Monday, March 3, 2014

Pierson returns to Jayhawks’ lineup for spring football

Kansas running back Tony Pierson shakes Texas Tech defensive back Bruce Jones during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Tony Pierson shakes Texas Tech defensive back Bruce Jones during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.


Plenty of elements contributed to the offensive struggles of Kansas University’s football team during the 2013 season. The loss of Tony Pierson to injury might have been one of the biggest.

“Remember now,” KU coach Charlie Weis said Monday during his pre-spring meeting with the media, “if you go back to early last year, 31⁄2 games in, he’s on his way to over 1,000 yards as a receiver and probably a bunch more as a runner.”

Pierson spent the final eight games of his junior season dealing with concussion issues instead of racking up yards with the speed and playmaking abilities he flashed during his first two seasons in Lawrence. Concussion symptoms kept him out of five games and sent him to the sideline early in three others.

“When he got slammed (against) Texas Tech (in Week 4), that was basically the end of his year,” Weis said. “And he was on his way to a really big year.”

As Pierson, who has completed the transition from running back to wide receiver, prepares for his final spring practices as a Jayhawk, he does so healthy. A player’s final go-around can inspire a full-throttle mentality, but Weis said Pierson’s next month would be more about making sure he’s ready for the fall than proving what he can do in the spring.

“We’ll be a little bit cautious with Tony in the spring,” Weis said. “He might not be so much different than the quarterbacks. There might be days that we put him in a (no-contact) red jersey and other days where we put him in the regular jersey. What we’re not gonna do is try to knock him out. That defeats the whole purpose. But he also has to get hit, just like the quarterbacks have to get hit in this offense. You just don’t want it to be a free-for-all and have him open game all the time.”

The Jayhawks start spring practice on Thursday. They’ll have four practices before spring break, take a week off, then rip off 10 more practices before wrapping up their spring session at 1 p.m. April 12 with the annual spring game.

Weis said there were very few players on KU’s “banged-up list” entering the spring and added that he was looking forward to reintegrating several guys who missed last season. Most notable among those names are defensive lineman Andrew Bolton, wide receiver Nick Harwell, linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore and defensive back Kevin Short.

Spring drills also will mark the first on-the-field action for new KU assistant coaches John Reagan (offensive line/offensive coordinator), Eric Kiesau (wide receivers) and Bernie Parmalee (quality control, special teams).

Martin on the move?

Weis dished out high praise for junior offensive lineman Damon Martin, who has played guard during his first few years in the program but may be getting a look at tackle in 2014.

“If Damon isn’t starting at guard, he’ll be starting at right tackle,” said Weis, noting that he and Reagan had a plan in place to identify and play KU’s five best linemen regardless of natural position. “Sometimes (it’s) change of scenery or new guy in, sometimes you get older, sometimes you get hungrier. Who knows what it is? All I know is he’s still the strongest of all of them. And he’s athletic enough to play guard, and he’s big enough to play tackle.”

Roster tweaks

A couple of relevant changes to the KU roster surfaced Monday.

One was the absence of wide receiver Ishmael Hyman, a New Jersey native who red-shirted in 2013. Weis did not speak about players not on the roster.

The other was the listing of wide receiver Rodriguez Coleman as a junior instead of a senior. Coleman, who played in 10 games and caught eight passes for 208 yards and one touchdown in 2013, was granted an extra year of eligibility via a medical red shirt he applied for after his first season at Garden City Community College.

Quality corners

The addition of Kevin Short to the KU defense brings into the fold another big, physical player known for his coverage ability. One problem: Weis said Short was far from a lock to crack the starting lineup.

“Those two corners that we have, he’s gonna have a tough time beating those two out,” Weis said of seniors and returning starters JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald. “You guys already have Kevin in the Hall of Fame. I don’t know if he could beat out JaCorey or Dexter. But when you’re playing with a third corner on the field, all of a sudden things change. And that’s definitely a possibility.”

Rather than being listed strictly as a cornerback, Short also is labeled a nickelback, and Weis said putting all three in the starting lineup was a possibility.

Harwell the leader

Weis has no concerns about leadership on offense, thanks to the presence of senior wide receiver Nick Harwell, who red-shirted in 2013 after transferring from Miami (Ohio).

“Harwell’s personality is so dynamic that you don’t have to worry about somebody besides the quarterback getting on players, because Harwell’s on everybody all the time,” Weis said. “He’s on the defensive guys, he’s on the offensive guys. If a guy’s not running, I no longer have to count on the coaches to say something because Harwell’s already yelling at ’em.”


David A. Smith 8 years, 2 months ago

I'm pretty stoked about the guys that had to sit out last year! Regarding Harwell, you have to think that the only way the guy would have enough credibility to be on guys the way he is would be if he backed it up with his play. As such, he must be doing very well in practice. Then theres Bolton, Short, etc. Yep, I'm Pretty psyched!

Kevin Robert Fest 8 years, 2 months ago

Yeah but you still need someone to get them the ball. Unfortunately that remains to be seen. Crist stunk, Heaps stinks, Cozart is raw. Millweard is unproven at this level. Who's it going to be? And Pierson is another concussion waiting to happen. Love the Jayhawks but the last couple of years have been tough.

Aaron Paisley 8 years, 2 months ago

Heaps was solid when he had time. His OLine had hard time keeping him upright and the WR's couldn't catch or run a decent route. The shake up in the coaching staff should also pay dividends this year as KU now has an OC that will fit his system to the players and WR coach with a track record of success.

Erich Hartmann 8 years, 2 months ago

One statement: Disregarding the errant throws by Jake, where would we be if the WR's & TE caught the balls that hit them in the hands? To that moment, the Oline and the QB did exactly what they were supposed to, but how many drives were killed by a critical down dropped pass?

Ryan Shelton 8 years, 2 months ago

Are we going to be hearing about a "learning curve" in regards to the new offense being put into place? How long until they are clicking on all cylinders? My guess is we will be using this as our next excuse for not putting up points. Sorry for the negativity. I've been dealing with OSU fans all day, one of whom told me that they just took away our last sport.

Matt Tait 8 years, 2 months ago

Interesting question... Doesn't sound like it'll take long. Weis said they'll be going full speed 4 practices in, so I think it's mostly a situation where they're installing small bits as they go rather than taking a large chunk of time to throw everything in.

I like it. I think it's the right way to do it given the fact that they don't know who the QB will be just yet. And the benefit of it is the rest of the guys who do know their roles will be able to learn fast and gain confidence along the way.

Erich Hartmann 8 years, 2 months ago

Ryan, just tell those OSU people that Tharpe and Ellis (&Wiggins) "gifted" them a W, as we turned-over a 10pt 2nd half lead. Tell them they gotta be sweating bullets to just make the Tournament, so at least they should be thankful for their last ditch W. We have no such worries about making the Tournament, as KU has gone 28 straight times...LOL!

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