Minutes after the nation's No. 1 prep prospect, Andrew Wiggins, announced that he was heading to Kansas, many KU fans and national writers took to Twitter to share their joke about Jayhawk fans having yet another reason to wish for football season to pass quickly.
True or not, don't expect the members of the KU football team themselves to be too upset about it. In fact, more than a dozen Jayhawk football players also jumped on Twitter following Wiggins' announcement to share their excitement over the newest big-time basketball recruit landed by Bill Self.
Here's a sample:
Head coach Charlie Weis:
Congrats to Coach Self, staff and team. Wow. Welcome Andrew to the Jayhawk family. Rock Chalk!
Wide receiver Josh Ford:
congrats to #KUbball and @CoachBillSelf on signing the #1 recruit in the nation Andrew Wiggins #RockChalk
Safety Isaiah Johnson:
Damn KU just picked up the number one basketball player!! #BIG I feel like #kufball and #kubball will do some exciting things this year !! #rockchalk
Defensive end Michael Reynolds:
Big recruiting classes for #kufball and #kuball this year !! #JayhawkNation
Quarterback Jake Heaps:
Great day to be a Jayhawk! Congrats to @22wiggins on his decision. A great feeling knowing where your going to be playing ball!! #RockChalk
Defensive tackle Marquel Combs:
KU Basketball is about to (be) crazy this year !!
Linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore:
Damn.. Bill self a Wizard how he put this class together! Big time Football recruiting class! Big time Basketball recruiting class! Great day to be a Jayhawk
Assistant coach Dave Campo:
Congrats to Coach Self and staff on a great recruiting year!!! Rock Chalk!!!”
Linebacker Schyler Miles:
WIGGINS TO KU!
Defensive back Dexter McDonald:
Wiggins got 80.3K followers lol how can you not get a check thts already official lol
Defensive tackle Keon Stowers:
Wiggins to KU lets go!!
Linebacker Victor Simmons:
Dude isn't even here yet and already got a fake account.
Long snapper Reilly Jeffers:
@22wiggins hey welcome to the family #rockchalk #kubball and #kufball
The list goes on and on. So, as you can see, there's not a whole lot of animosity from the football players about their basketball counterparts signing the best prep player on the planet.
In fact, they seem pretty excited to welcome him to town and, from December through March, to watch him play in Allen Fieldhouse.
One of the biggest reasons I think these guys aren't worried about Wiggins' arrival — other than the fact that the football team largely is made up of pretty good dudes — is the fact that these guys are realists. They understand, embrace and accept that in order to get people interested in what they're doing on Saturdays this fall, they have to go out there and win games.
• CINCINNATI BENGALS — May 10-12
Tanner Hawkinson, OL
Like several other NFL teams, the Bengals open rookie mini camp Friday, when fifth-round draft pick and former Kansas University standout Tanner Hawkinson officially will begin his pro career. Because he was drafted, there is a lot less pressure on Hawkinson at mini camp than there is on the rest of his former KU teammates who are trying to make their respective rosters as undrafted free agents. Still, Hawkinson is competing for playing time and, in some ways, the coaches might be harder on him than the rest of the Jayhawks trying to break into the league. Hawkinson will begin his Bengals career wearing the same number (72) he wore in college.
• CHICAGO BEARS — May 10-12
Tunde Bakare, LB
Josh Williams, DE
The Bears gave free-agent contracts to 10 undrafted players following last month's draft, and, because they are a team that doesn't often load up on these types of players, that does not bode well for the chances of former Jayhawks Bakare and Williams. What the duo does have going in its favor is this: None of those 10 free agent contracts went to players who play their position. Bakare, though a bit undersized, brings a unique skill set to camp. He's a physical monster with good speed and an even better motor. Williams started his career at Nebraska and I've heard on more than one occasion that sometimes guys are picked up or given chances because of the coach or the program they played for.
