Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2003

Jayhawks counting on healthy QB Whittemore

August 16, 2003


Quarterback Bill Whittemore only could stand and watch as Kansas State, Nebraska and Oklahoma State bludgeoned Kansas University by a combined score of 164-27 in the final three games of the 2002 football season.

Whittemore, the Big 12 Conference Offensive Newcomer of the Year, was reduced to signaling plays from the sideline after damaging the medial collateral ligament in his left knee Oct. 26 at Missouri.

"It was tough sitting there watching the guys fight hard," Whittemore said. "We struggled a little bit. I wanted to be out there."

Whittemore was back on the field in the spring. His injured knee did not require offseason surgery, and he looked sharp during spring drills. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown and ran for another TD during KU's spring scrimmage.

"We feel pretty good about having Bill Whittemore back healthy and ready to go," second-year KU coach Mark Mangino said. "He had an outstanding spring. He is throwing the ball much better. He's shown a stronger arm and is really moving around well."

Whittemore's arm and mobility made him one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the Big 12 last season. The Fort Scott Community College transfer ranked among the league leaders in total offense before his injury. The Brentwood, Tenn., native finished with 1,666 yards passing and 11 touchdowns with six interceptions and was KU's second-leading rusher with 549 yards and 11 TDs.

"I felt like I came in and fit into the system well," Whittemore said. "At first I struggled with some basic tactics on offense that I didn't really understand. Overall, I felt like I got a good grasp of it."

Whittemore (6-foot, 205 pounds) started his junior season as backup to Zach Dyer, but the transfer took over in the second half of the season opener against Iowa State and eventually emerged as KU's most effective weapon.

He had at least 325 yards of total offense in consecutive games against Tulsa, Baylor and Colorado, and he had 269 against MU before his season ended in the third quarter.

It was the third time the quarterback had a season cut short because of injuries. He missed time his freshman year at Tennessee-Martin because of a knee injury, and his sophomore year at Fort Scott Community College ended early because of a shoulder injury.

Developing an offensive line to protect Whittemore will be vital, and Kansas also must develop a backup quarterback. But when the season begins Aug. 30 against Northwestern at Memorial Stadium, the focus clearly will be on KU's senior quarterback.

"First and foremost we are working hard to keep Bill healthy, and keeping him healthy means a good offensive unit which is important in our program," said Mangino, whose team finished 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the Big 12 in his first season. "Bill is a talented young man and we expect great things from him, but we also must work hard to build a strong supporting cast around here. The stronger the supporting cast, the better Bill will be."

Whittemore didn't have a strong supporting cast last season. His passing numbers would have been significantly better if not for a rash of dropped balls by an inexperienced receiving corps.

"They were all young guys," Whittemore said. "Going through a year of the Big 12 Conference, you learn a lot. They're going to step it up this year. I really feel like they will. We have talent here."

The Jayhawks must replace their top two wide receivers -- departed seniors Byron Gasaway and Marcellus Jones. Junior Brandon Rideau (6-4, 190) is KU's top returning wide receiver after catching 27 passes for 307 yards. Senior Derick Mills (5-7, 165) caught 22 passes for 226 yards.

Sophomore Mark Simmons (5-11, 175) might be the player to watch. He caught 23 passes for 208 yards and two TDs as a freshman. He also had a solid spring scrimmage with four catches for 85 yards and a touchdown.

Junior Gary Heaggans (6-2, 200) was expected to contribute after sitting out last season following his transfer from Purdue, and freshman Moderick Johnson (6-5, 190) also could be a factor.

Clark Green (5-11, 205) proved to be dangerous as a ball carrier and receiver. The running back caught 37 passes for 408 yards as a red-shirt freshman and led KU with 813 yards rushing and four TDs.

Red-shirt freshman Jerome Kemp (5-11, 200) is expected to push Green for playing time.

Whittemore and the running backs will operate behind and inexperienced offensive line. KU lost four senior starters on the line. A fifth starter, junior Tony Coker (6-5, 320), has struggled because of chronic back problems.

Kansas signed six offensive linemen, including three from the junior-college ranks. Northeastern Oklahoma transfer Joe Vaughn (6-2, 290) wrapped up the starting job at center during spring drills.

"He's tough; he's hard-nosed," Mangino said of the second-team All-American. "He's not a real tall guy, so he plays with a great low center of gravity. He uses his hands extremely well, and he's just tough as nails. He earned the respect of the kids almost instantaneously."

Mangino also was pleased with the progress of senior Adrian Jones (6-5, 260), who moved from tight end to tackle during the spring.

"If he continues to put on muscle mass the way he has, he's a guy that could make some money in a year's time," Mangino said. "He's been a pretty good tight end. He has a chance to be a great tackle."

Tight ends were an integral part of Oklahoma's attack when Mangino was the Sooners' offensive coordinator, but Jones was the only tight end to catch passes for KU last season. He finished with 14 receptions for 140 yards and a TD.

With Jones on the line, the starting job at tight end belongs to Lyonel Anderson, a 6-3, 240-pound transfer from Alfred State who was expected to provide Whittemore with the big target KU lacked last season.

Anderson and Vaughn were the only players among KU's 13 transfers who enrolled for the second semester and participated in spring drills.

"I told our staff if the rest of the junior-college kids that come in have the attitude, work ethic and the toughness of the two guys that we have here right now, we're going to be in pretty good shape," Mangino said.

If the revamped line can't protect Whittemore, KU could have a conundrum at quarterback because the Jayhawks enter 2003 without a proven backup.

