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Three & Out with Duke…

Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe talks with quarterback Anthony Boone (7) in the second half of an NCAA college football game at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, in Troy, Ala. (AP Photo/ Hal Yeager)

Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe talks with quarterback Anthony Boone (7) in the second half of an NCAA college football game at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, in Troy, Ala. (AP Photo/ Hal Yeager)

• Kansas Jayhawks (1-0) at Duke (2-0)
2:30 p.m. (central) Saturday, Sept. 13, Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina

Three and out, with the Duke Blue Devils...

1st Down

Duke enters this week’s game vs. Kansas with an 18-11 non-conference record under current coach David Cutcliffe. One of those 11 losses came to Kansas in 2009, when the Jayhawks drubbed Cutcliffe's club, 44-16, in Lawrence.

KU coaches Clint Bowen and John Reagan, both on the Jayhawks' staff in 2009, said they would not be able to take much from that game that will help them this week, other than the knowledge and memory of how disciplined, detailed and prepared Cutcliffe's club was that day. Bowen remembered specifically the first couple of plays from scrimmage catching the Kansas defense off-guard.

In the last 12 regular season non-league games, Cutcliffe has guided the Blue Devils to an 11-1 mark, including eight straight regular season non-conference victories.

2nd Down

Did you know that KU coach Charlie Weis once hired Duke coach David Cutcliffe to be his quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame? Weis has long been a fan of Cutcliffe's mastery of offense and play-calling and Weis said earlier this week that he picked Cutcliffe to join him at Notre Dame back in 2005 with the idea of eventually handing over the offense to him.

It never happened and neither did Weis and Cutcliffe working together. Cutcliffe resigned from the post before really getting started after suffering a heart attack and having triple-bypass surgery.

Cutcliffe was out of football for all of 2005 and he rejoined the Tennessee coaching staff in 2006 and 2007 (he previously worked at Tennessee from 1982-98 and helped develop Peyton Manning into one of college and professional football's greats). In 2008, the former Ole Miss head coach took the head job at Duke, where he has racked up a 33-44 record and is now in his seventh season.

“I was looking for somebody I could turn the offense over to and I thought David was one of the best minds out there,” Weis said this week. “Not only was he well-schooled with the quarterback position, which is his reputation, but I thought he'd be a perfect person to hand over the offense to because of his mind and his ability as a play caller. What he's done there is what I would expect him to do anywhere. Just about anywhere he's gone, in an ample amount of time, he's been able to get things going in the right way, especially offensively. He's a very, very good coach.”

3rd Down

Although they wound up losing 34-17 to the Blue Devils last week, Troy proved one thing early on: Duke is vulnerable to a strong running attack.

On its first two drives of the game, Troy gained 100 yards on 16 carries — and 166 yards in all — and jumped out to a 14-3 lead. Duke's D tightened up after that giving up just 58 more rushing yards and limiting Troy to a 3.7 yards-per-rush total.

But the two successful drives that opened the game each were 83-yard drives, with one taking 11 plays and another a whopping 13.

The Blue Devils lost All-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown to a season-ending knee injury in August and that left senior David Helton (6-4, 240) as one of the few experienced linebackers on the roster. In the first two weeks alone, Duke has relied upon a red-shirt freshman and a true freshman to play a significant number of snaps in the middle of the defense.

Duke's first two opponents of 2014 recorded 152 and 158 yards on the ground in losses to the Blue Devils.

Punt

While last year's 10-win team was one of the best in Duke history, the 2014 version is hardly the same club. In addition to losing two of the team's top returners in Brown and fellow-all-ACC tight end Braxton Deaver to preseason injuries, the Blue Devils saw 21 players make their collegiate debuts in the season opener, with five true freshmen and 13 red-shirt freshmen playing in a college game for the first time.

However, despite that fresh blood, Duke still features an experienced roster. In all, the Blue Devils field 21 seniors on their roster, 17 of whom are listed on the two-deep depth chart.

Reply 7 comments from Eric Dawson Matt Tait Jay Beakum Kellerman411

Three & Out with Southeast Missouri State…

• KANSAS JAYHAWKS (0-0) vs. SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE REDHAWKS (1-0) •
— 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, KS —

Three and out, with SEMO...

1st Down

Before moving on to the match-up with Kansas, let's look back at a couple of the more notable accomplishments from SEMO's 77-0 season-opening victory over Missouri Baptist last week.

• With 77 points, the Redhawks posted their highest total in franchise history since joining Division I in 1991.

• Southeast notched its first shutout over a non-conference opponent in the program’s Division I era. The last shutout overall was at Austin Peay on Nov. 1, 1997 and tonight’s effort marked the third shutout Southeast has registered since joining the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).

• The Redhawks racked up 516 yards of total offense, the most since totaling 537 yards at Murray State in 2012. Southeast rushed for 304 yards and posted eight rushing TDs. They averaged 7.6 yards per rush.

• Southeast set a team record by holding Missouri Baptist to 81 total yards of offense, shattering the previous low of 137 yards allowed vs. Sam Houston State (9/11/93).

2nd Down

The Jayhawks aren't the only ones interested in wild and new uniform combinations. First-year SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz, the former defensive coordinator at Toledo, recently unveiled a brand new helmet that it plans to wear for Saturday's game against the Jayhawks.

Off white with the heavy red outline of the school's mascot and red facemask, the helmet is basically the inverse of what the Redhawks wore in the season opener, black helmet with red and black Redhawk mascot.

