Big 12: Eric Kiesau
Thus, Charlie Weis made a change heading into 2014, hiring former Washington and Cal receivers coach Eric Kiesau to coach KU's receivers. The veteran coach, who has tutored NFL standouts DeSean Jackson and Keenan Allen during his 14-year career, took some time to chat with ESPN.com about his plans for the Jayhawks receivers, Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell and his growth as a coach.
Heading into this new job what did you want to instill in your guys initially?
The first thing you want to do is try to change the culture and really get them embedded into how to work hard. I can teach them a lot of things, routes, releases, the offense but the actual work ethic it takes to go behind that is what is really important to me.
Looking at the production, or lack thereof from the receivers, how did you approach that with them in your initial meetings?
The big thing is to try not to look too far in the past and try to come up with a clean slate and give them a fresh and new perspective. I think so many people get caught up in the end result, but I think you have to understand the process it takes to get there. When I talk about work ethic, grinding every day and learning the offense it’s also the small steps it takes to become a complete wide receiver and the end result of getting the production you’re talking about.
How have they responded thus far?
Through spring they improved, they definitely got better. We still have a long way to go, I’m not ready to stand on the table and say we’re ready to be an elite group. We have a good group, good guys and they work hard. There’s some talent in there, I just have to continue to kind of bring it out of them and get guys to believe in themselves. Because that’s the second part, once you do start producing and do start catching some balls you start to gain some confidence and believe you can do it and that will translate into Saturday.
How is the leadership at the position? Do you feel like there’s one guy to turn to?
The first guy who comes to mind is Nick Harwell. He hasn’t played a snap of Big 12 football yet but his presence on the team and watching him around the guys, his personality is very contagious and he has the work ethic. When guys see him work and he’s working hard, they want to follow him.
How does he compare to other guys you’ve been around? He seems like he has the potential to change games.
What impresses you the most, is it his work ethic or does something else stand out?
His work ethic and his competitive nature. He has a competitive fire about him that, I think, is what makes him great, makes him do good things. It’s that inner drive. I’ve told the guys all along, I can teach you a lot of things but work ethic, trust and that competitive nature comes from within and is kind of where you’re from.
What intrigues you most about the group as a whole?
They’re all just different players. It’s a very unique group where you have a guy like Rod Coleman, long, lean and can run but still very raw at the position; then you have Nick, your seasoned, veteran guy at the Division I level; then you have Tony Pierson, who is a hybrid between the things he did last year and how we’re going to use him. As he gets more comfortable with it, he’ll get better and grow as well. He brings speed and athleticism we’re going to need. One guy who made big strides in the spring was Justin McCay, a big strong physical kid, not necessarily a burner but a big kid who can catch the ball and go up a get a red zone type of guy.
How has the new NCAA rule being able to interact with your players helped you?
It’s been good, really good. Getting some meeting time and classroom time with them has been invaluable. It think it’s just enough, they got it right with the amount of time we have. It’s not too long where kids are getting burned out and not too short, you can still get some work done.
How would you say your coaching style has changed from early in your career until now?
Experiences as a young coach have kind of shaped me to where I am now. I’m much more of a teacher, I take a lot of time to teach the schemes and not necessarily trying to yell and motivate like you used to. Now you’re more of a teacher to get the guys to learn the concepts and master the concepts, I’m taking more of a teaching approach. A lot of guys can yell and scream but if they don’t listen to you, it doesn’t matter. You have to be able to be compassionate and care about them as a person and that can translate into ways to teach them on the field. It makes you a great teacher and communicator because when it’s all said and done, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care about them.
Three things we learned in the spring:
1. Montell Cozart is the guy. Weis named the sophomore his starting quarterback after reviewing the Jayhawks’ spring practice performances. Not only did Cozart star in the spring game, he separated himself in the other 14 spring practice sessions and convinced Weis to name him the starter now so the team would know who would lead the offense this fall.
2. Receiver Nick Harwell could make a big difference. The Miami (Ohio) transfer looked like a legitimate difference-maker during the spring. Harwell clearly proved he should be a guy who new offensive coordinator John Reagan will try to get the ball as much as possible in 2014.
3. KU’s defense should be improved. The Jayhawks return several starters on defense and appear faster and more athletic than last season. Linebacker Ben Heeney is one of the league's most underrated defenders and a veteran secondary should be able to better handle the passing offenses in the conference.
Three questions for the fall:
1. Who will replace running back James Sims? Sims was KU’s offense for much of his four-year stint in the Jayhawks' backfield. Senior Brandon Bourbon looks like he can contribute but will have to hold off a star-studded group of running back signees set to arrive in the summer.
