There aren't a whole lot of details out there about this event, which is slated to take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday on the lawn of Watson Library on KU's campus, but the KU video department put this video together and its intent is clear.
First-year KU football coach David Beaty is ready and willing to take on all comers in an oversized game cornhole, the popular tailgate game also known as bags.
The event is merely the latest way that Beaty is taking to the streets to engage with KU students and fans in an attempt to spark interest in and drum up support for a program that has struggled through six consecutive losing seasons under three different head coaches.
From the look of it, all you have to do is show up to participate in what's being dubbed "Coach Beaty's Campus Challenge." Be forewarned, though. As you can see in the video, the KU coach feels pretty good about his skills.
Friday's spring practice for the KU football team — No. 11 of 15 — kicked off with strength coach Je'Ney Jackson sending his guys back to the goal line after a lackluster breakdown that followed their warm-up.
“We're about to scrimmage, fellas,” Jackson and other coaches yelled. “Have some enthusiasm.”
Seconds later, the breakdown was much more spirited and the Jayhawks had that fire the coaches were looking for.
This, of course, is nothing new. Coaches do this all the time and it has happened at KU plenty. But regardless of whether it encourages you to roll your eyes or pump your fist, it definitely shows the kind of commitment to the small details that this coaching staff and these players are working toward.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to stay for the scrimmage but there were a few other things that caught my eye while we were out there. Here's a look:
• Probably the most interesting aspect of Friday came in the 7-on-7 period that happened just before we were asked to leave. Four different quarterbacks got four reps each and I timed how long it took each to get the ball out of his hands after receiving the snap. Here are the results: Michael Cummings – 2 seconds, 2.5 seconds, 3 seconds, 2 seconds; Montell Cozart – 3.5 seconds, 2 seconds, 3.5 seconds, 2 seconds; Frank Seurer Jr. – 3 seconds, 2 seconds, 4 seconds, 2.5 seconds; Brock Gilmore – 4 seconds, 3 seconds, 4 seconds, 4.5 seconds. Now, just because those back-ups held the ball a little longer does not mean the passes were incomplete or the plays were a bust. But if it's tempo they're looking for (and it is) it's crystal clear that Cummings and Cozart are a full step ahead in terms of reading and reacting.
• One special teams drill I hadn't seen yet was the onside kick recovery drill, which featured roughly 30 different guys running through the drill. One at a time, the guys would practice fielding the bouncing kick and then going down to the ground to secure it. Mixed results, as expected, but it was a fun drill to watch. About that attention to detail, special teams coach Gary Hyman got all over his kickers during the drill for not going rapid-fire enough. “This is their drill, not yours,” Hyman barked. “Get the kicks off faster.”
• Watched the O-Line again for a while and saw Zach Yenser calling out protections and then hovering over his guys while instructing them what to do. Most of them knew what to do to begin with, but he was creating stress and forcing them to focus while under fire. Bryan Peters was working at left tackle with the ones and twos and I can't help but think he's going to wind up being one of those Gavin Howard type guys this fall. He may not be the most impressive guy they have, physically, but he's reliable, can play multiple positions and has a good head.
• The Jayhawks will take the weekend off and return to the practice fields on Tuesday for practice No. 12.
I'm not sure why but I've kind of overlooked the defensive line this spring — at least in terms of how often I've watched them work at practice.
Maybe it's because we've heard so much about how the D-Line is one of the strengths of the team and so many of those guys who play up front are familiar names — Ben Goodman, T.J. Semke, Andrew Bolton, Kapil Fletcher and others.
With that said, I made sure to go stand down there on Thursday at spring practice No. 10 and I'm definitely glad I did.
Not only was I impressed by what I saw — these guys really look to have good footwork, great get-off and solid work ethic — but I also was entertained.
Calvin Thibodeaux was a solid player on a few really good Oklahoma teams. From the look of things, he's also well on his way to becoming a solid coach and maybe even a comedian.