There's no doubt that these things tend to fire up the players. That's certainly been the case at Kansas, dating all the way back to the red jerseys worn during the Orange Bowl seasons, the all-black look they wore against Iowa State a couple of years ago and the newly unveiled Crimson Chrome uniform that will be worn at some point this season.

Here's a look at SEMO's new helmet.

The new SEMO helmet that the Redhawks will wear Saturday vs. Kansas. Photo courtesy of Southeast Missouri State athletics.

The new SEMO helmet that the Redhawks will wear Saturday vs. Kansas. Photo courtesy of Southeast Missouri State athletics. by Matt Tait

3rd Down

Southeast Missouri State is 1-18 all-time vs. FBS opponents, with the lone victory coming via a 24-14 triumph over Middle Tennessee in 2002. Of those 19 games, just one came against a Big 12 foe, with Missouri rocking the Redhawks, 52-3, in 2008. Other notable names on SEMO's FBS list include: Hawaii, Marshall, Ohio, Central Michigan, Arkansas, Cincinnati twice, Purdue and Ole Miss last season.

You can look at this two ways: 1. SEMO struggles with upper-level talent. 2. Because they've played FBS foes every year since 2000, they're used to it and won't be intimidated by this week's Big 12 opponent.

Punt

While SEMO quarterback Kyle Snyder returns to give the Redhawks a steady, veteran presence, it's the players around him that make the SEMO offense dangerous.

Surrounded by weapons, Snyder has plenty of options in the offense, many of whom can turn innocent plays into big gains in a hurry. Snyder in the opener, showed he could make some plays, as well, running for two touchdowns and throwing for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

• Running back DeMichael Jackson (No. 20) had a huge game last week, accounting for 148 total yards, including a 66-yard touchdown on a screen pass and a 25-yard TD run.

• Paul McRoberts and Spencer Davis are the two biggest weapons at wide receiver, with KU coach Charlie Weis calling the 5-foot-7, 182-pound Davis “their big play guy.” Davis ripped off a career-best 61-yard punt return early in the victory.

• The Redhawks have a two-headed monster at tight end, with Logan Larson being your more typical tight end and Ron Coleman being a wildcard. Coleman is a converted running back and he lines up all over the field, at fullback, tight end, H-Back and others.

Reply 15 comments from Hornhawk Dirk Medema Oklahomajayhawk Kevin Kelly Texashawk10_2 John Myers Chris Gilbertson Dale Rogers Austin Ray Plasticjhawk and 3 others

7 KU football players flying under the radar entering 2014

Kansas receiver Derrick Neal pulls in a catch during Fan Appreciation Day, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas receiver Derrick Neal pulls in a catch during Fan Appreciation Day, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

With the 2014 Kansas University football opener now just 11 days away, it's time for what has become one of my favorite blogs to write.

It's not a prediction blog. That one's always tough. Because I spend so much time around these guys and see how much time, effort and energy they're putting into it, I often lean toward the sunny side of things and have to make sure to remember that players and coaches at Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU and Duke are doing the same thing.

I will say this, though, because four or five times a week I get asked, 'How many games the Jayhawks will win this season?' I think they've got a real shot to be better than they have been in a long time.

Let's drop a quick percentage wheel into the blog to illustrate what that means. This percentage wheel will measure my guess for a given range of win totals...

2014 WIN-TOTAL PERCENTAGE WHEEL:

  1. 4 or 5 wins – 51%
  2. 3 wins – 23%
  3. 6 wins or more – 13%
  4. 2 wins or less – 13%

All right. Now that that's out of the way, let's get back to the original topic of the blog... Seven Jayhawks flying under the radar entering the 2014 season.

Everyone knows about Ben Heeney, Cassius Sendish and Montell Cozart. But every team has a player or two who comes out of nowhere to play an important role. Here's my best guess at seven guys who could fill that role for the Jayhawks this fall.

1. Sophomore S Tevin Shaw — Weis ever-so-quietly called the third-year sophomore one of the most improved players on the entire roster midway through camp. And it makes sense. Shaw's a natural football player with a strong physical presence and the passion to go all-out all the time. During his first couple of years in town, that effort was stonewalled by his having to learn the system and pick up the college game. More comfortable today than he has been since high school, the guy Weis said might be the team's most physical player, pound-for-pound, can use that nasty streak to make plays. He won't push starting safeties Cassius Sendish and Isaiah Johnson, but, if Shaw really is in for his breakout year, KU's depth at safety — with Fish Smithson also having a fantastic camp — looks pretty salty.

2. Freshman CB Matthew Boateng — One of the most confident newcomers in the program, Boateng has done nothing but hit the field day after day with the belief that he belongs. That can go a long way for a freshman, as learning to have confidence at this level is often one of the toughest adjustments a young player has to make. Speaking of adjustments, I've heard that Boateng's transition to college life hasn't been a problem because he already went through a version of it when he went away for high school. Fast and athletic, with good feet and the size needed to compete immediately, Boateng's could be a name you hear sooner rather than later.

3. Junior DE Kapil Fletcher — A lot was made in the offseason about the pass rushers KU brought into the mix in its latest recruiting class. But with Anthony Olobia injured for who knows how long and Damani Mosby being a late arrival, the opportunity for one of those new guys to make an impact seems to be Fletcher's all to himself. Big enough to bang inside but quick enough to use his hands and play on the edge, Fletcher's blend of skills makes him an intriguing prospect. He may not be needed right away. But if Andrew Bolton, Michael Reynolds, Victor Simmons and the rest of the KU D-Line struggle to get pressure on the quarterback, Fletcher could be a guy they turn to.

