Dayne Crist: something to be excited about
Dayne Crist threw an incompletion on Saturday that probably made me more excited about KU football than I’ve been since 2008. That says a lot about how crappy the last few years of KU football have been. A freaking incompletion during a spring game can get me excited. But that’s where we are, and at this point, I’ll take something to talk about other than ‘do you think our coach has any idea what’s going on out there?’
Crist showed me everything I wanted to see on Saturday. He looked to be in command of the offense. Tony Pierson said he changes the play about two times out of every five plays, so that tells me he can read a defense — or at least thinks he can read a defense. He was accurate and made the right reads. That wasn’t all that hard to do against KU’s backup secondary. KU’s defense gave up 277 yards passing per game last year, and the dudes Crist was attacking couldn’t even get on the field for that defense. How bad KU’s backups are is scary and was part of many problems Turner Gill had — not building any sort of depth in the program — but that’s a story for another day.
So Crist could make the reads and throw accurately against a scout team D, and that was encouraging because I don’t think KU has had a quarterback who could dominate any sort of defense no matter how bad since Todd Reesing. Really, all I needed to see was Crist’s first drive that ended with back-to-back drops, and I knew the Jayhawks were not going to be nearly as awful as they’ve been.
Crist sort of looks like a machine. Jake Heaps, who was also impressive, is more of a gunslinger in the form of Reesing. It seems like Heaps likes a little chaos. He prefers to improvise like Reesing did. He likes taking risks. Charlie Weis called a flea flicker on Heaps first snap. Heaps is a quarterback with an imagination. Crist is more mechanic. He looks like what you would build if you were putting together the sketch of the perfect quarterback. He’s 6-4. He has a strong arm. His throwing motion is fundamentally correct. Sometimes that’s not always the best thing. There are quarterbacks who look the part but lack the imagination or improvisation to lead a team full of blemishes.
The Jayhawks are full of blemishes. Their starting offensive line is experienced and looked great in the spring game, but the backups are awful. Weis says he’s pleased with the receivers and that’s KU’s deepest position, but the Jayhawks best three receivers are a former quarterback and two guys shorter than 5-9. The guys who look the part (Chris Omigie, Christian Matthews, Erick McGriff) can’t catch anything. The defense should be improved, but of course it should be improved. It was awful last year. It can’t get any worse, and it’s likely to still give up a lot of points. So Crist will have to lead a team with a thin offensive line, munchkin receivers and a defense trying to figure its way out of incompetency*.
*This would make a decent tagline for the upcoming season’s marketing campaign. The Jayhawks should learn from the Royals. 2012 is definitely not their time, but they’re making progress and working their way to the point where they can say ‘this year could maybe be our time, you know, if we catch the right breaks.’
Maybe I’m being a bit harsh. Weis has some help on the way in his Morningstar transfers (read: old dudes who found some eligibility). I’m not totally convinced those guys will be studs because they’re at KU hoping to either find the potential that they never lived up to, or beat the injury bug they’ve never been able to beat. Still, Notre Dame’s backups should be an improvement, and the fact that KU’s current players will receive some form of coaching is progress.
The question I’m glad we don’t have to ask is where would they be without Crist and Heaps. That’s all I could think about after watching KU’s white team led by Michael Cummings. Even if Jordan Webb had stuck around, it would have been difficult for Weis to show much progress his first year. A talented quarterback can make up for a lot of blemishes. That’s how Mark Mangino turned KU into a respectable program. Bill Whittemore made it possible.
Now it’s up to Crist and Heaps. I’m interested to see how Crist will perform against a real D-1 defense when he doesn’t have all day to throw, he has the threat of being hit and his receivers are better covered. The one glimpse on Saturday came when a play broke down, the pocket started to disappear and he had to roll out. Crist didn’t look hurried and fired a beautiful ball about 25 yards down the field to the right sideline. It hit Daymond Patterson right between the numbers — only Patterson was a ½ yard out of bounds. Still, it was close to a perfect pass under semi-duress. It was an incompletion, but it showed me something. And yes, it got me excited to see more throws like it.
It got me to look forward to the 2012 Kansas football season. That’s something.