During one drill, in which the D-Linemen were working on lateral movement, a couple of guys stumbled over the bags on the ground. Thibodeaux let 'em have it.
“Don't whoop 'em, bags,” he kept yelling. “Oh man these bags are tough, aren't they? Glad we don't play the bags on Saturday.”
Ribbings like those were seemingly endless, but they all were done with a purpose — to motivate the guys to prove Thibodeaux wrong. Like I said, they've got great work ethic and I can't help but think that's where some of it comes from.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye on Thursday:
• During Wednesday's meeting with the media as I was talking with offensive coordinator Rob Likens, special teams coach Gary Hyman came over and pointed something out to me that I had never noticed. “Greatest hair in all of NC-2A right there,” Hyman said as he messed with Likens' 'do and walked away with a laugh. In the interest of being thorough, I decided to take a closer look at Thursday's practice, but was foiled. See, Likens most often wears a hat out there at practice, so he wasn't letting anybody see the locks. Guess we'll just have to trust Hyman on that one.
• Speaking of assistant coaches, co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry donned a little something extra to get his point across to his defensive players at Thursday's practice. Instead of just yelling things to help leverage like, “Bend your knees,” and “You're too high, you're too high,” and “Stay low, get down,” Perry wore a long sleeve T-Shirt with those instructions plastered across the front. Bend. Your. Knees. It's one thing to bark orders, but it's another to remind guys constantly even when they just look at you.
• One more note about Hyman, whom you've already heard has an incredible amount of energy. During a kickoff return drill, one kick returner caught the ball, rolled up the right side and then cut it back to daylight on the left side and broke free. Now in a game that might not be frowned upon. But at Thursday's practice, that wasn't the case. Hyman lit him up for cutting it back because the drill they were doing was designed to work on blocking assignments with a right return. Cutting it back does not allow the guys in the drill to see whether what they had done actually worked or not and Hyman made sure the returner and everyone within ear shot knew it.
• During the 11-on-11 live offense period, Montell Cozart was the first QB out there with the first team. That could mean something, but it also might not. Likens said the other day that he makes a conscious effort to ensure that both Cozart and Michael Cummings work equal reps with the first-team offensive line and the second-team offensive line so he can see how each guy reacts to the adversity and advantages that come with both. It might have just been how the rotation fell today so I wouldn't read too much into Cozart being out there first just yet.
• Speaking of QBs, one thing I noticed that was new to me was hand signals from the quarterbacks at the line of scrimmage. Now, we're not talking Peyton Manning stuff here, but I did see these guys signaling to receivers and possibly even linemen with their hands after taking the calls from the sideline. All in the name of tempo, I'm sure.
If you're looking for signs of optimism regarding the progress of the Kansas University football team this spring, here's a nugget that might interest you.
On Tuesday, at the ninth practice of the spring, the Jayhawks jumped right into a special teams period following the stretching and warm-up session as they normally do.
For the second time in the past few practices, kickoff return was the focal point of the period and it jumped out at me how much the Jayhawks had improved in such a short time in this department.
Things that were merely being taught at a practice last week now looked like things these guys had been doing for years. And the overall energy and intensity of the drill looked much sharper, crisper and efficient.
It's one drill. And this does not mean that all is well and that this coaching staff has a magic wand that can turn frogs into princes.
What it does mean, though, is that these players are continuing to put in the work and what they're being taught is starting to take hold.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye at Tuesday's practice:
• There has been some message board chatter about the health of left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith and I even wrote last week that he wasn't working in every drill. But he was out there today and seemed to be fine. Good news for an offensive line that's still coming together.
• I thought it was interesting to watch the tight ends working drills with some of the wide receivers on Tuesday. Ben Johnson, who every day looks like he's poised to step into a big time role, and Kent Taylor were working on routes with Tre' Parmalee, Rodriguez Coleman and Tyler Patrick. Nothing Earth-shattering here, but it speaks to the potential interchangeable nature of these positions in an offense that may use as many as 8-10 pass catchers per game.
