One potential obstacle for Kansas is inexperience at the most important position -- quarterback.
"It's the youngest group on the football field for us," conceded offensive coordinator Chuck Long. "At the same time, we at least have three years with all of them, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how that develops."
The quarterback who is the most seasoned, sophomore Kale Pick, played sparingly last season as Todd Reesing's backup. He engaged in a neck-and-neck race with redshirt freshman Jordan Webb during spring camp, which the pair will resume once fall practice begins. Neither emerged as a clear leader coming out of spring, when Kansas actually gave reps to six quarterbacks as a whole.
The reason for all the looks was examinations were conducted by new sets of eyes. The coaching change at Kansas prompted Turner Gill to wipe clean any preconceived ideas regarding starters and establish a fresh approach for a team that finished 5-7, but suffered all its losses in succession to end the 2009 season and go 1-7 in the Big 12.
The spring game didn't include any breakout performances, but then Gill opted not to run anything fancy and was concerned mostly with proper execution. Pick played for both squads and completed 14 of 22 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns. But it wasn't as if he separated himself from Webb, a quarterback who may possess more potential.
Given the vanilla flavor of the event, the run game was a disappointment. Rushers averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. The leading rusher, sixth-year senior Angus Quigley, gained 25 of his 35 yards on one attempt.
The defensive unit looked better, though the nine sacks it accounted for were achieved by simply touching the quarterbacks, who were protected from absorbing any hits.
If anything was clear, it was that Kansas has much more work to do in the fall. The loss of a record-setting quarterback such as Reesing, as well as two receivers who were drafted, Kerry Meier (fifth round, Atlanta Falcons) and Dezmon Briscoe (sixth round, Cincinnati Bengals), creates some big openings for a new staff that worked just as hard to promote a more positive attitude as it did implementing a new system.NOTES, QUOTES
--Tight ends figure to play a bigger role in the passing scheme for Kansas under new coach Turner Gill. TE Tim Biere, a returning starter, led the Blue squad with 56 yards receiving and said he observed an immediate difference in his role once spring practice began. "Right off the bat, I think I caught more passes on that first day of practice than I did in about a week last year," Biere told the Lawrence Journal-World.
--Although three long-time playmakers for Kansas were taken in the NFL Draft -- S Darrell Stuckey, WR Kerry Meier and WR Dezmon Briscoe -- the biggest record-setter to exhaust his eligibility was not drafted. QB Todd Reesing wants to move on and play professionally, though the CFL looms as a possibility after the diminutive thrower was not drafted by an NFL team.
WR Daymond Patterson -- After making the move from cornerback, Patterson gained an edge for the starting berth at slot receiver. However, another converted cornerback, D.J. Beshears, enjoyed a better spring game. The pair combined for nine catches.
DE Kevin Young -- The redshirt freshman emerged as a potential starter and looked solid in the spring game, recording two sacks. His contribution came, however, with veteran DE Jake Laptap out because of an injury.
QB Jordan Webb -- Displayed consistency throughout spring camp and moved into a dead heat with QB Kale Pick for the open job as starter. Webb considers himself a "pass-first" quarterback, while Pick was most effective as a rusher in his brief appearances last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Whoever wins (the quarterback job) is going to win it, and I think that's going to be the guy who works the hardest and is the best leader." -- Kansas QB Jordan Webb.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The coaching changeover at Kansas is what will command the most attention after Turner Gill was hired out of Buffalo and promised a more positive approach. Mark Mangino was fired after allegations he mistreated players. Comments from veteran players reflected a better atmosphere in spring camp, though if Gill demands less of the Jayhawks they may continue to flounder after losing seven straight to end the 2009 season. Inexperience at key positions, including quarterback, will prompt Gill to use younger players in many spots, which will probably make it difficult to compete favorably in the Big 12. A tough nonconference schedule, which includes a home date against Georgia Tech, as well as a trip to Southern Miss, makes a fast start unlikely.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Six quarterbacks took snaps in spring camp before the battle at that position was narrowed between Kale Pick and Jordan Webb. Capable playmakers return at other spots, including RB Toben Opurum, WR Johnathan Wilson and WR Bradley McDougald. The line also returns intact, giving the Jayhawks potential to at least surprise some opponents with offensive production. Gill figures to incorporate tight ends more into the passing schemes. Development at the quarterback position, however, is essential, which means either Pick or Webb must adapt quickly to the schemes Gill introduces. If they do, enough decent receivers exists to disperse the ball to, with WR Chris Omigie making a nice impression in the spring. Although Gill promises to throw the ball, look for Kansas to establish the run and then use play-action.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Kansas will revert back to a 4-3 alignment after a 4-2-5 scheme was designed last season to account for the many spread formations run by Big 12 opponents. The defensive front must improve after the pressure the Jayhawks applied last season was spotty, plus the rush defense was vulnerable. Adding another linebacker should help Kansas defend the run, especially if the man in the middle, Justin Springer, continues to emerge as a leader after a strong spring camp. The loss of leading tackler Darrell Stuckey, a safety who was taken in the NFL Draft (fourth round, San Diego Chargers), is the biggest void for the Jayhawks to replace. CB Chris Harris is a veteran who returns, though opponents constantly attempted to pick on him last season when Kansas ranked last in the Big 12 with seven interceptions.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: The return of PK Jacob Branstetter and P Alonso Rojas give the Jayhawks a pair of seasoned specialists who should be better this season. The Jayhawks must find a new kick returner, though Daymond Patterson could handle that role after averaging 8.0 yards on 21 punt returns last season. Improvement on kickoff coverage is also a must.
WR Keeston Terry -- Considered the top high school recruit in Gill's first signing class, Terry could step right in. Gill mentioned his versatility on signing day.
QB Quinn Mecham -- The only junior college transfer to sign with Kansas will be in spring camp and competing for the opening at quarterback. QB Kale Pick, last year's backup, is the other top candidate.
RB Brandon Bourbon -- Committed to the Jayhawks late and was considered something of a coup after putting up big numbers in Missouri at the small-school level.
--WR Christian Matthews, a converted quarterback, turned heads with a long reception in the spring game. Others who moved to new positions in spring camp included TE A.J. Steward, from wide receiver, and TE Justin Puthoff, from fullback.
--LB Huldon Tharp missed the spring game after suffering a foot injury in practice. Another starter, LB Drew Dudley, was held out of contact throughout spring drills. DE Jake Laptad also missed the spring game.
--QB Conner Teahan, the Kansas basketball player who opted to try out this spring for the football squad, played one series in the spring game and completed 1 of 2 passes.
Previous Report: 04/11/2010