Sunday, April 20, 2014

Starting over: Change of scenery, offense seem to suit KU receiver Harwell

Kansas receiver Nick Harwell pulls in a pass in the end zone during warmups prior to start of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Kansas receiver Nick Harwell pulls in a pass in the end zone during warmups prior to start of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo



Kansas receiver Nick Harwell pulls in a pass in the end zone during warmups prior to start of the Kansas Spring Game on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Last May, Miami (Ohio) University wide receiver Nick Harwell chose to transfer to Kansas University because the change of scenery offered him a fresh start in a familiar offense.

Today, the senior who sat out the 2013-14 season because of transfer rules finds himself starting over.

Gone is the Charlie Weis offense that made Harwell a star during his first season at Miami under former Weis assistant Mike Haywood. In to replace it is an offense drawn up by first-year offensive coordinator John Reagan, who promises to run the football and take advantage of the passing-game opportunities that come from that approach.

For a guy who has dealt with one obstacle after another during a college career that has been equal parts productive on the field and tumultuous off it, changing gears during the final spring of his career easily could have been viewed as another road block. But Harwell did not look at it that way. Instead, he embraced his new surroundings and the new offense.

“I try not to look at the future. I try to handle the right now,” Harwell said. “There were thoughts about what would happen, but I wasn’t too concerned with it.”

A couple of factors made that the case. First, Harwell got an early look at Reagan’s playbook and liked what he saw.

“His success at his last school, I had no problem with it,” Harwell said of what Reagan accomplished at Rice.

Second, the 6-foot-1, 193-pound Missouri City, Texas, native has the kind of confidence you might expect from a guy who racked up 3,166 yards and 23 touchdowns on 229 receptions during three seasons at Miami.

“I feel I could play outside or inside,” he said. “No matter where I play, I feel like I can do well, and I was pleased with the playbook before even drawing up X’s and O’s.”

That was before spring drills began. In the weeks that followed, Harwell was one of the most productive players in KU’s new offense and elevated the play of those around him, both through verbal leadership and by setting a good example.

“He’s a natural leader,” Weis said of Harwell. “You know, I’m glad we have him. He’s a hard worker. He’s driven. They follow him, and he jumps on everybody. And they respect him.”

As for how having that kind of role again compares to waiting in the wings the way he was forced to last season, last season’s scout-team offensive player of the year made it clear which he enjoyed most.

“Far more entertaining than being on scout team,” he joked. “It’s been fun. We’re doing well as a team. I see us getting a lot better. I’m liking what I’m seeing.”

He also likes what he’s doing. Although he made the most of his year off — both as a student and a teammate — Harwell admitted that the pain of not being able to play on Saturdays was tough.

While his return to game day is still a few months away, the senior wideout said he had been energized by the knowledge that every step he took during the offseason put him one step closer to being back in the huddle.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I haven’t been on the field for a game in over a year now, and I miss the game. I miss it a lot.”


Doug Cramer 8 years ago

With Cozart at QB...our wideouts won't get much action.

This will be a run first offense...either RB by committee...or by Cozart himself.

Unfortunately we don't have linemen that will hold up for a run first offense...especially once Big 12 D-coordinators realize they can stack the box, and play single coverage on our WRs.

From what we saw last year...Cozart doesn't have a quick release or the accuracy to throw the ball under pressure in a snap and release Ed Warriner type of offense. Based off of our personnel on the line...a spread O is our best shot at success...which takes the lack of talent on the front line out of the equation. Again though...I don't think that's Cozart's game.

Don't be surprised to see the offense change play books throughout the season like we saw last year...especially if Weis sees that Reagan's O isn't working.

Mark Lindrud 8 years ago

Cozart did show a long throwing motion and hopefully they've been working on it. I tend to agree unless we can be successful with 3 step drops and involving the tight end along with running backs in the passing game. Being able to check down and see the field will be vital. If our line hasn't improved by August we are in for a long season.

Jay Beakum 8 years ago

This isn’t an Ed Warriner type of offense. This is a John Reagan offense. Reagan said he would tailor the offense to fit our talent and it just so happens that our most talented QB is a dual threat, so our offense will likely resemble what he was running at Rice, also the type of offense Bill Snyder was thinking of running when HE offered Cozart. (Which was run successfully by a QB with the worst throwing motion in football history, Collin Klein)

Remember too, the “talent” on the offensive line is going to look much better by fall. This ain’t Reagan’s first rodeo. I fully expect to see him do what he has done here before, which is turn 2-3 star guys into NFL prospects. You can’t just look at our roster and say “Well, not enough talent here. We’re screwed”. Even the most God-given talent needs coaching, and there’s nowhere it’s more important than the Oline.

Does this mean we’re going bowling? No sir. Not with our schedule, but if you can’t look at the track records of the two new coaches we brought in (and the two they replaced) and believe we will improve, then skepticism is just something you’ve grown to enjoy.

Quite honestly almost anybody could’ve come in and installed a spread involving a dual-threat and had more success than Weis did with his overly-complicated, slow, pro-style offense. But Reagan seems like a plum for KU.

Don Johnson 8 years ago

I think it's way too early to draw such conclusions. Many players show their biggest improvement from their first to second year. I vote we wait and see on Cozart. As for Nick, the guy the article is about, he can't but help. He appears to have both the skills and the right attitude. RCJHGKU

Jim Stauffer 8 years ago

Woe is me Cramer is posting again. The sky is falling! We will never get another first down!

Tony Bandle 8 years ago

Let's see...114 seasons of football and a total of 12 bowls games [6-6], last conference championship was 46 years ago..and it was shared, past five seasons record 14-46 [for about a 3-9 average record].

If the sky is not falling, then those must be big chunks of blue hail landing on our heads!!

