LAWRENCE — There will not be an anointed quarterback under center at Kansas this spring.
Sure, there’s still a high-profile transfer competing for the starting job, and sure, there’s a good chance that T.J. Millweard will ultimately earn it. But for the first time in two years in charge, coach Charlie Weis is letting the competition play out.
So, Millweard will find himself competing with Jake Heaps, the starter early last season, and Montell Cozart, the talented sophomore who eventually took over the starting job, when the Jayhawks take the field Thursday for their first practice of spring.
“You just have to let it play out,” said Weis, who would like to have the starter settled by August. “I don’t think you can come in with any preconceived notions.”
When he first arrived at Kansas two years ago, Weis quickly named Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist his starting quarterback. Crist played so poorly that he was ultimately benched in favor of youngster Michael Cummings, who didn’t fare a whole lot better.
Last year, it was Heaps — a transfer from BYU — who was identified early on as the starting quarterback. But just like Crist, he struggled to get the Jayhawks’ offense moving, so Weis eventually ripped the redshirt of Cozart and played them both through the end of the season.
Now, throw Millweard into the mix and there promises to be quite the QB race.
“I think that all the pieces of the puzzle will fit together eventually,” said new offensive coordinator John Reagan. “You like to say you’re going into spring ball knowing exactly how it’s going to turn out, and if I said that I’d be lying, because I don’t know.”
Heaps certainly brings the most experience to the table, and Cozart is an intriguing run-pass threat. Millweard was a highly touted recruit when he headed to UCLA, and he spent a mandatory redshirt season growing accustomed to the Jayhawks’ offense.
“I think the cream usually rises to the top, and I think that will happen,” Reagan said. “I just don’t have that answer at this time.”
There are other answers that Kansas will be trying to find this spring.
The Jayhawks will be trying to replace James Sims, one of the top running backs in school history, along with finding ways to upgrade a wide receiving group that failed to make many plays.
The loss of Sims to graduation should be somewhat assuaged if Tony Pierson is able to return healthy. The dynamic playmaker who also doubled as a wide receiver was shut down early last season after a concussion. Taylor Cox, Brandon Bourbon and Darrian Miller should also compete for playing time.
“We’ve got some reinforcements coming in the summer time, too,” Weis said, refusing to elaborate, “so it should be a position of talent and depth for us again.”
The wide receiver corps should benefit from the availability of Nick Harwell, who sat out last season after transferring from Miami of Ohio. Harwell led Miami in yards receiving and touchdowns as a junior in 2012, even though he missed three games with injuries. He was the NCAA’s second-leading receiver as a sophomore, catching 97 passes for 1,425 yards.
Perhaps the biggest change the Jayhawks are dealing with this spring won’t be in personnel but in the coaching staff. Along with a few minor tweaks, Weis decided to hire Reagan away from Rice in an effort to jumpstart an offense that has struggled throughout his tenure.
“I haven’t not been the offensive coordinator since 1997,” Weis said, “so it’s been a couple years, but I think it will give me the opportunity to be a much better head coach.
“I didn’t come to Kansas just to retire. I came to Kansas with a vision,” he added, “and the vision was to turn Kansas from a losing football program to a winning football program, and that is what I would like to do. I think that with the set-up, the way it currently stands, I will be able to help the team much more as a head coach.”