• DETROIT LIONS — May 10-12
Marrongelli is one of a handful of players invited to the Lions mini camp without a contract. The good news is the versatile and intelligent lineman got the invite. The bad news? The Lions actually signed three undrafted free agent offensive linemen and drafted one in the third round. As was the case going in, Marrongelli seems like a long shot to make the Lions' roster.
• JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS — May 3-5
Duane Zlatnik, OL
The former KU guard was one of nearly 50 rookies in attendance at the Jaguars rookie mini camp last week. Given those numbers alone, Zlatnik faced a tough challenge of standing out in a crowd that included No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel. He got his reps, though, and did so wearing No. 68 (he wore 67 in college). Zlatnik has the size, strength and skill to get noticed but must show consistency. I talked to more than one person during Zlatnik's KU career who said the Rossville native was the best O-Line prospect on the team. If Zlatnik sticks around, his next chance to prove that is at the Jags' OTAs, which begin May 13.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS — May 10-12
Dayne Crist, QB
Bradley McDougald, S
Toben Opurum, DE/FB
For the second year in a row, a member of the KU football team participated at the by-invitation NFL combine yet went undrafted. Although wide receiver turned safety Bradley McDougald fully expected to hear his name called during the seven rounds of the draft, landing in Kansas City as an undrafted free agent signee puts him in pretty good position. The Chiefs are thin at safety and McDougald has the skills and confidence needed to make a quick impact. Two of McDougald's KU teammates will be joining him at K.C.'s mini camp, and both Crist and Opurum offer interesting story lines to keep an eye on. We all know that Crist's lone season at KU was a disappointment, but he still has the tools — size, smarts, arm strength, maturity — that NFL coaches look for at the game's most important position. Considering the fact that he's competing for a roster spot with two career back-ups (Chase Daniel and Ricky Stanzi) and another undrafted free agent in Tennessee's Tyler Bray, Crist, with a good camp, could find himself getting a chance behind Chiefs starter Alex Smith. As for Opurum, it remains to be seen whether he'll work as a defensive end/linebacker, a fullback or both. That, alone, is worth tracking and his versatility could keep him around long enough for the coaching staff to get a look at him in both capacities.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS — May 10-12
Greg Brown, CB
Like McDougald, Brown was impressive enough during his career and his pro day to earn a free-agent contract from the Chargers after this year's draft. That doesn't guarantee him anything other than a chance. And it might get him a couple. Not only does the contract indicate that the Chargers see something in Brown that they like, but San Diego also has a rich history of success with undrafted free agents, with names like Antonio Gates, Malcolm Floyd, Mike Tolbert and Kris Dielman going from draft castoffs to NFL starters.
According to Jerry Palm of CBSsports.com, the 2013 season will be another rough one for the Kansas University football team.
It's not that Palm projected the Jayhawks to win just one or two games — he may, but that's not what's in the news today — but rather that Palm projected that 9 of the 12 teams on KU's schedule for the upcoming season will qualify for bowl games when everything is said and done.
That projection includes two of the three non-conference opponents KU will face this season, as Palm has Rice (Sept. 14) slated to play in the Hawaii Bowl and Louisiana Tech (Sept. 21) slotted into the New Orleans Bowl.
The only members of KU's schedule not picked by Palm for the postseason are South Dakota (Sept. 7), Texas Tech (Oct. 5) and West Virginia (Nov. 16).
Both Tech and WVU made bowl appearances in 2012, when 11 of the 12 teams KU faced wound up in bowl games.
Such is life in the Big 12 Conference, where powerhouse programs like Texas, Oklahoma and, lately, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor, pop up on the schedule week in and week out. There are no down weeks in conference play, particularly for a team like KU, which is still in the middle of a rebuilding project, and that fact makes the road to respectability even tougher to travel for KU coach Charlie Weis and company.
I guess, in a way, the 2013 schedule might actually set up better for KU than last year's slate. Time will tell. But the good news — if you're looking for it — is that KU will face two of Palm's three projected non-bowl opponents during the first four games of the season.