2. Will KU’s defense live up to lofty expectations? The defense was vocal about its desire to be the best defense in the Big 12 this season. That’s a lofty goal for a defense that finished in the bottom third in the Big 12 in nearly every category.
3. Will the coaching changes pay off? Weis brought in Reagan to run the offense and added receivers coach Eric Kiesau. The veteran head coach has made a point to take a step back from the offense and take more of a CEO approach this season. We’ll see if it pays off.
One way-too-early prediction:
Cozart will validate Weis’ decision to name him the starter with a strong sophomore season. If he shows he can be a "pass first, run second"-style quarterback, Cozart will cause some real problems for Big 12 defenses this fall.
Dezmon Briscoe ranked third in college football in receiving yards. Wingman Kerry Meier tied Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree for seventh nationally in receptions.
But thanks to a key transfer and a key position change, Kansas could be on its way back to returning respectability to the position.
And maybe more.
This spring, the Jayhawks’ previously beleaguered receiving corps has gotten two major boosts. One from ex-Miami (Ohio) standout Nick Harwell; the other out of former Kansas running back Tony Pierson, who switched positions during the offseason.
“With both guys, you can see the rest of the group gravitating toward them,” said new Kansas wide receiver coach Eric Kiesau, who was hired to revive a position group that has come up with just three touchdowns catches combined since Oct. 22, 2011.
With such paltry production out of its receiving corps, the Jayhawks have struggled mightily on offense in recent years. Even though it featured All-Big 12 running back James Sims, Kansas still ranked last in the league in scoring by almost 10 points last season.
But even with Sims gone, the Jayhawks could be improved next season. Harwell and Pierson lined up at receiver is a big reason why.
Harwell arrived at Kansas last summer, after being dismissed from Miami earlier that spring.
In 2011, while the Jayhawk receivers were struggling just to haul in a touchdown pass, Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver, averaging almost 130 receiving yards per game for the RedHawks. He also caught 97 receptions and nine touchdowns that season.
Despite missing three games the following year as a junior, Harwell still finished with 68 catches and 870 receiving yards.
“He has something very valuable, and that’s experience at the college level,” Kiesau said. “He’s learning a new system, a new coaching style, and things are different for him. But he’ll progress fine. I’m not worried about him at all. He has all the intangibles you look for. He’s a great person, he has great work ethic, the other guys want to follow him. He has a lot of upside, and should really help us next year for sure.”
Harwell admits he’s had to shake off some rust this spring after sitting out last season due to transfer rules. But he says sitting out made him that much hungrier to make a difference.
“It was tough watching us go 3-9 last year, and be unable to make an impact. The most I could bring to the team was positive energy, and work hard on the scout team,” Harwell said. “This spring, I’m trying to bring leadership with the way I play. I’m trying to do everything right, and not give the coaches anything negative to say about me. I want to catch every ball thrown my way.”
This spring, while Harwell has been refining his receiving skills, Pierson has been focused on developing his.
“He is very raw,” Kiesau said of Pierson, who has little experience running routes downfield or fighting off press coverage despite being a reliable receiver out of the backfield. “It’s not his fault, he just hasn’t had a lot of time practicing the position.
“But he’s a guy I’m really fired up about. He's such a bright-eyed kid who wants to learn, wants direction. Already, he’s gotten a lot better.”
Pierson and Harwell have challenged each other to be better.
“We compete against each other every practice,” Harwell said. “He pushes me, and I push him.”
The two have also been pushing the rest of their position group. Harwell vocally; Pierson quietly.
So far, the results have been conspicuous.
And with Harwell and Pierson commanding so much of the defensive attention, that has eased the pressure off the other receivers like Rodriguez Coleman, who has been finding himself open this spring like never before.
“When you line up in formation, most attention -- even our defense -- goes to Harwell first and Tony second,” coach Charlie Weis said.
“It's really not that complicated.”
Squeezing production out of its receiving corps has felt complicated for Kansas since Briscoe and Meier roamed the field. But with the new duo of Harwell and Pierson, those days could finally be at an end.
“Having two reliable guys that can get open and make explosive plays,” Harwell said, “that’s going to be a big positive for our offense this season.”
- USC's ban from the polls thanks to NCAA violations is a practice that began with Oklahoma in 1974, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman.
- Oklahoma State booster Boone Pickens is still behind Mike Gundy, and not conspiring to hire Mike Leach, writes Dave Sittler of the Tulsa World.
