As if losing three of five starting offensive linemen didn't put enough pressure on those returning up front, now they must face the prospect of protecting a quarterback who's next solid hit could be his last.
"Obviously, we want Zac to be healthy," KU sophomore right tackle Justin Hartwig said. "That's a big concern for us as the offensive line, keeping quarterback healthy. It all falls on our shoulders if he gets hurt. That's a lot of pressure."
"As a unit, we take pride in not giving up sacks," added junior right guard John Oddonetto. "We don't want to jeopardize Zac."
Quarterback Zac Wegner, a senior-to-be, suffered three concussions in about eight months, including two in consecutive weeks, last season. Though Wegner has been cleared to return to football, he openly admits one more concussion likely would spell the end for his college career.
Enter the offensive line, which must find replacements for two starting tackles and a starting guard.
Oddonetto, a former junior college All-American who spent last season as a red-shirt, and Hartwig, who was in on 10-15 plays over three games last season, are prime candidates.
"I didn't think I was going to red-shirt, but that's the way it went," said Oddonetto, who spent his first season out of Eastern Arizona CC banging heads with the KU scout teams. "It really helped me out a lot. It gave me a year to learn the offense, to get used to this level, and a year of weight training definitely helped. When I came out here, I expected, if not to start, to play a lot. But that line that played last year was a real solid unit. I just couldn't break into it."
That's not to say Oddonetto, a 6-foot-5, 285-pounder originally from Globe, Ariz., took the news well.
"At first, it was pretty hard just thinking I was a junior down there in the scout teams, and everybody else was a freshman," he said. "It was hard to think I was at that level, and I struggled with it. But now I realize it was for the best. I have two years left."
Hartwig could start just to Oddonetto's right, though Hartwig will have to hold off challenger Chuck Jarvis, a junior who has had an additional year in the system.
"He's got some experience on me," said Hartwig, a 6-4, 290-pounder from West Des Moines, Iowa. "I think they put me and Chuck over there to battle it out. No matter who's No. 1, I think Chuck and I will both play a lot."
Two of the other five positions are more settled. Incumbents Chris Enneking (center) and Dameon Hunt (left guard) return. The left tackle spot likely will fall to Bob Smith, a 6-4, 275-pound sophomore, or Gabe Rosalis, a 6-5, 275-pound red-shirt freshman.
"This group hasn't really worked a lot together," Hartwig said, "but we're spending a lot of time together this spring, and we've spent a lot of time together in the weight room. We lost both tackles and a guard, so the line was a question mark this spring. But we're starting to come together. By fall, I think we should be a pretty good group."
KU's spring drills will resume today and conclude at the spring game, which kicks off at 1 p.m. on April 24.
Depth chart changes: Red-shirt freshman Anton Paige has ascended to starting wide receiver, and red-shirt freshman David Hurst has unseated incumbent Jason Gulley at tight end in the latest depth chart released by the KU football coaching staff.
Among the other changes: Matt Jordan, a running back who ran with the first-team cornerbacks over the weekend, is listed at co-No. 1 at free safety, along with incumbent Chad Coellner; sophomore Algie Atkinson is No. 1 at one outside linebacker spot and junior transfer Chaz Murphy is co-No. 1 with Tim Bowers at the other; and juco transfer Kareem High is co-No. 1 at strong safety.
-- Andrew Hartsock's phone number is 832-7216. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.