Kansas University football head coach Mark Mangino answered questions from KUsports.com readers Tuesday, discussing the team's junior college transfers, the quarterback competition and what the future holds for Bill Whittemore.
Moderator: We'll begin our chat with coach Mangino in just a few minutes. Thanks to both coach and our readers for their time this evening.
Bob, KC: Coach, who is battling to replace Curtis Ansel at punter?
Coach Mangino: Right now, the front-runner this spring is Chris Tyrell, and he will compete with Kyle Tucker in the fall.
James: Are you still looking to add more defensive lineman? Do you think James McClinton can start next year?
Coach Mangino: We will not be adding any more defensive players or defensive linemen this year. Whether James McClinton can play as a true freshman or not remains to be seen when he arrives this fall, but it would be unfair to put that kind of pressure on a young man. We'll just wait and see what happens.
David, Lawrence: How's the offensive line coming along? Have Cesar Rodriguez and Matt Thompson won the starting jobs?
Coach Mangino: The offensive line is progressing very well this spring. It has the potential to be the most physical group of offensive linemen we've had. We are making great strides in the run game and the pass game, but I am especially impressed with our improvement of blocking in the run game. Cesar Rodriguez and Matt Thompson are the front-runners for the offensive tackle positions at this point and time.
Shane: Coach, can you give us any information on what the future holds for Bill Whittemore?
Coach Mangino: Bill has been talking to some NFL clubs, as well as Canadian teams. I have had about a half a dozen teams call me in regards to Bill, and I'm hoping that one of them will give him an opportunity. He is a winner, and I believe he can help an NFL team. There's no doubt in my mind.
Karl,: With respect to the safety positions, who do you see stepping up, and can you comment on the progress of Jerome Kemp?
Coach Mangino: Jerome Kemp is having a very good spring. He is playing his run responsibilities very well, and is making steady improvements in his pass responsibilities. We have a lot of competition in the secondary this fall, and the safety position has a lot of candidates for starting spots, including newcomer Rodney Harris, who is having a big spring. Although he is not very big in stature, he hits like a Mack truck and has excellent speed. We think he will enhance our secondary as well. And Tony Stubbs, who's coming back, really looks sharp.
Ryan: Coach, how is Travis Watkins looking this spring?
Coach Mangino: Travis has really made some of his biggest strides this spring. We have not had Travis on the field for any length of time without injury until this spring, and he's pretty close to 100%. He's bigger and stronger than he's ever been, and we're looking for him to have a very, very big 2004 season.
Ryan: Congratulations on a great 2003 season. Has either Jason Swanson or Adam Barmaan have a tiny edge on one another?
Coach Mangino: Adam has had a slight edge only because he is familiar with our system, and Jason is just learning the whole thing right now. But the competition is keen, and Brian Luke has had a very good spring and is throwing the ball as well as he has since we've been here. We're hoping that very soon we can get those guys in some particular order, and I would think it will go into August for sure.
Wacky: Being a neighbor of Todd Haselhorst I'd like to thank you and congratulate you for signing him. Do you have any better idea yet on whether he'll play O-line or D-line?
Coach Mangino: We have talked to Todd -- we recruited him because he's a good football player period -- we have talked to him about playing defensive line because he is a very athletic guy. He has said he'll do whatever it takes to help the team, and we'll probably try him out on the defensive line. We think he's capable of playing either side of the ball.
Bill: With the tougher schedule that we will face this year, is it possible that this team will be better and yet have a worse record than last year?
Coach Mangino: I suppose there are several different scenarios that are possible for next season. There is no doubt that the schedule is much more competitive than it was last year, just because of the way the conference is aligned. Plus, we're adding more bowl teams in the nonconference schedule. However, I think we have a chance to be a better team next year than we were in 2003, so I guess we'll just have to line them up, play them one at a time and see what happens.
Wade: Will Charles Gordon and John Randle to switch back to full time offense?
Coach Mangino: John Randle will stay on offense. He has had an outstanding spring and is progressing very well. Charles, we're not absolutely sure. A lot depends on the development of our cornerback positions. As of right now, we haven't made a decision, and probably won't until see how our corner position develops. If they develop the way we'd like them to, there's a good chance Charles will play just offense. But it's possible Charles is our best corner right now, so we have to make the decision that's best for the team and that Charles is comfortable with as well.
Mike: Extra points and field goals were a major headache last season. Has anyone really moved to the forefront to grab the job?
Coach Mangino: I would say that right now, Johnny Beck and Scott Webb are competing for that position, along with Jerod Brooks. There's no doubt we're improved there, but we must still get more consistent and I'm sure that will happen by Sept. 4.
Chris - Wichita: How about academics? How are the players performing in the classroom?
Coach Mangino: Our players are working very hard in the classroom. They know that we expect them to perform well in the classroom, just as we expect them to perform well in the field. Paul Buskirk, associate athletic director for academics, and his staff give us a daily report on the progress of our classroom work, and for the most part it has been very positive.
Matt: How is progress in the weight room this year?
Coach Mangino: Coach Dawson and his staff have done a great job this winter of getting our players ready physically. We're strong than ever since we've arrived as coaches, and we're probably quicker than we've ever been. Overall, our team is much bigger physically than since we've arrived. It's been a big winter in the weight room and we're looking forward to a big summer as well.
Matt: Please give an update on the progress of the JUCO transfers.
Coach Mangino: Theo Baines is competing for a starting position at one of our corner spots and I'm really impressed with him. He's a physical player and a good cover corner, too. I think he's really going to help us. Rodney Harris is also having a really good spring. He has a good quickness about him. Jermail Ashley is doing a really good job. He's learning the system and how to adjust to playing against Big 12-caliber offensive line play. And Jason Swanson's working hard every day to learn our system. His head is spinning right now trying to absorb our offense but he'll be fine.
Moderator: That concludes our chat. Again, thanks to coach Mangino and our readers for their time this evening. Be sure to log on at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning for our chat with KU track legend Wes Santee.