Weis, Offensive Coaches Talk About Spring Football Progress

As Kansas football enters its busiest week of spring football practice, KU head coach Charlie Weis and a trio of offensive coaches took time to meet with the media at the Anderson Family Football Complex and discuss the team’s progress coming out of spring break. In addition to Weis’ press conference in Mrkonic Auditorium Tuesday, offensive coordinator John Reagan, wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau and tight ends coach Jeff Blasko gave their thoughts on the Jayhawks’ current state of affairs.

Selected comments from the assistants are available in the video above, and video of Weis’ full press conference is available to subscribers of Jayhawk Digital Passport. A transcript of selected comments from Weis’ press conference can be found below.  

Kansas Head Coach Charlie Weis
On the return to practice after spring break:
“Sunday’s practice, I was very, very pleased with the tempo. Usually the biggest problem you have on the first day back – any time off, football players by nature are creatures of habit, they get into a routine. That’s how they usually excel. You get into a standard (routine), and that’s how you thrive. Anytime they’ve had that much time off, especially with people travelling all over the place, you know beaches all over the place, people going home, some people being here – it’s kind of a mad scramble. Everybody was here in plenty of time, if not early. We had a nice casual occasional meal beforehand which was really good, we met, and we practiced until 10 at night. I was very pleased with the tempo.

“Now as far as the execution in practice, there were some things there that I wouldn’t exactly say were the sharpest of all time. To be honest with you, I think it was the offense’s best practice that they’ve had. The defense has definitely had the edge over the offense, as everyone here would’ve expected – first of all the defense is a lot more veteran group and we’re putting in a new offense. The combination of those two things should make it no surprise that the defense is ahead of the offense. That was not the case on Sunday night for the first time.

“Depends on which side of the ball you’re on, at (today’s) meeting when Clint’s talking to the defense…I’m going to sit in there and listen to how pleasant that’s going to be, because we’ve tried to be a lot more positive this year, but Clint is calling this ‘not-positive-Tuesday.’ I’m kind of looking forward to being a fly on the wall for that meeting.” 

On the competition at quarterback and it being too early to assess that position…
“The answer would be talking out of both sides of my mouth, both yes and no. I think there’s been clear separation amongst multiple quarterbacks. Both the staff and the team, and the players themselves, see where the separation is. It’s not like we’re going to come out and say (insert player here) is the quarterback right now, we’re nowhere near that.

“As a matter of fact, one of the things we’re going to do at today’s practice is for a good portion of the practice (Jake) Heaps isn’t going to get any reps. We’re just going to (take him out for a good portion of practice) and what that does is force everyone’s hands. You have that security blanket of the guy with experience and all of the sudden you don’t have that security blanket anymore. He’ll go through everything else, and he’ll go through team reps, but for multiple reps of team he won’t even get a snap, so we’ll see how people respond. It would be premature right now to say where we are, but I think…there’s clear separation at the position.”

On experience being the driving factor in that separation…
“It’s solely based off of performance. We’ve taken factors like experience and just thrown them out the window. Everything’s based off of performance. Performance is both execution and managing the operation. The whole deal now is at the line of scrimmage. Even though the play caller, John (Reagan), has a lot of burden of the responsibility himself, the quarterback has to run the operation. It also puts more pressure on all the players because it’s not just the quarterback looking for the signal, now everyone’s looking for the signal.

“It’s interesting; it’s been a little bit of a learning experience for me as well. I have my input at 8 a.m. prior to a practice or after a practice, but I don’t give my input at all until the afternoon – I just let the practice matriculate. For example, I spent a lot of time on Friday and Saturday (during spring break) in here watching the scrimmage, in detail, that we had had the Thursday beforehand. So when all of our coaches came back Sunday afternoon, I could say here’s what I saw, now tell me where I’m right and tell me where I’m wrong. I probably spent about 10 hours in here analyzing one scrimmage tape so that I could ask a bunch of questions on both side of the ball.”

On positives seen during that scrimmage film session…
“There’s a whole bunch, a bunch of good things right now. We can give the standard ones that show up. Really, I didn’t want the defense to have a false sense of security because they’re ahead of the offense. All of the sudden you start feeling good about yourself because you’re ahead of the other side of the ball when actually there’s things that you’re doing that leave yourself very vulnerable. What I kind of did on Sunday, is I made the offense call some things that made the defense vulnerable. I said to John (Reagan), here’s a couple things that you could do that they just won’t be ready for and it wasn’t a good day for the defense. It’s kind of interesting for me because now I’m in a position where I can do that, where I can sit there and say look, this is where they’re really vulnerable, get after that.’ Then they do it and everyone on offense comes out smiling for the first time because some of those things that I told them about came to fruition.”

On if Jake Heaps’ limited reps mean he’s one of the leaders…
“He’s one of the leading candidates, but because he’s the most experienced, what ends up sometimes is you fall into that security blanket mentality. You would expect him to run the operation better than everyone else, just by experience alone, so take him out of the mix and see how everyone else reacts when he’s not a contender. It puts more pressure on everybody else and if you don’t do that, you never know how everyone else (will react). It’s not just Montell (Cozart), it’s everybody – it’s T.J. (Millweard), it’s Michael (Cummings), it’s Jordan (Darling) – it’s how everyone responds to the competition when one of the potential leading candidates is not in the mix. It’s just as if someone got injured.

On the idea of pulling a candidate out of the race to mix things up…
“I talked about it last week. I said we need to put more pressure in this quarterback competition. When you’re trying to rep five guys, you don’t get enough true reps. If you take one of them out of the mix, it gives everyone a lot more reps and it gives you an opportunity to get a better evaluation of everybody.”

On his new role…
“I’ve gone the extra mile to make sure that I’m not – I’m letting the offensive staff put in the offense. I’m not coming in and say do this, that and the other thing. Within their system and what they have, I’ve obviously studied what the system is and know what the plays are.  So many times in the spring time you’re worried more about installation than worrying about execution, so I said let’s take a timeout here and worry a little bit more about execution than installation and we can play catch up some other time. You have to make sure you’re not just putting in stuff, you’re actually getting better at things. That’s the one value that I feel like I can bring on both sides of the ball.”

On the running back position…
“There’s a lot of candidates at running back. The one guy, and I’m not going to proclaim anyone as the runaway, but Brandon (Bourbon) has transitioned nicely back into a halfback only position. He was kind of away from that last year, playing over where Tony (Pierson) was playing. He’s transitioned nicely back into that position. I think that’s helped us tremendously.”

On the players knowing or seeing a current depth chart…
“When we say first offense go out there, guys know who’s going out there. When we call a personnel group, I don’t think there’d be a ‘should I go out, or should I go out?’ They kind of know who. Really for the first multiple days that bounced around some, but I don’t think that’s bouncing around so much right now.

“This is a busy week for us. Sunday was really the last day of last week – we count Sunday as the last day of the week, not the first day of the week. Sunday’s practice actually counted towards hours towards last week, so it didn’t fit into our 20-hour week. We’re going Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday because of the Coaching Clinic. You say it’s a four-day week, but if you threw Sunday in there and it’s like a five-day week. This is the busiest football week that they’ll have right through spring ball.”

On limiting Tony Pierson’s exposure to contact…
“We let him get hit a little bit so that he gets it out of the way. He actually got hit a little bit – I’m not stupid enough to let Tony get hit a whole bunch right now – but he has to find out. You don’t want the first time he gets hit to be the opener. He actually got hit and didn’t know if he was hurt or not hurt, and he came off the field and he told me it was probably the best thing that happened to him, that he got hit. He realized that, OK, I remember this feeling. After you get hit, you get up and you’re OK.”

On who else at the wide receiver position has stood out…
“I could talk about (Nick) Harwell, but I think everyone would expect me to talk about Harwell. Probably the guy who has had the best camp out of anyone is Rod Coleman. He’s done a really nice job. He’s a long way from being a polished guy, but he’s big, he’s fast, and catches most everything that’s thrown to him. He gets open. Eric (Kiesau) is doing a really nice job with fundamentals and techniques and route definition, so that’s been improving steadily with these guys. I could talk about Harwell, but probably the guy I’ve been most pleased with is Coleman.”

Clarifying if Coleman was having the best camp of the receivers…
“I mean of anyone on offense.”

On if Coleman’s extra year of eligibility has given him a boost…
“I think the fact that we’re throwing to him a lot has given him some extra energy. When you line up in formation, most attention – even our defense spends – goes to (Nick) Harwell first and Tony (Pierson) second. When Coleman is the isolated guy, he’s a lot of one-on-one. He’ll get a lot of one-on-one. Whether people play man free, one cover with man across, or whether they play four, what I call press, where everyone’s pressed up, really it comes down to what the weak safety does. If the weak safety rotates to the middle of the field, you go to Coleman. If the weak safety goes the other way, you throw it to the three receivers side. It’s really not that complicated. If you don’t have anyone that’s getting open on the single receiver side, you’ve got a problem. He’s been getting open, so that’s a positive.

On NB/CB Kevin Short’s progress:
“He has been running the first nickel. We have not spent a lot of time with him at corner, because he is already running with the first group. In his case right here we know that we can put Kevin out at corner, but right now those two guys out playing corner are going to be tough to beat out. Even if Kevin might be a little bit more athletic than both of them, those two guys are battle tested. They have gone through a year in the system and know what they are doing. Both Dexter (McDonald) and JaCorey (Shepherd) are pretty good players. It gives us an opportunity to put all three of those guys out there at the same time. To be honest, probably the most pleasant surprise on defense has been Greg Allen. He is playing that same position as Kevin. It gives you some flexibility. If one of those guys got banged up outside, instead of going to one of the guys as backup corner if we wanted to put out the next best guy in Kevin, because Greg Allen has had a great camp you could put him out there and move Kevin to corner.”

On TE Ben Johnson’s development:
“Ben has been getting a lot of reps and he is ready, willing and able. Remember now he has not played yet. He was here last year. He was a really good athlete coming out of high school. He redshirted last year and did a nice job down on the show team, but now he is playing with the big boys. He seems to be one of those guys that just gets better every day in practice. That is not a coach’s phrase. That is an observation. He seems to just get better almost every practice and some of that has to do with that fact that he gains more confidence that he can hang with the big boys.”

On his impressions of QB T.J. Millweard:
“Mentally T.J. (Millweard) is very, very, very sharp. When you walk down that hallway you see the list of guys with 4.0 GPAs, and T.J.’s name is down there. Mentally he is very sharp. Once again he went through a year of not playing. He has knocked off a lot of that rust. Mentally T.J. could go run our offense right now, it is just a matter of whether or not he is the best guy physically. Mentally would not be an issue I promise you, even with all of the intricacies that are involved.”

On if he was pleased with the players’ offseason conditioning:
“I have a lot of confidence in Scott Holsopple and what he does. I would always be surprised if the answer to that was not yes. And that is because of Holsopple. He is as good as they get. He is the true love-hate coach. He is utopia as a strength coach. They hate his guts and they love him at the same time because he knows that fine line between riding them and caring for them. Those are the necessary qualities to be a successful strength and conditioning coach. You have to push them way past the limit they think they are capable of but at the same time they have to know you care. I don’t think there is a player on the team that does not look at him that way. Remember Scott has a lot more access to the players than all of the assistant coaches do and even the head coach does. He is the guy who is with them the most of anyone. His rapport and relationship is vital and critical to the development of the football team and I am obviously a big fan.”

On QB Jake Heaps’ approach to spring practice:
“I don’t think Jake Heaps has changed one bit and that is one of the biggest pros you can say about this guy. He is driven to be successful on and off the field. It is really, really important to him. He has great leadership about him on top of everything else. He is excited because of the newness and obviously with the lack of production we had last year I would be excited with the newness too if I were playing. When I sat there and went back and evaluated we obviously needed to make changes or else we were going to be 3-9 again.”

On LB Ben Heeney’s spring thus far:
“Ben has been great out there. He has been working his butt off, showing more leadership. Sometimes you are picked a captain just because you are the best player. That happens a lot of times in sports. They don’t pick the right guy. They pick the best player, not the guy who is the best leader. Ben is clearly one, if not the leader of the defense.”