Shortly after his team’s practice Tuesday, Kansas football coach David Beaty was still buzzing about two long runs by sophomore running back Khalil Herbert.
“He’s quick and he’s smooth,” Beaty said. “Really, we need him to have a big year. We do.”
Over the last two seasons, Beaty has often had to rush freshmen into playing time simply because there were few other options. That resulted in a few players making major jumps in their sophomore seasons a year ago, including all-Big 12 first-team defensive lineman Dorance Armstrong and leading receiver Steven Sims.
A similar path could be possible for Herbert, who started KU’s season opener as a true freshman before settling in as the team’s third-leading rusher with 44 carries for 189 yards.
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“He stood out today just because of some of the cuts he made,” Beaty said.
When Beaty talks about Herbert’s running style, he describes something similar to what has brought Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell success in the NFL. Herbert is able to quickly get to the line of scrimmage, yet once he gets there, he is patient enough to make the defender commit so he can follow the block of the lineman in front of him.
“He does a great job from a technique perspective,” Beaty said, “of playing the position the way you’re supposed to play it.”
Health will be a key. Herbert missed four games last season because of a foot injury, returning to score a touchdown in KU’s home victory over Texas before rushing five times in the finale against Kansas State.
Beaty credits Herbert for making his body “thicker” this season. He’s up 10 pounds to a playing weight of 200.
“I’m really pleased with him so far,” Beaty said. “He looked really good today.”
Incumbent Carter Stanley and junior-college transfer Peyton Bender continue to be in a battle for the starting quarterback position.
Beaty described the competition so far as a “roller coaster,” saying Stanley performed better in earlier practices, with Bender improving as of late. That position — like many others — should be settled in August.
Beaty says his team has remained relatively healthy through its first four spring practices.
Center Mesa Ribordy (knee) and receiver Bobby Hartzog (hip, wrist) both suffered early injuries, though those ailments weren’t expected to be serious.