Kansas quarterback Michael Cummings makes a pass during a passing drill at the Fan Appreciation Day open practice Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Michael Cummings makes a pass during a passing drill at the Fan Appreciation Day open practice Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012, at Memorial Stadium. by John Young

4. Junior QB Michael Cummings — We haven't seen an updated version yet, but it seems like a safe bet that Cummings will open the season No. 2 on the depth chart at quarterback. Don't be surprised if he plays. There are a number of things that could get Cummings onto the field and not all of them are bad. Sure, he'll be first in line if Cozart gets knocked around, but is it possible that there's something built into John Reagan's offense specifically for Cummings? Maybe that's a Wildcat package. Maybe he's a red zone guy. Maybe he and Cozart are on the field together. Maybe not. But by all accounts Cummings had a fantastic preseason camp and, while quarterback after quarterback has been brought in and placed ahead of him on the depth chart, all he has done is work harder and get better. Props to him for that whether he plays a down this season or not.

Kansas linebacker Courtney Arnick (58) trails Kansas receiver Colin Spencer during a spring practice on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas linebacker Courtney Arnick (58) trails Kansas receiver Colin Spencer during a spring practice on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

5. Sophomore LB Courtney Arnick — It's easy to forget about guys who play early in their careers and that might be the case with Arnick, who red-shirted as a true freshman and a played in all 12 games — with six starts — last year as a red-shirt freshman. When Arnick came to the program from Dallas' Carter High (same school as freshman RB Corey Avery), he brought with him a dose of speed that the Jayhawks didn't really have. They do now, but that doesn't mean Arnick can't still contribute. He's added muscle to his frame without putting on weight and looks like the kind of linebacker KU's looking for to play in space and run down ball carriers in the Big 12. Arnick opens the year with the second unit behind Jake Love at Will linebacker but with his experience as a nickelback and KU's limited depth at linebacker, I'm guessing he'll be used somewhat regularly.

6. Freshman WR Derrick Neal — Neal was one of the guys who really impressed me during that open practice we saw a couple of weeks ago. He functions like a jitterbug out there and it seems like he'd be hard to keep tabs on. Blessed with speed, quickness, good hands and, most importantly, confidence, Neal seems to me to be one of those guys who has special circumstances guy written all over him. He may not be in the regular rotation at wide receiver, which suddenly has a ton of depth, but I'm guessing John Reagan and Eric Kiesau will find ways to get this guy the ball this season.

7. Senior DT Tedarian Johnson — At 6-foot-2, 290 pounds, Johnnson is one of the team's bigger defensive linemen who not only brings size but also valuable experience. Johnson was very good at times during his first season in Lawrence, but consistency issues kept him from standing out. The Jayhawks have moved to a lighter, quicker look in the defensive trenches this season, so it's hard to know what's going to happen to Johnson's opportunities. He opened camp second string behind senior workhorse Keon Stowers, but if the Jayhawks ever feel the need to go big up front, I could see Johnson and Stowers playing side-by-side.

Reply 8 comments from Texashawk10_2 Lucas Town Jim Stauffer Koolkeithfreeze Table_rock_jayhawk Kingfisher Matt Tait Oklahomajayhawk

Weis Jr. works with Patriots; Willis returns to KU; another Mitchell on board and more

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and his son, Charlie Weis Jr. watch from the sidelines during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and his son, Charlie Weis Jr. watch from the sidelines during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

Friday was the final day of our access to KU's preseason camp, and rather than talking to players or position coaches, we were given the chance to speak with some of the support staff, people who help make KU football go.

It offered a rare opportunity to get to some of the guys who do the work behind the scenes that doesn't always get noticed and it produced some fun stories and soundbites.

Some of the names you'll know. Some of them you'll have heard but forgotten. But all of them play a key role in what KU does on a day-to-day basis. Here's a quick look at some of the most notable interviews I conducted Friday.

Weis Jr. expands work to NFL

Kansas University football student manager Charlie Weis Jr., son of KU head coach Charlie Weis, attended a family reunion this summer, but none of the people there were his relatives.

Instead, Weis Jr., returned to Massachusetts and spent some time this summer working an internship with the New England Patriots, where Weis won three Super Bowls and spent five years as an offensive coordinator.

“A lot of them knew me from when I was there before,” Weis Jr., said with a big smile. “But they were all good to me and I didn't have to deal with any (hazing or harassment). It was awesome.” Most awesome, as you might guess, was the reconnection with New England quarterback Tom Brady.

“When I was a kid, I looked up to those guys,” Weis Jr., said. “They were idols to me. And to go from wearing a Tom Brady jersey to being able to kind of work with him a little bit was really cool.”

Weis Jr., who is used to being around more than 100 football players at any given KU practice, said he marveled at the behind-the-scenes work that went into cutting the Patriots' final roster to the 53-man limit.

“When my dad was there I was obviously pretty young so this was my first time working in the NFL style,” he said. “It was a really good experience and it kind of got me some exposure.”

Willis thrilled to be coaching at alma mater

Less than a year after running onto the field with a KU helmet, jersey with his name on the back and full set of pads, Darius Willis finds himself preparing to run onto the same field in a very different manner.

Willis, who graduated from KU last May, is in his first year with the KU coaching staff, serving as one of four graduate assistants on the staff. Despite the quick change from player to professor, Willis said he's enjoyed every second.

