Cozart was big winner of KU’s spring game — but take that with a grain of salt

Sophomore Montell Cozart went 6-for-10 passing and rushed for 70 yards and two scores.

Orlin Wagner

LAWRENCE, Kan. — The best pass Saturday was thrown by a wide receiver, if that tells you anything about where the Great Jayhawk Quarterback Derby, Year III, is at the moment.

Mind you, the toss in question was pure poetry. Tre’ Parmalee, taking a second-quarter reverse, rolled to his right and fired up a pressured, contested lob to fellow wideout Andrew Turzilli for a 26-yard score. That was the first touchdown of the 2014 Kansas football spring game, and damned if it wasn’t also the prettiest.

"As a matter of fact," KU coach Charlie Weis cracked after watching the Blue (starters) rally to a 20-10 win over the White (reserves) on a sun-soaked, blustery day at Memorial Stadium, "I said in the locker room after the game, ‘We finally found a Bishop Miege quarterback that can throw.’"

A chorus of weak scribe laughter ensued, and Uncle Charlie smiled. Weis has four victories in his first 24 tilts as the Jayhawks’ coach. But the man has yet to lose a news conference.

"I had to give him some stuff about it," KU sophomore signal-caller Montell Cozart, who actually played quarterback at Miege, said of Parmalee, his roommate and old high school teammate. "You know, I definitely had to get on Tre’ about that, throwing touchdowns. But he let it go, he threw a perfect ball, right over the top to Turzilli."

Uncle Charlie was teasing, of course, in a way that only Uncle Charlie can. Because among the guys actually here to play quarterback on Saturday, there was Cozart (6-for-10 passing, 70 yards rushing, two scores on the ground), and … then there was everybody else.

No. Scratch that. There was Cozart, then Parmalee, and then everybody else.

"I feel like Montell is, you know, the guy," senior defensive tackle Keon Stowers declared. "And this is from play. This is from maturity.

"And playing against him this whole spring, I really saw it. I saw it last year, and I saw it playing against him this spring."

The official word from Weis, putting on his poker face again, is that the race is ongoing, and probably will be well into August’s preseason camp. Which, of course, is probably a bunch of hooey.

If the options under center are "meh," "meh," "ugh" and "meh with legs," you go with the latter. Every time.

We’re still not sure if Cozart totes the pure, pro-style arm and NFL-ready instincts that coaches and scouts like to get all tingly over. But Dayne Crist supposedly had both of those things, and look how well that turned out. 

KU has tried the sheet music route.

It’s time for jazz.

It’s time to improvise, baby.

One read, two reads, go.

With a new offensive coordinator in former Rice guru John Reagan and at least three new offensive linemen in the mix — note the five penalties on the day, including a cringe-worthy false start that was the first-team offense’s first salvo of the afternoon — a quarterback who can just take off and make things happen on his own beats a beautifully called play that turns into a sack any day of the week.

Especially when that day is Saturday. Especially when you have nothing to lose.

Except, of course, more games.

"What’s different (with) this offense is, you have a lot more freedom to be able to make different reads," said Cozart, who started three games last fall, completing just 23 of 63 throws (36.5 percent) with two picks, "and be able to read one person and be able to come up with different options just based on one person."

The zone read, done right, can mask a lot of little deficiencies, including ones up front. Consider the first four plays by the starting offense, with last year’s signal-caller-of-the-moment, Jake Heaps, under center: false start, incompletion, a 5-yard loss on a reverse, and an 18-yard run on third-and-20.

We’ve seen this movie before. It doesn’t end well.

"It’s good," Stowers said of the zone read. "It’s good for both sides of the ball. … We’re able to practice this spring what we’re going to see this season, so it’s helping both (sides of the ball) out."

Cozart doesn’t have to be the second coming of Vince Young to make this puppy work. He doesn’t even have to be the next Todd Reesing, though that sure as heck wouldn’t hurt. And speaking of the 2008 Orange Bowl crew, a group of ex-Jayhawks from the program’s salad days — and we’re talking only six, seven years ago; it just feels like longer — addressed the current KU roster earlier this week, and stressed how important it was for the upperclassmen on the team to police the rest of the roster, to encourage their peers to spend less time on the blotter and more time in the weight room in the sultry months to come.

"They said that the summer leading into that Orange Bowl year (2007-08), they made a pact that they weren’t going out to any bars (that) whole summer," Stowers said. "And it wasn’t the coaches that said it — it was the team.

"Because when you walk out of a meeting with a coach, you just go, ‘Oh, man, whatever.’ But when you get a guy that’s in the dorms with you, every day, that you eat lunch with, that you shower with, telling you, ‘Pick it up’ and ‘Finish through the line,’ ‘Be on time,’ ‘Come to work out,’ ‘Give it all you got,’ it kind of resonates more."

"Defensively, I think they have high expectations," Weis said. "And when you set high expectations, you’ve got to back it up. Hey, look — I know more than anyone else: 1-11 (in 2012), 3-9 (in ’13), I got it. I got that part figured out. We as the staff know. I think this team has a lot higher expectations than what we’ve (shown) in the last couple of years."

Weis is unbeaten, 3-0 in the spring. The trouble is, he’s 4-20 in the fall, when it counts, which would account for a stadium that was two-thirds empty on a gorgeous afternoon. Boring, it wasn’t: Having already mined the junior college ranks, with, um, mixed results, Uncle Charlie took another page out of the Kansas State playbook with a new wrinkle Saturday: The score was supposed to be reversed at halftime, as the pregame handout to the media stated, in order to "force (the starters) to play from behind."

He needn’t have bothered. The White team led at the half, 7-0.

And that’s the trouble, really, with getting a good read, a fair read, off a KU spring game. A) It’s a spring game, and B) it’s KU versus KU.

The wind dominated the first two quarters. Cozart dominated the last two. Take that for whatever it’s worth, but preferably with a grain of salt.

"We need our Johnny Football around here," Stowers said. "Sheesh. We’ve got to get some (kind) of young talent around here. And I feel like that’s him over there."

With that, he nodded at Cozart, sitting some 20 feet away at another table. We got the message. Whether Weis got it, too, we’ll find out soon enough.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.