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July 28, 2009

Big 12 notes: Reesing embodies the heart of the Jayhawks

IRVING, Texas - It didn't take long for the face of the Kansas Jayhawks to become the main topic of discussion during head coach Mark Mangino's interview portion of Big 12 Media Days.

Senior quarterback Todd Reesing has steadily played his way to rank among the best QBs in the conference, and it was blatantly clear that he was the player who is going to make this program tick this season.

"What Todd has brought to us is stability at (quarterback), and not only stability, but also excellence," Mangino said. "He has gotten better every year because he works at it. He studies tape. He takes his time away from the game field seriously when he's in meeting rooms and when he's on the practice field. He's been able to spark our offense. He's been able to adlib at times, which is good once in a while. Sometimes he likes to adlib a lot, and we have to pull him back in. We have to reel him back in a little bit.

"But that's what makes him unique, you know, the idea that he believes in himself and that because they're tired, you don't want them on the field at the end of the game when it's third and one, fourth and one. You can't win with it."

Mangino wasn't the only one praising Reesing on Tuesday.

"Todd's one of those guys where you can never stop the play until the whistle's officially blown or until the ball is thrown," KU safety Darrell Stuckey said. "Todd's a very relentless person. He's going to be the playmaker. He's going to be the guy who never gives up. He's going to do whatever he can to make a play, and he's going to do it every single play."

Coming into the year, Reesing might get somewhat overshadowed by the other high-profile quarterbacks in the Big 12. But hype and praise from those outside the program hold little weight for Reesing.

His ultimate goal - one that he and the Jayhawks missed by one game last season - is winning a Big 12 title and then a national championship.

Until then, he hasn't done anything more than any of his teammates the past four years.

"I've played my role," Reesing said. "Everything that I've accomplished is a credit to the guys around me. I wouldn't have had the success I've had without some great teammates and great coaches calling great plays. I think all the guys I've played with the past few years, we've all left our mark."

Other Kansas notes

***Mangino said he expects receiver Dezmon Briscoe to be with the team at the start of fall camp, and that he has been lifted from his suspension earlier this spring.

"There's nothing really to report," Mangino said. "He's not suspended any longer, if that's what you're asking. After spring ball I lifted the suspension, and he's been doing his work. Nothing really to report.

"I anticipate that he (be with the team for the first fall practice). He has work to do, and he's not the only one. We've got several players who have work to do, and I tell them, it's pretty simple: you get your work done, you're with us in August. If you don't get your work done, you're not. We don't cry about it and we don't worry about it. We go on to the next player. But I don't anticipate any issues."

***Mangino might have come to a decision on the spot Tuesday when asked what he planned to do with senior Kerry Meier. Mangino had toyed with the idea of moving Meier, originally a quarterback, back to the position from wide receiver, which he played last season.

While saying he hadn't reached a decision, Mangino ended by, well, presumably making a decision.

"I haven't (decided), but I'm going to do that rather quickly," he said. "We're going to get into training camp and we're going to go about a week, 10 days and study that pretty carefully. We feel good about ( back-ups Kale Pick and Jordan Webb), and so I think we're just going to go ahead and make him a full-time receiver."

***Reesing was asked to look back on his career and pick out one play that stands out as his favorite of all time. The one he picked was one probably all too familiar to Nebraska fans.

"I think the one play that really stands out was when we were playing Nebraska," Reesing said. "I was rolling out, and I took a shot and somehow didn't fall down. Then I kind of came to, and Kerry was laying on the ground and kind of casually got up and took off towards the end zone and I ended up hitting him on a touchdown.

"But what's funny is that we were watching the play the next day in the meeting room, and we were looking at it from the end zone view, and when Kerry was on the ground, he was laying there almost in a pose, like he had his helmet on his hand and he was looking back. Then he saw me not going to the ground when I got hit, and he just kind of casually rolled over and got up and scored a touchdown.

"So we lost it in the meeting room, because he literally looked like he was posing for a picture. It was pretty funny."

-Robin Washut

OKLAHOMA: Sooner defense expects to be dominating

In a league dominated by offense, Oklahoma has a chance to do something pretty special this year on defense.

