In the middle of the Memorial Stadium turf, Michael Cummings grabbed at his left knee and rolled onto his side, writhing in pain. A collection of Kansas teammates surrounded the senior quarterback. From his spot on the sideline, David Beaty craned his neck and tried to see what was going on.
It was Saturday afternoon, the first half of the KU football spring game, and a quarterback in a red jersey was laid out in a sea of green turf. Moments earlier, Cummings, the Jayhawks’ returning starter, had scrambled up the middle and absorbed a blow from walk-on safety Michael Glatczak. The hit appeared to cut down Cummings at the knees. It was, to be sure, a nightmare scenario for the Kansas program and Beaty, the Jayhawks’ first-year coach.
“When you see your quarterback go down like that, it takes your breath away a little bit,” Beaty said.
The sight of Cummings going down — and then limping to the sideline — was the defining moment from Beaty’s first spring game, which finished with the first-team Blue squad recording a 20-7 victory over the second-team White squad.
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Cummings, a fifth-year senior, could be in line to start at quarterback in the fall. On Saturday he was limited to 4-of-8 passing for 43 yards before leaving early in the second quarter. After the game, Beaty said Cummings’ knee was still being evaluated by team medical personnel.
“It’s a deal that you’re always scared to death of, because anytime you take a snap you’re at risk of getting somebody injured,” Beaty said of the spring game.
“And we need every one of them. Our roster is to the point where we need every single guy.”
The injury to Cummings was made worse by the presence of his red jersey, which is supposed to signal that a quarterback is off limits to defenders. All spring, Beaty said, Kansas’ coaching staff had hammered home the importance of leaving the quarterbacks untouched. Beaty said that defensive coordinator Clint Bowen was a “raging lunatic” when a defender came close to touching a quarterback in practice.
On Saturday, though, Glatczak was either slightly overzealous or perhaps shoved into the play. Beaty had a bad angle on the play and heard conflicting stories. When he left the field, Cummings told Beaty that Glatczak had been pushed into his legs.
“I’m not sure exactly what happened there,” Beaty said.
For Beaty, who is entering his first season at Kansas with a depleted roster, it was an ominous finish after 14 spring practices and Saturday’s spring game.
The bad news continued in the postgame press conference, when Beaty revealed that top returning receiver Rodriguez Coleman and sophomore running back Corey Avery were both suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Beaty was mum on specifics, other than to say, “Their future is uncertain.”
So, yes, other than a quarterback going down with a knee injury and two key offensive pieces being suspended, it was a solid day for the rest of the program. Junior quarterback Montell Cozart, who began last year as the starter, saw more time with Cummings out and finished 16 of 26 passing for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Cozart threw one interception, which led to the White squad’s only score, but he also connected with transfer tight end Kent Taylor for an 85-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
“I’d like to see him continue to improve, just in his fundamentals and footwork,” Beaty said of Cozart. “Quarterback (play), to me, always goes back to footwork and fundamentals. And there were times when he didn’t operate great today. And as I watched it back there, you literally can watch the fundamentals fall apart.”
While Avery sat, walk-on running back Ryan Schadler, a Hesston native, rushed eight times for 45 yards for the Blue team. Juco transfer Ke’aun Kinner rushed twice for 17 yards.
On the whole, Beaty conceded that he preferred to keep the whole day pretty vanilla. There was no blitzing from the defense. There was no misdirection play from the offense. There were no names on the jerseys or Jayhawk decals on the helmets. There were also no players available to the media after the game.
“We’re trying to take that blue-collar approach,” Beaty said. “We’re not going to worry about the names being on the back of your jerseys, or we’re not going to worry about those decals or any of that stuff. I don’t mean that in a bad way. We just got a lot more to worry about than that.”
True enough. By late Saturday afternoon, Beaty had already experienced too much drama for one spring game. After playing three 15-minute quarters with a running clock, Beaty cut the fourth quarter down to 12 minutes.
It was hard to blame Beaty. Just 45 minutes earlier he had watched Cummings, his possible starting quarterback, limp back to the locker room with a wrap around his left knee.
“Obviously, we’re optimistic that he’s going to be OK,” Beaty said.