It's been said before, and even proven to be true around here, but getting off to a good start drastically can change the way a season unfolds.
The fun begins in less than four months.
Last year, KU coach Charlie Weis spent the month of May touring the state to drum up support for his new football program. This year, Weis is taking his show farther afield.
KU recently announced the dates of an eight-city regional tour that includes stops at several major KU alumni bases and begins today in Denver.
Dubbed the Kansas Football Preview Party, Weis and special guests from the KU athletic department will talk about the state of the program and the upcoming season at happy hours and luncheons open to the public. There is a charge — $10 to $20 — for most of the events, but the first two, Thursday in Denver and May 8 in Houston, are free.
PS: I know this wasn't very football related, but I still thought it was worth throwing out there so people in these areas would be able to go if they wanted to. So let's do a KU football chat Friday morning sometime to make up for it. Be looking for the link in a while and submit your questions early.
Now.... Here are the details from each of Weis' scheduled visits:
Denver: May 2, 2013
Stoney's Full Stream Tavern will host a Happy Hour event from 6:30-8:30 p.m. (MT). Food and drink will be available for purchase. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend. There is no charge for this event.
Houston: May 8, 2013
The Armadillo Palace will host a Happy Hour event from 7-9 p.m. Food and drink will be available for purchase. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend. There is no charge for this event.
Dallas: May 9, 2013
The Dallas Market Center will host a Happy Hour event from 6:30-8:30 p.m., in the Hall of Nations room. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend.
The cost of the event is $15.00 per person and includes food. A cash bar is available. Tickets can be purchased via http://www.kuathletics.com/sports/m-footbl/springtour.html.
St. Louis: May 15, 2013
The St. Louis Marriott West will host a Happy Hour event from 6:30-8:30 p.m. A cash bar and appetizers will be available. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend.
The cost of the event is $20.00 per person and includes food and two drink tickets. A cash bar is also available. Tickets can be purchased here.
Wichita: May 16, 2013
The Wichita Marriott will host a luncheon from 12-1 p.m. Registration for the event begins at 11:30 a.m. The seated luncheon, featuring Athletics Director Dr. Sheahon Zenger and head coach Charlie Weis, starts at noon.
The cost of the event is $20.00 per person and includes a plated lunch. Tickets can be purchased here.
Liberal: May 16, 2013
The Seward County Events Center will host a dinner event from 6:30-8:30 p.m., in the Ag Building. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend.
The cost of the event is $10.00 per person and includes food and drinks. Tickets can be purchased here.
Chicago: May 21, 2013
The Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel will host a Happy Hour event from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend.
The cost of the event is $20.00 per person and includes appetizers and non-alcoholic beverages. A cash bar is also available. Tickets can be purchased here.
Topeka: May 22, 2013
The Ramada Inn Downtown Convention Center will host a Happy Hour event from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Head coach Charlie Weis, Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger and other athletic department officials will attend. There is no charge for this event. Food and drink will be available.
Moments ago the identity of the NFL Draft's 38th Mr. Irrelevant was revealed, marking the end of a seven-round affair that saw KU offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson get picked by Cincinnati with the 23rd pick in the 5th round.
Bradley McDougald, the other Jayhawk most likely to get drafted, was not picked (something that really surprised me), but may be in better shape now than if he had been selected with one of those late picks in the seventh round.
Motivation. Being passed over by every team for seven straight rounds no doubt will put a chip on McDougald's shoulder and he'll enter mini camp ready to prove the world wrong.
He'll get to pick his team instead of the other way around. McDougald will get a chance to make an NFL roster and now, instead of taking the hand that's dealt to him, McDougald and his agent get to survey the landscape, look at rosters and take the free agent offer from the team that gives him the best shot to make a squad. This worked well for both Chris Harris and Steven Johnson (both with the Denver Broncos) and has worked well throughout the years for several undrafted players.
