LAWRENCE — Let’s start with two truths about the Kansas backfield: Coach Charlie Weis believes junior James Sims is the most “complete” running back in the program. But Sims, a 6-foot, 200-pound native of MacArthur, Texas, will also miss the first three games of the Jayhawks’ season, a three-game suspension that came after he was arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence in Lawrence in early April.
The first truth came out Tuesday, as Weis guided his team through day six of the Jayhawks’ fall camp. But it’s the second part that could add the most intrigue as Weis decides how to divvy up the carries in the backfield. At some point, Weis says, his view of Sims’ potential changed.
“I think James is way better than I thought he was,” Weis said. “He just unfortunately can’t play right now. He can run inside, he can run outside. People told me he couldn’t run outside. They were wrong; he can. People told me he doesn’t have another gear; he does.”
Weis says Sims has responded well since he handed out the suspension during spring ball. But Sims’ early absence will create an opportunity for the remaining backfield candidates. And even when Sims returns against Northern Illinois on Sept. 22 — and Weis says he’ll have no problem playing him right away — it appears that Weis’ preferred offensive scheme will feature a running game by committee.
For now, Weis says, the Sims-free backfield begins with sophomore Tony Pierson, a 170-pound speed specialist who displayed his rare burst in the spring game. Pierson, who says Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles is one of his favorite backs, has the speed and body type that can allow a coach to go to the well of creativity. But Weis would also like to limit Pierson’s touches to between 10 and 15 per game, leaving room for sophomore Brandon Bourbon and junior-college transfer Taylor Cox to battle for time.
In addition, Weis says, Pierson’s skill-set is quite different from Bourbon, a 6-1, 218-pound bruiser from Potosi, Mo., and Cox, who has settled in at 210 pounds after arriving on campus in June. And that means that Bourbon and Cox could blend nicely into complementary roles.
“You have Tony on one hand, and those other guys on the other hand,” Weis said. “It is a really nice competition to see who is 2 and who is 3, or who is 1a and 1b, when you are using a different mentality — other than what you would do with Tony."
Cox, a junior-college running back from College of The Siskiyous, a tiny school in northern California, has impressed Weis.
“There’s nothing to not like about this kid,” Weis said. “He’s tough.… He’s definitely in the mix.”
Cox, 5 feet 11 and 210 pounds, gained 1,507 yards last year in junior college.
Notes — Weis said junior kicker/punter Ron Doherty is likely locked into both those roles this season. But in hopes of lightening Doherty’s load, Weis is searching for someone to handle kickoffs. As in really searching. Weis says he’s checked in with local rugby and soccer clubs, and he may extend the search to the general student population. “Out of 30,000 people in this school,” Weis said, “there has got to be somebody that can kick the ball off out of the end zone.”… For now, it appears redshirt freshman Michael Cummings is slightly ahead of juco transfer Turner Baty in the battle to back up starter Dayne Crist at quarterback.