LAWRENCE — It’s been a quiet spring for the Kansas football program. Charlie Weis is prepping for his second season on the job — the first time he’s been in one place for two straight years since his Notre Dame days — and KU began spring practice while the men’s basketball team was still in the thick of a March run. That's an easy way to fly under the radar.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
But the Jayhawks’ spring game — on April 13 — is now just 10 days away, and Weis opened up spring practice to the media for the first time on Tuesday evening. Here are five thoughts and observations from the practice session.
1 The Tony Pierson-as-receiver experiment appears to be in full force. Pierson, a junior running back, rushed for 760 yards last season — a home-run threat in a backfield that also included 1,000-yard rusher James Sims. Meantime, the KU receiving corps was one of the team's weakest points, and Weis is trying to fix that by using Pierson in the passing game. Earlier this spring, Weis said he hoped to use Pierson in a role similar to how West Virginia used Tavon Austin, running back-receiver hybrid who put up huge numbers for the Mountaineers. On Tuesday, Pierson practiced with the receivers during some of the positional drills, running all types of routes.
2 Another intriguing option at receiver is senior Christian Matthews, a converted quarterback from Arlington, Texas. Matthews made a name for himself last season while running the KU offense from the “Wildcat” (or “Jayhawk”) formation. And at times, he proved to be an effective and elusive runner. KU’s receivers, of course, need as much help as they can get. (The unit did not record a receiving touchdown in 2012.) Matthews appeared to be running with the first-team offense on Tuesday, and here’s another sign he’s impressed this spring: He’s the only receiver that Weis made available to talk to the media this week.
3 How does the quarterback spot look? It’s hard to glean too much information during a two-hour workout, but junior quarterback Jake Heaps showed off his arm strength during some one-on-one drills with receivers and defensive backs. Heaps, who is set to enter the fall as the Jayhawks’ starter, didn’t face any pressure, of course. But on one occasion, he was able to stand on the left hash and sling a pass on a sideline route to the opposite side of the field.
4 In Weis’ first year, the kicking game turned into a major drain. Even chip-shot field goals became adventures, and Weis addressed the problem by signing junior college kicker/punter Trevor Pardula. On Tuesday, Pardula showed why. During a few segments of special-teams practice, the left-footed Pardula showcased a strong leg on punts and knocked in a few field goals from 40 yards. He also made one under pressure — when a miss would have meant extra conditioning for his teammates.
5 Kansas is still waiting for a handful of junior college players to show up this summer, and some starting spots could be in flux until August. But here are a few players that appear to have put themselves in good position: Matthews, Heaps and Pardula; junior tight end Jimmay Mundine; junior college transfer cornerback Cassius Sendish; and defensive lineman Keon Stowers.
To reach Rustin Dodd, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/rustindodd.