Coaches Kickoff Fall Camp, King Joins Squad
LAWRENCE, Kan. – After a brief break from a rigorous offseason conditioning program, Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and his staff welcomed their players back to campus Thursday morning to get the 2014 football season underway with less than a month of preparation left before the season-opener against Southeast Missouri State on Sept. 6.
Beginning his third season at the helm, Weis, along with separate appearances from offensive coordinator John Reagan and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen addressed members of the media ushering in a new era from Mrkonic Auditorium at the Anderson Family Football Complex.
Weis got things underway with an hour long session which was followed by another 30-minute meeting with the coordinators. Each coach addressed the state of the team, provided key personnel updates and fielded questions from the media.
Offensively, the Jayhawks return 13 letterwinners, headlined by two senior All-Big 12 selections, tight end Jimmay Mundine and offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi. They will be joined by wide receiver Tony Pierson and running backs Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox—all seniors.
What will be different this season is Weis’ involvement with the offense after stepping away from offensive coordinator responsibilities in order to give more attention to being a head coach.
“I’m really looking forward to being a head coach,” Weis said. “I’ve spent so much time on the offense and trying to find out how you can create something. (Instead) What I’m going to do is I’m going to spend some time sitting in the offensive room, I’ll spend some time sitting in the defensive room, but really I’m going to spend much more time on special teams. That’s where I’m going to spend my time because I want to let the coaches coach.“
Although he isn’t going to be as heavily involved in the offensive and defensive game plans as before, Weis will still be there in support of his coordinators and pitch them ideas.
“I can just be there as a sounding board for both Clint and for John,” Weis said. “More importantly on game days, besides critical decisions, my biggest thing is going to be much more involved in the special teams.”
Even after the loss of Kansas’ first consecutive season 1,000-yard rusher, one position group Weis is particularly impressed with is his running backs.
“I’m pretty happy with our running back situation now,” Weis said. “I mean, Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox have been waiting for their opportunity. This (running back DeAndre) Mann guy that’s here, he didn’t come here to sit behind them. I mean, there’s a lot of people that would be very happy having those three guys in competition for their No. 1 running back.”
A portion of the meeting was spent with Weis addressing the acquisition of 6-3, 210-pound wide receiver Nigel King. Eligible to play this year, King arrives at Kansas as a junior after graduating and being granted a transfer from the University of Maryland earlier this week.
“He looks good on tape, but I’d prefer to just go by what we see now that we’ve got him here,” Weis said. “Experience and production. I mean, the guy has produced. The guy has made plays, scored touchdowns.”
As a sophomore in 2013, King appeared in 12 games for the Terrapins and was on the receiving end of a team-best four touchdown passes. He also had a career-high 76 receiving yards against Clemson last season and hauled in a career-best six receptions in a game at Virginia Tech last November.
As much experience as King brings to the team, Reagan and his staff will make King earn his way onto the field over an already talented group of receivers.
King will primarily have to battle for playing time against Pierson who was the leading receiver for the Jayhawks last season. Nick Harwell and Justin McCay are a duo of seniors also listed above King on the preseason depth chart with junior Rodriguez Coleman and all-purpose threat Tre’ Parmalee fighting for a spot on the field.
“The biggest impression I got is that it’s (receiving core) better than I thought from when I first walked in to the end of spring,” Reagan said. “I think (wide receivers coach Eric) Kiesau has done a great job of developing those guys and I think there is a solid ability to put more than three or four players on the field. I’m excited about that. I think they are as important in the passing game as the guy who is throwing the ball at times. Certainly, they have to help him and I think they give us the ability to do that.”
The attention shifted from the receiving core to the position that is expected to deliver them the ball. As anticipated, Weis was asked to describe the progression of sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart and elaborate on the decision to name him the starting quarterback in mid-April.
“He can run the ball, make some plays with his feet and can bail us out of some situations,” Weis said. “The kid has got a lot of athleticism, and he’s become more accurate as a thrower.”
Reagan also spoke on how Cozart fits into his offensive schemes and answered questions about the sophomore signal-caller.
“Regardless of the system you’re in, if you have a quarterback that can keep plays alive and can make plays with his feet it’s important,” Reagan said. “It puts a whole different strain on a defense. It forces them to defend the entire field, not just with him throwing the ball, but with what he can do with his feet as well. With where we are and the development of who we are as an offense it’s probably even more important right now. You need guys with the ball in their hands that can erase the mistakes of other players and we feel like he’ll have a chance to do that.“
As the topic swayed from the offensive to the defensive side of the ball, Bowen, who will take command of the defense for the second time in his Kansas coaching career and return nine starters from the previous season, announced high expectations for his unit.
Jayhawk defenders look to be anchored by senior linebacker Ben Heeney, a two-time All-Big 12 pick and a preseason member of the Chuck Bednarik, Butkus, Bronko Nagurski and Rotary Lombardi Award watch lists.
“There’s no doubt that there’s a bunch of guys on defense that want to be like Heeney, and that’s now a good thing,” Weis said. “I’m not reaching when I say that he might be as good as any defensive player in the league, period. I’m not reaching when I’m saying that. I truly believe that.”
The secondary will be led by the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, sophomore safety Isaiah Johnson who grabbed a team-best five interceptions last year. Paired with Johnson at the other safety position is senior safety Cassius Sendish. All-Big 12 honorable mention senior cornerbacks Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd look to shutdown opposing receivers with help from sophomore nickelback Greg Allen to go along with contributions from junior corner Kevin Short.
“You’re sitting here a year ago and all of the questions were, ‘What are you going to do in the secondary?’ because Dexter McDonald, JaCorey, Isaiah and Cassius hadn’t played,” Bowen said. “They had all just gotten here and they were the big question mark a year ago. Now a year later we’re talking about those guys matching one of the best secondaries in Kansas football history (2007 secondary). They do have the talent to do it, all of them have the ability to step up and become that kind of guy.”
Everyone involved is still acclimating to the changes made during the offseason, but Weis believes changes were needed in order to put the team in the best position to succeed.
“Bringing John in has been a big plus,” Weis said. “I think bringing Kiesau in was also a big plus. I think those two guys have helped invaluably with us changing things that we’re going to do on offense. I certainly see it (progress) on defense; I see evidence of it on special teams and I think that offensively, what we’re doing gives us a better chance to win. If I didn’t think it gave us a better chance to win, we wouldn’t have made the changes that we did.”
Bowen agreed saying, “When you’re part of a program and part of a team all those personal egos and all of that stuff goes out the window. You just do what’s best for the kids and the program and what’s best to win and that’s what everyone onboard is doing.”
Each of the three coaches displayed excitement to get onto the field and start improving in the 19 practices that make up fall camp.
“When we hand out a roster and you look at that roster, you can see this is the best we’ve felt by a wide margin about the talent we have here,” Weis said. “Now, that being said, we’ve done very little to back it up, from me right on down. So we’ll see where it goes.”
Before Kansas takes to the field for its first practice of the year Friday, Aug. 8, assistant coaches will sit down with the media.
After three acclimatization practices the Jayhawks will suit up for their first full-pad practice on Tuesday, Aug. 12 and on Saturday Aug. 16, they will hold Fan Appreciation Day at 1:30 p.m.,from Memorial Stadium.
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