* During the first press conference of the fall, Charlie Weis spoke effusively of how much the strength and conditioning program had done for his players. With media able to observe the first 20 minutes of virtually every practice, that praise has been validated - and then some.
But while the first-year Kansas head coach is pleased overall, with the progress his team is making, he knows they've still got a long way to go if they're going to make those strides int he weight room count.
"There's been a lot I've been encouraged by in several areas," he said. "But it's so across the board, we have so many not just holes to fill but questions that are unanswered. So we have to keep on trying to answer questions."
He referenced the how dramatically different the defense looks personnel-wise from the spring, as well as several positions on offense - tight end, wide receiver and even quarterback.
"I think most importantly there's been no negative surprises," Weis noted. "And that usually is the biggest problem you have, when all of a sudden some surprise comes up."
* Since he was hired, Weis has proven he's nothing if not resourceful. In putting together his first recruiting class, not only did he scour the junior college ranks but he brought in a large handful of fifth-year senior transfers to provide an immediate impact. And if one doesn't know their identities by now, one has been living under a rock.
Lately, he's turned that same resourcefulness to the kicking game, where Ron Doherty currently stands alone as the team's top placekicker and punter. Now, Weis is trying to find someone to handle the kickoff duties in order to give Doherty a bit of a break.
"Like I always do, I'm working every angle I can to try and find that answer," he said. "We're talking to the rugby club. We're talking to the soccer club - the guys that practice against the women. Out of 30,000 people in this school there's gotta be somebody who can kick the ball off out of the end zone."
* It goes without saying that Dayne Crist is the starting quarterback this season, but the identity of his backup is less clear.
Redshirt freshman Michael Cummings currently has the inside track over JUCO transfer Turner Baty, due largely to the experience granted him by a spring spent learning the offense. However, Weis feels some may have Cummings pegged incorrectly.
"Too many times you get stereotyped into the type of guy you have," he explained. "Michael is a drop-back quarterback. Everyone thinks Michael is the dual-threat quarterback. Michael is a drop-back quarterback with a cannon for an arm. An absolute cannon. The only thing he lacks is height and experience."
"The competition is going along nicely," Weis added. "Obviously we have a long way to go, but Michael is doing a nice job - he's made a lot of progress from the spring and Turner has been getting better every day."
* The stable at running backs may seem crowded from the outside, with four talented candidates vying for playing time (Five if one throws Marquis Jackson into the mix) and carries. However, Weis doesn't see things that way.
Each brings something different to the table. There's Tony Pierson, currently listed as the starter who will likely get as many as 15 touches a game, who is slighter of build but one of the most explosive talents in the conference. James Sims and Taylor Cox are more "jack of all trade" types with their vision and experience, but even they aren't carbon copies. Sims has slimmed down to 193 pounds, while Cox is a muscle-bound 5-foot-11, 211 pounds. And Bourbon is a power back with excellent straight line speed.
It's finding the right fit, the right mix, that's important.
"They're not the same guy," Weis said. "Not that you can't do some of the same things, but you can't look at them exactly the same. I believe you find out what your guys can do and that's what you do. You don't just call plays because you like plays."
* Speaking of Sims, though he's suspended for the first three games of the season he's still getting his fair slice of the repetitions during practice, because he's earned them. In fact, he's managed to surprise Weis, and the Jayhawks' leading rusher from 2010 and 2011 is looking quicker and more athletic than ever.
"If I had to pick the most complete running back on our team, I would pick James," Weis said. "So I think he responded pretty well. James Sims is way better than I thought he was. He just unfortunately can't play right now."
"People told me he couldn't run outside," he added. "They're wrong. He can. He has another gear. People told me he doesn't have another gear. He does."
In fact, when that suspension is lifted and the Kansas heads to Northern Illinois for the first game of the season, don't be surprised to see him in action right away.
"It's not like he's going to have to be 18th on the depth chart," Weis said. "When he's back, he's back. And when he's earned the right to play, he'll play. I'd be surprised when we go to Illinois the fourth week if James wasn't on the field."
* The position in which Weis finds himself at Kansas isn't entirely unfamiliar. When he was hired at New England in 1993, the Patriots were coming off a 2-14 season. When he joined the New York Jets in 1996, they were coming off an even worse year - 1-15. And in their second seasons, both squads went to the playoffs.
Now, he wasn't the head coach during those successful ventures, true. But he wants to be at Kansas.
"I want to win," Weis said, simply, when asked what his motivation was in taking this job. "That's what I want. I want to win. I want this team to win. They haven't been winning, and that's what I want to do. I want to win."
To Weis, college football is a part of the overall college experience. Strike that - successful college football should be part of the overall college football experience. The opportunity to join thousands of fellow students and fans inside the stadium and see their team victorious before heading out for a night of Saturday fun, and using Sunday to prepare for the start of the week.
That's what college life should be.
"It puts a big damper on things when things do go very well," Weis said. "So I want to get this program where we're winning more than we're losing. And I think when we get to that point, then we'll aim even higher. It's gonna take a little while. Let's get to that point first."
Going beyond the game day festivities, to him college football is about the bonding between players, students and fans. It's a special experience. And it's one he wants to be able to bring back to Mount Oread.
"I would like to be part of the reason - I know I'm the head coach - but I would like to be part of the reason that people that root for the Jayhawks were happy," Weis said, earnestly. "I'd like to be part of that reason."
* One of the common characteristics he sees between this group of Jayhawks and the turnarounds at New England and New York is hard work. Get the players to buy in, to fight and claw for the first steps of success, and the self-motivation lays down roots within the team.
"As much as they've improved front he time they've gotten here until now, there probably will be even a bigger jump to next year, because now they get it," Weis said. "Now you don't have to teach them what Scott (Holsopple) has had to teach them so far. Now they get it. Now they're going to want to get even that much better. Because once you get a little taste, you want more."
* Here's a fun fact - Charlie Weis initially told Dayne Crist to go to Wisconsin.
As most know, the Notre Dame transfer ultimately ended up deciding between the Badgers and the Jayhawks. However, when he first began his transfer process Weis was still with the University of Florida, and Crist called him up for advice.
"I said 'Look, not that I'm a big fan of Wisconsin, but they're best situated for success,'" Weis recalled. "Russell Wilson had just done his one and done, I knew who the other quarterbacks were on their roster. At the time (Paul) Chryst was their offensive coordinator, who I thought was a very good offensive coordinator."
Fortunately, Chryst left for Pittsburgh shortly thereafter, and Weis was hired at Kansas.
"Then I got this job and said 'Hold on a second, I might have an alternative for you'," he said, smiling. "You want to know something? That was not an easy one. because I had to tell him out of loyalty to him and his family, because I've spent a lot of time with mom and dad, that there were things I couldn't offer him that Wisconsin could. I just told him what I could offer and at the end of the day that's what he wanted."
* JUCO transfer Aslam Sterling is in full pads and working out with the team, though he hasn't passed a full conditioning test - yet. But it's coming.
Every morning the 6-foot-5, 360-pound tackle meets with Holsopple to put in extra work and shed pounds in an effort to meet that fitness goal. He did take an amended test just to make sure he was healthy enough to get on the field, but he is not yet fully physically qualified in Weis' eyes.
"But I think with him just rolling out of class and him not having any of the training from Holsopple, we'll make sure we get that done before training camp ends up getting over," he said. "We weren't going to put somebody on the field that was going to be a risk."