Kansas senior Darius Willis (2) reacts to a video of himself during a senior day recognition before the Jayhawks game against KSU Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas senior Darius Willis (2) reacts to a video of himself during a senior day recognition before the Jayhawks game against KSU Saturday at Memorial Stadium. by Mike Yoder

“I don't feel weird,” the former linebacker and defensive lineman said. “It's just something that comes naturally to me. I've always said in the back of my head that I wanted to be a coach when I was done playing and this is a great opportunity.”

Willis got the opportunity at the last minute when another former Jayhawk, Max Onyegbule, left the program for a job elsewhere. Willis got the call and jumped at the chance to stick around Lawrence.

“I'm just taking it one day at a time and trying to keep motivate myself and make the dudes around me better,” Willis said. “You always want to see where you played succeed. Being here and actually being a part of it is great.”

Another Mitchell on board

After playing for his father for one season at Illinois and working under him last season at Kansas, graduate assistant Kaeman Mitchell, son of KU running backs coach Reggie Mitchell, is finally feeling comfortable.

“This year, I know what to expect more,” Mitchell said. “And I'm doing a better job of staying ahead instead of catching up.”

Mitchell, who played defensive back and special teams at Illinois from 2009-12, spent one spring working with the Illini staff before coming to Kansas.

His role at KU focuses on the Jayhawks' special teams and he wouldn't have it any other way.

“I love special teams,” he said. “But if I was gonna coach on offense it would be running backs because I've been sitting in their meetings (with my dad) for 18 years.”

Parmalee duo having fun

The 2014 season will mark the first season together for former NFL coach and player Bernie Parmalee and his son Tre' Parmalee, a junior wide receiver with the Jayhawks.

As close as any father-and-son duo, the older Parmalee said he has not seen either party act any differently than they would otherwise.

“It's been fun,” Bernie said. “It's really been fun. With playing in the NFL and coaching in the NFL and coaching in college, that's a lot of time away. So to be in the same building with him and a part of the same team, that doesn't happen very often.”

As for what kind of role he's played specifically with his son, Bernie he treats Tre' just like any other Jayhawk.

“As a dad, you ask yourself the question, can I work with a team where I have to work with my son,'” he said. “Since he was young, I've been on him, I've pushed him, hard love, tough love. But at the same time, I embrace it, he embraces it and, when we look back years from now, this time is gonna bring big smiles.”

Kansas receiver Tre' Parmalee has a would-be touchdown pass knocked away by Texas Tech defensive back Bruce Jones during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas receiver Tre' Parmalee has a would-be touchdown pass knocked away by Texas Tech defensive back Bruce Jones during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

Reply 3 comments from Dave Roberts Stan Unruh John Randall

What caught my eye at Monday’s practice: Aug. 18th

More KU staff members took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to jumpstart practice Monday at the KU practice fields.

More KU staff members took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to jumpstart practice Monday at the KU practice fields. by Matt Tait

Couple of quick notes now before jumping back in to an expanded version a little later from Monday's KU football practice.

Check back in a while for more, but here are a couple that needed to get up quickly.

First, KU coach Charlie Weis called the team together during the stretching and warm-up portion of today's practice and called them out for not having any juice. It makes sense. It's hard to go through camp with great energy every day and probably even harder after a big Sunday scrimmage.

That said, Weis wasn't having it. In an attempt to inject some life into practice, he called a few more members of his staff over to the practice field so they could take their turn at the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Included in this group were assistant AD for sports medicine Murphy Grant, equipment manager Jeff Himes, media relations guru Katy Lonergan and assistant strength coach Justin Springer.

A handful of players were chosen to stand behind each person and dump the bucket of ice on their heads. It was hot out there on the turf, though, and I didn't hear any complaining.

Quickly, one newsy note from practice: Tight end Jordan Shelley-Smith, a red-shirt freshman from Waco, Texas, has moved to offensive line. He spent most of the drill I saw working at right tackle, which makes sense given the fact that, as a tight end, he's pretty athletic, moves well and may be a prime candidate to follow in Tanner Hawkinson's foot steps.

Shelley-Smith was listed at 245 pounds in the media guide. I've been told he's up to 260 now and there's no doubt that, with his frame, he could get up to the 290 range without much issue.

I thought he looked pretty strong in the drills and, from what little I do know of him, I think he may have the demeanor to play O-Line. We'll see.

More to come. Gotta take care of a couple things real quick. Quick tease: I spent a good chunk of my time today really looking at KU's three-man competition at Center between Keyon Haughton, Joe Gibson and Jacob Bragg.

Got back to this a little later than I had hoped so I'll save the center update for Tuesday.

Here were a few more quick things that caught my on Monday, though, since I promised you something.

• Still no Josh Ehambe or Damani Mosby out there, the only two players from the latest recruiting class who have yet to make it to campus. Mosby's closing in on an arrival (still just waiting for the paperwork to be graded) and Ehambe, who is still waiting for word from the NCAA on the eligibility of all Prime Prep Academy athletes Tweeted something about it being time to pack, which sent KU fans on Twitter into a frenzy about him getting good news but we've heard nothing official. Coach Weis is scheduled for a brief press conference Wednesday before introducing this year's captains so maybe we'll learn more then.

• I noticed that both the DBs and the linebackers were working a lot on the strip fumble drill during the early portion of today's practice. Nothing new there and certainly nothing they don't work on regularly anyway, but I thought it was interesting that both were doing it. Maybe the offense got the better of the defense in the Sunday scrimmage and the drill was put in to provide extra emphasis on takeaways. Purely speculation there, though. Haven't heard too much about how the scrimmage went yet.

