It's easy to be a fan of Kansas basketball.
30+ years on the nation's top shelf, and 100+ years of rich history and tradition makes it so. Winning breeds fans.
Throughout its history Kansas football has been short on winning seasons. But I'm tired of the misconception that Kansas Jayhawks fans don't care about football.
Try and tell that to the hundreds of 'Hawk fans that invaded downtown Boulder, Colorado to party after the Jayhawks beat the #4 ranked Buffaloes on their home field in 1995. Try and tell that to the fans in Memorial Stadium who cheered themselves to the point of tears in 2005 when Jon Cornish ripped off a 72 yard touchdown run to seal the first victory over Nebraska since 1968. Try and tell that to the fans in Sun Life Stadium who erupted in a deafening roar when Aqib Talib took an interception to the house to start the 2008 Orange Bowl.
And try and tell that to all the people who showed up to Memorial Stadium, packing its parking lots, on a damp Saturday afternoon to tailgate and celebrate the first look at the David Beaty era of Kansas football.
Jayhawk fans are hungry for a winning football team. Football is the big time, America's true pastime since the mid 1990s. Twice during this era Kansas has had a coach who took the Jayhawks to a top ten national finish (#9 - Mason, 1995; #7 - Mangino, 2007). And twice the university has squandered its opportunity to build on that success by having the relationship with those coaches fall apart before making the absolute worst decisions on their successors.
I've been watching Kansas football since I was seven years old, and this may be the lowest I've felt about the program. Things can only get better, right?
Turner Gill was a disaster, but I don't blame Gill for the messy split that saw the Mangino era come to an end in Lawrence. Kansas had an opportunity to put the football program back on the right path after Gill had run it into the ground. Instead, they drank the Patriots' Way poison that has afflicted so many teams that the folks in Foxboro, Mass should be tried in front of the Hague for all the waste that has been left behind by Bill Belichick's disciples.
David Beaty's hire has the look and feel of a return to competent football leadership at Kansas. Beaty was a part of Mangino's coaching staff when Kansas still had a respectable squad, and went on to be a part of Texas A&M's revival under Kevin Sumlin.
Even so, it's going to take some to time for Kansas football to heal all the self inflicted wounds. Today was the start of the healing process.
It's hard to glean very much from these spring games. For starters, the incoming freshman class is still finishing high school and not even in town. Weis' decision to lean so heavily on juco and transfer players - who either graduated or left along with Weis - was on full display this afternoon as a very small roster full of red shirt freshman and sophomores took the field.
It's a safe bet that Kansas will look much different in September than what we saw today.
It pretty much has to be, because the action on the field today truly did have the look and feel of a corpse trying to rise and take its first step.
Cummings' Day Ends Painfully Quick
One thing Beaty did show the fans though, was the return of the college style spread offense. Even with pared down offensive sets, Beaty wanted his units snapping that ball fast, much like Sumlin's Aggies have been doing the last few years.
It doesn't matter how fast you're going though, the spread is as worthless as any other offense if you don't have the right trigger man firing the ball around the field. Beaty ran four quarterbacks out on the field today: Michael Cummings (Sr.); Montell Cozart (Jr.); T.J. Milweard (Jr.); and Keaton Perry (R-Fr.).
Honestly though, the quarterback position is Cummings' to lose. As it should be.
In Weis' first year, when he was still trying to convince everyone that Dayne Crist was a star, Cummings came on in relief in a game against Oklahoma State that had been disrupted by a huge storm delay. When the game started back up the stadium was mostly devoid of 'Hawk fans, which was unfortunate as Cummings put on a show that almost led to a victory over the Cowboys. Despite outplaying Crist the rest of the season, Weis buried Cummings on the depth chart in 2013 behind another transfer flameout in Jake Heaps and incoming freshman Montell Cozart. Cummings only ever saw the field to run the wildcat, a complete waste of his rather strong arm. What should have been an open competition between Cozart and Cummings to start 2014, wound up seeing Cozart as the starter, which in turn wound up getting Weis fired after another slow start crippled by ineffective quarterback play.
One of the first things Clint Bowen did upon taking over as interim head coach last season was to start Cummings at quarterback. Over a five game stretch last year, Cummings averaged 285 yards, threw 7 TDs and averaged a 100+ QB rating, culminating in a brilliant 332 yard and 2 TD performance against 5th ranked TCU that almost took the Horned Frogs down, and I believe ruined their shot at the college football playoffs. The Jayhawks had not seen that kind of consistently productive quarterback play since Todd Reesing in 2009.
