LAWRENCE — Peyton Bender is Kansas football's starting quarterback, but Jayhawk fans may not have seen the last of backups Carter Stanley and Miles Kendrick.
David Beaty virtually guaranteed as much Monday.
“There’s going to be a place and a time for all of those guys throughout the season,” Beaty said on the Big 12 football coaches teleconference. “We’re going to need all of ’em in the Big 12. It’s a very rigorous place to play for quarterbacks, and every one of these guys has got to be ready to be the starter on a moment’s notice.”
Beaty named Bender his starting quarterback last Tuesday, the earliest the fourth-year coach has publicly given the nod to a signal caller in a preseason competition. It represented the second straight year the senior Bender has won the job, this time beating out the junior, Stanley, and the sophomore, Kendrick, for the distinction ahead of the team's 6 p.m. Saturday contest against Nicholls State at David Booth-Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Bender started eight games last season, while Stanley started four. Kendrick transferred into the program this offseason from College of San Mateo, a junior college in Morgan Hill, Calif.
“The good thing is we know we’ve got three very capable, very talented guys that understand what we’re doing, which is really, really good,” Beaty said.
So why did the KU coaches choose Bender? Strides made in leadership and ball security separated the 6-foot-1, 205-pound native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Beaty indicated.
Bender finished 2017 with 1,609 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
“We’ve only had a few practices since (last Tuesday’s decision), but Peyton has done a terrific job of taking command,” Beaty said. “The things we really enjoyed watching him really develop (are) as a guy who took care of the ball in fall camp — he really worked on that part of his game — and really just watching him take command of the offense."
Bender’s laid-back nature at times became a target of criticism last season, particularly during a stretch of back-to-back shutout defeats at Iowa State and TCU. The Jayhawks posted a combined 127 yards of total offense in those two contests, and Stanley took the starting job following the loss to the Horned Frogs.
Beaty said both he and Bender identified commanding the offense as a must-improve area of the quarterback’s game. To facilitate that change, Bender is one of a handful of KU players selected to address the team after practices, often making announcements and reviewing that day’s performance.
“He has really improved in a number of areas, and (leadership) is one area we worked really hard on with all of our players, not just our quarterbacks,” Beaty said, “really developing a sound leadership plan and what that looks like, how you manage it, what positions have certain responsibilities that are inherent to their roles, which quarterback is.”
That said, Beaty isn’t keen on forcing a new personality onto Bender.
“We also are not going to try to make somebody into something they’re not,” he continued. “Sometimes guys have strengths in one area and when you try to place them into an area they don’t necessarily naturally fit in, it becomes more of a distraction than it is positive. For us, it was getting to know (Bender) and him getting to understand that role a little bit more and meeting in the middle to really becoming an effective leader, and I think it’s really helped him, Carter Stanley and Miles Kendrick with their leadership styles.”
A traditional pocket passer, Bender was the least mobile of the three quarterbacks competing this preseason. Asked if his selection of Bender is a sign of his faith in the Jayhawks’ new-look offensive line, Beaty pointed to the improved depth afforded by the additions of graduate transfers Alex Fontana (Houston), Kevin Feder (Ohio State) and Dwayne Wallace (Cal), among others.
“We’ve got more offensive linemen on the roster than we’ve ever had, scholarship-type offensive linemen, by far. Not even close,” Beaty said. “That is something that we’ve seen already that we think will make a huge difference for us this year, because we’ve got depth two- to three-deep in areas that we do feel really good about. If any of those guys go into the game, there will not be a drop off there, and that’s something you really hope for.
"I’ve said it before many, many times: So that O-line goes, a lot of times that QB can go. They rely on one another. I’m really excited for Peyton and the other guys, because like I said, the Big 12 is a tough league. We’re going to need ’em all at some point, and they’ve got some experienced, veteran college football players that have played a lot of ball that we think — we think — are going to give them an opportunity to show what they can do by keeping them upright.”
DEPTH CHART REVEALED — KU released its first depth chart of the season Monday night, and while many position battles appear unsettled, there were several noteworthy distinctions on the list.
Corione Harris, a four-star true freshman cornerback, is listed as a backup at the position behind starters Hasan Defense and Shakial Taylor. According to the depth chart, Harris is still competing for the second-string role with junior Elmore Hempstead, while Kyle Mayberry is competing for the other backup position with Elijah Jones.
Houston graduate transfer Alex Fontana will be the Jayhawks' starting center, winning a battle that at one point had at least eight players handling snaps in practice. The senior is joined on the offensive line by left tackle Hakeem Adeniji, while battles at left guard (Andru Tovi and Malik Clark), right guard (Dwayne Wallace and Chris Hughes) and right tackle (Kevin Feder and Clyde McCauley) appear ongoing.
Steven Sims will be the Jayhawks' first man up on punt returns, while true freshman Pooka Williams will get the first crack at returning kickoffs. Gabriel Rui and Kyle Thompson will handle KU's placekicking and punting duties, respectively, and kickoff specialist Liam Jones rounds out the key special teams starters.
As announced last week, Bender will be the Jayhawks' starting quarterback, but it appears a backup has yet to be determined, with Stanley and Kendrick both listed as second-string options. Meanwhile, three running backs — Khalil Herbert, Dom Williams and Pooka Williams — are all listed as options to start the season opener in the backfield.