(Eds: With AP Photos.)By DAVE SKRETTAAP Sports Writer
Turner Gill didn’t make any promises to his quarterbacks. The second-year Kansas coach certainly didn’t tell them when he would pick a starter during preseason camp.
So when he abruptly announced that sophomore Jordan Webb would lead the Jayhawks into their season opener Sept. 3 against McNeese State, Gill was surprised by his team’s reaction to the news.
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There wasn’t any.
”That showed me he already matured, they were ready for him to take the position anyway,” Gill said. ”Our players have responded to him in a great way, and I would say everything is going great from that.”
Webb was competing with senior Quinn Mecham for the starting job, the kind of position battle that often goes deep into camp. But by choosing his starting quarterback with about two weeks left before the season, Gill allowed everybody – particularly Webb – to get a little more comfortable.
”You still have to compete and get better and all that,” Gill said, ”but it’s relaxed him knowing, `Hey, it’s up to me to lead this team.’ And I know he still has to play better as far as Quinn playing behind, but I think it was better for our football team to get it done.”
”And he was the best guy,” Gill added. ”We just said, `Whenever we believe and see he’s earned the chance to be the starter, we’ll name him,’ and that’s what we did.”
Neither quarterback stood out last season. The Jayhawks struggled under the burden of a new coaching staff and a plethora of young players to a 3-9 finish, the program’s worst since 2002.
Webb was perhaps the more successful starter, throwing for 1,195 yards and seven touchdowns against eight interceptions, but the separation between him and Mecham was almost nonexistent. Mecham threw for 554 yards and four TDs while getting roughly half the number of pass attempts.
So in reality, the numbers were a wash.
The separation didn’t really begin until this summer, when Webb took it upon himself to help lead optional offseason workouts. Running back James Sims said that just about everybody showed up for them, even during the blistering hot summer months in Kansas, and that the team rallied behind both quarterbacks, but particularly Webb.
When he spoke, it seemed, everybody paid attention.
”That was good, because Jordan being a younger quarterback, we know in the future he’s still going to be the leader,” Sims said, ”and that’s going to help us win a lot of ballgames.”
Webb said he worked primarily on the finer points of his game during those offseason workouts. His footwork has vastly improved, for example, and that translates into stronger and more accurate throws, along with a better ability to escape the pocket.
”At this level you can’t really play if your feet aren’t right,” Webb said. ”It’s a combination of little things and big things, but I think with the improvement in my game, it’s going to help us out a lot.”
Jayhawk fans sure hope so.
Kansas finished last in the Big 12 in scoring offense (17.1 points per game), rushing offense (135.6 yards) and total offense (296.4 yards) last season, while finishing second-to-last in passing offense at 161.8 yards per game. The result was a dismal season that included a four-game losing streak to start Big 12 play – including back-to-back losses to Baylor and Kansas State by a combined score of 114-14.
The Jayhawks managed better than a touchdown only once in their final three games, a 48-14 loss to Oklahoma State. And the season ended with the ultimate indignity, a 35-7 defeat to rival Missouri.
Webb understands that the expectations surrounding the Kansas program this season are relatively low, and he doesn’t begrudge anybody who picks the Jayhawks to finish in the Big 12 cellar again.
But that doesn’t mean he agrees with the pundits, either, all those people who don’t get to see the work put in during practice, the time spent in the weight room, the hours studying film.
”We talk about it almost every day, especially when the team is getting down. That’s all we really need as motivation,” Webb said of the predictions. ”You can feel it each week, each day, us coming together as a team, meshing, the camaraderie as a group, and I really think that’s going to show up on the field.”