Column: KU offense's recent woes warrant closer look at hype

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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The average Kansas University football fan brings healthy skepticism to any conversation regarding the offense.

Let’s look at the most common sources of suspicion and label each one fair or unfair.

Doubt No. 1: We were told by Charlie Weis and the media that Dayne Crist was going to light the Lawrence skies with spirals for one season on his way to a long NFL career. He didn’t make it past midseason before being replaced. Jake Heaps, we were told, would be better than Crist because he would have more elusiveness in the pocket. If anything, he was less productive than Crist. Now we’re supposed to believe that slot receiver Nick Harwell, another transfer, has All-American potential? Not going to buy the hype again.

Ruling: Unfair.

Crist and Heaps came to Kansas because they lost their jobs with subpar performance at their first schools, Notre Dame and Brigham Young. They were five-star recruits in high school, but never lived up to that in college.

Harwell not only never was replaced as a starter for football reasons, he set a slew of records and as a sophomore ranked second in the nation in receiving yards per game (129.5), behind only Western Michigan’s Jordan White.

Doubt No. 2: Harwell played in the MAC, so what he did for Miami (Ohio) means nothing because the defenses he will face will be so superior.

Ruling: Unfair.

Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the second-leading receiver in the NFL last season with 110 catches, played his college ball in the MAC for Central Michigan. Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots, fourth in the NFL with 105 catches, also played for a MAC school, Kent State.

If that doesn’t ease concerns about Harwell’s switch to the Big 12, this should: Two of his 15 games with at least 100 receiving yards came against Big Ten schools Ohio State and Minnesota.

Doubt No. 3: OK, so let’s assume Harwell is the real deal and again will do a terrific job of getting open, catching what’s thrown his way and gaining big yards after the catch. Does KU have anybody who can get him the ball consistently?

Ruling: Fair.

Montell Cozart was forced into action as a true freshman because the offense was going nowhere with Heaps ducking for cover in the face of a relentless pass-rush week after week.

Cozart encountered difficulties typical for freshmen, including adjusting to the speed of the game, the size and speed of the defenders. He sometimes looked as if he were trying to avoid injury and too eagerly headed out of bounds, at times just shy of the first-down marker. As a thrower, he completed 36.5 percent of his passes, averaged 3.6 yards per attempt and did not throw a touchdown pass in 63 passes. Too many broken plays ended with him throwing balls out of bounds, instead of trying to make something happen by scrambling for more time or running for a gain.

A year of experience, film study, and body building could empower Cozart with the confidence necessary to make better, sometimes bolder, decisions.

Plus, new offensive coordinator John Reagan’s offense promises to cut down on the number of high-degree-of-difficulty passes. The addition of Harwell and the polishing of fleet receivers Tony Pierson and Rodriguez Coleman won’t hurt.

Still, it takes a leap of faith to believe that, considering his passing statistics from a year ago, he can improve enough to become an average Big 12 passer. Watching whether he can makes KU worth watching.

Doubt No. 4: Even if the wide-receiver unit improves from worst in the nation to solid, the running backs do well enough to soften the blow of losing James Sims, Reagan’s college offense creates more opportunities, tight end Jimmay Mundine stops dropping passes and Cozart makes monumental improvements, an offense, to some extent, is only as good as its offensive line and KU’s doesn’t look very good on paper.

Ruling: Fair.

The outrageous shortage of offensive tackles has been addressed with the addition of Larry Mazyck, a 6-foot-8, 340-pound left tackle who originally had committed to Maryland, and the move of Damon Martin from guard to tackle. Pat Lewandowski adds depth and Brian Beckmann could help the situation if he’s ready this year and not still a year of weight-room growth away from contributing.

Still, the outlook of the O-line is iffy and until Kansas can get into a rhythm of developing high school prospects, things will remain shaky up front.

Legitimate doubts abound, but hope peeks its head into the room and most of it comes in the form of fast athletes, never a bad quality for an offense.