Kansas gets head start on spring football practice

03/04/2013 11:02 AM

03/04/2013 4:42 PM

Charlie Weis’ second year on the job will begin, officially, with snow piled high on the sidelines at Memorial Stadium. In fact, the snow story is a pretty good symbol for what Weis is dealing with in his attempt to turn around the still-moribund Kansas football program.

After two winter storms pummeled campus, KU’s home turf was buried under a few feet of snow. But Weis, who had moved up his team’s spring practice schedule to get a jump on early recruiting in April, remained undeterred.

The Jayhawks, he declared, were going start spring practice outside on Tuesday. So the grounds crew got to work, digging out the frozen field. And when KU takes the field, Weis can deliver an important lesson to a team that finished 1-11 last season: Sometimes stubbornness in the face of adversity is the only way to get things done.

“They were actually out there with shovels,” Weis said on Monday.

Welcome to Year 2 of the Weis regime, a spring practice slate that will be dominated by a transfer quarterback taking the reins, more questions about KU’s suspect defense and a team looking to make progress after one win in Year 1.

Weis’ first season, of course, was marked by tiny bits of progress and more hard times. He overhauled the culture, putting a renewed focus on academics and discipline. But the black-and-white results — a 1-11 record and 0-9 mark in the Big 12 — were worse than anything experienced during Turner Gill’s two-year stay in Lawrence.

This spring, Weis says he has a better grasp of his personnel, a group that was bolstered by the mid-year addition of junior-college reinforcements. Junior quarterback Jake Heaps, a transfer from BYU, now sits atop the depth chart after sitting out last season. And running backs James Sims and Tony Pierson return after strong showings in 2012.

“Last year, I was just trying to figure out what we had,” Weis said. “We were putting in an offense and putting in a defense, and in a couple cases, you’re putting square pegs in round holes. But you have to have an offensive and defensive philosophy and mentality.

“But now a year in … you start adapting what you do to who you have.”

One example: Weis said Monday that he wants to make sure Sims and Pierson are on the field at the same time next season. After watching how West Virginia mobilized Tavon Austin in the running and passing games last season, Weis believes the speedy and smallish Pierson can play a similar role for Kansas.

“I said, ‘We got a guy like that, but we don’t use him like that.’ ” Weis said. “So this is a copycat league.”

Kansas will have 14 practices before concluding the spring schedule with the annual spring game on April 13. That will give Heaps an opportunity to cement himself as the starting quarterback over sophomore Michael Cummings, who completed 43 of 94 passes for 456 yards last season after replacing senior Dayne Crist. On Monday, Weis said Heaps and Cummings would be the only quarterbacks to get reps during the spring.

If Weis is more comfortable with his personnel, Heaps says the players are more comfortable with Weis. And that should make for a faster and more productive tempo this spring. And hopefully, Heaps says, a renewed confidence as well.

“The hard part about it last year,” Heaps said, “it had really nothing to do with ability or talent. Because you saw in games that we were in … we have the ability to play with anybody. But it’s the mental aspect of the game, and the team chemistry and having that confidence about you.”

Tharp won’t play in 2013 — Mulvane’s Huldon Tharp will not play his final season of football at Kansas, citing past injuries.

“Physically my body just can’t hold up anymore,” Tharp said in a statement released by KU. “I love KU and have enjoyed my time being a part of the football program. Thanks to Coach Weis’ encouragement I am going to graduate this summer and head out into the real world.”

A linebacker, Tharp redshirted because of injury in 2010. He started nine games last season, missing three with injuries. He had 55 tackles.

Tharp was a freshman All-Big 12 pick in 2009 by several publications, collecting 59 tackles.

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