• Speaking of interchangeable, I noticed that former Free State High standout Joe Dineen was working with the safeties at Tuesday's practice. Dineen, who started as a safety and then moved to running back and finally linebacker, is listed on the roster as a linebacker. He's been held out of most contact drills throughout the spring while recovering from an injury so maybe him working with the safeties was just a way to get him some more mental reps and keep things sharp in case he's needed back there, as well.
• We continue to hear nothing but good things about the way Montell Cozart and Michael Cummings are battling for the top spot on the depth chart at quarterback. So I took an extended look at both on Tuesday. Forget arm strength, footwork and those types of things. I'm not fully qualified to critique that, nor do I get to hear what they're asked to do with each rep. One thing that jumped out at me while watching though was how both guys constantly looked for time to get some work in between reps. If Cozart wasn't throwing live, he was working on his arm placement or drop back. And if Cummings wasn't up in the drill, he was doing the same, while also clearly working through some mental reps. We've heard a lot over the years about the importances of these extra reps and it's cool to see both guys taking it seriously.
• Speaking of the two QBs, I believe we'll get to talk to them and maybe a few other players sometime this week. So it should be fun to hear how the battle's progressing and how they're liking the Rob Likens/David Beaty offense.
No need to be alarmed, but Friday's eighth practice of the spring session for the Kansas University football program may have been the first in which special teams coach Gary Hyman did not sport his signature look of a turtleneck and pants.
According to one KU official, who also noticed the fashion trend, Hyman was mic'd up for Friday's practice, an episode of KU's web-only, behind-the-scenes look at practice that surely will go down as a must-watch.
Hyman usually looks something like he does in the photo below:
All joking aside, I continue to be amazed by Hyman's energy. It's as if the guy just never has a bad day — or at least as if he's immune to showing it. When he's on the practice field, his entire focus is on giving every ounce he's got to teaching the Jayhawks in front of him whatever drill or skill they're working on that day.
It's not just Hyman who operates this way, but he's definitely one of the loudest and most entertaining of the bunch.
With Friday marking the first practice of the second half of the spring, I tried to spend a little more time looking at depth chart situation, knowing darn well that what's out there today could change a dozen times before the first game. Still, it's at least an indicator of which guys have performed well through the first part of spring ball.
Here's a look at what else caught my eye at Friday's practice:
• I got my first look at some kickoff return drills and it's safe to say that there's still quite a battle going on back there for which guys will get first team reps with that unit this fall. On Friday, Rodriguez Coleman, Derrick Neal, Ke'aun Kinner, Corey Avery, De'Andre Mann and walk-on Ryan Schadler (a red-shirt freshman from Hesston, Kansas, who ran track at Wichita State and continues to catch my eye with his blazing speed and all-out effort) all took turns with the first team. There's a long way to go before that gets sorted out, but it's definitely fair to say that's one area where KU is not hurting for options, provided they can afford to use front line guys in that role.
• Speaking of that drill, LBs coach Kevin Kane and WRs coach Klint Kubiak (I guess it was a K-name thing) ran the drill and their emphasis was not on the return guys but rather on the first three blockers in front of them. Not only did they emphasize steps and direction and spacing, but they also made it a point to hammer home to those guys that it's extremely critical for them to yell to the wall in front of them that the ball has been caught and they're coming. “Caught it, caught it, caught,” barked Kubiak, demonstrating the proper style and volume. “Yell and be loud out there, fellas. Make sure they hear ya,” Kane added.
• Quick update on the first- and second-string O-Line units. It seems as if regular first-team left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith might be dealing with some kind of a nagging injury so on Friday the ones lined up like this: LT Joe Bloomfield, LG Bryan Peters, C Keyon Haughton, RG Junior Visinia, RT Larry Mazyck. The twos looked like this: LT Devon Williams, LG Kyle Pullia, C Jacob Bragg, RG D'Andre Banks, RT Jayson Rhodes.