- Texas defensive tackle Derek Johnson plans to transfer closer to his hometown of Hoxie, Ark., reports Randy Riggs of the Austin American-Statesman.
- Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray is profiled by the Tulsa World's John Hoover.
- Colorado completed the three-year contract of offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, reports Kyle Ringo of the Boulder Daily Camera.
- Universities' TV networks are quickly becoming more than just a concept, writes Matt Baker of the Tulsa World.
- Kansas' pass rush needs to improve, writes Jesse Newell of the Lawrence Journal-World.
- With the release of NCAA Football 11 looming on Tuesday, Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star examines the meaning of the game to one Nebraska fan.
- Texas Tech QB Taylor Potts won the "Air it Out" QB challenge at the finale of the Manning brothers passing camp, reports colleague Chris Mortensen.
- Oklahoma State got a 2011 commitment from Lyndell Johnson, a safety from Plano, Texas.
- Nebraska picked up a transfer walk-on in lineman Scott Criss, an Omaha native, reports Mitch Sherman of the Omaha World-Herald.
They don’t need to. All either needs to do is take a glance at The Chart—the one keeping track of every single throw they make at any point during a practice.
“They have everything charted out, from Practice One to the first scrimmage,” Cody Hawkins said. “You can go down and if you want to review the whole practice, they have guys who that’s specifically their job, they’re charting us.”
The chart is essentially a glorified quarterback rating, reflecting each quarterback’s completion percentage, touchdown passes, touchdown drive percentage and a handful of other stats—most importantly, interceptions.
“You’ve got statistics in front of you that say, ‘Hey, this guy’s doing better than you’ on this day, but tomorrow I’m going to come out here and I’m going to do a lot better,” Hansen said. “It definitely adds a lot more competition to it.”
The Buffaloes only used the chart for scrimmages last season. Now, every time a live ball leaves a quarterback’s hands, it goes into each player’s bank. With Hawkins challenging to regain his status at starter, its importance is obvious.
“This is unbelievable,” Hansen said. “We weigh every rep.”
Said Hawkins: “It gives you the opportunity to really compete yourself and gauge yourself. When you’re out there on the field, you don’t get a great chance because you’re so caught up in your own competition and your own job, just to see exactly what it looks like from an outsider’s perspective, you know exactly where you need to improve.”
With only a handful of bystanders to watch each practice instead of tens of thousands cheering them on inside Folsom Field, each practice now feels a little more like game day. Scrimmage time or a flown-in opponent not necessary.
“You’ve definitely gotta go into practice saying, ‘Every play matters,’” Hansen said. “You’ve got to be 100 percent focused on every play, because every rep goes into your official score. It definitely makes you focus a lot more.”
Both quarterbacks are chasing a completion percentage of 70 and hopes of marching into the end zone each time they take control of the offense during a scrimmage.
But both says they have plenty to improve that won’t show up on any chart. For Hansen, it’s stepping into a role as vocal leader. For Hawkins, it’s trusting his teammates and playing within himself.
“Because I was here a bit longer than a lot of guys and I played since I was a freshman, that I probably put too much of a burden on myself and tried to make things happen, just because we had younger guys who were just getting the hang of things around me,” Hawkins said. “But now I’ve got to realize that I’ve got some experienced guys around me and if I play within myself, then I think this the time when I can just go out and do what I do and if it turns out I’m the best guy, I’m the best guy.”
But who knows who’ll end up being the best guy when the spring ends? To find out, start with the chart.
Colorado's depleted wide receiving corps received a huge boost Tuesday when heralded junior college transfer Andre Simmons was back at practice with his new team.
Simmons was unable to take part in practice drills with his new team as school officials conducted a final review of his academic records and the process leading up to his enrollment.
Colorado coaches hope that Simmons will be able to work with his new teammates as soon as Wednesday to provide additional firepower for a wide receiving corps that will be depleted for the start of the season because of a player transfer and suspension.
Simmons reported with the rest of the Buffaloes on Aug. 6 but has not been able to work out with the team because of an eligibility issue.
On Tuesday, the transfer from Independence (Kan.) Community College appeared without pads and talked with his teammates and coaches throughout the Buffaloes' practice as they prepare for their Sept. 6 opener against Colorado State.
He's exactly what the Buffaloes need to fill their biggest positional void. The Buffaloes have already lost prime playmaker Josh Smith, who transferred to UCLA earlier this summer. And sophomore Markques Simas has been suspended for Colorado's first two games of the upcoming season for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Simmons is counted as the kind of athletic, speedy receiver who will provide a deep threat for a Colorado offense that ranked 81st nationally and 11th among Big 12 teams in passing last season. Colorado returns only one starting wide receiver -- junior Scotty McKnight.