• Weis said last week that he was hoping to be done shuffling the O-Line around after Saturday. It was just the first drill of a Monday practice but it's worth noting that the first group up in the drill for the O-Line looked like this: RT - Damon Martin, RG - Mike Smithburg, C - Keyon Haughton, LG - Ngalu Fusimalohi, LT - Pat Lewandowski.

• Finally, got a quick glance at one of those "It's Time" T-Shirts that the Jayhawks made to remind themselves that this year is supposed to be different. Nothing incredible, but they look pretty sharp.

A Kansas staff member wears one of the Jayhawks' "It's Time" T-Shirts made for the 2014 season.

A Kansas staff member wears one of the Jayhawks' "It's Time" T-Shirts made for the 2014 season. by Matt Tait

Check Tuesday for more on the O-Line, particularly the center position.

Reply 15 comments from Jim Stauffer Kellerman411 Glen Table_rock_jayhawk Ray Winger Baldjedi Texashawk10_2 Jay Beakum

What caught my eye at Saturday’s open practice: Aug. 16

A look at the Memorial Stadium stands on a gorgeous day during the KU Football Fan Appreciation Day.

A look at the Memorial Stadium stands on a gorgeous day during the KU Football Fan Appreciation Day. by Matt Tait

Saturday's Fan Appreciation Day and open practice gave us our first extended look at the 2014 Kansas University football team.

And there was plenty to watch.

It's always nice to get at least one practice where we get more than the 20 minutes at the beginning. Not because we learn a ton of information that we might not otherwise see (Coach Weis is smart enough not to show too much when the eyes of the media and fans are on the field), but because it gives us a chance to look a little more closely at players and positions.

That's what I focused most of my time on during the more than 2 hours inside the gates on Saturday and several things stood out.

Here's a quick look at most of them:

• The running back position is loaded. It's not just talk. All four of the guys competing there could start, could handle the load and/or could lead this team in rushing. That's a good thing because of the pounding backs usually take. It's an even better thing because it'll keep the Jayhawks from being too one dimensional as each guy gives a little something different. One thing I noticed Saturday that impressed me was that all four guys — Brandon Bourbon, Taylor Cox, De'Andre Mann and Corey Avery — can both run inside and catch the ball out of the backfield. Nice luxury to have.

• Sticking with the offense, I thought QB Montell Cozart looked fine on Saturday. He was mostly accurate, moved around well in the pocket and also turned it up field when he had to and, perhaps most impressively, fit the ball into some tight spots. Michael Cummings also looked really good and I've heard he's had a terrific camp. Makes sense because this style of offense fits the type of player he is, which is probably why he appears to be leading in the race to become Cozart's back-up. That said, T.J. Millweard threw some nice balls and had particularly good touch on his deep ball. He just doesn't look quite as natural and comfortable as the other two. That's probably mostly experience and confidence.

• At wideout, the Jayhawks really appear to have some players. Rodriguez Coleman had a nice day and looked really athletic and Tony Pierson had a fantastic day. As the coaching staff has mentioned, Pierson is really starting to look like a wide receiver. He was locked up with Kevin Short in several one-on-one situations during Saturday's practice and he got the better of Short more times than not. That was probably my favorite part of the day on Saturday. Not only watching Pierson and Short go toe-to-toe, but watching all of the WRs battle with the DBs in one-on-one situations. For the most part, the receivers won the battle this time.

• Speaking of wideouts, those four freshmen might be special. Tyler Patrick, Darious Crawley, Derrick Neal and Bobby Hartzog all have a real natural feel for the game and they're fiery. They all know that the deck is stacked in front of them, but you wouldn't know it by watching them compete. They're out there to push their teammates on offense and defense every single rep. That can only help a team. Of the four, my guess is that Derrick Neal might be the farthest along. He just looks to have the best feel for the offense and, although he's tiny, he really uses that to his advantage. I could even see him fitting into the passing game in some kind of specialist role. On one play, wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau turned his back to the play and told someone on the sideline what was going to happen behind him. Sure enough, Neal ran a crossing route after lining up on the far side and caught the ball in the exact spot Kiesau said he would for a gain of 20-30 yards. That's a good sign for Neal and also for Kiesau, who looks like he's been with the program for years.

KU receivers Nick Harwell (left) and Justin McCay meet a young fan in the autograph line after the practice.

KU receivers Nick Harwell (left) and Justin McCay meet a young fan in the autograph line after the practice. by Matt Tait

• A couple of quick notes about kickoff and punt return. Isaiah Johnson, Tre' Parmalee, Kevin Short and Nick Harwell all handled punt returns on Saturday and here was how I saw it. Most sure-handed: Parmalee. Most dangerous weapon: Harwell: Biggest gambler: Short. As for kickoff return, JaCorey Shepherd, Harwell and Short all looked equally dangerous back there. Too bad they don't figure to get many chances. Not because Weis won't use them. He's said he has no problem using front-line guys on special teams. Instead because the kickoff return has been taken out of college football more and more in recent years with the rule changes.

• Speaking of Weis and special teams, his talk about giving a good chunk of his time to that unit is no joke. He's very involved with every aspect and very attentive while special teams drills are happening.

