The Kansas football players will have their first practice of the fall season Thursday night after reporting to campus Wednesday.
Here are a few things to watch as the Jayhawks prepare for the upcoming season:
1. Who’s the QB?
In what seems like an annual ritual, KU has an open competition at its most important position. Coach David Beaty says he’s looking for a “clear divider” in the upcoming weeks to separate top candidates Montell Cozart and Ryan Willis.
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Cozart, who missed the final eight games of last season with a shoulder injury, was one of three KU representatives at Big 12 Media Days last month in Dallas, with Beaty going as far as to say he’d had a “phenomenal” offseason.
Willis, meanwhile, will look to regain favor after starting the last eight games last season. The sophomore injured his wrist in the spring, which kept him from participating fully in practices.
“I honestly do not know which one it will be. How could I?” Beaty said in Dallas. “Ryan Willis hasn’t taken a snap in this (new offense) yet, and there’s no way I’m not going to let him be in that competition. That dude’s good. He’s talented.”
2. Faster pace?
Beaty made the surprising announcement in March that he would be taking over playcalling duties from Rob Likens, with Likens retaining the title of offensive coordinator.
Though Beaty has stated there won’t be much difference with the offense, he has often discussed wanting to see two philosophical changes: a faster pace and an offense in which the quarterback has more freedom.
KU actually played fairly quickly a year ago. The team ranked 38th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted pace measure, which was especially high considering the Jayhawks had little reason to speed things up when they were often trailing by multiple touchdowns. Beaty, though, was an assistant coach at Texas A&M from 2012-14, when the Aggies were pushing the limits on offensive tempo, and he’s likely to try to get back to that type of frantic speed, which can put additional pressure on defenses.
3. Standout wideout
KU has not had a 600-yard receiver since 2009. To compare, Baylor and Oklahoma State each had three receivers last season with more than 600 yards.
The Jayhawks likely won’t be a serious threat in the pass-happy Big 12 until they get a reliable wideout of their own, and the best candidate to break out this season is Texas A&M transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez.
At 5 foot 10 and 176 pounds, Gonzalez is known most for his quickness. He had six catches for 115 yards in KU’s spring game, and look for the coaching staff to find creative ways to get him the ball in space.
4. A better line
After claiming before last season that he believed the defensive line could be the strength of his team, Beaty had to be disappointed after that group underperformed and did little to disrupt Big 12 offenses.
There still appears to be potential for the unit to take a step forward this year. Dorance Armstrong, who had 3 1/2 sacks as a true freshman in 2015, could be one of KU’s best playmakers after adding additional weight. Sophomore tackles Daniel Wise and D.J. Williams also return after getting extended playing time last season.
5. In search of punter
New special teams coach Joe DeForest was honest in April when saying that his team didn’t have a punter yet. KU relied upon Matthew Wyman to handle kicking and punting duties last season, and DeForest said he wanted the senior to focus only on kicking this season.
“I’ve got to either try to develop (a punter) or find one,” DeForest said in April.
KU has two new names on its fall roster at punter: Northwest Oklahoma A&M transfer Cole Moos and freshman Kyle Thompson from El Cajon, Calif. One of them — or someone not yet on the roster — will need to emerge if KU hopes to improve this weakness from a year ago, as the team ranked 125th (out of 128 teams) in Football Outsiders’ punt efficiency measure.