As many as 10 other former Jayhawks are likely busy looking for work right now and it's my guess that nearly all of them will at least be invited to a camp and signed as an undrafted free agent.
Joining McDougald as the most notable names on this list are: QB Dayne Crist, DE/FB Toben Opurum and CB Greg Brown.
Call me crazy, but given their luck with Jayhawks in recent years, I wouldn't be surprised for a second if the Broncos went back to the well one more time and added a Kansas free agent.
I've got phone calls and feelers out in all directions and this stuff usually happens pretty quickly once the draft ends, so check back right here for updated free agent info on KU's remaining NFL hopefuls.
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
• 7:02 p.m. - Bradley McDougald Tweets that he has agreed to a free-agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. Tweet: "Just agreed to a free agent deal with the KC Chiefs... Thank you for all the love and support, time to go to work!"
• 7:46 p.m. - Cornerback Greg Brown Tweets that he has agreed to a deal with San Diego. Man, there's something about KU defensive backs and the AFC West. Tweet: Blessings have fallen! HUMBLE BEGINNINGS! TAKING MY TALENTS TO SAN DIEGO!!!!!! #CHARGERS
• 8:20 p.m. - Defensive end/Fullback Toben Opurum Tweets that he gets a shot with Kansas City. The Chiefs drafted K-State FB Braden Wilson, so Toben's best shot at making the squad may come on defense/special teams. Tweet: #Chiefs mini-camp invite... All I asked for was an opportunity.. Leggo
• 8:29 p.m. - QB Dayne Crist Tweets that he, too, will get an opportunity with the Kansas City Chiefs. Crist, along with McDougald and Opurum, will report to rookie camp on May 9. Tweet: God is great, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to get back on the field! Rookie Camp for the Chiefs May 9th can't come soon enough!
• 8:32 p.m. - Offensive lineman Trevor Marrongelli just updated me via text message. Said he got an invite to camp from the Detroit Lions just after 8:00 p.m. and that he was weighing his options.
• 8:36 p.m. - Linebacker Tunde Bakare just sent me a text and said he was invited to camp with the Chicago Bears. Probably won't make it as a pure linebacker, but I like Tunde's speed and physicality on special teams.
For the second year in a row, last Saturday's Kansas University football spring game featured a strong performance from a new quarterback to whom KU fans, coaches and players alike have tied their wagon for the upcoming season.
So, for the second year in a row, I wrote about the quarterback.
Last year it was Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist who looked sharp, decisive and, frankly, different, in leading the more talented Blue squad to a runaway victory over the White. And last Saturday, it was BYU transfer Jake Heaps who did the same.
As we all know, Crist's spring game performance turned out to be one of his few highlights during a disappointing season. I don't think we'll be saying the same thing about Heaps by December.
Throughout the spring, the one question I was asked more than any other was, 'How does Heaps look?' Each time I gave an answer that painted a picture of a talented QB who could make a difference for the KU offense.
That question, however, was surpassed by another during the couple of days since the spring game, with the more cynical but certainly understandable, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, but didn't we say the same thing last year?' becoming the more popular inquiry.
I'll be honest; I did. I even went back and read what I wrote about Crist after the 2012 spring game. Here's a taste:
More important than the final score (45-0) or the statistics (Crist was 11-of-19 passing for 156 yards, no interceptions and no TDs) was the fact that Crist showed everyone in attendance that the Jayhawks were running a different, more efficient offense. No play better illustrated that than sophomore running back Tony Pierson’s 88-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. As Crist walked to the line of scrimmage, he surveyed the defense and identified the middle linebacker, a staple of Weis’ offense. Not seeing the set he wanted, Crist called an audible and Pierson did the rest.
I don't remember much about last year's game — that's why I went back and read my story — but I do remember enough to know that what I saw from Heaps on Saturday was much different than what I saw from Crist 12 months ago.
