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Archive for Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tackle spots up for grabs at KU

April 13, 2008

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Perhaps no holes on Kansas University's football team need to be filled with more urgency than one on each side of the offensive line.

The battles at left and right tackle have raged all spring and may go all summer as well. It's no easy task replacing Cesar Rodriguez's 43 career starts or Anthony Collins' All-America stature.

So there's no rush in determining who's ready to try the shoes on.

But some hints may emerge at Monday's spring game, which will kick off at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. For starters, sophomore Ian Wolfe seems to have an edge at the starting right-tackle spot over junior-college transfer Nate D'Cunha.

"Ian is much bigger and stronger than perhaps he was last fall," KU coach Mark Mangino said of Wolfe, who started last season's Toledo game due to Collins' being suspended. "He's starting to come on the latter part of spring. He's getting more comfortable with his assignments, knowing what he's doing. You can see that's evident by the way he's performing now."

D'Cunha, Mangino said, is finding the transition to Div. I football a little difficult. A 24-year old native of Australia, D'Cunha is relatively new to American football, but has promise with a 6-foot-7, 300-pound frame.

"I think there's a number of factors," Mangino said. "He has to learn about the tempo of the game from the snap of the ball to the whistle. He has a tendency to get in the blocks and get off the blocks before the play has ended. I think that's something that just comes from not having been around the game of football as we know it for a long period of time.

"As far as his ability to learn assignments, it's starting to come to him. He's trying to figure out not just what he's doing, but what the guy next to him is doing and what we're trying to accomplish on every play."

D'Cunha has played one year of college football - in 2006 at Santa Barbara (Calif.) Community College. American football in Australia isn't nearly as competitive, one reason D'Cunha came to the United States.

"I think that's the challenge for him, but he's very smart, and we feel like he will develop into a fine player," Mangino said. "He has some handicaps perhaps that the rest of our players don't because he hasn't been exposed to American football for a long period of time. He's starting from scratch."

Many of KU's tackles are learning the ropes, as well. Really, any experience at the tackle positions is over on the left side - and there's not much.

Senior Matt Darton is battling freshman Jeff Spikes for the privilege of blocking quarterback Todd Reesing's blindside this fall. The edge might come with the fact that Darton already has done it.

Collins sat out the Iowa State game last season because of an ankle injury, and Darton filled in admirably in a 45-7 KU victory. His performance wasn't forgotten, either.

"He did a good job for us in that game," Mangino said. "He has been tested a little bit."

As for Spikes, his time will come. KU's coaches have gushed about the potential of the 6-6, 315-pound Ohio native, with Mangino claiming he could be one of KU's finest before it's all done.

"He's real young right now, and he's learning and just trying to find his way," Mangino said. "But he's really going to be a fine player."

It might depend on how the spring ends Monday for Darton and Spikes. It might linger into the summer. Like the competition on the other side of the line, there's just no definitive answer yet.

"We like both of those kids," Mangino said, "and we feel like they're both going to help us this year."

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