Ed Warinner went into his first season as Kansas University's offensive line coach with a tight end learning to play left tackle, a red-shirt freshman guard, a right tackle who had made one career start and a junior-college transfer anchoring the line at center.
His only returning starter was switching from tackle to guard.
Somehow, that unlikely group of linemen laid the foundation for the most productive offense in KU history as the 2003 Jayhawks set 12 single-season school records, including points (384) and total yards (5,479).
"We had a good year and did good things," said Warinner, who came to Kansas after three seasons at Air Force. "Hopefully we can keep building on that."
One reason for the Jayhawks' success was the durability of its front five. Center Joe Vaughn, guard Bob Whitaker and tackles Adrian Jones and Danny Lewis started all 13 games, while guard Tony Coker missed one game because of a concussion.
With little depth, the starters proved to be ironmen. Warinner estimated that during the course of the 13-game season, Vaughn played all but about 20 of KU's 906 offensive plays, while Jones and Lewis sat out appproximately 25 to 30 snaps.
"It's pretty rare," Warinner said of his line's stability. "It's not something that happens. That tends to coincide when your top five guys stay healthy and you have success. When that group is in disarray, it affects everything."
Warinner will enter his second KU training camp Aug. 6 without Lewis and Jones, a fourth-round NFL draft pick, but the three interior starters return.
Warinner and his linemen expect year two to be even better.
"We know our positions pretty well," said Vaughn, who was the Big 12 Conference Offensive Newcomer of the Year as a junior. "We know what's expected of us. You have to keep getting better each day. It's a lot easier. You know what he wants."
Vaughn ready to lead
Warinner expects his quiet senior center to do the same thing he did last year, lead by example.
"He's a very aggressive, strong physical kid," Warinner, said of the 6-foot-1, 285-pound Oklahoman. "He plays hard. I love his attitude. He never complains. He has very good technique. He's very strong, explosive."
Vaughn, a second-team NJCAA All-American at Northeastern Oklahoma, allowed just one sack in 2003 and helped KU set records for passing touchdowns (25) and pass completions (255).
Vaughn hopes his final year at KU won't be his last season in the game.
"I want to play football at the highest level I can," he said of his chances in the NFL. "If that's the league, so be it. But I'm focused on 2004 and KU football."
Coker (6-5, 315) started nine games at tackle in 2002 before moving to right guard last season.
|Start times for Kansas University's first four football games have been finalized. The Jayhawks will open the season with a 6 p.m. game Sept. 4 against Tulsa at Memorial Stadium. Kansas will play host to Toledo at 6 p.m. Sept. 11 before traveling to Evanston, Ill., to face Northwestern at 1 p.m. Sept. 18.KU will open Big 12 Conference play with a 2:30 p.m. game Sept. 25 against Texas Tech. The game against the Red Raiders will be televised by Fox Sports Net.|
"That was a good move for him," Warinner said. "That was a much better position for him. He adjusted well and was pretty consistent. We need him to be a foundation on that offensive line and be consistent again. He's got himself in good shape. He's worked hard."
Warinner had expected to have more help on the line last year, but two junior-college transfers -- Johnny Urrutia and Richard Estrella -- failed to meet academic requirements. Whitaker, who had taken a red-shirt season as a freshman in 2002, filled the void.
"Bob was a guy we didn't expect to start," Warinner said of the 6-5, 317-pound sophomore, who was named to The Sporting News Freshman All-America Team last winter. "He came in and had a good camp and kept getting better and better. He's very smart. He understands the game. He's a good communicator. He makes sure everybody's on the same page. He stepped up when they didn't work out."
Sophomore David Ochoa will back up both guard spots and center.
"He'll provide us depth and be ready if anything happens," Warinner said of the 6-4 Ochoa, who bulked up to 280 pounds in the offseason.
Replacing Jones and Lewis won't be easy, but KU thinks it has the answers with red-shirt freshman left tackle Cesar Rodriguez (6-7, 270) and junior right tackle Matt Thompson (6-4, 295).
Rodriguez has the biggest shoes to fill. Jones moved from tight end to tackle before his senior season and bulked up from 260 pounds to 275. He continued to gain weight during the season and was drafted by the New York Jets in April.
Rodriguez, who was undersized when he arrived in Lawrence last fall, has been working in the weight room to become bigger and stronger.
"He's a hard worker and very tough," Warinner said. "I don't know if he'll be 290 when the season starts, but Adrian Jones played at 275 and had a good season. He worked his tail off, and the strength coaches are happy with him. He's a work in progress."
Warinner is well aware of what Thompson -- a 6-4, 295-pound transfer from Air Force -- can do.
"I think he would have been a starter at Air Force if he had stayed there," Warinner said of Thompson, who sat out last year under NCAA transfer rules. "He made a decision that career-wise he didn't want to stay in the military, so he took the option to leave after his sophomore year. He's a good athlete. He has good size and runs well. He's a smart kid, a premed major with good grades."
The tackles could be challenged for playing time by sophomore Travis Dambach. The 6-5, 295-pounder has been a nomad of sorts on KU's offensive and defensive lines. Dambach started his red-shirt freshman season as a guard and made one start in place of an injured Coker against Jacksonville State.
But KU's defensive struggles prompted coaches to move the Jackson, Mo., product to defensive tackle later in the year. Dambach moved again, to offensive tackle, during spring drills.
"We have to keep him in one spot and let him get enough reps to feel comfortable. He's had a lot of transitions. When he settles into a position, he'll be a good player. Travis is a good guy. He'll do whatever we need. He's never hesitated."
Warinner coached outstanding offensive lines at two run-oriented service academies. Air Force led the nation in rushing his last season there in 2002. During his 13 years at Army, the Black Knights led the nation in rushing in 1993, '95 and '98.
In his first year at KU, Warinner helped KU improve its rushing average by nearly 40 yards a game and 1.2 yards per attempt, and the Jayhawks allowed 14 fewer sacks.
He has high expectations for year two.
"It's good for me to have familiarity with all the players," Warinner said. "I know what they're capable of. You don't have to worry as much about things. We can focus on getting better. I know what their strengths and weaknesses are. I don't have to figure that out. The second year should always be easier for the players and the coach."