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September 18, 2013

Notebook: Players respond in practice

Jake Heaps is very aware of head coach Charlie Weis' displeasure with the passing game this past week.

The struggles on Saturday led to some movement on the depth chart including moving Rodriguez Coleman to the top of the list at the X and dropping Justin McCay to second team. Trent Smiley also took over the top tight end spot passing Jimmay Mundine.

"When we don't execute on that it really stalls everything and you really can't get anything going and it's frustrating," Heaps said. "We had to make changes and you have to do something to fix those things and it's working with the guys that have been struggling and it's also making changes if needed. I think there's a lot of competition that's going on right now and I think that is good for our team."

Through two games, the Jayhawks have 280 passing yards with a 49 percent completion rate and two interceptions.

The dropped passes have been well-documented since the Rice game. The changes to the depth chart sent a signal the coaches are looking for players to step up.

"I know those guys have been working extremely hard in practice to prove themselves," Heaps said. "I think that is exactly what the coaches have been looking for."


Pierson enjoying his new role

Though it's made his practices more hectic bouncing between the receivers group and the running backs, Tony Pierson is loving life as the Jayhawks' versatile offensive weapon.

"I don't like to talk about it a lot, but I like it especially when your team is counting on you to make a big play," Pierson said. "It brings you more motivation and more confidence. You don't want to let your teammates down. You want to try to make the plays every time you get the opportunity."

So far he's even with six receptions and he has six rushing attempts. As a receiver however, he's been far more productive gaining 127 yards with a touchdown. He has 50 yards rushing. If he had to choose one, he said prefers receiving.

"I'm always in space," Pierson said. "As a running back you have to deal with the linemen first as a receiver you don't have to worry about it."


McDonald making most of second chance at Kansas

It's been a long road back for Dexter McDonald, but he's happy to be in a Kansas uniform again.

McDonald, a Kansas City native and Rockhurst graduate, originally came to Kansas in the fall of 2010 and decided to redshirt. The second year, he saw action in seven games and registered 17 tackles including nine solo stops. He left before the 2012 season and played five games at Butler Community before being invited back.

"I had to go to junior college and realize how thankful I was to be at Division I and go to JUCO without a scholarship and have to work there and provide for myself," McDonald said. "At the same time I had to work and try to get on the map because a lot of people thought I might not make it back to Division I and might be the last they saw of me."

On Saturday he collected his first career interception and through two games he has a team-high five pass breakups.

"I thank God because it's been a long journey for me," McDonald said. "It's a blessing and I'm going with the flow right now. It's amazing thinking about what I had to go through and I'm lucky to be back where I am now."


Shepherd says bonding was key to improvements in secondary

It was a long offseason for the Jayhawks after finishing 1-11 last season and in the early going it looks like the secondary may have improved the most under pressure.

"It started in the summer putting in all that work and grinding every day out there in the hot sun with each other and building a bond back there," junior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd said. "We are all playing to our potential and working hard to get better as a defense and a secondary as a whole."

Personally, Shepard says he's improved significantly as well in his second year on the defense after switching from wide receiver last season.

"I'm a lot more comfortable than I was last year," Shepherd said. "Going in, being able to have a whole offseason, making the transition and then knowing that I have the confidence in myself that I can go out and compete with anybody I line up against."


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