• I spent the last part of the practice we were allowed to watch observing the wide receivers and both Rodriguez Coleman and Tre' Parmalee jumped out at me throughout the drills. Coleman just looks so effortless in everything he does. If you're not into that sort of thing, you might mistake it for a guy with a lack of a motor, but I don't think that's the case. He just moves so well and has some pretty good experience, that this is all old hat for him. As for Parmalee, his hands (which never were an issue) look stronger and better than ever and he's another one of those guys who you can tell has played a little bit. Both guys are going to have to really step up for this young and inexperience receiving corps this fall, but it seems like they're doing a solid job of leading by example and helping bring the young guys along.
• The Jayhawks will have the weekend “off” and will return to the practice field on Tuesday for spring session No. 9.
Other than the 80-plus degree temperatures that made the Memorial Stadium turf feel like it would in the middle of a summer day, the main thing that jumped out to me at Monday and Tuesday's sixth and seventh spring practices for the KU football program was the attention to detail and fundamentals stressed by every coach during every drill.
On Tuesday — as is the case on most days — special teams coach Gary Hyman was the man flying around the field yelling and screaming about technique, steps, shoulders and leverage.
He's a blast to watch because he's so passionate about what he does and he puts every ounce of what he's got and who he is into every rep. The Jayhawks would be in great shape if they had a bunch of Gary Hymans to suit up and play this fall.
But they don't, so he's doing the best he can to mold them into guys who have his personality. I can't imagine what it's like to play for him, but it's a lot of fun and very informative to watch him work. He's equal parts praise and critique and you have to listen carefully to the words to determine which is which because his voice and tone rarely change.
Whether it's “Goooood, that's the way to do it, son,” or “Why did you let him get outside of you,” Hyman puts his signature roar on each teaching point.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye during Monday and Tuesday's practices:
• One of Monday's most interesting special teams drills involved a volleyball. Yep. A volleyball. Linebackers coach Kevin Kane was working with guys on rushing the punter and instead of using a football, the mock punter had a volleyball and simply flipped it with his hands whenever guys got close enough to get a block. They did this drill from a full 10 yards back and also did it from a couple of feet away, where they simulated running with their arms and then just flipped their hands out when Kane blew the whistle. This was just one of the many special teams drills that they did during the past two days, but it was cool to see how seriously the guys were taking it. Fundamentals reign supreme.
• In case you missed it, also on Monday, 5-star Antioch, California, running back Najee Harris, 6-2, 220 pounds, was on campus for an official visit. It was Harris' second visit to KU in a month and, although he's just a sophomore, the interest in the program seems to be genuine.
• Moving on to Tuesday, tackling was a huge emphasis of the portion of practice that we were able to see. I'm sure it is every day in a number of different ways, but the focus on wrapping up and bringing guys down really jumped out to me during this one. Kevin Kane ran a station that focused solely on wrapping up at the line of scrimmage. Every position group but the offensive line and quarterbacks came through it, even the wide receivers. Clint Bowen and Kenny Perry also ran tackling drills with mats and bags. The one thing Kane kept yelling over and over — other than great things like, “Holy Moses,” after a poor rep — was: “Guys, you've gotta get better at tackling. You've gotta get better at tackling.” Continued effort like they showed on Tuesday certainly won't hurt.
• Speaking of Kane, by far the most hilarious portion of Tuesday's practice came when “Fortunate Son” by Credence Clearwater Revival blared over the loud speaker. Kane, who must be a CCR fan, started barking at the players at his station at the time, “Who sings this?” “Who sings it?” “Who. Sings. This. Song.” Each time, the Jayhawks delivered a shake of the head and a shrug of the shoulders. I can't say I expected any of them to know the answer, but watching Kane try to coach it out of them was hysterical. Finally, after about a minute, he gave up and told them. I'm not sure the actual answer rang any bells either. Good stuff.
