LAWRENCE — When Darrian Miller left Kansas in the winter of 2012, teammate James Sims was a would-be junior coming off two straight 700-yard rushing seasons. Sims was a solid runner, a key cog in a multi-pronged attack. But he was not The Guy.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
More than a year later, with Miller back on campus, Sims is quite clearly the Jayhawks’ featured back. Sims rushed for more than 1,000 yards in nine games last season, and he returns for his senior year as one of the more established rushers in the Big 12.
But Miller, who was dismissed from KU in early 2012 and spent last season at Butler Community College, is the type of talent that could provide a measure of competition in the backfield. Miller, a sophomore from Blue Springs, rushed for 559 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. The Star caught up with Miller on Monday for a short Q&A before the Jayhawks took to the practice field in the afternoon.
• What’s different for you the second time around here?
“For myself, I feel like I’m a different person. I feel like I definitely matured. I have a lot of goals right now. I feel like there’s a lot of ways I could help this team and contribute. I feel like this team can help me in a lot of ways. And that’s really what it is, just taking it each day by day, and not looking to the future, just staying in the moment.”
• When you left the first time, could you imagine a scenario where you would come back to Kansas?
“Honestly, I didn’t have any thoughts about what was next. (I was) just taking it day by day; I knew my next move was to Butler, and after that, even in the summer, I weighed out my options and when I got the chance to get back with (KU running backs coach Reggie Mitchell), that was really what I jumped back to.”
• So playing for Coach Mitchell (who recruited Miller to KU) was one of the deciding factors in feeling comfortable coming back to KU?
“That was definitely one of the main selling points. I honestly don’t think I could get that coaching anywhere else in the nation … Coach Weis, when we met, I thought he was a great person. I told him, instantly when I walked in the room, when the conversation began, my shoulders lowered, I got more comfortable with him. He really cares about the team, and it’s good when you have someone like that, because you can play for them.”
• It’s a young offensive line. (Other than senior tackle Aslam Sterling, junior guard Ngalu Fusimalohi, junior center Pat Lewandowski, junior guard Mike Smithburg and senior tackle Riley Spencer could all be starting for the first time.) How are those guys progressing?
“I think they’re doing great so far. I’ve only been here through the summer, and I would have thought that they would have been here for a while. Everyone’s clicking together. They communicating, and if there’s inexperience on the line, they cover that up by physicality. They’re all communicating, I don’t really see too many missed assignments on the line. They’re holding each other accountable.”
• You’ve been around some college quarterbacks? What’s starter Jake Heaps been like so far in practice?
“Heaps is everything I expected. I told him when I first committed, I had been following him since probably his junior year of high school … just from one player to another player. I think Jake’s fantastic, even as just a person and stuff. He’s a good example to watch. He really defines what that team player (is), and I think that’s really what I’m trying to be right now. Just encouraging, (doing) everything I can. I don’t think there’s a selfish bone in my body right now. Just from being on this team, I’m pulling for any walk-on just as hard as I am any NFL prospect.”
• You weren’t here last year, and James Sims runs for 1,000 yards in nine games. What’s different about James now than two years ago when you played alongside him?
“I’ve always thought James was great. James has helped me since I got here … And when I was here the first time, James asked me for help on things that I brought to the team.
“He works hard, he deserves it. I only want to contribute to that. Maybe I can take a little pressure off, and he can go even farther.”
Video of the day
Before Monday’s practice, KU linebackers coach Clint Bowen gave a short speech on tackling and hitting. The speech included mention of college football’s new “targeting” rules, which could lead to penalties and ejections for players that initiate helmet-to-helmet contact. A few minutes later, with defensive coordinator Dave Campo overseeing the action, KU’s linebackers began practice with a drill that focused on hitting and stripping the football from opposing running backs.