Simmons, a native of Blackville, S.C., was the lone junior college transfer among Colorado's signees after producing 91 receptions during his two seasons at Independence.
"He'll give an instant boost to the wide receiver position, and not to take anything away from the current guys, but he's going to have that vertical speed," Colorado offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau told cubuffs.com.His talents as a kick returner should immediately help fill the absence for Smith, who set a school record with 1,568 return yards last season.
While it's doubtful that Simmons will be able to have much of an immediate contribution, he should be ingrained in the Buffaloes' offense by the time conference play begins.
He and Simas will provide some balance to an offense that figures initially to be heavily ground-based with Darrell Scott, Rodney Stewart and Demetrius Sumler.
That balance will be the key if Colorado hopes to be a dark horse contender in a North Division race that figures to be extremely wide open.
The Buffaloes have a favorable schedule with home games against divisional challengers Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.
And the arrival of Simmons definitely won't hurt their chances.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After watching my first practice of the season Thursday, I came to a quick revelation after only a few minutes.
Practice assuredly is easier to follow in an air-conditioned facility like Baylor opened yesterday than watching from the grass fields and 102-degree temperatures that we experienced earlier in the afternoon.
There's really no comparison.
While I enjoy some air-conditioned surroundings from my house, here are some lunchtime links to send you charging into the weekend.
- The legal battle over the "12th man" between Texas A&M and the Seattle Seahawks apparently helped the Aggies land potential starting punter and Washington state native Ken Wood, the San Antonio Express-News' Brent Zwerneman reports.
- Oft-injured Oklahoma linebacker Ryan Reynolds had a strong first day of work Thursday as the Sooners began fall practice, the Oklahoman's Jake Trotter reports.
- New Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads is intent on improving his team's tackling techniques, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reports.
- New Colorado offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau tells the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo that his team will look nothing like the Buffaloes did last season.
- Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports.com ranks Bob Stoops and Mack Brown among his top 10 coaches of the last decade and listed Vince Young, Kerry Meier and Chase Daniel among his favorite players who wore the uniform number 10 during that period.
- You can tell it's early in training camp. Bob Stoops is plotting practical jokes and cracking one-liners, the Oklahoman's Jenni Carlson reports.
- College Football News provides some interesting predictions for the 2009 season, including a third-straight Oklahoma-Missouri matchup in the Big 12 championship game, a 9-3 record for Texas and a 4-8 record for Baylor.
- The Austin American-Statesman's Kirk Bohls wonders how the Sporting News can leave Darrell Royal off its list of the top 50 coaches of all time.
- Troy Banning of the Mason City Daily Freeman-Journal examines the nuances of new Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Herman's spread offense.
- The Los Angeles Times' Chris Dufresne calls Texas the most motivated team to win the national championship.
- The five major aims for new Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young are detailed by the Oklahoman's John Helsley.
- Stu Durando of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes about the beginning of the Blaine Gabbert era at Missouri.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
IRVING, Texas -- The late departure by former Colorado offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to Oregon resulted in a hole in Dan Hawkins' staff that he decided would be better settled with his own personal interest.
Hawkins inserted former Colorado receivers coach Eric Kiesau as his coordinator and will handle coaching wide receivers himself when the Buffaloes report for their first practice of preseason camp on Aug. 7.
"I'm really excited," Hawkins said. "I love coaching and I love teaching. I coached the tight ends when I was the head coach at Boise State. It's always great to be in the trenches. I think every five years, every head coach ought to go back and be an assistant."
Hawkins hopes the new duties will help invigorate his coaching skills as well as provide him with a more hands-on feel for his team.
"Every head coach will tell you that as you go along in this profession, sometimes you wake up and you're not doing as much coaching as I want to," Hawkins said. "In terms of the position, I really like those guys a lot."
Hawkins is expected to have a challenge boosting production at the position, particularly after the departure of Josh Smith. The Buffaloes' top deep threat left the program after spring practice and will transfer to UCLA.
But Hawkins said the Buffaloes could get better production than expected, particularly if junior wide receiver Scotty McKnight blossoms in his role as Colorado's top receiver.
"Obviously, Scotty is a guy who's been around and been battle-tested for us, and we'll rely a lot on him," Hawkins said. "But I do think the young guys have a chance to make some plays for us."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Colorado coach Dan Hawkins made a variety of announcements Monday, most notably that he will be serving as the Buffaloes' wide receivers coach in addition to his head coaching duties.
