawks this season.
Built to play the role he has inherited, Stewart has all of the physical and mental tools to succeed in the pass-happy Big 12. However, until he does it and does it with some consistency, KU fans will likely realize just how solid and steady the play of 2015 NFL Draft Picks JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald was in 2014.
In order for Stewart to perform at that level, he's going to have to prove he has what both of those guys had — confidence, an extremely competitive edge and a short memory. From the sound of it, he has all three. He carries himself like a veteran and talks like a guy who knows — doesn't think but knows — he's skilled enough to hang with some of the best offenses in the country.
What's more, Stewart takes pride in the growth he already has made under cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry. And, in the same vibe, Perry has talked openly about how proud he is of Stewart and his ability to take instruction and keep working.
Far from a finished product, Stewart surely will encounter some tough times out there this season. But if more good moments than bad show up early, his already-high confidence will continue to grow and that will help the entire KU defense.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
Number 4 on the list — and, no, we didn't pencil him into this position because he has the IV at the end of his name — is a player who could easily have the biggest impact of any Jayhawk on the defense.
A junior college transfer from Trinity Valley Community College, Bazie Bates IV not only brings good skills, size and confidence to the KU secondary but he's also stepping into a position that lost two starters from last year's squad in Cassius Sendish and Isaiah Johnson, both guys who played like long-time veterans.
Bates has some work to do to reach their level, but the physical ability is there.
Here's a look.
It's not every year that a team is asked to replace all four starters in the secondary yet somehow comes away feeling OK about at least a few of the positions.
Credit juco transfer Bazie Bates for part of the reason the Jayhawks feel good about the crop of safeties they'll start the season with in 2015.
Known as a hard hitter and a tireless worker, Bates already has become a huge part of the KU defense, through his time with the team in the spring, summer and preseason camp.
One of Bates' biggest assets is his confidence. The guy simply believes he is a player and demonstrates that not by running his mouth and boasting anywhere he can but by playing hard and earning the respect of his teammates.
His experience as a cornerback at Trinity Valley CC gives him that extra layer of skill that turn him from your average safety surveying the field and looking for a play to come his way into a potentially huge part of this defense — and this season — because he is willing to go out and find a way to make a play.
I talked to Bates this spring about choosing the No. 24 and how he has some big shoes to fill given that former KU cornerback and sixth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, JaCorey Shepherd, wore that number the past couple of seasons (not to mention former KU safety Bradley McDougald, now making a name for himself with the Tampa Bay Bucs) and Bates said he liked that he was wearing a number that already had high expectations.
The guy is not afraid of anything and, with his natural athleticism and extreme confidence, his number and name are ones you can expect to hear called a lot this season.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
Just a few days after he officially was named this year's starter, it's time to check off the Kansas quarterback on our list of most crucial Jayhawks for 2015.
He's a name you're familiar with and one who has started — and even won — a few games during the past two seasons.
Here's a look.
If we were certain that Cozart, who earlier this week was named the starter for the season opener for the second season in a row, would finish the season and start all 12 games, he definitely would be slotted in the No. 1 spot on this list.
But when you're talking about a program that has benched its QB mid-season for five consecutive years and a player who, himself, was benched five games into a season just one year ago, you have to at least consider the fact that he might not make it all the way through.
The hope inside the KU program is that the new offense, which in many ways was tailor-made for Cozart's strengths, will fit the junior from Bishop Miege so well that he'll look like a different player and have that KU offense humming again. The proof will be in the pudding, though, and we obviously need to see that happen before counting on it.
I've written before, though, that Cozart seems like a different guy. His maturity has kicked in and he is taking a much more business-like approach to this whole thing. That can't hurt.
He has the tools to be a big-time player — strong arm, great athleticism, solid speed and tremendous work ethic. Now he just needs to show that he's not afraid to take some hits and can be accurate with the pass in this new Air Raid offense.
His coaches and teammates seem to be very high on where he's at right now and Cozart himself, as he always has been, is full of confidence. If he can translate those things into good numbers, this offense might have a chance to be productive. If not, we might see true freshman Ryan Willis or juco transfer Deondre Ford before the season's over.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015:
By now, you've all surely heard that Kansas University junior Montell Cozart has been named the Jayhawks' starting quarterback for the 2015 season.
So what does this mean for the team, for Cozart, for first-year coach David Beaty and for the upcoming season, which kicks off 12 days from today at Memorial Stadium?
For the team, Cozart stepping under center to start the season provides a veteran presence that comes with eight starts and 14 appearances the past two seasons. A good chunk of that experience might be easy to forget, but it's still far more experience than anyone else on the roster brings and, at least right now, I think having that sort of steady hand at the game's most important position can help the rest of these new, unproven guys around him feel a little more comfortable out there.
