At 6 feet 2 and a lithe 200 pounds, Montell Cozart has a figure that, upon close inspection, appears built to perform on a Division I football field. You can start with the sprinter’s stride, the quick-twitch athleticism of a 200-meter runner. Then move to the coordination and touch of a former high school basketball star at Bishop Miege.
“He's way too good of an athlete to be standing over there by me,” Kansas coach David Beaty said.
If Beaty means this literally, it may be time to address one of the most intriguing questions of Kansas’ ongoing rebuilding job. Cozart, junior quarterback, won’t play Saturday at Oklahoma State, missing his third straight game since suffering a shoulder sprain at Iowa State on Oct. 3. But Cozart will return at some point and the more pressing issue, for now, centers on Cozart’s long-term future. As true freshman quarterback Ryan Willis continues to make a strong case for the starting job, Cozart could become a natural candidate for a position switch. Beaty confirmed as much this week, but added few specifics, leaving the issue somewhat vague.
“Right now, I don't have any plans for him doing anything other than quarterback right now at this moment,” Beaty said. “But that could change moving forward.”
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Cozart took reps at wide receiver during spring practice, Beaty said, a position that could suit his size and athleticism. Beaty added, though, that Cozart’s skill-set could allow him to play on the defensive side, too.
“I think that guy could do a lot of different things for you, for sure,” Beaty said. “He can play on the defensive side. He can play on the offensive side. He's a good athlete.”
Even before Beaty took over the Kansas program last December, Cozart has long profiled as a player who could benefit from a position switch, especially after experiencing growing pains under center during his freshman and sophomore seasons. After playing limited snaps as a freshman, Cozart won the starting job last season before being replaced midseason by Michael Cummings.
Cozart reclaimed the starting quarterback job this fall after Cummings suffered a season-ending knee injury in the spring. In moments, he played the best football of his career. But in the weeks since he went down against Iowa State, Willis has offered glimpses of the vast potential in his strong right arm. In his second career start, Willis completed 35 of 50 pass attempts for 330 yards last week in a 30-20 loss to Texas Tech. The completions, attempts and passing yards were all KU freshman records, and Willis will have six more games to make progress, beginning at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Oklahoma State.
Beaty has been cautious about anointing Willis the full-time starter, but the early returns suggest he’s at least talented enough to lock down the job, which turns the spotlight back to Cozart. When Cozart returns to the field at some point this season, Beaty could have a decision to make.
In the past, Cozart has been clear that he came to Kansas to play quarterback. When asked about the possibility of moving to receiver in the spring, Cozart said he was open to the idea — but reiterated his desire to stay under center.
“I’ve never played receiver or anything like that,” Cozart said in April. “I came here to play quarterback. If it’s to work out [best] for the team, I’m willing to do it. The only other position I played in my lifetime was (cornerback), so I’ve never had any experience playing receiver or different things like that. But if it’s to benefit the team, I’m willing to do it.”
Beaty has also shown a willingness to be flexible with his roster. Sophomore Derrick Neal has seen some time at cornerback after beginning the season at receiver, and Beaty has repeated one of his coaching philosophies: He doesn’t want an athlete like Cozart on the sidelines.
“We're going to find a way to get our best players on the field,” Beaty said, “whether he's at quarterback, receiver (or) defensive back. Wherever we got to be, we're going to find a way to get those best players on the field.”