Charlie Weis will face the biggest season of his tenure as Kansas coach in 2014. He has made several changes on his coaching staff with the hope of making drastic improvements in a program that has won four games during his first two seasons. KU holds its spring game on Saturday, the first glimpse at the Jayhawks' offense under new offensive coordinator John Reagan. Here’s what to watch during KU’s spring game:
When: Saturday at 1 p.m. CT
Where: Kansas Memorial Stadium
What to watch for:
Quarterbacks will be live: Weis isn’t playin’ around. If the quarterbacks want to win the job, they’ll get the chance to prove it. “The quarterbacks will not be in red,” Weis said of KU's protected jersey color. “Only one guy will have red on and that will be Tony [Pierson]. The quarterbacks will be live. The goal is for them not to get hit, but in the running game they are going to have the ball in their hands.” Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart have risen above the rest in the competition to start, and Weis said he would play both quarterbacks and use them in different ways if the season began today. Heaps is the better passer of the two, while Cozart has the ability to make plays with his feet.
New offensive coordinator John Reagan’s offense: Some teams elect to go vanilla in the spring game. The Jayhawks aren't one of them. They aren’t planning to hold anything back on Saturday. “John asked me, 'What should I hold?' I said nothing,” Weis said. “Just go ahead and run it. Call plays the way you call plays. You're not really game-planning for this game.” Reagan’s offense will be on full display so it will be interesting to see if any new playmakers emerge alongside Pierson. The opportunity to become a big part of Reagan’s plans is staring every offensive player in the face. Some players will seize it during the spring game, others will not, opening the door for summer arrivals to make an impact.
Nick Harwell and hope at the receiver position: Harwell, a transfer from Miami (Ohio), is making a strong impression for the Jayhawks and looks like he could be a key piece in the offense this fall. No Kansas wideout had more than 12 receptions in 2013, so unless someone steps up at that position, it’s unlikely Reagan’s offense can soar in his first season. Harwell and Rodriguez Coleman appear to be the Jayhawks' most talented pass catchers so a strong spring game showing could help them cement their spots.
Can the defense take another step forward? The difference between KU’s defense in 2012 and 2013 was like night and day. Last season's version was faster, more athletic and more productive than the 2012 squad. Yet it can still get much, much better after finishing in the bottom half of the league in almost every defensive category. KU is hopeful it has upgraded the overall athleticism on the defense again, especially along the defensive line. And linebacker Ben Heeney is a great place to start as defensive coordinator Clint Bowen builds his defense.
Who replaces James Sims? For the first time since 2009, KU won’t have Sims to lean on offensively. The running back rushed for 3,592 yards during his four seasons as a centerpiece in KU’s backfield. Senior Brandon Bourbon gets the chance to solidify his role on Saturday before several other candidates arrive in the summer, including highly-regarded running back signees Corey Avery and Traevohn Wrench.