One of the main reasons Cummings had success is that he wasn't afraid to gun it down the field. Reesing had those kind of guts. It was going to be hard for any kid to have to follow #5, but every kid that had played the position after him seemed plagued by happy feet and a mindblowing gun shyness.
When Cummings started slinging it, all of a sudden Nigel King, Nick Harwell, Jimmay Mundine, and Rodriguez Coleman started looking like downfield play makers.
Cummings started today's spring game by going right down field on the first play for a twenty-six yard pass to freshman receiver Tyler Patrick who made a nice snag on the other end of that pass.
By comparison to Cummings, the other quarterbacks at the start of the spring game - Milweard, Cozart, Perry - looked god awful. Nobody showed any sign that they'd deprive Cummings of a chance to finally get his shot to start the season at quarterback. And then Cummings scrambled...
The quarterbacks in the spring game wear red jerseys to remind the defense not to actually hit them. I've always felt that if that is the rule, then when a quarterback starts to run past the line of scrimmage the whistle should be blown. It is not so easy to stop yourself from going full speed.
Cummings ran right into contact and immediately went to the ground, clutching at his left knee. It did not look good. As of this writing, the extent of the injury has not been released. From what I saw as they attended to him on the sideline, coaches wrapped his knee with ice, his teammates gave him conciliatory hugs, and then he was led to the locker room and not seen the rest of the afternoon.
Montell Cozart, Practice Squad Superstar, Shows up Again
Immediately following Cummings' exit, the quarterback play got even worse. Montell Cozart, the presumptive second stringer, threw what was nearly a pick six.
After that play though, Cozart settled down and actually got the offense moving better than anyone else had all day. He threw a nice touchdown with an impressive touch on a fade route to Shakiem Barbel in the corner of the north end zone. He followed that drive up by showing his arm in throwing a 70+ yard bomb to transfer tight end Kent Taylor, who showed a fantastic burst of speed to first get behind his defender and then absolutely run away from him.
We've seen Cozart look good in practice before. Is he capable of doing this in a game? That, we've very much yet to see.
I feel for Cummings. My hope is that his injury is not that serious. It's going to be hard for Kansas to win many games this season, harder still if Cummings is down. But the most important aspect to Cummings holding down the quarterback position is that he buys Beaty some time. He can redshirt both of the talented freshman quarterbacks, Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis, with an eye toward the future. If Cummings is lost, and things get off to a rough start for coach Beaty in Lawrence, he may be compelled to pull one of his young quarterback's red shirts the way Mangino ultimately did in 2006 with Todd Reesing when Kerry Meier was injured and Adam Barmann could not get the job done.
On the Bright Side of the Spring Game
The defensive line, the deepest and most talented unit on the entire team, looked like a wrecking crew. Now, this is hard to quantify as they were going up against the Jayhawk o-line that looked absolutely terrible. They couldn't run block all day, and had the four quarterbacks not been in red jerseys there would have been six sacks by my count.
The defense was clearly the most consistent unit during that terrible 2014 season. That's why it was a good move by Beaty to keep Clint Bowen on as his defensive coordinator. The last two times Kansas had a legit coach running the show, Mason and Mangino both began their turn around of the program by building up the defense first.
Tight ends Ben Johnson and Kent Taylor look like a formidable one two punch as middle of the field receivers. Johnson looks big and strong at 6-5, 234 and made a couple of nice grabs in traffic. Kent Taylor, as I mentioned above, showed Travis Kelce like speed as the coaching staff kept sending him out wide to create mismatches in the defense. That's a good sign if the 'Hawks intend to utilize a quick passing attack.
Out wide, Rodriguez Coleman sat out today's practice for an as of yet unspecified suspension. In his absence freshman Tyler Patrick stole the show. Patrick consistently got behind his defender and had the quarterbacks not woefully under thrown most of the balls his way he could have very easily ended the day with multiple touchdowns. In the very limited, and redundant play calling, the most consistent play the 'Hawks ran was the quick hitting wide receiver screen on the edges. Every time Patrick got his hands on one of these he showed a great first move burst of speed.
At the End of the Day
It was just great to be back at Memorial Stadium, sitting at the top of the east side, 50 yard line, where I am for every home game, every season.