LAWRENCE — Step one to playing quarterback for Charlie Weis: Invest in Rosetta Stone.
OK, that’s not quite accurate. But if you listen to a story from KU freshman quarterback Jordan Darling, you get a better idea what it’s like to be under center in the Kansas offense.
It was an August day on KU’s practice fields, the first week of fall camp, and Darling, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East, was swimming through the foreign languages of a 3-inch thick playbook. The coaches called out one play. Darling called another. And it was in this moment, Darling says, that he realized that playing quarterback for Weis takes a rare blend of care and attention.
“I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard a play call,” Darling said. “But it’s kind of like Chinese.”
Darling and fellow freshman Montell Cozart, a Bishop Miege graduate, are the latest quarterbacks to begin a fall course load in the Weis system. But they’re certainly not the first. Tom Brady has been in this position. So have Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen and Matt Cassel.
The job can be intimidating and demanding — like taking a computer engineering class from the same Harvard professor who taught Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. But if you’ve learned the position from Weis, Quinn says, you’ll find a new form of confidence.
“Look, I guess the best way to put it is, there’s not going to be anything on (your) plate that’s going to be too much to handle,” said Quinn, a Seahawks backup who starred for Weis at Notre Dame. “A lot of times, the best want to come play, and they’re talented guys for a reason. So, it’s a challenge, but at the same time, it’s going to help the quarterback as well as the rest of the team flourish.”
This week, UCLA transfer T.J. Milweard, a redshirt freshman, will become the latest quarterback to join the unit, a late addition that highlights a rather interesting trend from Weis’ first two years at Kansas. In 21 months on the job, Weis has won just one game — and recruited five new quarterbacks to campus.
“First of all, this is a quarterback-friendly system,” Weis said last week, explaining his ability to attract quarterbacks to Kansas. “Because everything starts with the quarterback in the system. It usually takes you about a year to get it down, but once you get it down, it becomes pretty easy.”
When Weis hands the reins to junior quarterback Jake Heaps in the Jayhawks’ season opener against South Dakota on Sept. 7, Weis will do so with confidence, knowing Heaps has had a year to understand his way of doing things.
But the addition of Cozart and Darling gives Kansas added depth at the most important position on the field. In limited reps during fall camp, Cozart was able to offer a strong first impression. A 6-foot-2 quarterback with tennis racquets for hands, Cozart moved the offense and threw for one touchdown in KU’s only open scrimmage.
“In the future of this program, the guy that’s really going to be tough to keep off the field is (Cozart),” Weis said. “He’s going to be really tough to keep off the field.”
Cozart also possesses the speed and athleticism that made him a basketball standout at Bishop Miege. But for the moment, he would prefer to be known more for his arm than his legs.
“I consider myself a dual-type guy, most definitely pass first,” Cozart said. “But if everything collapses on me, I feel like I have the ability to take off and run and still be able to make a throw down the field.”
Darling, meanwhile, draws high marks for his size and arm strength. And both young quarterbacks have spent August getting comfortable with the ways of Weis.
“I think we’re just a little past scratching the surface,” Darling says.
Cozart and Darling might both end up redshirting this fall, but both will have more opportunities to learn and mature in the system. The hope, of course, is that Heaps keeps a stranglehold on the job for the next two years. And sophomore backup Michael Cummings also has experience after playing in eight games last season. But if KU found itself in a pinch, KU quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus says both Cozart and Darling could be ready to play this fall.
“I don’t think it’s crazy,” Powlus said. “I’ve been very pleased with their progress. They’re not perfect yet. There’s flaws you’ve got to correct. That’s normal. But they’ve made progress from day one. They’ve gotten better from the moment they’ve gotten here.”