Signs of life: WR Chase Harrell emerging as weapon in KU's passing attack
In 2016, a rebuilding Kansas football team put a far more sound defense on the field than it did the year before, in head coach David Beaty’s first season. Still, KU’s offense couldn’t produce enough first downs or scoring drives to keep the Jayhawks competitive for much of the season. This coming fall, the Kansas offense will look a lot different. And it should be far more productive.
Over the past several days at KUsports.com, we have highlighted some of the spring indications that signal better days ahead for the KU offense.
The days of the Kansas offense lacking productive receivers are through. They went away in 2016, actually, as Steven Sims Jr. (72 receptions) and LaQuvionte Gonzalez (62 catches) became the first Jayhawks duo to haul in at least 60 passes apiece since Kerry Meier (102) and Dezmon Briscoe (84), in 2009 — also known as the end of The Todd Reesing Era.
This coming fall at Memorial Stadium, either Peyton Bender or Carter Stanley will enjoy throwing to far more potential play-makers than their post-Reesing KU quarterback predecessors. Sims and Gonzalez are back, of course, but the Jayhawks also welcome Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot to the field. Those three alone would make KU’s receiving corps more formidable than the units of the past seven seasons. But when you consider the quality of the overall depth of the unit, there is even more reason to be optimistic.
During the Jayhawks’ spring game, eight different players — none of whom were running backs — caught at least two passes. Other than KU’s obvious top two receivers, Sims and Charlot, no one stood out as much as redshirt sophomore Chase Harrell.
Now embarking on his third season in the program, Harrell is beginning to fill out what was a wiry 6-foot-4 frame when he arrived in Lawrence in 2015. KU’s coaches were wise to utilize a redshirt season when they did. Not only was Harrell obviously not ready as a true freshmen, but sitting out also set him up to maximize his impact as a college receiver.
Harrell first provided hints of his potential this past season, when he began mixing into KU’s rotation of receivers. Harrell only caught five passes, but two were touchdowns (third-best total on the team). The Huffman, Texas, native showed up most often in red-zone situations, signaling KU’s coaches’ belief that he could make plays as a big target in the end zone.
Expect to see much more of Harrell in 2017, as a stronger receiver working with improved technique and growing confidence. In the spring game, Harrell caught three passes for 51 yards. The best came on 3rd & 18 in the second quarter, and keyed a touchdown drive.
With redshirt freshman quarterback Tyriek Starks in for a series, Harrell lined up wide on the left side of a four-receiver set. Starks looked for Harrell deep, down the left sideline, and found a window to hit his long target. Harrell came back a step to make a play on the throw and hauled it in for a 31-yard completion.
Although cornerback Kyle Mayberry was right there attempting to break up the play, Harrell achieved a spectacular snag, raising his right hand up to pull in the ball, while making certain to get his left foot down in bounds before his momentum took him out of play.
Harrell doesn’t possess the speed of Sims or Gonzalez or the overall play-making ability of Charlot quite yet, but his height makes him the second-tallest target in the offense, with 6-5 Ben Johnson holding a slight edge. Harrell looks to be on the verge of a breakout season, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think he could end up KU’s third-leading pass-catcher this coming fall, behind Sims and Charlot.
That highlight reception from the scrimmage encapsulated the variety of skills Harrell now brings to the field and signaled just how essential a weapon he could become in KU’s Air Raid offense.
In many recent seasons having one receiver as talented as Harrell would have been a boon for the Kansas offense. Now the Jayhawks have a 6-4 wideout with Harrell’s talents to pair with Sims, Charlot, Gonzalez, Ryan Schadler, Ben Johnson and others.
The 2017 season should feature the most productive passing attack, by far, that KU has put together since the days of Reesing throwing to Meier and Briscoe, and Harrell’s emergence will be key in the offense taking a major step forward.