LAWRENCE — Kansas coach Charlie Weis has a pretty simple guide for making player evaluations during fall camp: Production. And based on that measuring stick, Weis said Monday that juco transfer running back Taylor Cox had a slight edge on sophomore Brandon Bourbon in the battle for the second running-back spot.
For now, both Cox and Bourbon are vying for the carries that don’t go to sophomore Tony Pierson, who will hold down the starting position while junior James Sims misses the first three games because of a suspension. And it appears that Cox, a junior from the College of The Siskiyous (Calif.), has been more impressive in practice thus far.
“This is a production game,” Weis said. “You give them the same amount of carries. One guy rushes for 50 yards, the other guy rushes for 25 yards, with the same lineman.”
Weis, meanwhile, continues to suggest that Sims will grab a healthy chunk of the carries when he does return in week four.
“It’s a shame that James isn’t able to play for the first three games,” Weis said. “Because he’s had a wonderful camp.”
Spencer battles injury
Right tackle Riley Spencer continues to sit out because of a “tweaked knee,” Weis said, and the injury has forced KU to do some shuffling on the right side of the offensive line. Spencer, a junior, is listed atop the depth chart at right tackle and could be out until next Tuesday. For now, right guard Gavin Howard has shifted over to right tackle, while junior guard Randall Dent, who just switched over from the defensive line during the summer, has seen some time with the first unit at right guard. Weis suggested that Dent’s rise says more about his progress than the Jayhawks’ depth at the position.
“To be honest with you,” Weis said, “in spring ball I thought he was an offensive lineman the whole time. It’s just we didn’t have enough defensive linemen to get through spring ball. You saw the numbers. It was a disaster.”
Juco transfer Aslam Sterling, who continues to work into playing shape, has also filled in for Spencer at right tackle.
“He’s made a lot of progress,” Weis said of Sterling. “But we don’t believe in just giving anything to anyone. OK, he comes in there, big body, moves around really well — you still have to earn your playing time.”
Heat on the QB
The offensive-minded Weis offered a peek at his defensive philosophy on Monday. You will never see him tell a defensive coach what defense to call, he says, but there’s one aspect of the defense that he will put his fingers on: the pass rush. And he relayed the message to defensive coordinator Dave Campo on Monday morning.
“If there’s not (a pass rush),” Weis told Campo, “Plan on bringin’ it. Plan on bringin’ it.
“I said, ‘If you can get there with four, fine. … But if you think I’m gonna sit there and watch a team go up and down the field on us with us not bringin’ it…”
It’s not official, of course, but Weis tagged senior receiver Kale Pick as the No. 1 player in camp thus far. The honor — again, based on production — came after Pick made a series of big plays during the camp’s first 12 days.
Weis went as far as to mention a conversation he had recently with a scout from the Carolina Panthers in which he gave Pick high marks.
“He has great work ethic,” Weis said, “but there’s a lot of guys that have great work ethic. He’s made plays. It’s always great when the wide receiver makes plays, that’s how you really notice him.”
Weis confirmed that senior linebacker Anthony McDonald and sophomore safety Brian Maura were both battling nagging injuries. In recent days, both players have spent most of practice on the exercise bike. Weis said both players were day to day.
Tavai in shape
Defensive lineman Jordan Tavai arrived to camp late last week after finishing up some juco class work in early August, but Weis said the 290-pound Tavai still showed up in good condition.
“I was expecting less to be perfectly honest with you,” Weis said, “because when you’re taking 900 classes and trying to scramble and get everything done — where were you finding time to get any workouts in? But actually, he weighed in at 291.”
The staff is still trying to figure out whether Tavai would be more effective at an end position or on the interior of the defensive line. But so far, Weis said the highly regarded Tavai had met expectations.
Defensive lineman Ty McKinney, a juco transfer, has indicated via his Twitter account that he’ll be arriving on campus on Tuesday. McKinney is the only member of the Jayhawks’ recruiting class that has yet to report to Lawrence. Weis, however, said on Monday that McKinney was still waiting to take his last junior college final. Weis did leave open the possibility that it may have happened on Monday.