The beauty of spring football is that within the course of the same school year, everything can feel like a fresh start or a new beginning. That’s exactly what Kansas head coach Charlie Weis is feeling, as he begins his second year with the Jayhawks.
When spring football kicks off Tuesday, the Jayhawks will introduce many new faces and some new wrinkles, as they are determined to bring the program back after last year’s 1-11 campaign. The focus will be on competition, but it has already started with a change in attitude.
“Guys are actually taking it upon themselves to get better, rather than the coaches having to stay on us about doing each and every thing to get better. I feel like the team is more accountable for itself about what we want to do,” tight end Jimmay Mundine said.
Kansas will enter spring ball with a few changes aside from the new players that have arrived at mid-year. They will be without linebacker Huldon Tharp, who ended his football career with a year of eligibility because of repeated injuries over the course of his career.
A few players are battling back from injuries and may not see action in spring ball, including linebackers Schyler Miles (knee) and Prinz Kande (knee). Tight end Trent Smiley will be non-contact for the spring after having his shoulder worked on in December.
The Jayhawks will also not have a special teams coach this year. Instead, Weis said that each coach with the exception of quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus will have a special teams responsibility, essentially making it special teams coach by committee.
“I was very unhappy with our special teams play last year and I’m holding the whole staff accountable for it this year, rather than putting it on one guys shoulders. Everyone has their piece of the pie,” Weis said.
Kansas will utilize both running backs James Sims and Tony Pierson in a two back set, offensively, Weis said that they want use the speedy Pierson much in the way that West Virginia used Tavon Austin, lining him up in the backfield and at wide receiver at times.
The first team quarterback will be Jake Heaps, who will finally get his opportunity to play after having to sit out 2012 after transferring from BYU. Michael Cummings, who saw action last season will be Heaps’ backup. The two will see the majority of the snaps during spring ball.
On defense, the Jayhawks will be making some changes, implementing a “BUCK” position in which that player will be able to flip sides. The ends listed on the depth chart will stay on their assigned side and will slide over to play tackle when the BUCK slides to their side to line up at end.
“The reason why I did this, was because I studied our personnel right from when our season had ended and I felt that we had a good number of guys, big guys, both on our team and recruited that I felt could play those three physical positions up front,” Weis said. “I also didn’t feel we had enough pass rushing ability and flexibility with our outside rusher position. So, the “BUCK” is the beginning of our answers to that problem.”
Weis went on to say that they will sometimes put two BUCKs on the field at the same time. He also believes this will be a way to combat some of the high tempo offense the Jayhawks will encounter in the Big 12.
Going into spring ball, newcomer Chris Martin is listed as first team at the BUCK, with sophomores Ben Goodman and Michael Reynolds behind him.
Weis is especially excited with the new players and upgrades across the board talent wise because he feels many players will be in their natural positions, which will give the defensive staff, led by coordinator Dave Campo an opportunity to do the things they want to do from a schematic standpoint.
“A year in, what you do is you start adapting what you do to who you have,” Weis said. “Two years ago, we had no defensive linemen. Now, we have a bunch of big guys. So, instead of asking guys to play defensive end - pure defensive ends who aren’t defensive ends, we’ve been able to tweak our system and now we can come up with systems that fit our personnel and likewise, personnel that fits our system.”
Many of the new players are listed at the top of depth chart, as expected. Weis is excited about this because he feels it will send two messages.
“That says two things. It says you have high expectations for the guys that you are bringing in and it tells the guys that are here already that that they better pick it up, or else you’re not going to be seeing the field,” Weis said.
In all, it adds up to a new culture that Weis and his staff have cultivated at Kansas. Starting with Tuesday’s first practice and concluding with the Spring Game on April 13th, it all adds up to signs that adversity of the past is just that, the past.