Dyer has started six games at quarterback, including two last season, but the senior moved to safety midway through his junior season.

After Whittemore was injured, KU tried four different quarterbacks without success in the final three games. In the eight games Whittemore started, Kansas averaged 27.2 points. In four others, the Jayhawks averaged 7.5.

Sophomore Brian Luke (6-6, 220), red-shirt freshman Joe Hogan (6-2, 185), junior-college walk-on John Nielsen (6-3, 205) and true freshman Adam Barmann (6-4, 210) will battle for the No. 2 spot. Luke was No. 2 on the depth chart after spring drills.


Kansas, which ranked last in the league in scoring defense (42.2 points per game) and total defense (472.4 yards per game), will look vastly different from the unit that took the field during spring drills.

"We'll know a little more about ourselves during two-a-days," Mangino said in a major understatement after his team's spring scrimmage.

Of KU's 13 junior-college transfers, nine were defensive players.

"We think all of them are very good players, and we're hoping many of them will contribute in a hurry," Mangino said. "But you just don't know that until they get here and get into our program and into our routine."

The top player in that class might be linebacker Gabe Toomey (6-4, 235), an NJCAA All-American linebacker from Iowa Central Community College who originally signed with Oklahoma while Mangino was an assistant there.

Transfers John McCoy (a 6-3, 250-pound All-American) and Zach Mims (6-3, 235) also could help bolster KU's linebacking corps, which lost leading tacklers Greg Cole and Leo Etienne to graduation.

"I think everyone's eager to see the junior-college guys," sophomore linebacker Banks Floodman said.

KU fans are eager to see what Floodman (6-3, 230) can do in a full season. He made eight tackles in the first half of the season opener at Iowa State before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. Floodman had surgery Sept. 18 and was sidelined for the rest of the season. He gained 15 pounds during his rehabilitation and was voted team co-captain during spring drills.

"He's an intense, aggressive young guy," Mangino said of Floodman, who had 41 tackles as a freshman in 2001. "He has great leadership qualities and really gets after it. He probably wasn't 100 percent this spring, but he was close enough to participate in most of the work. He is an aggressive, tough, hard-nosed kid, who runs to the football, and the biggest key right now is that we need his leadership on defense."

Sophomore Nick Reid (6-4, 220), KU's top returning tackler after making 62 stops as a linebacker last season, was moved to strong safety. Reid played quarterback and defensive back in high school and was expected to play in the secondary last season, but he and Kevin Kane (6-1, 220) were thrust into key roles at linebacker as true freshmen after injuries to Floodman and sophomore Nick Clapp (6-1, 220).

KU returns three starters -- senior safety Dyer (6-2, 210), senior cornerback Remuise Johnson (5-8, 170) and sophomore corner Donnie Amadi (5-10, 180) -- in the secondary, but those players will be challenged for playing time by newcomers and Reid. Kansas signed five defensive backs -- including three junior-college transfers -- to bolster a secondary that allowed 27 touchdown passes.

Transfer Shelton Simmons (5-11, 175) could contribute right away, and freshman Mark Brown (6-3, 185) might be the big, fast cornerback KU has been looking for.

Kansas also returns three starters -- junior tackle Travis Watkins (6-4, 295), junior end David McMillan (6-3, 240) and sophomore nose tackle Tim Allen (6-1, 260) -- on the defensive line, but they also will have to compete with newcomers.

Transfers Chuck Jones (a 6-4, 275-pound All-American) and Phil Tuihalamaka (6-3, 323) could be in the mix.

"Chuck is a really big, physical guy and our plans are to use him at defensive end," Mangino said. "Even though he's probably close to 280 pounds, we think that when he completes our summer conditioning program he will weigh less and have increased his lean muscle mass."

Red-shirt freshman Kyle Knighton (6-3, 250) also could make an impact at end after missing most of last season because of an injury. Senior Cory Kipp (6-4, 280) should play a bigger role after moving from end to nose tackle.

Special Teams

One position that isn't up for grabs is punter. Senior Curtis Ansel (6-0, 210) was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award last season when he averaged 42.5 yards per punt. He also landed 28 punts inside the 20-yard line and set a Big 12 record with an 83-yard boot.

Place kicking is another story. Johnny Beck (6-1, 215) struggled mightily as a sophomore when he converted only 7 of 17 field-goal attempts and 23 of 27 extra-point attempts.

Freshman Scott Webb (5-11, 180) gives KU insurance if Beck doesn't revert to the form he showed as a freshman when he made 14 of 20 field goals and 16 of 17 PATs. Webb, an all-state selection from Union High in Tulsa, Okla., was ranked in the top 20 nationally by and Street and Smith.

Sophomore Greg Heaggans (6-0, 185) set a school record last season when he returned 28 kickoffs for 691 yards. His 24.7 yard average ranked third in the Big 12 and 14th in the nation.

Mills (5-7, 165) also could see duty as a return man. Remuise Johnson averaged 6.5 yards per punt return last season.

Kansas will have many questions to answer as it prepares for its opener against Northwestern, but the Jayhawks are already confident that Mangino -- who played key roles in the rebuilding efforts at Kansas State and Oklahoma -- has the program headed in the right direction.

"He came in here with a lot of fire, and that hasn't left him," Whittemore said. "I don't think it will. He wants to turn this program around as bad as anybody. We all feed off that. I think everybody's bought into what Mangino's doing. Everybody believes if we follow him great things are going to happen."

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