Kansas is set to begin a new era when the Jayhawks take the field for their first spring practice under David Beaty on March 24. Below is a preview of what to look for from KU this spring:
Offensive returner ready to take next step: Sophomore running back Corey Avery could end up being the Jayhawks' best offensive player during his second season in a Jayhawk uniform. His 631 rushing yards and 217 receiving yards during his true freshman campaign are a sign Avery could be a versatile fit for KU’s new spread attack. In an offense searching for playmakers, Avery should get plenty of chances to show his skills.
Defensive returner ready to take next step: Junior Fish Smithson could be ready for an expanded role in KU’s defense after a sophomore season that featured 49 tackles in 12 games. Smithson, who recorded a career high nine tackles against Baylor in 2014, will be asked to bring experience to a secondary that lost three seniors to graduation.
Redshirt freshman to watch: Center Jacob Bragg is the first name that comes to mind and the former ESPN 300 member could earn a starting role as a redshirt freshman. Yet he’s not the only redshirt freshman in the trenches who could draw praise for KU in 2015. Defensive tackle D.J. Williams has a chance to make an immediate impact after winning the George Mrkonic Defensive Player of the Year award for his strong showing on KU’s scout team during his redshirt season. With Keon Stowers and Tederian Johnson departing, Williams will have the chance to step right in and play a key role along the defensive interior.
Most significant position battle: The quarterback battle will be critical even though it may not be resolved until the preseason. 2014 starters Montell Cozart and Michael Cummings return although neither has removed doubts about their ability to be the quarterback to build an offense around as they combined for 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season. TJ Millweard and Jordan Darling will join that duo in the spring competition with freshmen Ryan Willis and Carter Stanley set to kick up the battle another notch with their summer arrivals. It will be hard for the new offense to hum without a conductor.
Key midterm enrollee: Cornerback Brandon Stewart could be the most important signee in David Beaty’s initial recruiting class. JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald have completed their eligibility leaving a void that Stewart could fill. He brings quickness and good instincts to the Jayhawks secondary and should get plenty of chances to make an immediate impact this spring.
Question that could be answered: Who is going to replace Ben Heeney? Sophomore Kyron Watson could mark that off the to-do list with a strong spring. Watson was Heeney’s understudy and a special teams contributor during his true freshman season and could be ready to step right into the starting lineup. A member of the ESPN 300 in the Class of 2014, Watson has impressed since he stepped on campus and should lessen the worry over replacing Heeney.
Question that won’t be answered until fall: Who will emerge at the quarterback spot. The quarterback position is not the only spot that could linger into the preseason with running back and receiver likely to remain unclear with two running backs and four receivers as members of KU’s signing class. Each of those guys will be given the chance to prove they can be playmakers in the Jayhawks offense.