• This is really nothing new, but it's pretty impressive what kind of shape this coaching staff is in. These guys look good, they move well and they clearly have made fitness an important part of their lives. It's easy, when you work the kind of hours that these guys work, to let that area of your life slip, but these guys — many of them young dudes — have not done that. That kind of example can only help, especially when it allows them to jump into drills and join in the conditioning elements of practice.
• As for specific players who have stood out the past couple of days, defensive end Damani Mosby continues to look like a man possessed. He goes hard every single rep (at least the ones that I've seen) and, physically, looks like the kind of guy who could make a significant impact on the field this fall. Another guy who looks good is Ronnie Davis. He's still a work in progress in some areas, but, physically, he's put together well and, like Mosby, he goes all out all the time.
• To be fair to the KU wideouts, who have struggled with drops at times this spring, there was a deep ball fade and back-shoulder drill they did while we were out there and I only saw one ball hit the turf. They ran this on one side of the field from the 40 yard line in and then lined up in the end zone on the other side of the field and ran it from the goal line out. Minor detail, but it's this kind of efficiency that KU coach David Beaty has always been impressed by and it's no surprise that he's incorporating a whole bunch of it into his first practices as a college head coach.
• Now at the halfway point of spring football, the Jayhawks will be off Wednesday and Thursday and return to the field on Friday for practice No. 8 of 15 scheduled for the spring. The final date will be the annual spring game, which is scheduled for April 25.
We've reached April, known in NFL circles as draft month, and it's time to do some quick inventory on the former Jayhawks hoping to get their chance to catch on with an NFL team for the 2015 season and possibly beyond.
As you know, Ben Heeney and JaCorey Shepherd are the former Jayhawks most likely to get drafted in the April 30-May 2 draft, which will take place in Chicago, but there are more than a few other guys from last year's team who figure to get their shot.
Let's start with Heeney and Shepherd and go down the list. As you may have seen, both guys continue to show up on various mock drafts that attempt to predict how this year's draft will play out. The most recent deep mock draft I've seen, a five-round mock draft done by Eddie Brown of the San Diego Union-Tribune, had both Heeney and Shepherd hearing their names called in this year’s draft. Brown has Heeney going as a fourth-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals at pick No. 123 overall. He has Shepherd slotted one round later, as the fifth-round pick of the Denver Broncos at pick No. 164. As you know, Denver already has former Jayhawks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib in its secondary (along with Steven Johnson at linebacker), but the Broncos snagged Harris as an undrafted free agent and went after Talib during free agency two years ago. Maybe it's time they actually drafted a Jayhawk. Time will tell.
Speaking of Shepherd, it's worth noting that the former KU wide receiver turned cornerback who was invited to the NFL Combine but could not participate because of a hamstring injury ran his 4.65-second 40-yard dash time at KU's pro day in late March with a torn hamstring. Several scouts on hand that day came solely to see what Shepherd could do, and even though his 4.65 time was slower than the 4.4 range he had hoped, the fact that he ran that decent of a time with a severe injury showed the scouts plenty.
According to his Kansas City-based trainer, Dexter McDonald's Pro Day, which included some of day's best numbers and times across the board, may have been enough to get teams seriously interested in drafting him. Joseph Potts, a former KU football player and owner of Top Speed Sports Performance, said McDonald's agent recently told him that a few teams have mentioned the possibility of taking McDonald in rounds 3-5 and added that both Oakland and Arizona were planning to fly McDonald out to their headquarters to meet with him and show him around. McDonald, who was fabulous in 2013 and merely solid in 2014, definitely has the athleticism, size, ball skills and toughness to get a shot. Whether that comes via the draft or not remains to be seen.
Former KU defensive tackle Keon Stowers is another guy hearing good things from a few NFL clubs. Stowers, who tore his right pectoral muscle during the bench press portion of KU's pro day after appearing to be well on his way to 25 or 30 reps, is stuck rehabbing now and won't be able to go full speed for at least a few more weeks. Still, several scouts told Stowers that they liked what they had seen on film and that he should expect a phone call following the draft.
