He walked onto the Kansas campus last summer, a junior college quarterback with a low profile and a relatively thin resume. Deondre Ford’s photo or bio didn’t make it into the Jayhawks’ 2015 media guide, and for the moment, he doesn’t possess a scholarship.
But two weeks into preseason camp, Ford has emerged as the biggest threat to unseat junior Montell Cozart in the Jayhawks’ quarterback competition. Ford, a transfer from Dodge City Community College, is the first quarterback behind Cozart during team drills in practice, and his presence appears to be complicating a competition that KU coach David Beaty says is too close to call — at least for now.
“We’re getting pretty close,” Beaty said on Friday.
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During an open practice on Friday, Cozart was the first quarterback on the field during team drills, while Ford took reps with the next unit. For now, true freshmen quarterbacks Ryan Willis and Carter Stanley are working on the other side of the field, away from the first-team offense.
After declaring Cozart as the frontrunner at Big 12 Media Days, Beaty has been somewhat vague in talking about the quarterback race. But if recent practices are any indication, the decision could come down to the experienced Cozart and the newcomer Ford, who has emerged from relative anonymity in the last few weeks.
Ford, a native of Waco, Texas, arrived on campus in the summer as a walk-on — though he could be among a group of walk-ons to earn a scholarship in the near future. As a sophomore at Dodge City, Ford threw for 2,826 yards, 18 touchdowns and 22 interceptions while completing 60 percent of his 357 pass attempts. He averaged 7.9 yards per attempt.
Listed at 6 feet 1 and 200 pounds, Ford appears to have decent speed and good feet in the pocket.
“He’s getting the same amount of reps as the rest of those guys,” Beaty said this week. “He’s doing some good things, but he’s also learning the system.”
Cozart, meanwhile, is the known quantity, which may or may not help his case. In limited playing time over two seasons at Kansas, Cozart has completed 45.5 percent of his passes while throwing five touchdowns and nine touchdowns. Last season, he began the season as the Jayhawks’ starter before losing the job to Michael Cummings, who suffered a torn ACL during the spring game in April.
On Friday, Beaty brought up Cozart’s name unprompted while offering a list of camp standouts.
“He’s done a really good job of managing our team and handling his leadership aspects … and not letting negative things affect him as he has negative plays,” Beaty said. “(He’s done) a good job of rallying back.”
Both Cozart and Ford will get an opportunity to make their case during a closed scrimmage on Saturday, and Beaty said the contents of that practice could help decided the race. For now, though, one thing is clear: Beaty intends to pick one quarterback and move forward.
“With what we do offensively, it lends itself to have the guy,” Beaty said. “So we’re going to make a decision and we’re going to go with that guy.”
Beaty said he wouldn’t rule out changing quarterbacks down the road — if on-field production necessitates a change — but he’s hopeful the winner of the competition will take the baton and run with it.
“They won’t lose their jobs because they’re not prepared; I know that,” Beaty said. “They would lose their job because of production. But at the end of the day, we have to give that guy some rope to be able to toss him the keys and let him play a little bit. We don’t want robots at that position. We’ve seen how that’s gone in the past. We know the way that story ends sometimes.
“We want guys that are going to be able to use their athletic ability to play within the system, but still create some things for us.”
True freshmen in position to play
Don’t expect many redshirts this season, Beaty said on Friday. Facing a roster crunch, Beaty said he expects a large group of true freshmen skill position players to get an opportunity to play. Among those freshmen currently in the mix to see time: Receiver Steven Sims, tight end Jace Steinberger and running back Taylor Martin.
Freshman receiver Jeremiah Booker was also impressing during camp before suffering a cracked collar bone. He has yet to return to practice.
“We’re going to play some young guys this year,” Beaty said. “There will be a bunch of them that will play. We don’t have any plans on redshirting any of those skill kids right now. We just don’t have any plans on it. We don’t have the numbers to do it right now.”