Hawkins will instruct defensive coaching intern Ashley Ambrose in his transition into becoming a college assistant coach during 2010. Ambrose is a former 13-season NFL veteran who also served as a coaching intern with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006.
"I was educated as a teacher and spent the majority of my professional life in the trenches as a teacher-coach," Hawkins said. "My first year at Boise as head coach, I also coached the tight ends. I am extremely excited about rolling up my sleeves and being a position coach again."
Hawkins becomes the first Colorado head coach to also serve as a position coach since Bill McCartney, who directed the Buffaloes' quarterbacks in 1993. Hawkins technically replaces Eric Kiesau, the former Colorado receivers coach who was promoted to offensive coordinator last month after Mark Helfrich left for a similar position at Oregon. Helfrich also coached the quarterbacks, which Kiesau will now do.
Hawkins also announced he has hired Bob Foster, as Colorado's outside linebackers coach. Foster, 68, has four decades of coaching experience and was the defensive coordinator at Californa-Davis when Hawkins was a player and coach there. He has also served as a defensive consultant for Hawkins when he was head coach at Willamette and later served as an assistant at Oregon and California.
Colorado also announced that former Michigan wide receiver Toney Clemons has enrolled in summer school at Colorado.
Clemons played two seasons in the Michigan program, including 11 catches for 101 yards last season. He will sit out the 2009 season as a redshirt before becoming eligible next season.
Former Colorado wide receiver Kendrick Celestine has re-enrolled in school and could return to the team. Celestine played in the first two games of the 2008 season and then quit for personal reasons on Sept. 21.
"We take a great deal of pride in mentoring our guys to achieve excellence as a person, student, and athlete," Hawkins said. "Sometimes that comes with some hard lessons to learn. Should Kendrick recognize what he left behind and the opportunities he can have here -- we certainly welcome him back."
Hawkins also announced that seven players won't return this fall to the team for assorted reasons. Two are lettermen, senior guard Devin Head and junior wide receiver/return specialist Josh Smith.
Head, who played in 27 career games with 17 starts, is academically ineligible, with Smith is looking to transfer, likely to a school in California.
Smith told Hawkins he plans to work on furthering both his music (singing and production) and football careers.
Smith set Colorado records for kickoff returns (50) and yards (1,286) last season. He produced 52 receptions for 838 yards (16.1 per reception) and three touchdowns in two seasons.
Redshirt freshman tight end Ryan Wallace has sought his release to transfer closer to his Bowling Green, Ky., home, with sophomore linebacker Lynn Katoa likely to transfer to a junior college. Three walk-ons also won't be back, including junior fullback Matt Burgner, freshman wide receiver Marion Brown and junior offensive lineman Evan Eastburn.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Josh Smith apparently has decided that the career route to becoming the next Jay-Z or Fifty Cent can be furthered by attending a school other than Colorado.
Smith and tight end Ryan Wallace have announced they are leaving the school. The move snatches away one of Colorado's top receivers and a developing player in Wallace who many thought could turn into a serviceable Big 12 tight end.
Smith announced that he's leaving Colorado because he wants to pursue a musical career after producing rap demos and CDs since high school. Schools that have the music major he's interested in are Arizona State and USC.
Additionally, the Boulder Camera reported that Smith spent time in the Phoenix area with Arizona State quarterback Samson Szakacsy recording tracks. That seemingly would provide a neat entry into the Sun Devils program if Smith should choose to continue playing at his new school.
Smith's departure comes after he dropped on the team's depth chart over the spring. The Buffaloes aren't exactly loaded at the position and Smith was expected to challenge for a starting job this spring.
The other question will be how this affects the Buffaloes' relationship with heralded running back Darrell Scott, who is Smith's nephew.
Scott had a strong spring after struggling during his freshman season last year. He reportedly tried to talk Smith out of transferring.
And Wallace was listed at fifth-string on the Buffaloes' post-spring depth chart but was thought to have a good future with the program. He becomes the third member of the heralded 2008 recruiting class to leave Colorado, joining linebacker Lynn Katoa and wide receiver Chance Blackmon.
Colorado's biggest offensive weakness is its lack of breakaway threats. Smith is the team's best deep threat and top kickoff returner.
With a heavy ground-based attack, new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau hopes to build more of a vertical play-action passing game. He already will be making a tough choice between quarterbacks Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen and taking away his best deep threat won't help the offense's productivity.