• In the kicking department, both Trevor Pardula and Eric Kahn looked good on punts and kickoffs. No surprise there, but it was nice to see Kahn has developed into a more than capable back-up. Pardula ripped off one of his signature 70-yard punts and, unlike last year, when that brought a scream of some kind from Weis, it went without much chatter this time. It's a great sign when that kind of thing is expected instead of celebrated.

• In the field goal department, freshman John Duvic hit six of the seven kicks he attempted, missing only from 42 yards. One was an extra point and the rest were slowly and steadily farther out starting at 25 yards and going to 47. He definitely outperformed returning starter Matthew Wyman, who missed four straight during the same drill. Too bad too. We talked to Wyman before the practice began and he said he's had a great camp and felt more confident and consistent than ever. Just goes to show how doing it in front of a live crowd can change the game.

• The misses might not have been all on the kickers. Long snapper John Wirtel had a rough day as he bounced several snaps back to holder T.J. Millweard and even fired a few over Millweard's head. Props to Millweard for doing a great job of getting most of them down so the kickers had a chance. Millweard looks really strong in that role. He's confident, has good hands and is constantly encouraging the KU kickers.

A few more quick notes...

• No surprise here, but I thought the DBs looked very physical. Both in the passing game and in the run game, these guys really believe in their abilities and aren't afraid to hit.

• Junior cornerback Kevin Short is a very instinctual football player. He just seems to be where he needs to be and do what he needs to do with minimal effort. He likes to talk, too.

• The area in which the wide receivers have upgraded the most is not hands, speed, routes or anything like that. It's confidence. Credit Nick Harwell for a lot of that and Kiesau for a big chunk, as well.

• At the end, when they were running sprints — O-Line vs. D-Line, LBs vs. TEs and QBs, DBs vs. WRs — every group started its sprint from the goal line to the 50-yard line with one word... “Win!”

• After the sprints, the Jayhawks lined up for another round of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Coach Weis took the challenge on Friday night and today it was the rest of his coaching staff. 19 buckets were lined up at midfield and select players got to drench the coaches and support staff at the same time. Probably felt great out there since it was pretty hot on the turf.

Players and coaches line up at the 50-yard line for another round of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in which the players dumped ice water on the KU assistants and support staff at the end of practice.

Players and coaches line up at the 50-yard line for another round of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in which the players dumped ice water on the KU assistants and support staff at the end of practice. by Matt Tait

• All in all it was a pretty good day. Not a lot was learned, but again, we were able to see these guys do a little more and move closer to full speed, which helps in evaluating where they're at. Only about 500-700 fans showed up but they almost all stayed start to finish and many of them hit the field for autographs afterwards. I heard several Jayhawks say sincere words like, “Thanks for the support,” to the fans who came and stuck around for a chance to meet the Jayhawks.

Here's a nice video of some of the action from Benton Smith...

And a photo gallery from Nick Krug...

Reply 6 comments from Lucas Town Erich Hartmann Baldjedi Kingfisher Leslie Swearingen

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge makes its way to KU

Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis, on Friday, answered the call in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that has taken the world by storm in the past few weeks.

The challenge, which has helped raise a boat load of money and brought greater awareness to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, started simply enough with a few people dumping buckets of ice water on their head, pledging to donate some money to fight the disease and either quickly filming it or taking a photograph of it before sending the challenge on to someone else.

It now has reached epic proportions, with people producing full-on skits and videos to show their turn at the ice-bucket plunge.

Weis didn't go quite that far, but there is a nice video detailing how Weis was called out, how he went about doing the challenge and who he challenged in return.

Check it out...

Reply 5 comments from Matt Tait Dale Rogers Dirk Medema Eric Dawson

What caught my eye at Friday’s practice: Aug. 15

Safeties coach Scott Vestal works with SS Isaiah Johnson during a drill at Friday's morning practice.

Safeties coach Scott Vestal works with SS Isaiah Johnson during a drill at Friday's morning practice. by Matt Tait

It always blows my mind how, when I go out to these portions of practice that are open to the media, I kind of ignore the most talented and proven players.

That's not to say I don't toss a glance over to the linebackers to see what Ben Heeney's doing or take a peek at what Tony Pierson's hands look like during a specific drill, but I definitely don't spend the same kind of time studying those guys as I do the newcomers, the question marks and the unproven players.

I guess that makes sense. I know what Heeney and Pierson and so many others can do because I've seen it on Saturdays. Besides, there's always a little more intrigue surrounding the guys we don't know much about.

With that in mind, I tried to mix in a little of both during this morning's practice, KU's second session of two-a-days of the preseason camp.

Here's a look at who stood out...

• Junior safety Isaiah Johnson, the reigning Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year, looks even bigger and stronger than he did a season ago. I watched a good portion of the drills the DBs did with Scott Vestal and noticed that Johnson looks a lot more powerful in all of his movements. That can only help him improve on his five-interception season that earned him national praise and made him a more familiar name in Big 12 country.

• I mentioned Cassius Sendish the other day for his work ethic, but what jumped out to me today is the guy's burst. Sendish is fast. Again, he might not stand out to everybody for that or any other reason because he's not flashy, but he can fly. His legs are strong and powerful and he seems to get max strength out of every step and every plant.

• Sophomore Tevin Shaw got some love from KU coach Charlie Weis the other day for possibly being the team's most improved player so I took a look at him today, as well. I've always liked Shaw. Thought he was going to be a player right when he arrived and, understandably, it's taken him a couple of years to reach the point where he looks and feels more comfortable out there. I didn't see any of the viciousness that coach was talking about, but I was only watching drills. I'm hoping to see some more of what Shaw can do in terms of hitting and physicality on Saturday at the open practice.