I haven't heard too much about KU's trio of wide receivers — Nigel King, Nick Harwell and Tony Pierson — but it seems like a safe bet that at least two of the three will get invited to a camp if they're not drafted. Because of his size, great hands and solid pro day numbers, King figures to be the guy with the best shot in this bunch. But Harwell was productive throughout his career and is a dependable route runner with good hands, so it seems like he should at least get a shot, as well. Pierson, though blazing fast, is probably a bit of a long shot given his size, lack of a true position and injury history.
Tight end Jimmay Mundine is another guy who could be flying under the radar a little bit. I've heard that several teams are intrigued by his physical make up and versatility. He could be used as a second tight end or even flipped to fullback or H back in the right offenses. Mundine really helped himself at pro day, with numbers and times that were better than most expected.
Other than those guys, Victor Simmons, Cassius Sendish, Michael Reynolds, Tedarian Johnson and Trevor Pardula (a combine invitee) also are hoping to catch the right eye during the next few weeks and earn an invitation to show what they can do.
Thursday's KU football practice included the first full-on scrimmage of the spring, which, according to the feedback gathered from social media, went pretty well.
We were only able to stay for the first 20 minutes of practice, so we did not get to see how the 11-on-11 action looked when things were run full speed and the hitting was live. That's probably just as well. It's far too early — and there are way too many players missing, either because of injury or because they have not enrolled yet — to make too many definitive calls on what this team looks like or how it plays.
That said, there were plenty of things that caught my eye prior to our departure and the beginning of the scrimmage.
Here's a quick recap:
• Like the defense with the red pants the other day, the offense suited up for practice in gray pants on Thursday. Who knows why? And it's clearly not that big of a deal. Could be as simple as if you've got 'em, you may as well use 'em. But I'll definitely ask to see if there's any more to it.
• Strength coach Je'Ney Jackson hit the field with a bull horn during the early portion of practice. Word is, he was tired of trying to yell over the music. Can't blame him, either. Even with the bull horn, it was hard to hear him. But you can be sure that the players have no difficulty knowing exactly what he wants and expects, booming voice or not.
• Thursday's practice took place entirely in Memorial Stadium, most likely because they were going to scrimmage and did not want to waste time moving from one field to the other. Most days, KU starts on the practice fields and then moves into the stadium for the final 30-45 minutes, when they run seven-on-seven drills and live 11-man offense. It's during this part of practice when they keep track of how many plays they run in how many minutes. Earlier this week, OC Rob Likens said he did not keep track the same way head coach David Beaty does, so the only numbers we have to go on are still those 94 plays in 44 minutes and 92 plays in 42 minutes that we heard after the first two days of spring. By comparison in terms of tempo and urgency, it looks as if they've done about that same number during the days since. Likens said he would start to keep track more when fall camp rolls around but right now his entire focus is on fundamentals and installation.
• The KU defense was flying around like wild men during Thursday's practice. It may have just been a coincidence and it may have just been for that drill, but the way KU's DBs and Linebackers were practicing on Thursday leads me to believe that group has plans to be ultra-aggressive this fall. Several guys in both units recorded multiple pass break-ups and even when a receiver caught a ball, he was smacked immediately. This makes sense given the fact that the coaching staff, so far, has identified the D-Line as the strength of this KU defense. The faster the guys up front can get to the quarterback and force the ball out, the more aggressive the guys behind them can be without fear of getting burned or having to cover too long. Should be interesting to see how that holds up, but it's quite clear that both Kenny Perry and Clint Bowen want this group to play physical, aggressive football.
• Speaking of this drill, there were quite a few wide receiver drops during the time we were out there. Now that's not the end of the world and it was just one or two drills, but it just gives you an indication of how far that group has to go and how wide open that competition for playing time truly is. At this point, it looks as if the guys who can make plays on a consistent basis — regardless of age, size or experience — will be the guys who get on the field the fastest.