The Colorado offense ranked last in the Big 12 last season in total offense and scoring. Smith was a critical element in plans for coach Dan Hawkins, who vowed his team would "win 10 games with no excuses" this season after a disappointing 5-7 record last year.
Even with Smith's drop on the depth chart, it's still not a good situation for the Buffaloes or their ability to stretch the field with Smith leaving.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Welcome back to the work week after the long Memorial Day weekend.
Here are some Big 12 links to get you through the malaise.
- Kansas State football season-ticket sales are down for the fifth consecutive year, Manhattan Mercury sports editor Joshua Kinder reports. The Wildcats are experiencing a season-ticket decrease of about 6 percent this season after dropping 5 percent last season.
- The Tulsa World's Dave Sittler wonders how much of a difference a healthy DeMarco Murray would have made in Oklahoma's BCS title game loss to Florida.
- Bo Pelini doesn't like the idea of an early signing period, the Lincoln Journal-Star's Brian Christopherson reports.
- The Boulder Camera's Neill Woelk advocates increasing Colorado's student athletic activity fee.
- Colorado self-reported 12 violations to the NCAA from its athletics program, including five minor violations from the football team, the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo reports.
- Zac Robinson for the Heisman? Hunter Ansley of the DraftZoo.com details the reasons why the Oklahoma State quarterback is his sleeper candidate.
- How's this for a change? Midway (Texas) defensive back Ahmad Dixon has changed his recruiting commitment from Texas to Baylor, Chad Conine of the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.
- Dave Sittler of the Tulsa World writes of the ultimate sacrifice provided by former Oklahoma players Bob Kalsu and John Benien.
- Iowa State tailback Alexander Robinson can't wait to check out the EA Sports College Football 2010 game this season to see how he's ranked, the Des Moines Register's Andrew Logue reports.
- Athlon's preseason magazine pegs Oklahoma State at No. 9 nationally in its poll.
- Mara Rose Williams of the Kansas City Star analyzes the tenures of soon-to-be-retiring Kansas chancellor Robert Hemenway and Kansas State president Jon Wefald as they prepare to leave their offices.
- New Colorado offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau plans an pro-style offensive philosophy with heavy emphasis on dropback passing and the running game, the Denver Post's Terry Frei reports.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The spring semester is ending across the Big 12. Most teams will take the rest of the month of May off. Intensive conditioning work will begin again next month and continue throughout the summer as Big 12 squads prepare for the upcoming season.
Here's a look at several teams with the most immediate work this summer facing them when they return.
Colorado: The Buffaloes will have to settle on a quarterback before the start of the season. Several variables are involved, including the close race between Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins for the starting job in spring practice, Hansen's broken thumb in the spring game and new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau working into his new job. If the Buffaloes are to fulfill the spoiler role that some are predicting in the North Division, they need to make a real push before training camp starts in August.
Iowa State: Oh, so much work and so little time to do it. New Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads lamented he couldn't have 30 spring practices rather than the 15 mandated by the NCAA in order to help transform his program. Rhoads needs a lot of work to rebuild ISU's defense from a unit that ranked 110th in scoring defense, 112th in total defense, 116th in pass defense and 117th in pass efficiency defense. The summer will be critical as the Cyclones try to prepare for another run of high-powered Big 12 offenses.
Kansas State: Bill Snyder will be facing a big challenge to return the Wildcats to the role of a Big 12 North challenger again. His first chore will be sorting through a quarterback battle that should rage throughout training camp as South Florida transfer Grant Gilbert and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas arrive to challenge Carson Coffman. Both will be facing a crash course in learning Del Miller's offensive strategy after Coffman made a strong late push in training camp to earn the No. 1 job. And that's just the start of Snyder's work.
Oklahoma: After being called out by Coach Bob Stoops before spring practice for their lack of diligence in conditioning drills, it would behoove Oklahoma offensive linemen to stay in shape this summer. The Sooners' offensive line remains the most glaring question as the three-time defending Big 12 champions prepare this summer. Stephen Good got the start at left guard and Ben Habern flourished at center. Cory Brandon and LSU transfer Jarvis Jones also showed some development, but need much more. The group will need to work hard through strength coach Jerry Schmidt's summer drills to keep from earning Coach Bob Stoops' wrath - again.