From what I remember, Crist looked good — big, strong and smart, a far cry from anything KU had put under center for the previous few seasons. Heck, in many ways, Crist even looked better than Todd Reesing.
But Jake Heaps actually played good.
A year ago expectations were so low (at least from the realists) and the program was in such bad shape that even the mere presence of players who looked better on the field made it seem like things were headed in the right direction.
The eye test won't fly this time around. And that's why it's important to emphasize that what Heaps showed last Saturday was far more than the ability to be KU's quarterback. He showed he can play.
Even Heaps admitted that he was far from perfect during the spring game. He finished 20-of-28 for 257 yards and four touchdowns, but also took a couple of sacks, short-armed a throw or two and said there were moments that the tempo could have been better, which he put squarely on his shoulders.
But it's not fair to use Heaps' personal standards to judge his play in this one. We all saw his ability for ourselves and there was plenty to like.
In the past 16 months, I've probably seen Heaps throw 5-10 times, including once in last year's spring game, where he was 7-of-10 for 116 yards and the game's lone TD. Saturday's performance was by far — allow me to add a little emphasis to that, BY FAR — the most impressive I've seen him look.
• He threw with confidence. You can't get the ball out in less than three seconds on half of your plays without (a) knowing what you're doing or (b) believing that what you're doing is right.
• He threw lasers. Half the time Heaps threw he released the ball before his receivers (most often chemistry-compadre Justin McCay) had even come out of their breaks. Just about every time the ball was on a line and looked as if the receiver had no choice but to catch it.
• He showed decent mobility, proved he could throw on the run and was wildly accurate. That last one might be his biggest strength.
• And, most importantly, he carried himself the way any fan, coach or teammate would and should want a quarterback to carry himself — with fire, focus, purpose and fun.
See, Heaps is passionate playing the game of football and will do anything to make sure he can play it for as long as his body allows.
I enjoyed my year of covering Crist and think he's one of the better dudes to come through the KU football program. But I didn't always sense his love of the game the way I get it from Heaps. I think it was there, but it didn't always surface. Call it pressure, call it fear, call it a guarded personality or call it self-doubt. Whatever it was, I think it severely prevented Crist from lining up and letting it all hang out. That won't be a problem with Heaps.
So, if you want the truth, it wasn't so much Heaps' final numbers or the fact that he lit up KU's second string defense for four TDs and a 71 percent completion percentage that impressed me. It was the way he did it.
Heaps is not Todd Reesing. He's not as exciting, not as electrifying and certainly not as much of a rebel gunslinger. But he can play. And for the first time since Reesing graduated, Jayhawk fans may find themselves falling in love with their quarterback again this fall.
The weather outside might not be a good indicator, but, yes, we are just a few days away from KU football's annual spring game at Memorial Stadium.
-- Despite today's wintry weather, the good news is that the forecast calls for sunny and 60s on Saturday, so hang in there --
In many ways this spring has flown by, partly because of the early start, partly because of the week off for spring break and partly because it overlapped with March Madness. Regardless, I've been busy stockpiling all kinds of notes and quotes to help get us through the months of May, June and July with some fun and interesting football coverage.
So just because spring drills are about to end, don't think for a second that our coverage will.
I'll have plenty more this week about the final week of spring practice and a preview of Saturday's spring game, which will kick off at 1 p.m. and is free to the public.
For now, though, here's a quick look at the format for the game, which will feature a roster division that leans toward a passing team on one side (blue) and a rushing team on the other (white). I like the way they've split it up. Should make it interesting no matter which side has the ball.
Here's how it will all go down:
There will be four 15 minute quarters with a running clock, with the exception of the final two minutes of each half, where normal game clock rules will be followed. Outside of that, the clock will stop only for injuries, timeouts or at the referee's discretion.
A coin toss will decide who gets the ball.
Possessions to begin each half and after scores will start at the 30 yard line.
