Mistake leads to murky future for Sims

For the Kansas Jayhawks, bright spots on the field during the past two seasons have been few and far between. One that has shone the most consistently, however, has been running back James Sims - though an off-the-field mistake might have him on the outside looking in as the Charlie Weis Era on Mount Oread begins.

Anyone who has ever played sports knows there's a long-standing, if unwritten, rule that a player cannot lose his spot due to injury.

Anyone who has played sports also knows that it's pretty much bunk, unless one happens to be Rich Gannon circa 1997, because it's superseded by the golden rule of coaches wanting to win the world over:

The best players are gonna play.

If a running back goes down with an injury, and his replacement rushes for more yards, scores more touchdowns, and just generally performs at a higher level in his absence, the likelihood that the injured back will walk back into his position with nothing changed upon his return to good health is a fantasy.

At this point, one might be wondering what, precisely, this has to do with Kansas football. It's a great question. Right now, there aren't any major injuries to the stable of running backs on Mount Oread. Even Brandon Bourbon, recovering from a leg injury, is simply taking it easy and not sitting out entirely.

And that's what makes the case of James Sims so interesting. Because if a running back on the sidelines due to circumstances out of his control - say, with an injury - can lose his position to another player, what does that say about the chances of one suspended by a new coaching staff for an off-the-field incident?

As most of Jayhawk Nation knows, Sims was arrested last weekend in Lawrence, Kan. for operating a vehicle under the influence. Early this week, Head Coach Charlie Weis announced he had been suspended for the first three games of the 2012 season.

"Every player on our team knows and understands our rules and regulations," said Weis, via press release. "They also know the consequences for violations."

The Turner Gill Era at Kansas featured very few bright spots, but Sims was one of the exceptions. The team's leading rusher during both the 2010 and 2011 seasons, he totaled 1,469 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground.

He's not super explosive. He's not a home-run hitter. But he's solid and dependable, and can be counted upon to make the right choice - whether it be which hole to hit or which blitzing linebacker to pick up - on virtually every play. Rare is the team who can win without an intelligent workhorse like Sims.

But it would be incorrect to assume that even Sims is irreplaceable. Not only is speed back Tony Pierson poised to shoulder a larger share of the workload after a tantalizing freshman season in 2011, but there are other players at the position physically capable of filling that "workhorse" role.

Bourbon tops the list, though he has proven injury prone. Recently shifted wide-receiver Marquis Jackson is perhaps another, with his stout 5-foot-10, 200-pound frame.

Those players yet to arrive on campus might be the most interesting, however. Junior college running back Taylor Cox, a JUCO All-American, isn't so different from Sims in his running style. Perhaps slightly more explosive, he still relies on excellent vision and an advanced understanding of how to use blocking schemes to get the most out of his yardage. And New Jersey native Tevin Shaw, a freshman, was one of the top rushers in the Garden State in 2011.

This depth doesn't hurt Sims as much right now in the present. With Bourbon limited during the spring, he has continued to receive a significant share of the snaps.

That will change come the fall, because Weis will have no choice but to put him on the back burner. How can a coach give a player significant practice reps if he can't even play until Week 4?

He can't. Sims will stay fresh physically on the show team - Weis' scout team - but others will take part in the actual game preparation. Bourbon, Cox, Pierson…all will have their chance to show they can be the man. And if they're successful, it's highly unlikely Sims will step back in to his former spot without missing a beat. Weis has made it clear that he hasn't watched a frame of film from last season, and that past performance is no guarantee of future success.

Now, there are some things about James Sims that should be noted here. For one, he's not just talented, he's experienced. It's entirely possible that no running back will stand out in the first quarter of the season, and heading into the meat of conference play the door will remain ajar. A future definitely exists in which Sims regains his starting spot and picks up where he left off, once again becoming the focal point for the rushing attack.

After all, Weis was very successful at Notre Dame with a back not so different from Sims in terms of his skill set - Darius Walker - so it's possible there is a pre-existing comfort level there.

But, at least on the surface, Weis isn't stressing the situation. Nor should he be. With the talent at his disposal, the situation will likely work itself out. Sims just needs to hope through hard work and an extremely clean nose he can remain part of the solution.


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