For Cozart, heading into another season as the Jayhawks' starter gives him a chance at redemption. Cozart is a great teammate and he's all about what's best for the team, but getting benched last season during the fifth game of the year was a blow to his confidence and a blow to his pride. That's a thing of the past now and, rather than dwelling on it, Cozart is using it as motivation for this season. Having gone through that once, he knows now that he doesn't want to deal with that feeling again. Everything he's done this offseason was with that in mind. Whether it's enough to produce different results remains to be seen, but having that drive him definitely can't hurt.
For Beaty, the decision to go with Cozart will go down as his first big move as the Jayhawks' head coach. Granted, it doesn't take huge stones to pick an experienced veteran over a bunch of guys who have never played a down of Division I football, but given that it's the quarterback position and that KU fans were so down on Cozart after his performance through five games last season, it would've been easy for Beaty, who loves to be liked, to get ahead of himself and try to please people by picking one of the newcomers. He didn't. And he based the battle on who performed the best and who earned the job. That's a solid foundation from which a first-year head coach can build. And, whether Cozart at QB works out or not, it gives us a good look at how Beaty thinks.
Finally, as for how the pick of Cozart will impact the 2015 season, it's probably pretty irrelevant. For all the reasons mentioned above, Cozart seems to be the right choice and gives KU the best chance to have success on offense. But because of a lack of depth and so much unproven talent, it's harder than ever to say that one player will have a huge role in how many games the Jayhawks win or lose. True, the quarterback often has the biggest impact of any player on any roster. And, true, if you don't have a quarterback you shouldn't expect to win much. But this team doesn't figure to win much anyway, so why not give Cozart one last look to see if the new offense and a little maturity made him a different player. If the answer's yes, they might have their guy for next season. If the answer's no, then moving on from there won't be any harder anyway.
Based on the work he's put in, his veteran status and the fact that he proved to be the best of the bunch — most notably the most consistent — throughout fall camp, Cozart deserves the chance he's getting.
Now it's up to him to prove he's a different player than the one we've seen in the past.
Throughout the offseason, spring ball and preseason camp, one of the biggest buzz words surrounding Kansas football has been competition.
On Friday, during a practice that was split between the practice fields and the turf at Memorial Stadium, we got a heavy dose of competition from start to finish.
Whether guys were competing for balls during seven-on-seven type drills or new faces were working in new spots in an attempt to see how so and so would hold up with the ones or so and so would react to running with the twos, all kinds of competition was on full display during the 90-plus minutes the media was invited to watch.
We did not get to stay until the last Jayhawks left the field, but it looked like they were just working on ball security and cool down stuff when we were asked to leave. And it was incredibly valuable in the fact that it really gave us a good look at how certain guys compete and how far some guys have come since we saw them in the spring or on Day 1 of fall camp a little more than two weeks ago.
Here's a quick look at what caught my eye on a gorgeous Friday morning in LFK:
• It definitely looks like a two-man race for that starting QB job and I definitely think junior Montell Cozart is the clear leader. Deondre Ford keeps getting reps and opportunities with the second unit, but, overall, Cozart looks more consistent. During the seven-on-seven stuff in the stadium on Friday, the entire 20-30 minute session included Cozart and Ford with the ones and twos on one end of the field while freshmen Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis worked the same stuff at the other end of the field.
• Right after stretching and special teams stuff that opens practice, the Jayhawks went into their fast start offense vs. defense stuff and it was by far the most competitive I've seen it. On the first three snaps, the offense got the better of the D when Cozart hit freshman wideout Steven Sims with a perfect pass in the back corner of the end zone and Ford followed that up with a bullet over the middle to freshman tight end Jace Sternberger for another TD. On the next play, senior tailback De'Andre Mann slipped through the middle for a touchdown. All of the snaps were taken from the 8 yard line. From there, perhaps thanks to the barking of defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, the defense stiffened and turned the offense away on three consecutive snaps to end the period. The first was a run stuff. The second was an incompletion by Ford. And the third was an interception by freshman Tyrone Miller, who picked off Ford's pass for tight end Kent Taylor in the back of the end zone.
• Speaking of Bowen, I freakin' love how often he yells at the KU defensive backs to “MAKE A PLAY.” Every time the ball is in the air, Bowen truly believes one of those DBs should go get it. A lot of times they'll get there to break it up or create some chaos, which clearly is good, but Bowen is not truly happy unless they intercept it. That's a great standard to set and when it does happen, he lets everyone around know how happy he is. Then he moves on to the next play and forgets all about it. Good stuff.
