Heaps looks to build upon previous quarterback’s efforts
- Aug. 21, 2013
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Jake Heaps knows how things turned out for Dayne Crist last year as quarterback for the Jayhawks.
Heaps watched every snap and was able to learn what worked for Crist, and more often, what didn’t. Through it all, Heaps maintained a level of respect for the stoic way Crist carried himself during the difficult moments of the season.
“I learned a lot from how he handled adversity,” Heaps said.
Despite throwing nine interceptions and four touchdowns, Crist wasn’t solely responsible for the abysmal Kansas passing game. Passing efficiency and completion percentage were even lower for sophomore Michael Cummmings when he took over mid-season. As a team, Kansas finished second to last in quarterback rating and completion percentage. Just two teams threw fewer than the Jayhawks’ seven touchdowns.
Coach Charlie Weis holds himself partially responsible for the struggles Kansas had a season ago, but he believes there is a major difference between having Crist at quarterback last year and Heaps being behind center this season.
That difference is health. Crist came to Kansas off two torn ACL injuries, while Heaps has a clean record. Heaps sat out last season because of transfer requirements.
“Jake just had to sit for a year while he was biding his time for his opportunity to play,” Weis said. “They’re totally different situations, other than the fact that they’re coming in new.”
The Big 12 media picked the Jayhawks to finish last in the conference once again, but Heaps embraces the challenge of being an underdog.
“We definitely have to have that ‘us against the world’ mentality and go out there swinging.” Heaps said hours before the first practice of fall camp for the Jayhawks. “All we can do is go out and work as hard as we can.”
Quarterback coach Ron Powlus believes Heaps is ready to do that.
Powlus saw Heaps take advantage of his year out of the spotlight by familiarizing himself with Weis’ pro-style offense and building chemistry with receivers. Both Heaps and Powlus say they’ve already noticed the results of that hard work in camp.
“I think he feels really comfortable with the guys he’s throwing to,” Powlus said. “As we’ve gotten out there the first couple days of practice you can see where those relationships have been built, and you can see how the passing game could flourish because of the hard work these guys have put in.”
The offense is perfect for an accurate pocket passer like Heaps, who says he couldn’t be happier with the system.
Although the offense has many terms to memorize, Powlus said Heaps had plenty of time to learn the terminology and put it into action in practice.
“Jake is a smart guy,” Powlus said. “He’s a hard worker, he’s got a good football mind, and I think he prepared mentally as much as he could.”
And Weis has done his part to give Heaps a more dynamic offense. It’s common knowledge Kansas receivers didn’t catch a touchdown pass for the Jayhawks last season.
This year, Heaps will have transfer Justin McCay, who was the number six ranked receiver in his class out of Bishop Miege High School in 2010, according to rivals.com.
It’s uncertain what Kansas will get from McCay, as he played just three games with no receptions in his two years at Oklahoma.
Still, Heaps is confident in the once highly touted receiver, after the two played on the scout team together throughout the 2011-2012 season.
“Justin has looked great this offseason,” Heaps said. “It was great to be able to go through scout team together and develop chemistry. It’s really paid off for us this offseason because we’ve been able to hit the ground running. ”
McCay isn’t the only added help for the Kansas passing game. Weis has moved running back Tony Pierson to the slot at times, similar to how Tavon Austin was used at West Virginia last season.
His teammates and coaches believe Pierson can go for a big gain on any play because of his speed and evasiveness.
“I think Tony Pierson is one of the top five explosive guys in the Big 12,” Heaps said. “He’s got such a dynamic ability. He has breakaway speed, he can catch the football and great vision in the backfield.”
With those weapons, and a few others, like speedy junior college transfer Rodriguez Coleman, Heaps can’t wait to get the season going. He’s finally back in a position to lead a team.
The leadership role is one Weis said Heaps took immediately following the final game of the 2012 season.
“I think he was just chomping at the bit,” Weis said. “I’m surprised he didn’t meet us at the plane after the West Virginia game, because it became his time to be back in the mix.”
As the Jayhawks move closer to the first game of the season, Heaps is looking forward to running out of the tunnel for the first time in a Kansas uniform, but he remains focused on leading the team as they continue to prepare and improve.
“I don’t care how we get it done,” Heaps said. “We just want to win.”