Practice Impressions: Aug. 3

The 2012 season is officially underway, and Friday the Kansas Jayhawks took to the practice fields for the second time during training camp. Media was allowed access to the first 20 minutes of practice, and Phog.net was on the sidelines. Here are a few brief impressions from our first glimpse of the team.

* Let's go ahead and get this out there - it's hard to draw an accurate picture from a 20-minute slice of practice time, a significant chunk of which consisted of simple stretching and warmups. Not that we're complaining - any access is great access, and nobody should really expect the media to be allowed to watch anything of significance. That's the way it works in big-time football, and Charlie Weis is running a big-time program at Kansas.

* Even so, certain things are easily visible to the naked eye. Things like the impact of the strength and conditioning program. Weis seemed pleased as punch during Wednesday's season-opening presser with the results of strength coach Scott Holsopple's work, and it's really not difficult to see why. The change to the team physically is eye-popping almost across the board. Some who stood out in particular were John Williams, Pat Lewandowski, Toben Opurum and freshmen offensive linemen Brian Beckmann and Sean Connolly. But really everyone has upgraded. It may not make them better football players, it may not get them more wins, but this looks like a Big 12 football team.

* Aslam Sterling is a big, big dude. He looks every bit of his listed 6-foot-5 and 360 pounds. The plan was to put him through some light paces today as he only just arrived on campus, and he looked surprisingly nimble on his feet for a man with that type of sheer mass.

* JUCO corner Nasir Moore is slight of build at just 170 pounds, but man is that cat quick. He looks to have excellent change of direction and acceleration, traits which can't be valued enough in a defensive back.

* The energy level was off the charts. Some of it was manufactured by the sound system blasting a mixture of rap and classic rock during the first part of practice, sure, but who cares? It worked. The music bled over and fed into the tempo of the drill work the coaches established, and both practice fields were an absolutely flurry of movement.

* The investment in the team by the players seems to be greater than in recent years. It could be due to an abundance of quality senior leadership, guys like Tanner Hawkinson, Toben Opurum, Duane Zlatnik, etc., but it's also likely the product emerging on the other side of what was, by all accounts, an absolutely brutal summer in the weight room and on the field with Holsopple. If one player began to falter, the leaders were there with an exhortation to get their rear ends in gear. That's a great sign.

* The amount of coaching taking place is really pretty insane. We don't want to get into the nasty business of comparing this regime with the previous one on a regular basis - much as the current coaches and team avoid those situations as well. It's for good reason. It's not productive.

But there's no denying that things are simply different. Discipline is being instilled at a basic level - tight ends coach Jeff Blasko barked at Jimmay Mundine for taking his helmet off while waiting in line for a drill - but it's not overly critical or harsh. It's just teaching. They're right there with words of constructive criticism or praise, or even a verbal kick in the pants if that's what the player needs after a repetition. And it's true of every position coach on the field from what we saw.

* With all the access we're being allowed, we're taking advantage of it by focusing on a different position group every time we're allowed into practice. Today was the offensive line.

Watching Tim Grunhard coach is fun. There's really no other word for it. If one were an offensive lineman in days gone by, he's the type of coach one would want to play for. He's gets after it. He's in their faces - loudly - with encouragement, technique corrections and criticisms. He just seems as if he's in his element and is enjoying himself immensely, and the players respond. As we mentioned, the repetitions were rapid-fire and the players did as much coaching and critiquing as Grunhard himself at times. They were all in.

Physically, this looks like a big 12 unit. The left side of the line is rock solid with Hawkinson, Zlatnik and Trevor Marrongelli. There are some questions on the right side, but between guys like Gavin Howard, Riley Spencer, Sterling, Luke Luhrsen and more it looks like they'll find a pair of candidates to lock things down. Grunhard believes they'll be able to run the ball. The players believe they'll be able to run the ball. Physically, they sure look like they should be able to run the ball.

The younger generation looks promising as well. We were extremely impressed with freshmen Beckmann and Connolly, both who look to have trimmed down on body fat considerably while remaining 300-plus. They moved exceedingly well during drills, and while "they still don't know what they don't know" in Grunhard's words, they look the part for the future.

We won't be at Saturday's practice, instead covering the men's basketball team's final practice before heading out on their exhibition tour to Europe, but we'll be back at it Sunday with more impressions and interviews.


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