How Kansas QBs learned the offense during early stages of Les Miles' 1st year
Thomas MacVittie was only two-thirds of the way through spring football when he plopped down in one of Mrkonic Auditorium’s numerous seats inside Anderson Family Football Complex.
The University of Kansas quarterback and his teammates had just wrapped up their 10th practice and MacVittie had yet to take off the wristband he uses not to wipe sweat away from his forehead, but as a convenient reminder of the offense’s available play calls.
“These are pretty long,” MacVittie told the Journal-World at the time, glancing down at two laminated notecard-sized lists attached to his wristband, with the name of a different play call printed out on each line.
Although the Jayhawks kept much of the offensive details for Year 1 of the Les Miles era under wraps during media sessions this spring, MacVittie was glad to at least shed some light on the process of learning it all.
KU quarterbacks, MacVittie explained, often reference their wristbands when they’re lined up under center. But the usefulness of the uniform accessory isn’t limited to that situation. The wristbands are most useful for what MacVittie, a junior who joined the program this year as a transfer, described as “the long plays.”
In some situations, the KU offense has two possible plays to run when they line up and the one they choose before the snap depends on what they see from the defense in front of them.
“And we’ve got to check to the right play,” MacVittie explained. “That is what the wristband is for. Those are pretty long.”
How many plays were on there at the moment, with 10 of KU’s 15 spring practices completed?
MacVittie flipped the top flap of plays out of the way and eyed the second card beneath it.
“Umm. Let’s see. We’ve got 34,” the QB replied. “Adding to it every day.”
Throughout the spring, KU’s offensive coaches installed new plays for every practice. And for the Jayhawks who relay those calls to the rest of their teammates before every single snap, that meant huddling up in the QBs room before each of those practices to learn the details.
“This is what we’re gonna go do on the field in an hour,” MacVittie related of offensive coordinator and QBs coach Les Koenning’s typical message during those pre-practice meetings.
“It makes you learn fast, adapt fast and really kind of play on your feet,” MacVittie said of why he appreciated the process. “You can’t be back there thinking. You’ve just kind of got to do. And that comes with preparation, as well.”
Of course, MacVittie took other necessary steps to familiarize himself with the offense, through reviewing practice footage and other measures.
“Every day I come in,” the 6-foot-5, 215-pound QB shared of his spring football study routine. “I think I’m at the facility for probably five hours outside of needing to be. Asking coach to quiz me. Pulling up the film from practice. Kind of getting an edge on any new plays coming in.”
According to MacVittie, quizzes proved to be a valuable factor in his progress. What felt like almost every day throughout the spring, he said, Koenning provided the quarterbacks with brief tests of their playbook knowledge, with the help of senior offensive consultant Brent Dearmon.
Every KU quarterback would be handed a sheet of paper with specific play calls listed. The QBs then had to show off their X’s and O’s abilities by drawing up the plays correctly.
A former reserve QB at Pittsburgh and a starter in 2018 at Mesa Community College (Ariz.), the potential KU starter for Miles’ first season with the Jayhawks, MacVittie said he took pride in doing well on the quizzes, preparing for them by studying the playbook every night.
“They’re random,” MacVittie said of the plays that would show up at test time. “They could be from Day 1, they could be from Day 6. So you’ve really got to know it all.”
By the time the Jayhawks finished up spring football, Miles said they had gone through “at minimum” 50 percent of the offensive playbook. Obviously much more will be installed during preseason camp in August.
Just as he did throughout March and April, MacVittie expects to memorize it all, and prove his knowledge on quizzes and the practice fields. The expectation, he said, is to master the assignments for all 11 offensive players on every play call.
“The reads, the steps, what everybody’s doing,” he said, “to a ’T.’”