2008 KU football media day
For a moment Tuesday, during the Kansas University football team's annual Media Day, coach Mark Mangino opened up.
Not one to reveal the inner-workings of his program readily, the normally reserved Mangino had no problem responding candidly to a question about who was in line to take over punt-return duties for the Jayhawks.
"It's down to me and (offensive coordinator) Ed Warinner," he offered. "I've got better hands, but Ed runs better."
The reigning national coach of the year was being facetious - although, even if Mangino did line up as the team's primary punt returner, it's hard to imagine things going much worse than they did a year ago.
While special teams generally have been a high point for the Jayhawks in recent years, the punt-return situation last season devolved quickly after Raimond Pendleton's 77-yard touchdown return in the team's season opener.
During the final 11 games of the season, the team's punt returners only managed to return a punt more than 10 yards twice, averaging just 1.7 yards per return in that period.
Three of the leading candidates to take over the position - behind Mangino and Warinner, of course - appear to be red-shirt freshman Isiah Barfield, true freshman Daymond Patterson and senior Dexton Fields.
Barfield, who also should battle for time at cornerback, is listed as the team's No. 1 punt-return man, although the wild card of the group is Patterson, who as a senior in high school was a standout punt and kick returner while earning first-team all-Texas honors as a receiver at North Mesquite High.
"I'll let the coaches figure that out," said Patterson, of whether he'll see immediate playing time as a true freshman. "But I'll be ready for whatever they have in store for me."
While the struggles last season didn't seem to affect the team's play greatly, something surely has to be altered following last season's woes, and Mangino admitted as much.
"Our special teams have been very good here, and last year, returning punts, we did not do a good job," he said. "Not necessarily just at returner. I thought our corners didn't do a very good job of keeping the gunners off of the return man. So we're working the heck out of it. We're really focused on that."
¢ Offensive lineman Hatch impressing: While much of the hype surrounding the Jayhawks' new offensive linemen has been heaped upon red-shirt freshman Jeff Spikes, another youngster recently has caught Mangino's eye.
After working this week at three positions - center, left guard and left tackle - fellow red-shirt freshman Jeremiah Hatch impressed Mangino enough that the coach gave the 6-foot-3, 311-pound Dallas native a glowing review.
"He's going to find a spot to play," Mangino said. "He's an intense, tough guy. Really, one of the hardest-working lineman we have in the program. ... He's not a 6-5, long-armed guy. But he's so quick with his feet that he makes up for it. So he's gonna show up at one of those spots."
¢ Meier competing for punting duties: Apparently, preparing for two positions isn't enough for junior Kerry Meier.
The multi-talented Meier, already listed on the team's depth chart at both the quarterback and wide receiver positions, potentially could be in line to handle the team's punting duties this season, as well.
While he stressed the Jayhawks would prefer punting duties to be handled by Alonso Rojas, a transfer from Bowling Green currently listed on the depth chart as the team's No. 1 punter, Mangino didn't hesitate to say that, ultimately, the job would go to the top performer.
"We prefer if Kerry wasn't the punter," Mangino said. "But if he's the best punter, he'll be out there."
¢ Kicker competition currently three-deep: The race to replace graduated kicker Scott Webb is in a dead heat, according to special-teams coordinator Louie Matsakis, who said Stephen Hoge, Grady Fowler and Jacob Branstetter each have a chance to earn the spot.
In the four practices since Friday, each of the three has performed nearly identically - none had missed an extra-point attempt and each had missed just one field-goal attempt - and coaches insisted that each had his own strengths.
¢ Mortensen 'full-tilt' entering training camp: An undisclosed knee injury that forced Joe Mortensen into offseason surgery hasn't slowed the senior linebacker during the first week of the team's training camp.
Mangino said Tuesday that Mortensen is competing at full-speed and hasn't been hampered by the surgery.
"Joe is practicing everyday," Mangino said. "(He's) going full-tilt."