LAWRENCE — Rotating players on the depth chart hasn’t worked so well for Kansas this season, so now coach Charlie Weis is shaking up coaching responsibilities to jumpstart his struggling team.
Weis announced Tuesday that he would change how the offensive staff operates. Quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus will be in charge of the passing game, tight ends coach Jeff Blasko will take over the running game and Weis will oversee the offense and help coach skill positions.
Weis also said he wants to receive input from the offensive coaches, and let their ideas form the base for the game plan rather than formulating the majority of it himself.
The first chance to showcase all the changes comes Saturday against No. 18 Oklahoma.
“I felt that I had to back off a little bit or else we’re never going to get any better,” Weis said. “What happens a lot of time when you have a veteran coach that’s been running offenses for a long time, sometimes you hold in ideas because the head coach or offensive coordinator already has a bunch of them on his own.”
In other words, Weis acknowledged that he needs a little bit of help.
Already, the offensive coaches are taking to the change.
“I think at times I was reluctant to open my mouth,” Blasko said, “and now that I have the freedom to do so, I think it obviously helps.”
The new coaching roles are just the latest idea Weis had to try and energize his struggling offense, which is 115th in the Football Bowl Subdivision at 305 yards per game. He made 13 personnel changes to his starting offense in the past month, not including changes due to injuries.
“This is a large volume of changes,” he said, “but really we only have so many alternatives now. We’re at the point now where we’re not going to throw names in a hat and pick out five and that’s where we go. We have to start settling down into what we’re going to be.”
Before fall camp, Weis harped about the Jayhawks’ depth and even joked he could finally piece together a two-deep. Turns out it’s not much of a laughing matter anymore.
Before Kansas (2-3, 0-2 Big 12) played TCU last Saturday, Weis made six non-injury related changes to his offense. He made another one this week as the Jayhawks prepare for Oklahoma (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday.
“It’s a bigger concern if you aren’t willing to do things to try to fix them,” Weis said. “I think we have an obligation as coaches, especially me, to give every effort we have to explore alternatives we can to try to make things better.”
The biggest areas of change have been at wide receiver and offensive line. In five games, Kansas started six different wide receivers at the two wide out positions, while Tony Pierson held down the flanker spot. But Pierson sustained a concussion against Texas Tech in early October, so Brandon Bourbon moved into a starting role.
Bourbon has 17 receptions, but the other six healthy wide receivers that have started this season have combined for just 18 catches.
Of course, it’s hard for the wide receivers to excel if the offensive line doesn’t give quarterback Jake Heaps enough time to locate open targets. It’s also hard for the line to mesh when it keeps getting rearranged. Weis has used eight starters on the offensive line this season.
“Either they were in a position that they weren’t there at first, or they weren’t comfortable at that position at first,” running back James Sims said. “But now everyone’s in their position that they feel comfortable with.”
Gavin Howard started at center for the first time against TCU. Pat Lewandowski started at left tackle, his position last year. Aslam Sterling started at right tackle.
Howard is Kansas’ third center to start this year, and Heaps hopes he’s the last.
“Center is truly an undervalued position and really gets the whole offensive line going,” he said. “It sets the tone for up front, being able to run inside, being able to run outside, communication, all that kind of stuff.”