LAWRENCE — There’s an old aphorism about quarterback competitions, one you hardly hear from the head coach. If you don’t know who your quarterback is, it’s probably because you don’t have one.
Kansas coach Charlie Weis is familiar with the saying, of course. In fact, he’s been using it a lot lately. He uttered it a few months ago, before he handed over the reins of the Kansas offense to new coordinator John Reagan. And he said it on Monday, three days before the Jayhawks were set to open the third spring of Weis’ Kansas tenure.
For the first time since Weis arrived in Lawrence, the KU quarterback job is an open competition heading into spring practice. And for a program coming off five straight losing seasons, this is both liberating and terrifying. There are no sacred cows on this roster, no transfer quarterbacks who assumed the starting job before their first snap.
But there is also the fear that none of the KU quarterbacks will be good enough to rouse an offense that has been dormant for Weis’ first two seasons. So as Kansas prepares for its first spring practice on Thursday, Weis has pushed one priority to the forefront: Find a starting quarterback … and soon.
“There’ll be some people that say, ‘Well, I’ll be surprised if (the competition) doesn’t go deep into August,’” Weis said on Monday. “That’s never a good thing.”
In Weis’ view, March is as good a month as any to judge quarterback talent. The Jayhawks, Weis says, will be going full speed by the fourth of 15 practices, and all the viable options will get major reps in the coming weeks.
For now, three candidates have staked a claim in the race:
Senior Jake Heaps, who entered last spring as the unquestioned starter, is back after completing just 49 percent of his passes last season. Sophomore Montell Cozart, a Bishop Miege graduate, got his feet wet last year after replacing Heaps midseason. And Weis says UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard, who arrived last fall, will be in the mix as well.
All three will get a chance to audition for the lead role in Reagan’s new spread offense. And some of those reps, Weis says, will come without the safety net of a red jersey — the usual sign that quarterbacks are off limits.
“Because the quarterback runs the ball more than in the offense I ran,” Weis said, “you’ve got to let the quarterback get hit.”
So, yes, the spring should be teeming with intrigue. Reagan, the first-year offensive coordinator, is upfront about desiring a quarterback that can keep plays alive with his feet. That description would seem to fit Cozart, the most electric runner, and Millweard, a steady dual-threat type who ran a spread system while attending high school in Fort Worth. But Heaps, the most pure pocket passer of the group, also enters the fray with the most game experience.
“What Jake has that no one else has is experience,” Weis said. “Experience goes a long way. But at the end of the day, although experience is a definite big plus on his side, when John sits down with the offensive staff, it’s going to be, ‘Who can put us in the best position, based off the composition of what we have — who’s going to put us in the best position to score a touchdown?’”
In his third year at Kansas, Weis is searching for a quarterback. Nobody knows who it will be. But this time, it should be an egalitarian process.
“Usually the cream rises to the top, and I think that will happen,” Weis said. “I just don’t have that answer at this time.”
Weis said that receiver Tony Pierson is feeling healthy after being shut down late last season to deal with concussion issues. Still, Weis says, Pierson may wear a red jersey at times to limit contact during the spring.
Weis released an updated roster on Monday. One player that appears to have left the program: Receiver Ish Hyman, a three-star recruit who redshirted last season.