Blocking? Yes, KU wide receivers are becoming pros
By GEOFFREY CALVERT
LAWRENCE -- The first few weeks after Rodriguez Coleman arrived at Kansas, everybody on the team -- even coach Charlie Weis -- took to calling him Rod.
Seemed natural enough, except that Coleman didn't like it. He sticks to Rodriguez to differentiate himself from his father, who has the same name.
"All the people call my dad Rod," Coleman said. "I don't want them at home to be like 'Rod,' and I look back because I don't know who they're talking about. So I prefer the name Rodriguez."
His name isn't the only thing Coleman wants to distinguish. He and the other Jayhawks' receivers are trying to separate themselves, too.
Kansas (3-7, 1-6 Big 12) is averaging only 12.6 completions per game, nearly last in the nation, so the wide receivers have had to find more creative ways to get involved.
Or more blue-collar ways, such as blocking downfield.
In fact, in last Saturday's win over West Virginia, quarterback Montell Cozart only completed five of 10 passes in his first career start. The Jayhawks haven't completed more than 13 passes in their last six games and have completed more than 16 passes only once.
Meanwhile, the running game is averaging almost 42 carries and went for 315 yards in a win over the Mountaineers that ended the Jayhawks' 27-game Big 12 losing streak.
With a couple nice blocks from his wide receivers, Cozart even had 60 yards rushing.
"We only threw it 12 times and had a couple other passes called that he scrambled for good production that I call hidden yardage," Weis said this week. "Him running for 60 yards was just as important as him throwing for 60 yards."
It might not mean the same to a wide receiver who lives to catch passes. Blocking downfield isn't a whole lot of fun, but right now, it's the best for them to get noticed.
"Everybody obviously knows our pass game hasn't been all that great and obviously we're doing everything we can to improve on that," wide receiver Josh Ford said. "(Weis) kind of puts the quarterbacks and receivers and the whole offense as a whole kind of. Sometimes it's really maybe one group that might mess up that causes another to mess up."
With top playmaker Tony Pierson, who has a team-leading 24 catches for 333 yards, done for the season because of recurring symptoms from a concussion, it's likely that Kansas will turn to the ground even more when it visits Iowa State (1-9, 0-7) on Saturday.
Earlier this year, Weis shuffled offensive responsibilities and took a more hands-on role in coaching wide receivers. He wanted to increase their attention to detail, especially when it came to running routes, and reinforce what wide receivers coach Rob Ianello had been teaching.
To emphasize his point, Weis hasn't been afraid to yank receivers in and out of the starting lineup. He's used five different combinations and six different receivers at the X and Z spots, while Pierson held down the flanker position when he was healthy.
"Any time the head coach comes to position drills, there's obviously a great sense of urgency because I have a tendency when I'm not feeling very well to be kind of ruthless," Weis said this week. "I think that attention to details has paid minor dividends over the last few weeks."
While the numbers haven't been gaudy, the most important sign of progress is that on the rare cases when they're not blocking down field, wide receivers are actually scoring touchdowns.
None of those on the roster last season did that once.
Pierson, Coleman, Andrew Turzilli and Justin McCay each have one touchdown catch, while tight end Jimmay Mundine has four. And given how often they're a target, that's no small thing.
"I feel like I can make plays against big programs," Coleman said. "I just want to be the one to step up and make a play."