The Sooners return nine starters, including their entire front seven led by All-American defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and All-Big 12 defensive ends Jeremy Beal and Auston English (2007).

When OU head coach Bob Stoops looks at his front four heading into the 2009 season, he thinks they have the chance to be pretty special.

"I really believe it has a chance to be a true, true strength of our team," Stoops said of his defensive line. "The guys up front there on the d-line, you look at three d-ends that really have been productive in Jeremy Beal, Frank Alexander, Auston English. We really love those guys and how they play. And you've got Gerald McCoy and Adrian Taylor inside that were mainstays a year ago and played at such a high level, in particular with Gerald. You know how special he is.

"Those guys have a chance. We need to get a few more guys. We've got a number of guys, d-ends coming on, R.J. Washington coming on some also and some other young inside guys. We'll see. Hopefully those guys can be a real strength for us. I think our defense has a chance to be quite a bit better than we were a year ago."

McCoy said playing good defense is a mindset, and he feels like this group has the chance to dominate opponents every time they step on the field.

"We just want to be a real stingy defense," McCoy said. "We want to be real selfish and not allow anything. We want to be that type of defense.

"When you watch us on film, we want teams to say 'man, I really want to get past this week and play the next game.' We want to really just put fear in offenses hearts. That's the kind of we want to have. We want them to say 'those guys are animals and we are going to have some trouble with them.' That's just the statement we want to leave."

Other Oklahoma notes

***A big key to OU's success this season on offense will be the play of Demarco Murray at running back. The last two seasons Murray has battled different injuries and Stoops said hopefully that won't be the case this year.

"It was so odd in how they happened," Stoops said. "He has been a little bit unlucky and how odd those injuries -- how odd they were that they happened. They're very unusual how they happened.

***After deciding to come back for another year, McCoy said he took out an insurance policy to protect himself for the 2009 season.

"That's always smart to do," McCoy said. "My family, we trust in God. We believe he wouldn't have me come this far just to let it end. It's always good to have a little insurance."

***Many experts consider OU's McCoy and Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh the two best defensive tackles in the nation. So what are McCoy's thoughts of Suh?

"I don't do any of the comparison stuff," McCoy said. "The guy's a great player, but that's the thing about the Big 12. There's great players everywhere, and he's another one. People consider me good, I think I'm pretty decent. He's a great player and I wish him all the luck. There's great players all over the Big 12."

-Sean Callahan

MISSOURI: Mizzou players say Gabbert has what it takes

One of the biggest questions for Missouri this year will be if they can replace quarterback Chase Daniel, who won a school record 30 games over the last three seasons.

The man who will be called upon to get the job done is somebody Nebraska fans are very familiar with. When the Tigers open up play in 2009, former NU commit and five star quarterback Blaine Gabbert will lead head coach Gary Pinkel's spread offense, and his teammates say he has what it take to get the job done.

However, the biggest thing is Gabbert just needs to worry about himself and establish his own identity.

"Blaine Gabbert is not Chase Daniel," offensive lineman Kurtis Gregory said. "Blaine is taller than Chase and younger than Chase. He's a new quarterback. Chase said when he came in that 'I didn't go in trying to think I need to replace Brad Smith or be Brad Smith, because I'm not Brad Smith.' Blaine Gabbert needs to say the same thing. He can't be Chase Daniel because he's not Chase Daniel. It's like our ticket sales commercial: 'It's my turn, I'm going to go out and do this.'"

The added element Gabbert will bring to the Tiger offense is the ability to take off and run with the football.

With his size at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, not only is Gabbert big, but he's also fast.

"He can run," Gregory said. "In one of the spring practices we put on orange jerseys on the quarterbacks so they could be hit. He ran a couple of guys over in a scrimmage. He just lowered his shoulder and dumped them. He definitely has a little bit of force behind him."

Preseason All-Big 12 linebacker Sean Weatherspoon can attest first hand of Gabbert's ability to run through defenders.

"He doesn't shy away from contact," Weatherspoon said. "He can go out there and dish out some beatings instead of receiving them. I definitely noticed that this spring. He wouldn't run out of bounds, he would lower his shoulder into a linebacker. He's just a tough competitor."

