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Archive for Sunday, August 22, 2004

Lamb learning new role on offense

KU sophomore adjusting to playing wide receiver after move from safety

August 22, 2004

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Jonathan Lamb caught two passes last season, hauling in a pair of interceptions as Kansas University's starting free safety.

"I didn't really have the best hands last year," said Lamb, a sophomore from Olathe North High. "I think I led the team in dropped picks."

Lamb's coaches and teammates disagree. They say he has steady hands, which he'll need this fall after making the switch from defensive back to receiver.

"He has great hands," KU football coach Mark Mangino said. "He's the holder on PATs. That tells you something about the confidence we have in his hands. He's a smart guy. He's picked the system up in two weeks. I look for him to do big things. He's not a fill-in guy. This guy can play. He's going to be a very good receiver for us."

Lamb ranked fifth on the team with 89 tackles last season and was a Sporting News Freshman All-American, but Mangino thought Lamb -- who suffered from an undisclosed chronic injury last year -- would take less of a pounding at receiver.

The move also should pay dividends for KU's offense, which could use another reliable target. Mangino moved leading receiver Charles Gordon to cornerback, and sophomore receiver Moderick Johnson has been declared academically ineligible.

Lamb appeared to be expendable at safety after junior-college transfer Rodney Harris impressed coaches during spring drills, and junior Rodney Fowler also is competing at that position.

Lamb, however, still didn't see the move coming.

"I was a little surprised to say the least," he said. "It took me awhile, but I finally embraced it and got good work in during the summer, and I'm ready to go at camp."

Lamb has played receiver before. He was a quarterback and defensive back until his junior year at Olathe North. When he didn't win the job at quarterback, he moved to receiver.

"At Olathe North we didn't throw the ball very much," said Lamb, who moved back to quarterback his senior year. "It's been a struggle just learning the offense."

Lamb still has plenty to learn, but coaches and players have marveled at how quickly he adjusted. He's rotating at all three receiver spots, serving as holder on the kicking team and backing up Gordon on the punt-return unit. A little extra studying has been no problem for the chemistry major, who has a 3.7 grade-point average and plans to attend medical school after graduation.

"He picked up the whole offense in two weeks," sophomore quarterback Adam Barmann said. "It's unbelievable."

Lamb is operating as a backup behind returning starters Brandon Rideau, Mark Simmons and Gary Heaggans, who has taken over Gordon's spot. After starting all 13 games last season, Lamb knows he might start 2004 on the bench.

"All these other receivers have a few years on me," he said. "I'm working on it. I'm getting better. ... We have a real good set of receivers. Brandon, Mark and Gary are very, very good. It's going to be a struggle.

"I'm learning them all and just trying to get on the field."

Lamb was an all-league, all-metro and second-team all-state selection at Olathe North, but few major colleges noticed. He started his KU career as a preferred walk-on and took a red-shirt season in 2002 before earning a starting role last season.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder knows there still are some skeptics who question his ability. Will people underestimate his speed as a receiver?

"Probably," he said. "I'm a skinny little white kid running down the field."

Lamb surprised people last year when he ranked among the nation's top 10 freshmen with an average of 6.8 tackles per game. The Jayhawks expect him to prove critics wrong again as a sophomore.

"It's kind of a Cinderella story, a guy basically going from nothing to famous," Barmann said. "I think he's got great things ahead of him. I'm looking forward to watching him and playing with him."

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