LAWRENCE — The quarterbacks at Kansas have been hit throughout spring, from the front and from behind, hard and not so hard, in the pocket and while scrambling during their practices.
No sense is making them wear bubble wrap for the annual spring game.
Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis wants to see what Montell Cozart, Jake Heaps and T.J. Millweard can do when the team plays its glorified scrimmage on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. And it’s hard to get an accurate read on the intriguing race for the starting job when the quarterbacks wear the red jerseys that prevent defensive players for laying a hit on them.
Weis said it’s the first time he’s had quarterbacks go live in a spring game.
“It’s because when the quarterback keeps the ball, you never know how many yards they could have gained,” Weis said. “This isn’t the first time they’ve been hit. The goal is for them not to get hit, but in the running game they’re going to have the ball in their hands.”
That is especially important for Cozart, the only dual-threat quarterback of the bunch.
While he is not as polished of a passer as Heaps or Millweard, he has shown some ability to make plays with his feet. He ran for 214 yards and a score last season, making him the Jayhawks’ third-leading rusher, while also throwing for 227 yards with two interceptions.
He earned more playing time throughout the season in place of Heaps, the former BYU starter who had transferred. Heaps only completed 49 percent of his passes for 1,414 yards with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and that inability to get the ball downfield was a big reason why the Kansas offense was so stagnant during a 3-9 season.
Millweard is the wild card in the quarterback race.
He sat out last season after transferring from UCLA, and while he flashed a big arm in high school, Millweard does not have the experience of Cozart or Heaps.
While the quarterback competition is expected to carry into fall camp, there are plenty of other story lines to watch for as the Jayhawks wrap up spring practice:
—Dynamic playmaker Tony Pierson has not experienced any lingering effects from the head injury that sideline him late last season. And while he has taken hits in practice, Weis said that he will be the only one wearing a red jersey to prevent contact in the spring game.
“After going back and forth, the pros and cons, the last thing I want to do on the last practice, when he’s had such a good offseason, is have a setback,” Weis said.
—Nick Harwell was a record-setting wide receiver at Miami of Ohio. After sitting out last season to fulfill his transfer requirements, he’ll be starting his senior season intent on giving the relatively weak Kansas passing game a big lift.
“He’s also punt returning and kickoff returning,” Weis said. “He’s working both, and Kevin Short is punt returning it and kickoff returning it. All of them are out there.”
—After two seasons of inept offense, Weis decided to hire a coordinator to take some of the workload off his own shoulders. He picked John Reagan, who had been the offensive coordinator at Rice, and insists he will allow him to do his job without interference.
“In the past, I had enough time to run the offense and talk to the quarterback. So now you see so much more,” Weis said. “I spend a lot more time in the day now, I’ll sit with the offense one day, with the defense one day. I’ll just sit there and things will come up and I’ll say, ‘Why would you do that? Explain to me why you would do that?’ So it’s been good, because it gives you an opportunity to challenge them mentally to make sure they’re at the top of their game too.”