University of Kansas

Five things to watch in Kansas football’s spring game

KU quarterback Carter Stanley
KU quarterback Carter Stanley

The Kansas football team will hold its annual spring game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium. There is no admission charge, and the game will be televised on Spectrum Sports KC and nationally on ESPN3. Here are five things to watch in the Jayhawks’ scrimmage:

1. Draft excitement

KU coach David Beaty infused some enthusiasm into this year’s spring game by splitting up the coaching staff into two teams before having them draft players Wednesday. Tony Hull (running backs) will coach Team Jayhawks, while Kenny Perry (cornerbacks) will be in charge of Team KU. “At first we were like, ‘Oh boy. This is going to be funny.’ It’s turned kind of competitive now,” KU receiver Ryan Schadler said. “Now that we’re getting on our separate teams, we’re like, ‘Let’s go to work.’”

2. QB competition

It seems like a yearly tradition, but KU will end spring practices with an ongoing quarterback battle. Carter Stanley, who started the final three games in 2016, is considered a quick decision-maker who can make plays outside the pocket. Juco transfer Peyton Bender, meanwhile, has a quick release and stronger arm, though he’s still learning the nuances of KU’s offense. Both will have a chance to make an impression Saturday. “To be able to actually match up against one another on opposing teams, it should be fun to get that head-to-head competition in,” Bender said. “I’m just going to try to go out there, control what I can do and the rest will play out.”

3. He’s No. 1

Though most assumed defensive end Dorance Armstrong would be taken with the No. 1 pick in the spring game draft, Hull instead went with Steven Sims, who led KU in receiving last season. “He makes plays day in and day out,” Hull said. “He’s done it consistently throughout the spring. We thought that was our best chance to be successful.” Sims joked that he wouldn’t be feeling any extra pressure to justify being taken first, but it still would be a good sign for KU’s offense if he has a big game Saturday while showing the same skillset that helped him earn All-Big 12 honorable mention last year.

4. Primary concern

KU’s biggest unknown heading into 2017 is the secondary, as the team lost three starters including first-team All-Big 12 safety Fish Smithson. Saturday should give KU fans an indication of how worried they should be. One early positive has been the play of juco transfer Hasan Defense (pronounced duh-FENCE), a cornerback who impressed so much that he was taken with the fifth pick in the player draft. “It feels like my hard work and dedication is being recognized,” Defense said. “That’s always good to see.” Kyle Mayberry (cornerback), Derrick Neal (nickel) and Tyrone Miller (safety) are other players who likely will have expanded roles.

5. Trash talk

The players aren’t the only ones who will be taking this game seriously. The two coaching staffs are out to win as well, with Perry admitting that he had butterflies while deciding who to take in the player draft. Hull, meanwhile, was asked what he was most looking forward to seeing Saturday; he said Perry’s expression on the opposite sideline after a loss. “That’s going to make my whole spring and year,” Hull said with a smile. “I hope you guys get some great pictures of his face when that clock hits zero so I can put it up on my wall and just be happy with that.” In other words … expect lots of back and forth from both coaches and players Saturday.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell