LAWRENCE – The early days of fall camp have a familiar rhythm. College football teams trudge onto the practice field. Coaches talk about discipline. Seniors speak about urgency. Every program in America professes to be fully healthy after a summer of workouts.
Kansas’ clean bill of health lasted four days. On Tuesday, KU revealed that senior tight end Jimmay Mundine will be out two weeks after undergoing a “minor” procedure to repair and clean out an injured knee. Mundine, the presumptive starter, is expected to be ready for Kansas’ opener against Southeast Missouri State on Sept. 6.
Despite the setback, the Jayhawks are poised to benefit from the healthy return of two offensive regulars. Senior running back Taylor Cox is 100 percent after taking a medical redshirt last season, while senior receiver Tony Pierson is thriving after concussion issues derailed his junior campaign.
Cox, a former junior-college transfer, is in the mix for substantial carries, while Pierson should be a prime target for quarterback Montell Cozart after recording 24 catches in seven games last season.
“I feel like I’m back to normal,” Pierson said this week.
Pierson is the only returning KU receiver that caught more than 20 balls last season, and he’s still relatively new to the position. After spending his first two seasons at running back, Pierson transitioned into a hybrid role as a junior. Kansas coach Charlie Weis hasn’t ruled out the idea of using Pierson in the backfield this season, but it’s pretty clear he’ll be one of the top weapons in the spread passing attack.
It is, of course, a more desirable position than helplessly watching your teammates finish 3-9.
“I just felt like my team needed me out there,” Pierson said of last season. “But at the same time, my head wouldn’t let me get out there.”
Cox, meanwhile, didn’t count on returning to Lawrence for another fall. Entering the 2013 season, Cox was in a battle with leading rusher James Sims for playing time. His carries would likely have been limited and he had the option of redshirting, but Cox preferred to take his chances and finish out his college career in 2013.
At least, that was the plan until an early-season leg injury sidelined him after six carries in two games. The Jayhawks shut down Cox for the season, Sims rushed for 1,000 yards again, and now Cox begins the 2014 season second on the running back depth chart behind fellow senior Brandon Bourbon.
“It’s never an easy decision when you’re talking about sitting out a whole year,” Cox said. “I just felt like it was best for the team, and I wouldn’t be back in time for me to be healthy.”
The time off also allowed Cox to finish his undergraduate work in the spring. As a result, he’ll be able to leave Lawrence after the fall semester and focus his efforts on sparking the interest of potential NFL suitors.
“I love Lawrence,” Cox says. “So as far as a life standpoint, it wasn’t a hard decision. At the end of the day, I love the game and I’m happy to be back.”