Robert Brock 8 years ago

I don't think that the Cozart experiment will work. Prediction: the Heaps to Harwell passing game will succeed much better than most expect.

Doug Cramer 8 years ago

Lets be honest here...Matt Tait and Keag's stated in their spodcast that Harwell and Coleman have NFL potential.

So if we really have 2 wideouts with NFL talent, shouldn't we be utilizing a quarterback that can get those NFL caliber weapons the ball ? Unless Cozart has significantly improved his throwing motion, vision downfield, and accuracy, I think Heaps is the better option. Have no idea what Millweard's ability is like.

Perhaps Tait and Keags overestimate Harwell and Coleman's ability, and the coaches are planning on more of a run first offense.

Either way, with all things considered, including the lack of talent on the offensive line, the ingredients for a high performing offense are not lining up..IMO. Hope I'm wrong.

Keep in mind, we still have huge talent gap on our D-line as well.

3-9 is my prediction.

No way we beat Duke @ Duke. So if we can't squeak out a Big 12 win, we could be looking at 2-10.

Mark Lindrud 8 years ago

I think they are seeing Cozart as a dual threat and that is why he won the starting job. This tells me the line is going to be an issue for us again. I agree Heaps at this time is the better passer, but the thought process of backing Cozart would be he can make things happen with his legs. Somehow I see 4 wins at best this year. I think we can pull off an upset somewhere, but it maybe me being hopeful.

Aaron Paisley 8 years ago

Harwell is a legitimate NFL talent, not an early round pick, but a late rounder/priority FA because of his size. Harwell has the makings of being a great slot receiver in the NFL. Coleman has the ideal speed to get a look, but I wouldn't call him an NFL prospect at this point. He could get there by the time he's done at KU, but he's not there now.

I don't know if you saw the spring game, but Cozart looked significantly improved from last year. He missed one read in the first half where Harwell was wide open, but that's about it. The only really bad throw he had was on his first drive and beyond that he looked really comfortable with the offense. Cozart's not an NFL caliber QB anyway so his throwing really isn't that big of a deal at this level. Nick Marshall doesn't have a pretty motion either, but he still got Auburn to the title game last year. 55-60% completion and a 2:1 TD:Int ratio for Cozart this year would be a good season for him I think that's attainable for him. Those stats don't add up to a great season, but they add up to a better offense than the past two seasons and even if the defense doesn't take another step forward this year like they did last year, that should still be good enough to keep KU in some games and give them a legitimate chance to pull a couple of upsets in Big 12 play.

Also, having a bye week in the middle of conference play will be big this year. That will give the team a chance to rest a little for the final stretch of the season and give Reagan a chance to tweak the offense after there's film of it against Big 12 teams.

Jonathan Allison 8 years ago

"his throwing really isn't that big of a deal at this level. Nick Marshall doesn't have a pretty motion either, but he still got Auburn to the title game last year. 55-60% completion and a 2:1 TD:Int ratio for Cozart this year would be a good season for him"

I was thinking the same thing here. There have been hundreds of adequate college QBs who have a poor throwing motion. I'm thinking of Vince Young with the sidearm sling. Throwing motion matters a lot less in college than the pro's. I'd even lower the bar a little bit for Cozart on comp%. If he's above 50% that's a good year for him as a true soph who completed 36% last year. If he can connect on 60% of his passes that's a GREAT year for him. He'd be the most improved QB in the country, and we'd be possibly in line for a bowl appearance, because he's going to do some real damage this year with his legs, too. We should have a heck of an option run game with Cozart, Cox, Miller, Bourbon, et al. Here's to hoping that Reagan can capitalize on the play action pass more than Weis did the past two years!

Tony Bandle 8 years ago

You want to fix KU football? Here's what you do..... you get a coach who can get players.

Call Nick Saban and say simply, five years at ten million dollars a year [would double current Alabama salary], guaranteed, plus complete control of the entire athletic program.

It's really quite simple..oh, and by the way, sacrifice the basketball program to accomplish it.

Doug Cramer 8 years ago

Way to put it in perspective. And to think we fired the one coach that could give us a competitive team over the last 20 years. We deserve what we got, and guess what......."Lew Doesn't Care"

Aaron Paisley 8 years ago

The real fix for KU football will only happen if one of the super rich donors like Anschutz or Booth decide to invest millions of dollars into the program the way Phil Knight, Boone Pickens, or Drayton McLane have done at Oregon, Okie St., and Baylor respectively.

Jonathan Allison 8 years ago

I thought it was a "times" in which case it would be a net neutral....

Todd 8 years ago

Just catch the ball. He'll be leaps and bounds ahead of what we've had the last few years if he can do just that lol.

Kevin Robert Fest 8 years ago

Now why is it on this message board as soon as someone has something to say that is not bright and cheery about the football team they are labled a pariah, troll, malcontent. Lets face it this team stinks STINKS! I like everyone else would like to see some wins not just against embarassingly soft nonconference teams that we still either lose to or barely beat. But conference wins and maybe even a bowl game here and there. I dont Weis is long for the job if he goes sub 500 again this year he's out. Id love to see Mike Leach get a chance, he was a winner in the Big 12 at TT he is familiar with the play here and he can recruit. So let him come back to the conference he cant do any worse then Weis. This new offense is a Hail Mary for Weis he wasted the first two years he was here with his 3 and out offense and taxing the defense every game. I dont think Cozart has the arm or accuracy once the other Big 12 teams see film and figure him out then we will see if he can handle it. Heaps is a waste he was inaccurate in the spring game but so was everyother quarterback accept Cozart. Keep in mind Cozart is a run first quarterback. I would love to see the team improve and recruit better players and they did get some good recruits for 2014 and some solid transfers. So hopefully things will improve but the first two years Weis has shown me nothing.

Jonathan Allison 8 years ago

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