• Speaking of the open practice and fan appreciation day, set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, I just got a note from KU that said they'll decide by 10 a.m. whether the show will go on or not. Sounds like there's a chance for rain and inclement weather so plans could change. As I said, we'll know by 10 tomorrow morning.

• One quick note on a newcomer, safety Fish Smithson. The guy looks good. Weis said the other day that he's pushing to be a starter (though it's hard to see him supplanting Sendish or Johnson at safety) and, it appears to me, that one of the big reasons for the push is because the guy is so technically sound. Every step during the drills I watched today was taken with purpose and in just the right manner. He's a little under-sized back there at 5-11, 190 but he packs a punch and is so fundamentally sound that I can see why they like the guy. It certainly did not hurt that he arrived early and was able to adjust during spring practices.

• Finally, a quick note about Vestal, who I think really is one of the better up-and-coming coaches on this staff. The guy's good and he's gonna be great some day. I really like watching him work with the DBs because he's so hands-on. He's right there for every step and if you take six steps in a back-pedal drill but just one of them isn't right or perfect, he'll make you do them all over again until you nail it. Another thing I like about his style is the way he comes up with little word devices to teach technique. For today's back-pedal drill, where the safeties were reading the break of the wide receivers and trying to get a jump on the cut, Vestal continually said "Read. My. Keys," as he stomped each step into the ground to try to hammer home the point. I didn't catch what the keys were, which is good because (a) that's meeting room stuff and (b) it means none of the guys forgot them, but I loved every second of watching the interaction between Vestal and the safeties.

Headed to interviews with the WRs and QBs soon... Be sure to check out our latest Podcast and also Benton Smith's video from this morning's practice.

Reply 1 comment from Chris Gilbertson

What caught my eye at Thursday’s practice: Aug. 14

Kyron Watson takes down Brandon Bourbon during a one-on-one LB vs. RB drill on Thursday. Notice the ball bouncing on the turf to the left of the pile of bodies as well as how intense RB coach Reggie Mitchell (red) and LB coach Clint Bowen (blue) are during the drill.

Kyron Watson takes down Brandon Bourbon during a one-on-one LB vs. RB drill on Thursday. Notice the ball bouncing on the turf to the left of the pile of bodies as well as how intense RB coach Reggie Mitchell (red) and LB coach Clint Bowen (blue) are during the drill. by Matt Tait

Thursday's practice was one of the hottest of preseason camp so far for the Kansas University football team.... not that anyone was complaining.

As far as mid-August goes, what these guys have enjoyed the past couple of weeks, weather-wise, has been about as good as you could ask for.

Not a ton of things that jumped out at me out there today, but there were a couple of fun things that caught my eye and we saw a heck of a drill between the running backs and the linebackers.

It only lasted a few reps and was over just as it was starting to get good. Maybe that was by design.

Here was the gist: Ball placed at the 3-yard line about 3 or 4 yards away from the sideline. Running back takes the ball and goes one-on-one against a backer to try to score.

The running backs won the drill by a wide margin (and they probably should have...That's tough for the defensive guy to hold his ground in that tight of an area and keep the back from scoring.)

There was one significant highlight for the defense during the drill and it came from fast-rising freshman Kyron Watson. Paired up with senior tailback Brandon Bourbon, Watson laid a serious lick and also ripped the ball out and recovered it in the end zone.

The rest of the LBs went nuts when Watson returned to the line and the freshman from East St. Louis, Ill., pretty much took it all in stride. I'm telling you; this kid looks like a player.

It should be noted that Bourbon did just fine on his couple other carries. Like I said, the backs won the drill, but the Watson highlight might have been the biggest single moment.

One of the best and perhaps most overlooked moments of the drill was the showdown between KU assistants Clint Bowen, who coaches the linebackers, and Reggie Mitchell, who coaches the running backs. The two didn't actually jump into the drill (advantage Bowen in that one) but they flashed their intensity and passion throughout the session.

Both guys are such competitors that I'm certain they wanted to win the drill as much for their position group as any of the players. You can see that in the video that Benton Smith got toward the bottom of this blog. Good stuff.

By the way, this whole story should come as absolutely no surprise... Watson's Twitter handle tells all you need to know --- @KyroGee_HitRBs

Kansas University linebacker Kyron Watson, (6) center, tackles running back  Brandon Bourbon (25) during a team practice Thursday, August 14, 2014. Linebacker coach Clint Bowen is at left.

Kansas University linebacker Kyron Watson, (6) center, tackles running back Brandon Bourbon (25) during a team practice Thursday, August 14, 2014. Linebacker coach Clint Bowen is at left. by Mike Yoder

Here's a quick look at a couple of other things that stood out Thursday:

• Scouts, scouts, scouts and more scouts. It's pretty much become the norm for at least a couple of NFL scouts to be out at practice, so this may be the last time I write about it. Today's attendance was the biggest of the preseason, though, so they jumped out at me a little more. Based on the roster and the number of Jayhawks who could potentially get a shot at pro football, I'm guessing these guys are busier than they have been when they come to Lawrence.

• It looks like the offensive linemen might have got some new gloves. Either that or I'm just now noticing them. I can't imagine that would be the case, though, since these babies stood out because of the shiny, silver, metalic or chrome accents on the tops side of the hand and fingers. The shine is there on both black and white gloves. Can't imagine this will have anything to do with how the line plays this season, but you never know. Look good, feel good, play good is a mantra I believe in and I don't doubt for a second that these guys love those gloves.