Although the first things that truly caught my eye at Tuesday's KU football practice — No. 4 of the spring season — were the red pants worn by the defense (first time I can recall seeing that in the past six years), the presence of a former KU quarterback stole the show while the Jayhawks stretched and warmed up.
Mark Williams, who engineered that solid 10-2 season in 1995 and helped KU finish ranked ninth in the final AP poll, was in attendance to watch his alma mater run through drills, albeit in an entirely new environment than anything he remembered seeing during his playing days.
Williams, 42, recently relocated back to Lawrence by transferring within his job and said he was thrilled to be back.
As far as him showing up for practice, Williams said KU had done a great job of reaching out to him during the past few years and added that he often found something from Kansas waiting for him in his mailbox.
Williams seemed thrilled to be back on the field and even looked like he could still play if given the chance.
Here's the rest of what caught my eye at Tuesday's practice, the first of the spring in which we were asked to leave early as had been normal in the past.
• Quick look at the updated offensive line: The first stringers on Tuesday, left to right, were Jordan Shelley-Smith, Bryan Peters, Keyon Haughton, Junior Visinia and Larry Mazyck. The second group included: Devon Williams, Joe Bloomfield, Jacob Bragg, D'Andre Banks and Jayson Rhodes. Again, don't read too much into any of this, but it's always worth keeping an eye on. As for guys who stood out. Shelley-Smith looks to be getting more comfortable every day and I thought Peters moved well, especially on some of the guard pulls and running plays where he had to cover some distance.
• As Beaty mentioned on Day 1, Corey Avery has been very limited this spring because of a shoulder injury and that has opened the door for some other guys to get some solid reps. Juco transfer Ke'aun Kinner lined up with the ones on Tuesday and Taylor Cox ran with the twos. Kinner has been getting first-team reps throughout the spring and it looks like his speed could help the KU offense replace Tony Pierson. At quarterback, Montell Cozart ran with the first offense (at least for the portion of practice we saw), followed by Michael Cummings. That battle, as you surely know by now, will be ongoing and will not be limited to just those two guys.
• Speaking of quarterbacks, I haven't been able to see too much of the offense yet, but what I have seen has included a lot of movement by the quarterbacks. Both Cummings nad Cozart have been asked to keep the ball and run, roll out and throw and move the pocket. Even with that, the ball has come out quick and KU really seems to be emphasizing quick passes to easy targets and taking care of blocks down the field to get those guys positive yardage.
• As is common, Tuesday's practice began with a heavy dose of special teams work. Even though that's not that unusual, the way these guys work is. The whole thing is incredibly well organized and seems to have more of a game-prep, walk-through feel to it than a meaningless drill in a spring practice. Everywhere at every moment, these coaches are urging their guys to find a way to get better even in the smallest area.
Here's the deal about Saturday's 10 a.m. KU football practice which wound up lasting three hours and featured a — it neither looked like an early-morning practice nor one that took place on the third day of spring ball.
The energy was way up, even by David Beaty's standards, the intensity was through the roof and the effort, emotion and urgency were all as good as I've seen so far this spring.
Credit a lot of that to the fact that today's practice was the first for the Jayhawks in full pads, but credit the rest of it to the coaching staff for demanding it and the players for delivering.
After the stretching portion of practice, the Jayhawks ran over to huddle up for their pre-practice instructions. Not good enough. Beaty made them go back to their spots and do it again, with assistant coaches yelling all around, “Urgency, urgency, urgency.” “I better see some energy out here today.” “Let's go get it.”
Pretty soon, this will merely be the standard for this KU team. But until everyone is used to it, it will still seem pretty impressive.