No kickoffs. (This is to avoid unnecessary injuries)
There will be an abbreviated halftime of 13 minutes (NFL format).
Punt/punt return will end when the returner fair catches the ball, picks up a rolling ball or when a defender downs the ball. Normal rules apply for touchbacks.
On field goals, if the ball hits the ground, the play will be blown dead.
Red jerseys worn by the quarterbacks will protect QBs in the pocket only. In other words, if they run, they're free to be hit. (Don't expect Jake Heaps to take off to much, if at all.)
Game MVPs will be announced after the game. The team will join the band for the alma mater after the game.
All in all, it's a pretty decent format for a game that has the potential to be both competitive and entertaining. I have no problem with some of the rules put in place to avoid injuries. Sure, you want to entertain the fans that show up, but not at the expense of getting someone hurt.
There will be plenty of opportunities for the crowd to enjoy what it's watching, both on offense and defense.
I'll leave you (for now) with a quick look at some of the marquee names on each squad.
Friday is a big day for several former Kansas University football players hoping to make a name for themselves with pro scouts.
The Jayhawks annual Pro Timing Day will run from 10:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m. and will feature all of the same types of drills that took place at the NFL Combine last month.
Two Jayhawks who participated at the Combine — Tanner Hawkinson and Bradley McDougald — are expected to go through a few of the drills to try to enhance their Combine numbers. The rest of the Jayhawks expected to compete are guys who are hoping to enhance their draft stock and/or prove that they're worthy of free agent contracts following April's draft.
During the past few years, this event typically has drawn representatives from 6-12 different NFL teams. However, because of the fact that longtime NFL assistant coach Charlie Weis is now KU's head coach — not to mention longtime NFL coach Dave Campo as the defensive coordinator — this year's pro day is expected to draw interest from nearly twice that many teams, perhaps more.
A good showing Friday in the 40-yard dash or the bench press or vertical jump test does not guarantee these guys anything. Many of them already are on the radar of NFL teams because of their postseason all-star game performances. Others are hoping Friday is the day they wow the scouts. After all, it only takes one team to like you, as former Jayhawks and undrafted free agents Chris Harris (now a starter with the Denver Broncos) and Steven Johnson (a special teams regular with Denver) have proven.
Here's a quick glance at the guys who will participate:
Tunde Bakare, LB
Skinny: Hard-charging linebacker determined to make it in honor of his brother, Omani, who passed away a few years ago.
Top skills: Speed. Physicality. Determination.
Prediction: Bakare's mix of speed, power and drive should earn him an invitation to a camp as an undrafted free agent.
D.J. Beshears, WR
Skinny: Undersized wide receiver who made a living using his power and speed to roll through and by defenders.
Top skills: Speed. Toughness.
Prediction: If he tests well, Beshears may get a look as a kick returner but is most likely destined to seek playing time in another league, perhaps the Arena League or the Canadian Football League.
Greg Brown, CB
Skinny: “Lockdown Brown” never quite lived up to that nickname in college but it wasn't for lack of opportunity. Faced the Big 12's best week-in and week-out for two straight years and that should him ready for what's ahead.
Top skills: Closing speed. Athleticism. Vision.
Prediction: I like Brown's chances to make a roster and think he'll have to do it the same way his good friend Chris Harris did — as an undrafted free agent.
Dayne Crist, QB
Skinny: Crist's trouble at KU are well-documented, but just because he struggled during his second senior season does not mean he's out of the mix to make an NFL roster. He did well in postseason all-star games and if he tests well, which I fully expect he will, someone may be intrigued enough to give him a shot.
Top skills: Size. Arm strength. Football IQ.
Prediction: I think Crist's skill set along with an endorsement from Charlie Weis allow him to catch on somewhere. He won't be drafted, he might not make a team, but I think he'll get a shot and I could see him being a practice squad guy with the potential to move up.
