Sophomore Ryan Willis was at the front of the quarterback line.
Maybe that means a lot, maybe not much at all. But the fact remains that during Saturday morning’s open practice as part of fan appreciation day activities, Willis was being treated like Kansas football’s No. 1 guy on the depth chart.
Kansas coach David Beaty continues to say a starting quarterback has not been selected. During a meeting with reporters on Friday, he reiterated that he needed more time to evaluate both Willis and junior Montell Cozart.
“We won’t make that decision until we feel good about it,” Beaty said. “So it could be all the way up to gametime. It could be next week. It could be tomorrow. It just depends on when I feel like it’s time for us to make that decision.”
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Willis showed glimpses of what he could do a season ago while starting Kansas’ final eight games. Though Willis’ decision-making led to some costly interceptions, he displayed a strong arm and also toughness after taking numerous hits while playing behind an inexperienced offensive line.
Cozart, meanwhile, has had opportunities to start each of the Jayhawks’ last two seasons and has had inconsistent results. He was lauded by Beaty for a strong offseason, though, and was voted a team captain in 2015.
“We’ve got really good players, so it would be a different deal if I thought we didn’t have much to choose from,” Beaty said. “But those dudes are all really talented.”
Beaty, who doubles as the team’s quarterbacks coach, is evaluating more than throws as well.
“The thing that we really have to do as a quarterback right now in our program is we have to have a guy, whoever it is in there, that can control that team and do a good job of managing that team,” Beaty said. “The leadership aspect is going to be huge for us.”
The coach has been harping on tiny details in practice. He tells the quarterbacks they need to be aware of their facial expressions while working to get teammates ready for the next play.
“The team goes as you go,” Willis said. “So if you’re showing bad body language, something else is going to happen elsewhere. The left tackle might think, ‘Oh crap. What’s wrong with him?’ It all starts at quarterback.”
Beaty says he’s been around a few QBs who thrived in this aspect. That includes former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, with Beaty saying he was “as good as I’ve ever seen anywhere at his sideline demeanor and his controlling of his team.”
Former Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing also fit the same mold.
“He was never out of it,” Beaty said of Reesing. “His body language was always one that … we could be down three touchdowns, and he’d be telling (receiver) Kerry (Meier), ‘Hey listen, you’re going to hitch and go here, and I’m going to put you over on this.’ He’d be over there drawing things up in the dirt.”
Though Beaty hasn’t consistently seen these same mannerisms with this year’s quarterbacks, he’s not discouraged at this early stage.
“They’re progressing well,” Beaty said, “but we’ve got to get better.”