Texas A&M: Coach Mike Sherman was nowhere near playing with a full deck after struggling through spring practice with 20 players who sat out the spring game from a group of Aggie players were treated with 19 off-season surgeries. Surprisingly, none of the Aggies' freshman class enrolled early or they could have gone a long way to staking a claim for immediate playing time. Sherman has estimated that 60 to 65 percent of those freshmen players will be able to contribute immediately. Defensive coordinator Joe Kines urged those players to arrive in shape for a shot at immediate playing time - even with their lack of college experience.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After spring practice, there's been a little movement in my pre-spring power rankings. Here's where I think schools are slotted heading into the summer.
|Kenny Felt/Icon SMI|
|Sergio Kindle was switched to defensive end this spring and dominated early practices.|
1. Texas: Colt McCoy is back bigger and stronger than ever. But the real improvement during the spring for the Longhorns came in the secondary, where they have legitimate two-deep talent. Sergio Kindle was a natural at defensive end and incoming freshman Alex Okafor was better than advertised as a prime pass-rusher. The running game is still a question and depth at defensive tackle could be iffy. But the Longhorns still remember how 2008 played out -- at least if the asterisk-marked Big 12 championship hung in their team room is any indication. February pre-spring ranking: 1.
2. Oklahoma: Gerald McCoy talks about the Oklahoma defense being the best in the nation and they could be with nine returning starters. And the Sooners could improve even more if Auston English and Ryan Reynolds make strong comebacks from injuries. The biggest question remains the four new starters along the offensive line who will be charged with blocking for Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. That turnover remains the primary question that could stymie the Sooners' hopes of an unprecedented fourth straight Big 12 title. February pre-spring ranking: 2.
3. Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy looks to have the conference's most balanced offense -- even as Dez Bryant recovered from knee surgery this spring. The big question remains the defense. New coordinator Bill Young started work on the defensive line as his first order of business before branching out to the rest of the unit. The Cowboys can score with anybody, but Young's work improving the defense will determine whether OSU can contend for its first Big 12 South title and be a legitimate factor in the BCS race. February pre-spring ranking: 3.
4. Nebraska: Quarterback Zac Lee's early grasp of the offense looked impressive this spring, but he'll have to build on that quick study if the Cornhuskers are to contend for Bo Pelini's first North title. There are still some holes at wide receiver and along the right side of the offensive line, but the Cornhuskers are improving their talent level -- particularly on defense. I make them a slight favorite in the North Division, mainly because of a more favorable schedule of cross-division rivals. February pre-spring ranking: 4.
5. Kansas: Anticipation is soaring for the Jayhawks, who finish the spring with legitimate hopes of their first undisputed Big 12 North title. Todd Reesing is the North's best quarterback and the return of Dezmon Briscoe from his suspension would give Reesing his best offensive weapon. The line will have less experience than any team in the conference, but has some heralded talent in place. The biggest defensive question will be replacing three starting linebackers who were the heart of last season's defense. Mark Mangino has hinted at a 4-2-5 defense that may be better suited for combating the Big 12's explosive offenses. Their hopes will depend on navigating the North's toughest stretch of South Division opponents. February pre-spring ranking: 5.
6. Texas Tech: Coach Mike Leach has a new five-year contract but will be facing some heavy lifting. This will be his most significant offensive rebuilding job during his coaching tenure as he replaces the prime weapons of last season's South Division tri-champion. Taylor Potts won't be as productive as Graham Harrell, but he has more experience coming into the position than most of Leach's previous starting quarterbacks. The star power at wide receiver will be lacking without Michael Crabtree, but the spring showed the Red Raiders still have much talent and should be deeper throughout the receiver rotation. McKinner Dixon's spring suspension, coupled with Brandon Williams' defection to the NFL, makes pass rushing iffy. And the Red Raiders are looking for two new safeties from an inexperienced group. It all adds up to a challenging rebuilding job for Leach. February pre-spring ranking: 6.
7. Colorado: The Buffaloes remain the Big 12's mystery team and Tyler Hansen's thumb injury only accentuates that uncertainty. New offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau will be taking over this summer. And while he's been around the program for three years, it's still a concern taking the top job. The offense looked fine in the spring game, particularly a bruising rushing game keyed by Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart. The defensive line remains the biggest question on the other side of the ball and we won't know how that group will play until the season begins. Dan Hawkins confidently picked the Buffaloes to go 10-2 after last season. They'll be better than last season's 5-7, but I'm not sure they will live up to their coach's optimism. February pre-spring ranking: 8.