• Speaking of the O-Line, after Joe Gibson ran first-team center for the past couple of days during the super-early offensive sequence that kick-starts most practices, junior Keyon Haughton was back with the 1's on Thursday. What's it mean? Who knows? Maybe this battle is still hot and heavy. Maybe it's a three-way contest with Jacob Bragg very much in the mix. Maybe it will come down to the final week or so of camp. KU coach Charlie Weis said earlier this week that he hoped to stop experimenting with the line after Saturday's open practice. I'm sure he will. I'm also sure that means very little of what we see in terms of which guy is running with which unit will mean too much on Saturday. Still, it doesn't take a genius to figure out which guys look better. Still too early to tell in that department for me. For what it's worth, the second unit in that early drill went like this: LT Larry Mazyck, LG Bryan Peters, C Joe Gibson, RG Apa Visinia, RT Brian Beckmann. The first team, as it is on the depth chart, was: LT Pat Lewandowski, LG Ngalu Fusimalohi, C Haughton, RG Mike Smithburg, RT Damon Martin.

Offensive lineman Keyon Haughton stretches while wearing the shiny gloves.

Offensive lineman Keyon Haughton stretches while wearing the shiny gloves. by Matt Tait

• While watching the linebackers for a few minutes, something hit me: Don't forget about Courtney Arnick. Just a sophomore, but in his third year in the program, Arnick is bigger than he has been in the past but still looks as fast and as quick as he was. He's played some linebacker and some nickelback during his first two years and seems to fit the mold of what the defense is looking for: fast, athletic guys who can make plays in space. With his decent experience, Arnick could easily be a rotation guy. He's listed second string behind Jake Love on the depth chart, but certainly will have his hands full contending with Watson.

• Another guy who falls in the “forget me not” category is Buck senior Victor Simmons. From safety to linebacker to Buck, Simmons has been used all over the place. It takes a disciplined player to be moved around so much and not break. Simmons looks as fast as ever, is rock solid and has incredibly quick feet. If he can pick up the nuances of his latest position, he could produce some positive moments this fall.

Finally, be sure to check out Benton Smith's videos of the day and the latest KU camp Podcast from Tom Keegan and me.

Reply 5 comments from Joe Ross Kingfisher Texashawk10_2 Jim Jackson Jmfitz85

What caught my eye at Wednesday’s practice: Aug. 13

It's been a lot of firsts for the Kansas University football program this week and Wednesday morning brought another: First day of two-a-days.

Session one kicked off early this morning at 9 a.m. and, appropriately, they kicked things off with “Let's Get It Started” from the Black Eyed Peas.

It's always interesting to watch the energy and vibe at these morning practices and I gotta tell ya, today's session didn't look any different than what we've seen in the afternoon the past several days.

By the time they suit up, get treatment, get taped up and all of that, you'd think they'd have no problem waking up and being ready. But you have to remember these are college kids and 9 a.m. comes pretty early. Heck, it comes pretty early for me most days. So good for them for looking sharp and being ready to get after it at the first morning practice of the season.

That's not a huge deal and they should be expected to do just that, but it's definitely possible that they could've been sluggish and, if they were, I didn't see it.

Here's a quick glance at what else caught my eye this morning. KU coach Charlie Weis will be available for a press conference at 11:45 a.m. and we'll have all kinds of nuggets and sound from that this afternoon.

• One thing that has impressed me most from the coaches in the early going is how they get prepared for practice. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in there behind closed doors when they're having their coffee and getting ready to hit the field. But during stretching and warm-up type stuff when they're just waiting for Scott Holsopple to get done with the players, they're coaching then, too. A lot of times it's just high-fiving the guys or slapping them on the helmet to make sure they're ready to go. But today I noticed that, in the name of efficiency, there was a lot of prep work being done. Particularly with John Reagan. Instead of just walking around or jamming to the music and waiting for them to finish, Reagan was talking to each lineman about what drills were up first and reminding them of little tips and tidbits that might help them get to work a little faster. Again, efficiency is the key word there and these guys don't appear to be wasting any time.

• I took a longer look at the linebackers and Bucks today and the thing that jumped out at me was their athleticism and mobility. So many of those guys can move, are light on their feet and can change direction very well for guys who play those positions. Michael Reynolds, Victor Simmons, Ben Heeney, Kyron Watson, Courtney Arnick. All of those guys and more really showed some good agility during the drill I saw them working. Gotta think that can only help when chasing down a ball carrier.

• So much of the early portion of camp is about guys getting shots and a couple of young guys on offense are definitely getting theirs. For the second day in a row, Joe Gibson worked in with the first team at center during the fast-paced offensive drill. Also working in with the first team today was freshman running back Corey Avery. I've thought this for a while and I think it more and more every day: Avery's going to play.

• Want to know how you get to be a captain in your first year in the program or a two-time Big 12 media days representative or one of the most respected guys on the team? Watch Cassius Sendish. The senior safety, who also happens to be one of the best dudes on the team, is one of the hardest working guys out there day in and day out. Talk about efficiency, Sendish looks to get every ounce he can out of every drill he does and never goes half-speed or takes a rep off. That kind of thing is contagious and really sets a good tone for the younger guys who are looking up to and learning from him. It's that kind of effort that's required to help rebuild a program.

More to come a little later on. For now, be sure to check out Benton Smith's video from this morning's practice.

Reply 2 comments from Catsandwich