Lance Leipold called a meeting of the Kansas football coaching staff Tuesday, which was an off-day for the Jayhawk players.
“We started talking about things and looking at how things are starting to fit together,” Leipold, KU’s second-year head coach, said during Wednesday’s annual football Media Day held after a morning practice at Booth Memorial Stadium.
He was referring to a state-of-the-team discussion following the first 12 practices of the preseason.
“We looked at it as, ’If we were to get on a plane and go play, where we are at,’’’ Leipold explained.
The consensus of those hired to rebuild KU’s program was the Jayhawks are far ahead of the pace of a year ago, Leipold’s first at KU after six seasons as head coach at Buffalo.
“Honestly there were days a year ago where we’re sitting there filling X-amount of spots — the last five seats in the plane (for road trips in which teams are allowed to bring 70 players in accordance with Big 12 rules). We said (last year), ‘We’ll take some of the guys who’ve been practicing hard,’’’ Leipold related.
“Now it’s going to be pretty competitive for some guys that maybe even were in those roles (of playing in games a year ago) or newcomers that thought it was going to happen sooner. It’s going to be very competitive,” Leipold repeated.
The good news for Leipold is he and his assistants still have plenty of time to decide which players to take on the first road trip of the 2022 campaign (Sept. 10 at West Virginia).
First up is a season and home opener at home against Tennessee Tech on Sept. 2.
“It, especially where we are in camp, forces you to be locked in,” Leipold said of competition for spots all over the field. “You better be paying attention when you show up for meetings. You better be paying attention when we do walk-throughs in the evening. You better make sure you know your assignments that carry over into the installation of the next thing because if not, somebody else that’s close in talent level is going to be there to take some of those reps and opportunities away. That’s how you’ve got to build a program in my estimation,” Leipold added of stressing competition.
That includes daily competition at quarterback, despite the fact he has said he expects junior Jalon Daniels to start the first game over senior Jason Bean.
Bean started the first nine games last season before Daniels took the final three. Kansas finished at 2-10, including a Daniels-led win over Texas and narrow losses to TCU and West Virginia to close the campaign.
“I’d say it’s the same as last year for us. We are going in every day trying to compete,” Daniels said at Media Day. “We are going through the same adversities, having the same trials and tribulations when it comes to practices.
“If he (Bean) makes a mistake I’m there to pick him up. If I make a mistake he’s there to pick me up. That’s the type of love you want in the quarterback room,” Daniels added. “We know it’s probably one of the hardest positions on the field. You could put a lot of mental stress on yourself. Having somebody like Bean around me, getting me out of my head when I’m in there, you’ve got to love it.”
Of the QBs Leipold said: “Jason’s decision making and accuracy are probably the two biggest things I’ve seen (improved compared to a year ago). I think Jalon has played well here the last few practices as well. It’s totally different, night and day compared to where we were a year ago in the selection process.”
Running back position is deep
Leipold noted that KU has five running backs who “have all played Power Five” football.
They are: Devin Neal, Ky Thomas, Daniel Hishaw, Torry Locklin and Sevion Morrison. Thomas played at Minnesota and Morrison at Nebraska last season.
Leipold appeared to disagree with the premise of a question from a media member that referred to “guys who got recruited over like Hishaw and (Taiwan) Berryhill (linebacker).”
“Why would you say ‘recruited over?’’’ Leipold asked the reporter, “because nobody got recruited over. Guys got recruited to help make this roster better. I want to make sure we understand that.
“When those guys are recruited they are coming in here to compete and nobody was promised anything. Right now, Daniel Hishaw (redshirt soph, Moore, Oklahoma) is more than holding his own. Daniel Hishaw just wasn’t healthy last year and we had no complete idea of who he would be.
“I don’t mean to be defensive … should (we) get lesser players, guys that aren’t as good as Ky Thomas because we have Daniel? Premier programs in college football keep recruiting. Why wouldn’t we do the same? That honestly is part of the mentality we have to keep changing, inside our program and outside our program. We have to keep bringing in players to compete and go about it. If you don’t like competition, I don’t know if Power Five football is for you or college football in general,” Leipold noted.
He said: “Daniel (Hishaw) has done an outstanding job. He’s had as good a camp as anybody.”
Of Berryhill, defensive coordinator Brian Borland said Wednesday that Berryhill is the most improved player at his position.
“It’s been a wonderful transition,” Borland said of the junior linebacker from New Orleans.
Two former walk-ons awarded scholarships
Leipold revealed Wednesday that receiver Quentin Skinner joins tight end Jared Casey as players who arrived as walk-ons and now have scholarships awarded this past offseason.
Of Skinner, a 6-5 redshirt sophomore from Claremore, Oklahoma, Leipold said: “Great work mentality, has the length and speed we are looking for. He is willing to block. He is willing to play special teams. He runs well enough. He is a longer striding guy. He can take the top off some things for us. He and Steven McBride (6-1 junior wide receiver, Napoleonville, Louisiana) and Trevor (Wilson, redshirt junior WR, Tallahassee, Florida) give you maybe better speed than people give you credit for.”
QB Daniels said of Skinner: “He’s made a lot of tremendous plays spring ball into fall camp. I feel he’s going to be able to make lot of noise going into game one.”
Asked about newcomers at receiver, Daniels also mentioned Minnesota transfer Douglas Emilien. “Outstanding receiver. Once he picks up the playbook 100 percent he’ll show everybody what he can do” Daniels said of the 6-1 redshirt soph from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.