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Kansas Football: Addressing the Quarterback Situation

Taking a look at the short and long term ramifications of inserting Montell Cozart at quarterback.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

One of the hot debates last week was whether or not the coaching staff should insert true freshman Montell Cozart at quarterback instead of using the redshirt option and saving him for the future.  Both sides of the debate had valid reasons supporting their position but it no longer matters.  Charlie Weis and the rest of the coaching staff made the decision to use the true freshman on Saturday against Oklahoma, ensuring this year will not be a redshirt.  There's no question that something had to be done on the offensive side of the ball and if the staff feels Cozart is part of the solution, then using him this year is understandable.   So if Cozart is going to be used, two aspects need to be addressed.

Short term use must figured out before addressing the long term ramifications.  Cozart played in only two series against Oklahoma. According to Weis, the coaches wanted to ease him into games.  This makes sense, throwing a true freshman in for the majority of the snaps against a program like Oklahoma wouldn't be fair to the kid.  Relying on him to only come in during running situations or to run option/read plays makes sense if that's his strength, give him something he is comfortable with and build on it the rest of the year.  However, as the year progresses and Cozart presumably gets more snaps, he has to be allowed to run the full offense.  The staff attempted to use Michael Cummings against Texas Tech as a change of pace quarterback with poor results.  At this point, it looks like a failed experiment but the question of whether Cummings got a fair chance is still there because he was very limited in the plays ran while he was in the game.  Now that a redshirt is not an option, this cannot happen with Cozart.

How often Cozart is used relies on a few variables and the philosophy adopted by Charlie Weis and the rest of the offensive coaches.  It was clear on Saturday that Cozart was not in the game to pass based on the plays called and that he only played when we were going into the wind.  If the staff wants to make the move to Cozart, he has to be given a wide variety of plays that include both run and pass options.  Allowing the defense to identify the play call based on the quarterback will not be a successful endeavor.  Cozart must also be given a fair number of snaps in a game, something that didn't happen against Oklahoma.  By halfway through the 3rd quarter, it was clear the Heaps led offense was not working yet we never saw Cozart.  Now that he's playing this year, he has to be used.

Long term is the bigger concern for me at the moment.  The coaching staff always has to have a long term goal in their mind.  This is especially true when you are running a program like Kansas, short term pressure is in place to get a conference win but sacrificing long term to get a win or two in 2013 is how programs continue to stay bottom feeders.  So what long term consequences need to be taken into consideration when deciding on playing time between Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart?

First, the staff needs to figure out which quarterback will make the 2014 Jayhawks the best team possible.  Since the beginning of the season, I've thought of next year as the make or break year for this staff.  The JUCO kids will have been around for 2 years, Heaps will be in his 3rd year with the program, and the staff will have had time to recruit and develop their guys.  The immediate reaction to who is the best for 2014 might not be answered with "Cozart" but for some the answer will be "Not Heaps!"  That might be true but it's important to remember that next year's squad should provide more help for Jake Heaps.  Transfer Nick Harwell will be eligible, the offensive line will have had a year to get better, and hopefully Andrew Turzilli will get a full year of playing.  Those three things could add up to a situation that allows a pro-style QB like Heaps to flourish next year.  If we accept this scenario as a possibility, can Heaps and the mental state of the team survive benching him this year only to reinsert him as a starter next year?

A second consideration that has to be taken into account when deciding what to do between Cozart and Heaps involves a bit of a recruiting angle.  The program needs all the help it can get and part of the appeal of Charlie Weis as head coach is how his name is tied to quarterbacks from his experience in the NFL.  That name recognition had to play a part in getting both Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps to come to Lawrence.  Neither guy has worked out as we hoped but Heaps still has a chance.  Cozart taking over for Heaps opens all kinds of doors for people to recruit against when recruiting the same player in the future.  Coaches will point to both Crist and Heaps transferring into the program and then getting benched mid-season.  Coaches will point to the issues at the offensive line and receivers, using it to tell a kid you'll be benched even if you don't get a fair chance.  Perhaps the most damning (and scary) line coaches will use is wondering why Crist and Heaps still couldn't perform better after being coached by this staff.

In the end, UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard might make this situation moot by winning the starting job next year.  Montell Cozart could come out and prove to be the answer now and in the future.  Or we might be right back where we started the year with Jake Heaps at quarterback.  Balancing short term with long term goals is tricky in this situation, so we are left hoping the coaches have the ability to find what works now and in the future.