Spring Game Rewind: What We Learned

Now that spring football is over, the interminable wait for the start of fall camp has officially begun. Though the team that takes to the practice fields in Lawrence, Kan. will have many new faces competing for spots of significance on the team, Saturday's spring game still offered some insight into the 2012 iteration of the Kansas Jayhawks.

Here's a few key points we at Phog.net took from the game:

1. The most valuable asset Dayne Crist brings to the table isn't his arm - and Crist has a cannon.

It's been a long time since Kansas had a quarterback capable of making every throw in the book, let alone three - including redshirt freshman Michael Cummings - but that's what the Charlie Weis Era has already brought to Jayhawks football.

Crist has a monster arm, as does fellow ballyhooed transfer Jake Heaps, but what stood out most about his game Saturday was the intelligence and experience he displayed.

For starters, his knowledge of the offense is amazing. Walking to the line of scrimmage, Crist is already dissecting the defense, directing traffic and even calling an audible when necessary. As Weis pointed out following the game, there was even a moment when Crist switched to a pass from the running play his head coach had called - and then had the confidence to justify it to him afterward. In the end, Weis said, Crist made the correct call.

Additionally, his pocket presence was obvious. Now, one might argue that the defensive front he was facing was not close to the quality of those he'll face in the upper half of the Big 12, and that's true. However, a pass rush is a pass rush, and when the footsteps did begin to close in he stayed cool and made the smart play. It may be a football cliche to say so, but it's true for this team all the same - limiting mistakes is an absolute necessity.

2. There are fewer pieces missing in the receiving corps than we initially believed:

Earlier this spring, Weis indicated he was pleasantly surprised with what he had at wide receiver. Initially we were skeptical, because since Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier departed Mount Oread two years ago, no player had stepped forward to fill the void - or even come close to filling the void, really.

And then there's the size issue. The three best receivers on the roster - D.J. Beshears, Daymond Patterson and Kale Pick - are all 6-foot-2 or shorter. Beshears and Patterson both rest comfortably below six feet tall.

But if Saturday is any indication, Crist will find a way to make it work. Patterson, back from injury, looked like his usual self with his loose hips and fantastic acceleration, to go along with very good hands. Pick looked good as well, hauling in a deep pass from Heaps, and it's not hard to see him in a Jeff Samardizja-esque role during his senior campaign.

The real surprise may be Beshears, however. Early on, we assumed it would be tough for him to find a place to play consistently because of his size. The assumption was he would revert back to the slot and see the field in four-wide sets or as a sub for Patterson.

However, Beshears lined up frequently on the outside, and we don't know why it took us this long to make the comparison to former Fighting Irish receiver Golden Tate. Like Beshears, Tate is small but thickly built and strong, with excellent vertical speed. He was a deadly weapon in the passing and return games for Notre Dame during his collegiate career, doing his damage running mostly vertical routes when matched up one-on-one with a corner.

It would be nice to have some size, a guy 6-foot-4 or taller on the perimeter, and maybe JUCO transfer Josh Ford is that guy. If he isn't, however, and nobody of that mold steps up from among the current crop of receivers, it doesn't spell doom for the Jayhawks. There's an awful lot of experienced talent - and speed - at the position. Shame on us for forgetting that.

3. There's not much certain about the the defense at the moment, but…

Toben Opurum and Michael Reynolds are going to be good. Really good.

We expected it out of Opurum. The senior linebacker/defensive end hybrid has clearly thrown himself in completely with strength coach Scott Holsopple's plan. He's bigger, faster and stronger than ever before. This is going to be a big year for him.

But Reynolds was something of a surprise. He built a little buzz for himself last season as a freshman, but he was a flat-out monster Saturday, recording three sacks with at least one that went uncalled.

Weis has been generous in his praise of Reynolds' physical ability - namely his speed - but less so about his mental approach, due to a penchant for failing to give 100-percent on every play. He's young. It happens, and he'll grow out of it. The coaches are all over him about it, and as Weis noted following the spring game they wouldn't be if they didn't believe in his talent.

So much of a good defense starts with a good pass rush, and the Jayhawks have lacked that element of the game for the better part of four seasons. Opurum and Reynolds can be the key to turning that particular ship around.

Additionally, the huge cushions provided receivers by Kansas cornerbacks appear to be (mostly) a thing of the past. Defensive coordinator Dave Campo has his corners playing much more coverage than in the recent past, which is a big breath of fresh air to fans frustrated with getting nickel and dimed to death. It's high-risk, high-reward, but the influx of talent at corner to help Greg Brown and Tyler Patmon, as well as some nice athleticism at safety (particularly in the case of Bradley McDougald) means the Jayhawks have the potential to run it effectively.

As to the rest, well…now we wait. It's going to make for an exciting - if maddening - summer and an even better fall camp, as the Class of 2012 gets settled in and looks to make an immediate impact.

There are four months and counting until the first game, Kansas fans. It's not really all that many days.


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