Tanner Hawkinson, OL
Skinny: Four-year starter at tackle has a solid mix of size and athleticism and is very much on the NFL radar.
Top skills: Footwork. Consistency. Athleticism. Versatility. Intelligence.
Prediction: If Hawkinson were just a bit stronger, he'd be a second- or third-round pick. As it stands, I think he'll go in the fourth or fifth round. The scouts I've talked to like what he brings to the table.
Trevor Marrongelli, OL
Skinny: Anchor of KU's line last season at center, who also has experience playing guard. Undersized by NFL standards, but a tireless worker who'll give it everything he has.
Top skills: Intelligence. Versatility. Work ethic.
Prediction: Great dude, but my guess here is that Marrongelli ends up being just another solid college player and puts his degree to work.
Bradley McDougald, S
Skinny: The move from wide receiver to safety changed McDougald's future. As a receiver, he would've had, at best, an outside shot at getting picked up by an NFL team. As a safety, he's a likely draft pick.
Top skills: Athleticism. Strength. Power. Hands.
Prediction: It's hard to say if McDougald will be selected in April's draft before or after Hawkinson, but I definitely believe he'll be picked. And I also believe he'll go on to have a solid NFL career.
Toben Opurum, DL
Skinny: Still relatively new to defense, but has good strength and plays at a high speed.
Top skills: Versatility. Intelligence. Motor.
Prediction: Opurum may not have a true position on defense in the NFL, but there still exists the possibility that the former KU running back could catch on as an NFL fullback.
Daymond Patterson, WR
Skinny: Electric play-maker in the open field who uses speed and quickness to make up for what he lacks in the way of size.
Top skills: Elusiveness. Speed. Confidence.
Prediction: Patterson may get a look as a punt or kickoff return specialist.
Kale Pick, WR
Skinny: All-around good athlete who was one of the hardest working guys on the team throughout his college career and benefits as a WR from previous QB experience.
Top skills: Intelligence. Hands.
Prediction: Pick could be viewed as an intriguing prospect because he is so reliable.
Mike Ragone, TE
Skinny: Former Notre Dame player who played one season at KU and stayed healthy for the first time in ages.
Top skills: Blocking. Toughness. Heart.
Prediction: Ragone will give it all he has but his body may not be where it needs to be to land a roster spot.
Lubbock Smith, S
Skinny: Longtime contributor in KU's secondary battled injuries throughout his career but always kept battling.
Top skills: Physical. Relentless. Versatile.
Prediction: Smith's a better athlete than he's given credit for but whether that translates to the NFL is another question.
Josh Williams, DE
Skinny: Former Nebraska defensive end started every game during his lone season in Lawrence.
Top skills: Size. Intelligence.
Prediction: Williams figures to be invited to training camp.
Duane Zlatnik, OL
Skinny: Widely regarded as one of the strongest players on KU's roster, Zlatnik was flat-out dominant at times during his junior and senior seasons.
Top skills: Strength. Mean streak.
Prediction: Size, strength and experience alone should get him a look.
Because last Saturday was my first chance to get a quick glance at KU's new-look football program, my "What caught my eye" feature ran a little long.
So here's the second part of a list of things that stood out to me as I took in about an hour of KU's third practice of the spring — and first with pads.
If you missed my video from last Saturday's Hannah & Friends clinic, be sure to check that out. The Jayhawks and participants really seemed to have a great time. Many of them are still talking about it today. Also, if you missed Part I of what caught my eye, go take a look at that, too.
If you're all caught up, here's Part II:
• Got my first look at the newly formed offensive line and I liked a lot of what I saw. One thing that really struck me was the fact that while the current starting five was working its way through drills — Pat Lewandowski, Mike Smithburg, Dylan Admire, Ngalu Fusimalohi and Aslam Sterling — four guys with starting experience (Randall Dent, Gavin Howard, Damon Martin and Riley Spencer) were standing by watching them. There's a lot to be determined still with this group, but I like its potential and depth.
