Here are five things to watch for Saturday:
1. The eternal KU question
The Jayhawks have had a quarterback competition heading into fall practices every season since 2016 … and this year will be no different.
From early whispers, senior Miles Kendrick and sophomore Jalon Daniels have separated themselves at the position thus far in spring ball, and both will get a chance to make a good impression during Saturday’s scrimmage.
The two will have added competition in a few months. Jason Bean, a former starter at North Texas, recently announced he would be transferring to KU but is not yet on campus.
2. Rookie standouts?
KU football players — in media sessions — have dropped some hints about newcomers that might be contributors next season.
Freshmen safeties O.J. Burroughs (No. 5) and Jayson Gilliom (No. 10), in particular, appear to be two players to watch for on the defense.
“He’s got a knack for a ball like no other. He’s going to be special,” KU safety Ricky Thomas said of Burroughs. “And Jayson, he just brings the energy. He’s flying around. He’s going 100% every single play, and he’s making plays.”
On offense, Kendrick said to pay attention to 5-foot-8 freshman receiver Kyler Pearson (No. 27) as a sleeper candidate.
“He’s just impressed me on how he attacks every day,” Kendrick said. “Guys look at his size and they want to say, ‘Oh he’s not big enough. He’s not gonna make an impact.’ But when he’s gotten his opportunities, he’s made the most of them.”
Since interim coach Emmett Jones took over that position in March, players have talked constantly about a renewed sense of enthusiasm in workouts.
“He’s an explosive guy — explosive energy,” KU offensive lineman Chris Hughes said earlier this month. “ … When he’s there, you’re gonna hear him, you’re gonna feel him, and everybody appreciates that.”
The style is a contrast to previous coach Les Miles, who was typically more reserved with his players and also on the sidelines.
It’ll be worth watching Saturday to see if KU’s players show an extra spark while emulating the spirit of their current leader.
4. A new offense (for now at least)
KU fans will get their first public viewing of Kansas offensive coordinator Mike DeBord’s new offense during Saturday’s scrimmage.
A few Jayhawks players have spoken publicly about a positive impression of DeBord, who was hired by Miles in February.
“Coach DeBord is a great offensive mind. We’ve got a lot of different things going on — a lot of different formations, a lot of different motions,” KU running back Amauri Pesek-Hickson said earlier this month. “I mean, he’s a genius.”
DeBord previously has spoken about fitting his scheme to his personnel at KU, but whether he gets to do that in the 2021 season remains uncertain. The Jayhawks are set to hire a permanent coach shortly, and with that, could be bringing in a new offensive coordinator to go with that addition.
If KU parts ways with DeBord, it would owe him the balance of a two-year, $1.2 million contract he signed on Jan. 31.
5. A battle on the perimeter
One of KU’s greatest strengths is at cornerback, as Karon Prunty is widely considered the team’s best player following a season where he earned 247Sports freshman All-America honors. Duece Mayberry is a young player with potential, while grayshirt Jacobee Bryant also could be among the team’s breakout players in his first year with KU.
That position group should be challenged Saturday by receivers looking to take the next step. Lawrence Arnold is expected be a top threat after an injury-marred 2020, while Steven McBride is a burner who can stretch the defense vertically. Those guys — along with veteran Kwamie Lassiter and sophomores Luke Grimm and Tristan Golightly — are part of a receiver-DB matchup that will be worth watching Saturday.
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