Other Missouri notes

***Only Missouri, Oklahoma and USC have won 22 football games over the last two seasons.

***Like many defenders in the Big 12 Conference, Weatherspoon joked that he was not happy to hear that both Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Texas's Colt McCoy decided to come back for another season.

"I was hoping somebody went to the NFL," Weatherspoon said. "Those guys decided to come back. I don't know if you win the Heisman and come back. I know if I won the Heisman, I probably wouldn't have come back. That says a lot about (Bradford) and his character that he's going to help his football team. That speaks volumes of him."

-Sean Callahan

BAYLOR: Griffin ready to be face of the program

The cameras clicked and flashed incessantly as Robert Griffin spoke to the media Tuesday. He stared straight ahead and tried to stay humble as reporters pestered him with questions about being the school's savior and about the new Baylor.

Such attention comes with the territory. Griffin's marvelous freshmen campaign, along with the selection of Bears left tackle Jason Smith with the No. 2 pick of April's NFL Draft, has created considerable buzz for a program that went 4-8 last fall.

"What he's done for the Baylor national football scene, we're very appreciative of," second-year coach Art Briles said. "We have one of the more dynamic football players in the college world, and it's brought us some national notoriety."

Griffin admitted to reporters he had no intention of playing football for former Baylor coach Guy Morriss when he committed to join Baylor's track team. The hiring of Briles immediately changed his mind.

"I'm glad he felt that way, I felt the same way about him," Briles said. "I wanted him with me. When you've got a guy like Robert, you have a chance to compete on the national level."

By the end of his freshman season, Griffin had established himself on a national level as the best freshman quarterback in the nation. He threw for 2,091 yards and 15 touchdowns and also rushed for 843 yards and 13 scores in 2008.

The stat that surprised teammate Jordan Lake the most, though, was Griffin's three interceptions. It took Griffin nine games to throw his first pick, and he set an NCAA record with 209 passes without an interception to start a career.

"His pass accuracy is far beyond what I thought it would be for a freshman who's labeled as a scrambler," Lake said. "The way he's come in and handled every thing, he's just a rock star in Waco."

Other Baylor notes

***Griffin came to Baylor following a legendary high school track career, in which he set state records in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles and also held the second-best 400-meter hurdle time in prep history.

He was an All-American in the 400 meters last spring and the Big 12 champion, but he gave up the sport this year to focus on spring football.

"I did miss track a little bit," he said. "It's something I love to do but I gave it up for the team so I could gain some weight build some chemistry with the guys."

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound passer put on 10 pounds during the spring for better durability, but added that the weight gain hasn't slowed him down at all.

"I can still hit turbo," Griffin said with a grin.

***Defensive tackle Phil Taylor was already set to enter the season with high expectations after earning Big 12 preseason newcomer of the year honors.

Briles upped those expectations Tuesday.

"I don't think there're five better defensive linemen in America on the field," he said. "The guy is 6-foot-5, 352 pounds and he's got the feet of a 165 pounder. Those people don't exist."

The junior defensive tackle, a Penn State transfer, also earned high praise from Lake.

"He's going to be great for us," Lake said. "He's going to make my life a lot easier, he'll make Joe (Pawelek)'s life a lot easier. He can do amazing things for us. He really is legit."

*** Lake is notorious for his hard hits, and he admit it's his favorite part of playing safety.

"I'm more proud of that than being able to intercept the ball. When you come across the middle, you're going to pay for it. I strongly believe in physical play."

Lake said he grew up idolizing former NFL safety John Lynch and quickly grew to appreciate his vicious style of play. The Baylor senior safety is in no hurry to get into pro football, though, because he knows he'll rack up plenty of fines once he hits the field.

"In the NFL, if you breathe on the quarterback now, you get a $15,000 penalty," he said. "In college, you can get away with more and play the game physical like it's meant to be."

Though Lake couldn't remember his all-time favorite hit, he said he enjoys taking on offensive linemen whenever possibly.

"Linemen always try and go for us little guys that they can push around," he said. "I caught one guy from Oklahoma State last year, he was trying to go out for a strong safety.

"He missed him and turned around, and I caught him on the chin and knocked his helmet off," Lake said. "It rolled like 15 yards."

-Max Olsen


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