Here's a quick look at the rest of what caught my eye at Saturday's practice:
• Offensive coordinator Rob Likens is a master communicator. He speaks clearly, makes it known exactly what he's looking for at all times and has the patience to explain it thoroughly — even going as far as to show it himself if he has to — when guys don't quite get something. This was evident throughout the day, but particularly during a drill designed to teach slant keys and concepts to the wide receivers. With each rep, Likens barked out orders: “Better toe stick. Eyes back. Look the ball in.” That last request was another theme of the day for Likens, who actually took his sunglasses off while yelling at a running back at one point so they didn't fall off of his face when he screamed, “Look the ball all the way in to your tuck.” He kept yelling it. But it didn't take the Jayhawks long to understand the importance of following those orders and carrying them out.
• KU coach David Beaty stepped in to play a little quarterback during a drill for the cornerbacks. Not surprisingly, Beaty had a little zip on his ball and even overthrew it a few times. Probably too jacked up. This concept of coaches jumping into drills is commonplace all over the field. Likens served as a defensive end and Klint Kubiak worked as a cornerback during an option drill. Calvin Thibodeaux and Kevin Kane jumped in and did up-downs with the defense after the offense got the better of a short-yardage drill in which the offensive line helped KU's running backs score four times out of seven against the D-Line in a heated competition at the mid-point of practice that featured the offensive players not participating crowding the 50 yard line and the defensive players not involved crowded the 45 yard line. It made for a hostile scene and tempers and emotions ran hot. As Beaty said the other day, there's a competition aspect in just about everything the Jayhawks do out there.
• I thought It was pretty cool how much the coaches emphasized communication. A lot of these players have been role players during the past few seasons and have not had to be vocal leaders. But the coaches are trying to change that. At one point, at almost the exact same time, I heard Likens yell from one field, “You're too quiet, guys,” while co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry yelled from the other field, “I didn't hear a thing,” to his cornerbacks. Again, soon that will be something the coaches don't have to remind these guys of. But, for now, they're not taking anything for granted.
• Speaking of Perry and yelling, during one drill, he jumped on his veteran cornerbacks for letting a walk-on who had been in the program for just three days jump to the front of the line ahead of them to start a drill. It's not that Perry didn't want the young guy to get the reps, he just wanted to see the veterans want to be the guys who led things off. They did the rest of the practice.
• Junior defensive end Anthony Olobia continues to look sharp and quick out there, but on Saturday he showed some toughness, too. After landing awkwardly following a rep in a D-Line drill, Olobia came up limping and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen immediately sent Damani Mosby in to take his spot. Rather than running off, however, Olobia waved Mosby back to the sideline, turned around to yell to Bowen that he was OK and stayed in and finished the drill. It's a small detail but a clear sign that these guys want to play for these coaches.
• Cornerback Ronnie Davis makes his share of mistakes, but he's got great feet. That might be one of the reasons the coaches ride him so much. With feet like his — which former cornerbacks coach Dave Campo always marveled at, as well — Davis is a guy who should be playing as long as he can execute his assignments, make plays and remain efficient.
• Speaking of cornerbacks, newcomer Brandon Stewart looks like he's got some solid skills but he's smaller than I expected. Listed at 6-foot, 171 pounds, Stewart might just look a little on the light side because he's being asked to replace veterans JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald. There's still plenty of time for Stewart to get bigger and he already looks good in terms of physical play and coverage skills.
• The first-string offensive line looked the same — Larry Mazyck at right tackle, Junior Visinia at right guard, Jacob Bragg and center, Bryan Peters at left guard and Jordan Shelley-Smith at left tackle. Nothing new there. But the second string O-Line shaped up like this, right to left: Jayson Rhodes, D'Andre Banks, Keyon Haughton, Joe Bloomfield and Devon Williams. Still all kinds of time for movement up there — especially when you consider a couple guys (Joe Gibson and Will Smith) are coming back from injuries — but that's how things look right now.
• Former Jayhawk great Darrell Stuckey was on hand for Saturday's practice with his son. They hung in there for two-thirds of the practice and did equal amounts of watching, playing catch and dancing. Stuckey looks great. Several former Jayhawks from last year's team were out there again today, too.