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April 8, 2013One of the big question marks going into the spring was which player will step up at wide receiver. Gone are Kale Pick and Daymond Patterson who were the top two wide receivers in catches. Also departed is D.J. Beshears who was one of the key play-makers at receiver.
"It was great for us to get some new blood and competition," said quarterback Jake Heaps. "It was an opportunity for guys to compete for a spot. The guys last year were established. This year it has been up for grabs."
This spring has given several inexperienced players the chance to step up and earn a spot at wide receiver. One of the names that has been consistently mentioned having a good spring is Christian Matthews.
"Look at a guy like Christian Matthews," Heaps said. "I don't think anybody had him projected to be a starter. I knew what kind of guy he was and how much hard work he put in the off season. You get to see a guy like Matthews step up and make plays."
One thing Heaps likes is the depth chart is a long way from settled and several players are fighting it out at wide receiver.
"Everybody else has stepped up their game," he said. "We will get a couple more guys in the summer so that will add to the competition."
Pierson, Matthews growing at their positions
Tony Pierson and Matthews are getting a lot of reps at their positions, which is a new thing for both of them. Matthews signed with Kansas as a quarterback. Last season he was used in the Jayhawks formation. But this spring he has been focusing solely on wide receiver.
"I haven't been in any situation to play quarterback this spring," Matthews said. "It is just receiver and making more catches. I can focus on receiver and getting better there. It is a lot better because I have been able to focus just on receiver."
Last season Charlie Weis found ways to get the ball in Tony Pierson's hands. He finished tied for second on the team in receptions. Pierson can help to open the field and will be a tough match-up in space for linebackers.
"He just opens things up so much more," Heaps said of Pierson. "When you have a guy that is scary dynamic, he's fast, catches the ball well, and the ability. All he has to do is catch the ball, make on guy miss, and he's gone. He's all over the place and that will be predicated off of match-ups and where he will be utilized. It will be fun to see how he evolves. He's had to learn a lot."
Pierson is still learning his new position but won't be totally absent from the backfield. When he was a high school player at Gateway Tech and East St. Louis he was utilized in pass catching situations.
"In high school I was out in the slot," Pierson said. "Then at college I am doing it more and more. It is a change from high school but I am feeling more comfortable. I still have plays coming out of the backfield. That is natural to me. I am just working hard at receiver. When I am at the receiver position and get a ball then it is all vision. At the running back you start out with the ball in your hands."
Players catching opponent's attention
The Jayhawks have been scrimmaging since the fourth practice and are familiar with players they go against in practice. We asked some of them who has caught their attention on the other side of the ball.
"Obviously James and Tony look good," Heeney said. "Jake Heaps looks good. Of the new guys Ngalu if he comes at you and leads with his head he almost gives you a concussion every time. He's so big. If he's coming straight at you, you have to swipe and get out of the way."
Heeney also likes what he sees from the other offensive guards and freshman tight end Jordan Smith.
"Smithburg has looked good and so has Damon Martin," Heeney said. "Martin is very strong. Jordan Smith is a good blocking tight end and he's gotten big. Expect big things from him in the future."
Willis agreed with Heeney on two of the offensive linemen.
"Since guards are always running up on us I would say Ngalu," Willis said. "He comes downhill pretty hard at you. In their scheme Dent also has free reign to hit you. He's looked good."
Matthews goes up against the defensive backs in one-on-ones and scrimmages. The return of Dexter McDonald in the secondary could bring good news to the cornerbacks.
"Dexter McDonald is big," Matthews said. "He's tough to go up against. He's about my height. He's physical and fast. He stays right with you. He's a pretty good corner."