• Speaking of Lewandowski, I think he could be a real surprise this season. It looks like he's got great feet — perhaps even better than last year's left tackle, Tanner Hawkinson — and he's a fierce competitor. The only thing holding him back from being truly ready in the past was his size. But now that he's up to 290 pounds, he appears to be coming along nicely.
• Freshman running back Colin Spencer was involved in the offensive sets the Jayhawks ran during Saturday's practice and I think that's a sign of things to come. I wouldn't make too much of it, but I also wouldn't dismiss it. It's a crowded backfield and there's a ton of talent in front of him, but Spencer's a solid athlete with big-time speed. If he can pick up what they're throwing at him, I think he'll have a role in the offense.
• Long snapper John Wirtel, who announced on signing day that he was walking-on at KU next season, was in attendance watching practice with his family. Seemed like nice people and I was impressed more than once by the way Wirtel's eyes were wide open while taking in what was unfolding in front of him. Recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello came over to the family during a break to welcome them. That was cool to see, too.
• There was no “Coach Weis Song of the Day” on Saturday, but there was a different familiar sign from last season — the exercise bike. Saturday, defensive back Tyree Williams and linebacker Schyler Miles were logging miles on the bike. Miles we knew about, Williams was new.
• JaCorey Shepherd, the junior wide receiver turned defensive back who wore No. 25 last season, has switched over to No. 24 this year.
• It was nice to see former Jayhawks, Maxwell Onyegbule (player) and Louie Matsakis (coach) back in crimson and blue, too.
Before I get into the specifics of what I saw at Saturday's KU football practice, let me explain one thing.
We were told before the spring began that the media would get one day to go out and watch practice but we don't know yet when that day will be. Saturday, those of us who attended KU's Hannah & Friends football clinic at Anschutz Sports Pavilion were lucky enough to observe an hour of KU's third practice of the spring, the team's first in pads.
The clinic itself was great. It was really cool to see so many of these players get into working with the people with special needs. Lots of smiles, lots of laughs, lots of fun. That made the hour of practice a bonus, but it definitely was great to get a look at some of the new guys, which was where I spent most of my time during the practice session.
I just wanted to get that explanation out of the way so you would know that the “What Caught My Eye” feature would not be as regular of a thing this spring. But I hope for it to return full bore in August.
For now, here's what caught my eye from Saturday's action:
• Junior college transfer Tedarian Johnson is a freaking truck. Most recruiting services had him listed at 260 pounds throughout his recruitment, but the guy is a legit 290. And he moves well. I don't know how he'll fit into KU's plans on its suddenly-deep defensive line, but his size definitely caught me by surprise.
• All of that talk about junior defensive tackle Keon Stowers as a leader seems legit. You could see it even during the clinic with the Special Olympians but it really showed up during drills in practice. I think part of the reason Stowers has emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, is that (a) he battled injuries last year and could not play to his potential, (b) he didn't want to overstep his bounds and wanted to be respectful of last year's seniors and c) KU really needs leaders on defense. Stowers is one of the real good dudes on this team and it's cool to see him stepping up.
• KU coach Charlie Weis was not afraid to get after these guys — none of the coaches were. I heard a lot of yelling and sensed a lot of urgency from the staff during individual drills. I think they're trying to set the tone for the season early and, by doing that, are reminding these guys that losing is not acceptable. I didn't hear names or see numbers, but at one point I even heard Weis yell, “He's gonna take your job.” Nothing like some good, ol' competition.
• Although limited, Saturday's practice gave me my first extended look since last year's spring game at how QB Jake Heaps works. And even that was not that great of a representation of who he is and how he operates since we all knew then that he could not play in 2012. I really like his demeanor. He's a natural leader, carries himself with confidence and crispness and seems to be a really easy guy to want to follow. We didn't see a ton of throws so that'll have to wait for another day, but there's no question that this is his team and his offense.