LAWRENCE — Steven Sims and Khalil Herbert were two of the Kansas football offense's sharpest returning weapons heading into this season.
Through four contests, though, the upperclassmen have endured dulled starts.
Sims, a senior wide receiver, has only 13 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown for KU (2-2, 0-1 Big 12). Herbert, a junior running back, has 160 rushing yards and one touchdown on just 25 carries.
On the heels of a 26-7 defeat last Saturday at Baylor, KU ranks eighth in the Big 12 in both scoring offense (29 points per game) and total offense (357.8 yards per game). While those are improvements on the team's 2017 numbers, it's fair to speculate how far those numbers might fall with a comparatively soft nonconference schedule in the rearview mirror.
Sims caught 59 passes for 839 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games last season, posting a 233-yard effort against Kansas State that stands as the third-highest receiving total in a single game in program history. Herbert last year rushed 120 times for 633 yards and four scores, also in 11 contests, and his 291-yard performance against West Virginia also ranks third all-time in terms of KU's single-game rushing output.
Over the Jayhawks' last two games, beginning with a 55-14 victory over Rutgers on Sept. 15, the 5-foot-10, 176-pound Sims has five catches for 69 yards, while the 5-9, 210-pound Herbert has four carries for 70 yards and a touchdown.
The KU offense ran 64 plays against the Scarlet Knights and 55 against the Bears. Fourth-year coach David Beaty cited the team's struggles recording first downs -- the Jayhawks had 14 at Baylor -- for the lack of touches for his team's most dynamic weapons (non-Pooka Williams division).
"We've got to be more productive offensively," Beaty said Tuesday. "We've got to get the ball in the end zone, and we've got to continue to work, and we've got to create a way to get our playmakers the ball a little bit more than we did."
Sims and Herbert both said they were fully healthy and, when asked about their lack of involvement in the offense to this point in the season, both took the high road.
"Right where I want to be," Sims said. "I can't complain. I can't make no excuses for me not touching the ball. I've just got to keep coming to work every day and continue to block and the ball will find me. I know what I can do when I get it, so I gotta stay confident and know it's all going to work out."
Sims said he's noticed opposing defenses rolling coverage to his side more often this year, presenting less-than-ideal scenarios for an already conservative KU passing attack that ranks last in the Big 12 at 158 passing yards per game but remains the only program that has yet to throw an interception.
"That's what I work for, I guess, just to have respect from other teams to know I'm a guy that can take it the distance. That's a good feeling," Sims said. "I just have to keep working and getting better because I have to beat those coverages."
Beaty said the best odds in football come in one-on-one passing scenarios and acknowledged the team has to do better in those moments with Sims, who ranks third all-time in career receptions (174), fourth in receiving yards (2,209) and fifth in touchdown catches (15).
"We have to take advantage of it," Beaty said, "because he's one of our better players that we have out there."
Herbert's reduced role has coincided with the emergence of the true freshman running back Williams, who through his first three college contests has turned 46 rushing attempts into 372 yards and three touchdowns.
Herbert said he isn't focused with how many touches he's getting.
"Offensively, we didn't execute enough (against Baylor) I feel like, so we didn't have a lot of offensive plays. There wasn't a chance for a lot of us to be able to touch the ball," Herbert said. "If we execute, I feel like that'll work itself out."
Finding a rhythm can be tricky when one is called upon sparingly, Herbert acknowledged, but he said he and his fellow running backs try not to let it affect them while in turn making the most of the opportunities they get. Herbert certainly did that against Rutgers, springing one of his two carries in that contest for a 59-yard touchdown.
"I would like to see all of them get more carries," Beaty said of his running backs. "The problem is when you don't put a lot of first downs together, you don't get as many plays. ... We have got to string first downs together to be able to give people more touches. It's not as easy as just saying, 'Well, we should have given it to Khalil three times this series.' You've got to string plays together to be able to get more touches for everyone, right?"
KENDRICK STILL DAY-TO-DAY -- Sophomore quarterback Miles Kendrick remains day-to-day with a shoulder injury, Beaty said, though he added the backup is "progressing nicely" and the team is hopeful to have him back as soon as possible.
Kendrick, a dual-threat quarterback who has appeared in every game this season as a change-of-pace option behind starter Peyton Bender, injured his shoulder on a third-quarter scramble against Baylor and didn't return.
Meanwhile, sophomore safety Ricky Thomas, who missed last Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury, has returned to practice, though Beaty said he isn't back at full speed yet.