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Skywriters Tour: Kansas Seeking Offensive Boost
August 07, 2014
Wendell Barnhouse is a nationally-known and respected columnist who has spent over 20 years covering collegiate athletics. He has reported from 25 Final Fours and more than three dozen bowl games and has written about the Big 12 and its schools since the conference's beginning. Barnhouse will be updating the Big 12 Insider on happenings and behind-the-scenes information about the conference.

By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

LAWRENCE, Kansas – After two seasons of construction, the Kansas offense remains a fixer upper. If the Jayhawks are going to show progress in Year Three of the Charlie Weis Era, they have to be able to average more than two touchdowns a game.

Kansas has four victories the last two seasons. In 2012, the offense averaged 360 yards and 18.2 points per game. Last season, those numbers dropped to 294 and 15.3. (Ironically, the win total increased from one to three – evidence that the defense is making significant strides.)

Weis, who made his bones as an offensive coordinator, decided to fire the KU offensive coordinator – Charlie Weis. He hired John Reagan to take over as the Jayhawks’ guru.

“I’m looking forward to being the head coach,” Weis said. “As offensive coordinator, you spend so much time figuring out how to get better on offense. I’ll spend time in both the offensive and defensive rooms, but I’m allowing those coordinators to coach.”

Reagan spent the last four seasons at Rice; in 2012 the Owls totaled 5,556 total yards and 414 points. He started three years at center for Syracuse and is in charge of the Kansas offensive line in addition to coordinating the offense.

“From the first time he called me about the job, he’s done exactly what he said he would do,” Reagan said of Weis. “He’s allowing me to do what I want to do. . It’s exactly what I was told it would be and what I hoped it would be.”

What Weis and Reagan – who was KU’s offensive line coach from 2005 through 2009 – hope the offense will be is more productive. Sophomore Montell Cozart was named the starting quarterback after spring practice. He’ll be the third different QB to start a season opener during Weis’ tenure in Lawrence.

“The last couple of years the quarterback hasn’t been productive because of the other positions on offense,” Weis said.

Cozart started three games last season and completed 36.5 percent of his passes, averaged 3.6 yards per attempt and did not throw a touchdown pass in 63 passes. Weis, though, says that Cozart is an accurate thrower who should improve with more experience. But the sophomore’s running ability is what is expected to give the Kansas offense a boost.

“When you’re on defense, you’re concerned with controlling gaps,” Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said. “When you start game planning against another team, you start with the quarterback and if he can run that’s an extra gap you have to worry about.”

Reagan runs the ubiquitous “spread” offense but the adjective is more about where the players line up. As Weis said, if Kansas is throwing it “70 times in a game that means we’re down by 50.” Reagan’s scheme is designed to “put defensive players in conflict.”

Kansas has to replace James Sims, a 1,000-yard rusher but the depth and talent at wide receiver, tight end and running back is the best it’s been under Weis. The offensive line has some question marks, but Weis likes the fact that the depth chart includes 10 players who are 290 pounds or bigger.

“When you look at the two-deep roster we handed out, it’s the best we’ve felt about the talent,” Weis said. “But we’ve done very little to back it up, from me on down. We’ll see how it goes.”

Quick Slants
* Weis is on a weight-loss program with the goal of losing 100 pounds. He started slimming down in February with the help of a doctor from Overland Park, Kansas. “I’d like to enjoy my wife and my daughter and my son,” Weis told ESPN during a recent visit to the networks’ studios in Bristol, Conn. “I don’t want to have worked for 120 hours a week for 30 years and then not enjoy them.” 

* The Kanas receiving corps got a boost with the addition of Nigel King, a graduate transfer from Maryland who is immediately eligible. In the depth chart distributed Thursday morning, King was listed as second team behind Tony Pierson. A 6-3, 210-pounder, King had 33 receptions with a team-high four touchdown catches for Maryland last year. “King looks good on tape,” Weis said. “He adds experience and production. We’ve got six receivers on the depth chart who can all play.”

* Senior tight end Jimmay Mundine had 20 receptions for five touchdowns last season but suffered from too many drops. In the offseason, he studied film clips of each drop and also wore out the JUGS machine that fires football spirals. He caught at least 150 automated passes a day and sometimes the count reaches 1,000. “Now I have way more confidence,” Mundine said. “I’ll line up against anyone, and I believe that I can win now.”

Skywriters Tour, Year Seven
So what is the Skywriters Tour? It was born in a previous era of college football … and media/communications. In the late 1960s and 1970s, sportswriters and broadcasters would gather in a central location and embark on an annual conference-wide tour, traveling from campus-to-campus to cover preseason practices and conduct interviews with coaches and players. The tour provided fans with unprecedented daily coverage from each school by moving the group between campuses by charter bus or air service and thus was dubbed the Skywriters Tour. Since 2008, the Big 12 has revived the tradition and staged its own preseason campus tour to preview the football season.

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