Big 12 coaches using spring to address issues
By LUKE MEREDITH
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) New Kansas coach Charlie Weis isn't exaggerating when he repeats the coaching mantra that spring practice shows how far his team is from being ready to play actual games.
Weis took over in the offseason after the Jayhawks fell to 2-10 under departed coach Turner Gill, and it didn't take long for him to see why Kansas had a coaching vacancy to begin with.
The Jayhawks have issues on both sides of the ball - including the nation's worst defense at nearly 44 points allowed per game in 2011. Weis took spring ball as an opportunity to start fixing what's wrong.
"My whole mentality is you have to come into a program that's won two this year and didn't win any in the conference and try and get these guys headed in the right direction, where that's just not acceptable on either end. There's a lot of work that needs to be done," Weis said Monday in a league-wide conference call with reporters.
Not all the coaches in the Big 12 have as much work ahead of them. But their programs all have areas that need to be addressed before the players depart for the summer.
It's no surprise that quarterback tops a lot of those to-do lists.
Baylor has perhaps the biggest hole of any team in the country to fill behind center, with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III departing for the NFL. The Bears will likely fill his spot with senior Nick Florence, who started seven games in 2009 as a freshman when Griffin was hurt.
Though Florence hasn't seen the field much since, Baylor coach Art Briles isn't concerned because of his maturity.
"He's already graduated from college. He's already married," Briles said. "He's got a good grasp of what's expected of that position from playing it, from watching (Griffin)."
At Iowa State and Oklahoma State, quarterback battles have dominated the headlines this spring. But coaches Paul Rhoads and Mike Gundy have very different approaches on how they're handling them.
Rhoads has no problem letting the battle between senior Steele Jantz and sophomore Jared Barnett stew all the way to September. Gundy will likely pick junior Clint Chelf, redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh or freshman Wes Lunt as the starter by the end of the week, allowing the program to move forward with clarity at the game's most important spot.
"I'm not a fan of going through the summer and preseason camp with a quarterback controversy," Gundy said.
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones chose to return for his senior year after a disappointing 2011 season for the Sooners, who were No. 1 in the preseason but finished 10-3 and slipped all the way down to the Insight Bowl.
Coach Bob Stoops says he's pleased with how Jones, whose touchdown passes dropped from 38 in 2010 to 29 a year ago, has gone about trying to improve all aspects of his play.
"He's just working for improvement in every part of his game, and that's positive. Not unlike Sam Bradford or any of the other guys we've had here of working hard to continue to polish all his fundamentals," Stoops said.
At Texas Tech, finding a quarterback to put up big numbers in its pass-heavy system isn't usually a problem.
But defense was a year ago under coach Tommy Tuberville, who said the main focus of spring practice in Lubbock was to fix a unit that was nearly as bad as Kansas'.
The Red Raiders lost their final five games, allowing at least 52 points in three of their last four. Tuberville said inexperience and a lack of speed doomed Tech's defense a year ago, but he's hopeful that an infusion of freshman and junior college talent will bolster the returning cast under new coordinator Art Kaufman.
"We've made some strides and we needed to. We weren't very good," Tuberville said. "We will be much better (overall). But it all depends on our defense."
Weis said he was pleasantly surprised by the talent he discovered that Kansas possessed at certain groups like wide receiver and defensive back. But he said the holes the Jayhawks have, such as defensive line, are big ones that have to be closed as much as possible so they aren't bringing the rest of the team down.
Weis said he didn't realize Kansas had a veteran secondary, even if it was exposed some last season.
"I think a lot of that exposure was due to the fact that they needed to get some bigger muchachos up front," he said.
Updated April 24, 2012