8. Missouri: It was tough to get a handle on the Tigers during the spring. Blaine Gabbert had some moments, but his numbers weren't that impressive. But those struggles were understandable considering he was throwing to some inexperienced receivers while Danario Alexander and Jared Perry recovered from injuries. The turnover in both coordinators from last season will be interesting to watch. And with all of the thoughts about the huge personnel losses on offense, the Tigers also will lose a lot on defense. I still think the Tigers will go bowling this year, but will be better suited for a run at the 2010 North title than this season. February pre-spring ranking: 7.
9. Baylor: Optimism is flowing along the Brazos with Bears backers -- with good reason if Robert Griffin can duplicate his freshman success. The biggest offensive question remains his protection with two new offensive tackles. On defense, the Bears have a lot of talent returning and Phil Taylor looks like the real deal at
defensive tackle -- their biggest defensive need. Art Briles is changing the culture at Baylor, but it will be interesting to see if he can really push them into bowl contention -- not an easy task in the Big 12 South. February pre-spring ranking: 9.
10. Texas A&M: Credit Mike Sherman for thinking outside the box. The idea to move Von Miller to the "jack" position on defense was a master stroke -- if Miller can hold up to the pounding he'll face in the trenches. It was hard to get a gauge on A&M's running game with so many injuries in their offensive line. When healthy -- and with the arrival of heralded freshman Christine Michael -- the Aggies should be much better than last season. Same for a secondary that appeared overmatched in the spring, but was crippled by injuries at cornerback. It will be a long road back to Big 12 contention, but look for A&M to be more respectable this season. February pre-spring ranking: 11.
11. Kansas State: I wonder if Bill Snyder has ever had second thoughts since returning to coaching. His rebuilding job with this team pales next to what he originally faced back in 1989, but the Big 12 is a more difficult challenge than that old Big Eight was. Carson Coffman claimed the starting job with a late push in the spring, but will be challenged by Grant Gregory and Daniel Thomas later in the summer. The running game needs somebody to emerge as Keithen Valentine and Jarell Childs alternated spring work. The defense has a long way to go, although Vic Koenning's 4-2-5 appears to better suit the talent on hand. Snyder's acumen should help them in some close games, but it still will be a huge challenge to get them back into bowl contention. February pre-spring ranking: 10.
12. Iowa State: Paul Rhoads is a realist. It's hard not to be after he took a look at his defensive players and realized how far the Cyclones have to come in order to be a force in the North. Look for them to make steps this season thanks to his enthusiasm, but still facing a huge climb in order to be competitive with all of the explosive Big 12 offenses. The Cyclones should be productive on offense with new coordinator Tom Herman. Backup quarterback Jerome Tiller looks like he's ready to push Austen Arnaud after a strong spring game. And Alexander Robinson could emerge as one of the Big 12's most underrated players as a versatile run-catch option. February pre-spring ranking: 12.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
While the coaches are away in Phoenix playing golf, the Big 12 links keep rolling in.
Here are some of the most notable to get us ready for the weekend.
- Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman writes about Bob Stoops' difficult decision in terms of Oklahoma recruit Justin Chaisson. Tramel writes that he believes in second chances, but he also believes in keeping screwdrivers off girls' necks.
- Ready for the continued parade of top prospects in the Big 12? Among the top 15 on the Sporting News' list of top national recruits, six go to high schools in the Big 12's geographic footprint.
- Quarterbacks Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen expect more involvement in the Buffaloes' offense with new coordinator Eric Kiesau in place, the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo writes. And the Camera's Neill Woelk predicts that Kiesau will keep the Buffaloes' offense humming and maybe even give it an extra boost.
- San Diego State athletic director Jeff Schemmel, a Kansas State graduate, refused to confirm or deny whether he had interviewed for KSU's vacant athletic director's job, the San Diego Union-Tribune's Brent Schrotenboer reported.
- Boone County assistant prosecutor Stephanie Morrell told the Columbia Daily Tribune's Joe Meyer that no decision has been made on whether to charge Missouri freshman quarterback Blaine Dalton with felony drug possession.
- Sam Keller's class-action suit against Electronic Arts for using student-athlete likenesses in video games is detailed by Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star. Sports business expert Darren Rovell of CNBC calls the former Nebraska quarterback's suit "the best case I've ever seen constructed" by a student-athlete.
- The Oklahoman's Scott Wright ventures to Tonkawa, Okla., to check out the background of Oklahoma State wide receiver Bo Bowling, who will stand trial Friday on felony and misdemeanor drug charges, including possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of an anabolic steroid.
- The Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter gives his take on Missouri's strong APR scores.
- The Omaha World-Herald's Jon Nyatawa details some of the lessons that Bo Pelini learned while coaching in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers.