Here’s what we learned about Kansas during spring football:
What we learned about the offense: The head coach is getting more hands-on. David Beaty made a major change this spring by taking over as the Jayhawks’ playcaller and quarterbacks coach. He’s pushing for better tempo and more of an air-raid approach that giving his QBs more freedom to take advantage of what they see. Seeing how sophomore Ryan Willis responded to that new plan would’ve been nice, but Willis missed the spring with a wrist injury. That meant a lot of reps for junior Montell Cozart. KU made progress with its offensive line and needs to keep developing its young receiving corps.
What we learned about the defense: The line, led by defensive tackle Daniel Wise and defensive end Dorance Armstrong, is in decent shape. Armstrong bulked up from 215 pounds as a true freshman to more than 240 and should be a threat. Linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. has made big strides and will be one of Kansas’ better leaders, and Fish Smithson is a consistent playmaker. So there’s some talent at each level … there just needs to be a lot more. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen had his unit go back to basics this offseason, drilling hard on the fundamentals. That reset is probably what this group needed.
Breakout player: Wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez. An ESPN 300 recruit and Under Armour All-American as a high schooler, Gonzalez started his career with Beaty at Texas A&M and elected to team up with his coach again in Lawrence. Gonzalez is excited to be in the spotlight again after sitting out 2015 as a transfer, and his spring game debut – six catches for 115 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown – made a loud first impression. “I think he's got some explosiveness that I don't think we possessed last year,” Beaty said, “so it's good to see him out there.”
Key storyline: Simply put, it’s all about the Jayhawks taking a solid next step in what should be a four-plus-year rebuilding process. Beaty is as all-in on this team, as ever, and proudly touts the progress his players made in their offseason strength and conditioning program. This thing isn’t going to get turned in 2016, but the Jayhawks do need to win a couple games to build some confidence. Against Texas Tech and TCU last year, Kansas came dangerously close to pulling off huge upsets. The numbers situation is still rough from a roster standpoint, but can Beaty and his staff develop enough depth this summer and in fall camp to hang around for more four-quarter battles this year?