• One interesting thing from an early QB drill came in the form of OC Rob Likens and head coach David Beaty both riding the QBs for not putting enough air under their passes on deep balls. Beaty had to jump in and stop the drill at one point to light the QBs up and Likens just kept yelling, “more air, more air.” One thing that jumped out about it the most was that both of them were emphasizing that they're not trying to throw 50-yard passes. In fact, Likens said 35 yards max. Just more proof that this offense figures to be about shorter passes to play makers in space and the quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly. No surprise there.
• Speaking of Steven Sims Jr., the 5-foot-10, 165-pound wideout from Travis High in Houston, we keep hearing his name thrown out by the coaches and it now seems abundantly clear that the young fella is going to play and play a lot. He might even be working his way into a starting role. His camp has been that good. He's so smooth in everything he does and looks almost like a veteran at times. The TD catch he made early on showed off his leaping ability and his routes are so smooth and his hands are so sure. He's No. 16 on offense. Get used to seeing him.
• Another young guy who looks like he's going to play right away is Kingfisher, Oklahoma tight end Jace Sternberger. He looks so athletic and, like Sims, so sure-handed. Sternberger worked some with the first team and his role will definitely increase if Kent Taylor or Ben Johnson were to miss time. But even if they don't, with this up-tempo offense, Sternberger will get his time on the field and it definitely looks like he's earned it. He's a great kid, too. One of my favorites from this recruiting class when I was talking to these guys back before they signed.
• Funny highlight from the seven-on-seven stuff: At one point when a team manager batted down a pass from one of KU's quarterbacks with a giant pad, linebackers coach Kevin Kane got so fired up he ran over and high-fived the manager like he was one of his defensive players who just made a play. I guess, in that case, he was.
• Beaty talked a little about this after practice but it definitely jumped out to me during practice — freshman linebacker Osaze Ogbebor is a bundle of effort and intensity. Beaty referred to him as a puppy dog with boundless energy and it shows up constantly at practice. Whether he's tipping a pass, battling for a break-up or diving to try to secure an interception he really has no shot at getting, Ogbebor is always moving and rarely caught standing still.
• Cornerback Brandon Stewart has had a great camp but I noticed one thing that he (and everyone else on the team) does not need to do. On a pass to the flat during seven-on-seven drills, the ball was clearly going to be incomplete and yet Stewart still wrapped his arm around the receiver's waist, even though it had no impact on the play. The official — in this case, director of high school relations Gene Wier — threw the flag. Although it didn't cost Stewart on Friday, those types of little mistakes could kill any hopes of KU competing if they keep happening during the season.
• UAB transfer Quincy Perdue, who looks like he's currently holding down a spot with the second team, may have emerged as the big body wideout this team needs to get the tough yards. On one third-down play during seven-on-seven stuff, Perdue ran a dig route and then fought back to the ball to make the catch. He battled three defenders in his area to come away with the catch and used his strong hands to rip the pass out of the air to complete the conversion.
• One thing that has really started to stand out about Beaty is how often he gives one-on-one attention to his players. He's never afraid to pull a guy aside for a quick one-on-one conversation and he always has the look of a coach who not only really cares but also really wants to get his point across and make sure the kid gets it. It's rarely loud and never done to show the kid up. And it comes after good plays just as much as it does after bad plays. That kind of attention is huge toward the buy-in that we've heard these guys talk so much about.
• Finally, one thing I really enjoyed seeing was offensive GA Connor Embree, a former KU wideout, working to get extra reps for the receivers between plays. Much like an extra outfielder who goes out between innings and warms up the left or right fielder, Embree was firing passes — today they were toward Bobby Hartzog — to the receivers in the drill while the offensive coaches or defensive coaches were making a quick adjustment. It wasn't much more than two or three throws at a time and it wasn't every time. But it was a perfect example of stealing reps and working when others aren't that Beaty and company have talked a lot about during camp.
• Another big scrimmage awaits the Jayhawks on Saturday. Tomorrow could be the day when some jobs are handed out and battles are decided. We're not invited but we get Beaty again on Monday, so hopefully we'll know more about some of these competitions real soon. Enjoy your weekends!
Thursday's practice started with a bit of patriotism for the Kansas University football team, as rear admiral Mark W. Darrah of the United States Navy spoke to the Jayhawks about leadership and the importance of operating as a team.
Although the guest speaker sounds like something that would be right up first-year coach David Beaty's alley, it was actually Darrah who requested the opportunity to address the Jayhawks.
Back in the area for a series of speaking engagements, the Shawnee Mission Northwest High and Ottawa University graduate reached out to Beaty about attending a practice and talking to the team while he was here.
“I thought it went well,” Darrah told the Journal-World at practice. “I just talked about the need to be a team and how having success isn't about the individual. I also told them that the tone that coach Beaty has set is the right tone.”
That tone, as has been well documented, is based on effort, discipline, accountability and energy. Lots and lots of energy.
Darrah, who was decked out in his white Naval uniform and given a pile of KU gear before he left practice, reminded the Jayhawks that in good times and bad their energy can mean a lot to a lot of people.
“There are people out there sitting on the edge of their seats bleeding with them and wanting them to win,” Darrah said. “Guys in combat zones all over the world are tuning in to see if their team is winning.”
Darrah, who will serve as an honorary captain at Friday's Kansas City Chiefs exhibition game, said the last message he wanted to leave the team centered on how a lot of the lessons he learned as a high school and college athlete helped pave the way for his decorated career.
“Some of these guys will wind up in the military after they're done playing here,” he said. “And hopefully they'll take the lessons they're learning today with them. I just spent a few minutes out there listening to (Beaty), but I can see it and hear it in his voice. He's got it.”
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye at Thursday's practice:
• I watched a pretty fun drill with OC Rob Likens and the quarterbacks for a little while. It was a simple one-man drill in which the QBs simulated a snap, executed a little zone read handoff and then rolled to their left to throw at a net with three targets. As they rolled out, Likens called out which target they were supposed to hit and then offered commentary on their throws. I didn't see any of the QBs actually hit any of the targets — top right, middle or bottom left — but there were plenty of throws that came close and Likens seemed to have a blast messing with them during and after the drill.
• Speaking of quarterbacks, Keaton Perry was wearing a Go-Pro camera on his helmet for Thursday's practice. We'll try to get ahold of some of the footage and post it here or in a different blog later. I'm sure it looks pretty cool.
• It's too hard to know what any of this meant, but there were some new tackles working with the first team offense during the fast-start, 11-on-11 action that unfolded right before we left. Clyde McCaulley (previously the back-up to Jordan Shelley-Smith) and walk-on Larry Hughes (the second string right tackle on Wednesday) played left and right tackle, respectively, with the first unit on Thursday. Shelley-Smith went through position drills at his normal spot earlier in the day so maybe this was just a way to give him a rest or a way to give these guys a chance to work with the lead group in case the need arises during the season. Either way, both dudes certainly looked decent as the first-string offense got the best of the D when they were out there. The winning play in the drill came on a sweet fade pass from Montell Cozart to Tre' Parmalee for 25 yards. On the next possession, Deondre Ford hit Quincy Perdue for a first down to the give the offense back-to-back victories in the drill before the defense stood tall and sacked Cozart in Round 3 (don't worry, no actual hitting was done) and forced a drop by tight end Kent Taylor on a very good looking throw by Ford in Round 4.
• Speaking of Cozart and Parmalee, the Bishop Miege connection appears to be alive and well with those two former Stags. Cozart looks for Parmalee a lot, which makes sense given the fact that Parmalee is often open, runs reliable routes and catches everything throw his way. I know Parmalee isn't going to excite the masses, but he may turn out to be a solid contributor this season based on his veteran status and tireless work ethic alone.
• It's a 10 a.m. practice on Friday and the media is invited to attend the entire thing. We'll be out there so look for an extended practice recap tomorrow afternoon sometime.
Entering the offseason, the identity of the player who would lead KU football in receiving during the 2015 season was a huge mystery and a tough question to answer.
It might not be quite as difficult any more.
Thanks to the addition of Virginia Tech transfer Joshua Stanford, who has stood out in preseason camp for his play, polish and poise, gave KU a proven player who had been through the rigors of college football Saturdays before.
Stanford certainly is no lock to lead the Jayhawks in receiving — mostly because the position has so many other bodies — but he is the most experienced player in a young group and his performance in camp has turned plenty of heads.
Here's a little deeper look:
If they handed out nicknames after just a couple of weeks, the Virginia Tech transfer might be given the moniker Joshua “All Business” Stanford.
All he has done since arriving on campus this summer is elevate the look of the KU receiving corps with his intense work ethic, impeccable route running, strong hands and solid understanding of what it takes to play and produce at this level.
Injuries cost him half of the 2014 season at Va. Tech, where he logged more than 200 snaps at wideout and played in six games and made three starts.
So far his addition to the roster has helped the Jayhawks' young and unproven receiving corps by giving the rest of the group a quality leader who has produced at a high level. First-year KU coach David Beaty said Stanford's skill might only be surpassed by his character and leadership ability and, by all accounts, he is a quiet guy who has no interest in beating his chest or talking about himself. He's here to play for the team and for his faith and he's going to work as hard as possible to make both proud.
Having already graduated from Virginia Tech, Stanford has two years of eligibility remaining and, according to Beaty, should make an immediate impact and help the KU passing game right away, big numbers or not.
Most Crucial Jayhawks 2015: