Thursday, August 8, 2013
Opening camp: Kansas
By David Ubben
Kansas begins its season a week later than the rest of the Big 12, which means a late start for preseason camp, too. Let's have a closer look.
Schedule: Players reported on Wednesday and the first practice is scheduled for today. The Jayhawks open their season at home against South Dakota on Sept. 7.
Setting the scene: It's all about improvement for Kansas, and there's only one way to go when you're coming off a 1-11 season with the lone win coming against an FCS team. KU's efforts to bring in almost 20 junior college transfers in the offseason has been well documented by now, and ultimately, the outcome of that rebooting strategy will shape Weis' tenure in Lawrence. Weis is hopeful that BYU tranfer Jake Heaps will have a different season than Dayne Crist, who never showed the ability to be the player KU hoped he would be. The defense was better in 2012 and should improve with more speed and experience this year. On the other side of the ball, though, the lack of a serviceable passing game will make it a long season in Lawrence.
All eyes on: The new guys. Kansas simply hasn't had the necessary talent to compete in the Big 12 in the past three years, but a few FBS transfers and the previously mentioned juco transfers have given them a talent boost. The question is, can those guys be who KU needs them to be and can Weis pull this team together and make it work? There are high hopes for guys like OU transfer receiver Justin McCay and jucos Cassius Sendish and Marquel Combs, as well as a pair of talents who returned to Kansas -- DB Dexter McDonald and RB Darrian Miller--after being kicked off the team before the 2012 season. Ultimately, they hold the key to KU's season.
Breaking out: DL Jordan Tavai. The juco transfer didn't get to join the Jayhawks until fall camp was already underway last season, but didn't take long to win a starting spot and held it down for all 12 games last season. The transition obviously wasn't easy, though he finished the year with 19 tackles. After a spring of practice and offseason in the strength program, he could be due for a much better second year in Lawrence as a senior this fall, especially considering the amount of upgrades along the defensive line this year.
Key battle: Buck. Toben Opurum held down the hybrid linebacker/defensive end spot well last season, and KU thought it had an impact player in juco transfer Chris Martin. He was dismissed after an offseason arrest and the guy who might have been KU's best overall defender was gone before his career at KU really started. Now, sophomores Michael Reynolds and Ben Goodman are battling to fill the void this month.
Instant upgrade: Trevor Pardula. Weis was appalled at his special teams last season, especially the kicking game. Now, he hopes Pardula is the answer. He's likely to handle both placekicking and punting duties. The former soccer player comes to KU from, yes, junior college.
On the move: Tony Pierson. KU's got to figure out exactly how and how much it wants to use him. There's so much depth at running back, and Pierson is the team's best threat for the big play. He's a running back at heart, but he could do a lot of damage in the slot. He proved his ability to catch the ball last season, hauling in 21 balls for 291 yards, mostly out of the backfield. Weis said this spring he saw some Tavon Austin in Pierson, and wanted him to earn some time lining up as a receiver. I'm betting this is one experiment that goes very, very well. The more touches for Pierson, the better.
Outlook: Kansas has its 21-game losing streak in Big 12 play hanging over its head, as well as a road losing streak that goes all the way back to early 2009 when it beat UTEP. The Jayhawks are also stuck on a 21-game losing streak to FBS teams. Weis obviously doesn't have a problem with folks voting the Jayhawks last in the Big 12, but KU's looking to turn close calls like it had last season against Texas and Texas Tech into wins to get off those streaks. It also has a good chance to end the road streak in a game against Rice on Sept. 14.
Quotable: Weis, on his recruiting philosophy. "I needed guys that could play now because, if not, I'm going to be ranked tenth in the league every year. So I needed to go with that high volume. I think that in the long-range plan and the plan that we've laid out as a coaching staff, that sliding scale should start working in the other direction where the majority of the players you bring in are high school players and then you fill the desired holes or gaps you need with those junior college players."