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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reesing back, but cast different

August 16, 2008

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There is really no explanation for what happened with the Kansas University offense a season ago.

One minute, the Jayhawks were a 6-6 team with lots of holes to fill and an uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position. The next, they were scoring 76 points against Nebraska. And 58 against Baylor. And 52 against Central Michigan. And so on.

In an unprecedented 2007 season, the offense boosted its scoring average by more than 12 points per game from the previous season, averaging 42.8 en route to a 12-1 season mark. The Jayhawks' rushing yards per game jumped by 12 (189 to 177 in '06), and their pass yards per game went from 198 in '06 to 291 in '07.

So where do the Kansas Jayhawks go from here?

The missing pieces

Graduation and early exits certainly did a number on the Jayhawks' starting lineup. Although six starters return on offense, standouts at various positions have moved on.

All-American tackle Anthony Collins was selected in the fourth round of last April's NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, joining tight end Derek Fine (394 yards, four touchdowns in 2007; selected by Buffalo in the fourth round) and Marcus Henry (1,014 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns; selected by the New York Jets in the sixth round).

Running back Brandon McAnderson, after bruising his way to 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior, agreed to a free-agent contract with the St. Louis Rams (he has since been released).

In all, 2,555 of the Jayhawks' 6,071 yards of total offense from '07 are gone - which works out to more than 42 percent.

Heisman hopeful?

Despite the loss of players at multiple skill positions, however, the most important cog in the Jayhawks' '07 machine is still very much intact.

Todd Reesing, who set 21 school records during a sophomore season in which he elbowed his way into the Heisman picture, returns to lead an offense that established itself as the most prolific in school history a year ago.

His 3,486 passing yards in '07 were easily a school record, as were his 33 touchdowns. He helped engineer an unthinkable 76-39 victory over Nebraska, while putting together a 227-yard, one-touchdown performance against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

Many around Lawrence believe that if Kansas would have emerged over Missouri in last year's Border War, it would have been Reesing - not the Tigers' Chase Daniel - earning an invite to New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. And entering the '08 season a year older and a year wiser, he is in prime position to lead the Jayhawks to their first back-to-back bowl trips in school history.

The targets

Though Henry and Fine are gone from the receiving corps, senior Dexton Fields and sophomore Dezmon Briscoe will provide viable targets, as should backup quarterback Kerry Meier, who emerged as a legitimate receiving threat last season while catching 26 passes for 274 yards.

Fields (834 yards and six touchdowns in '07) is one of KU's all-time top receivers, having led Kansas in receptions in each of the past two seasons and ranking sixth on the team's all-time touchdown list with 12. Johnathan Wilson, meanwhile, showed glimpses of promise, finishing last season with three receptions for 52 yards, a 17.3 yards-per-catch average.

Those four should receive the bulk of the receptions this season, with tight end Bradley Dedeaux and receivers Raymond Brown, Rod Harris Jr. and Gary Green (listed as a defensive back last season, but caught five passes for 34 yards in the spring game) also contributing.

Rock, Jocques Jayhawk?

In taking over for '06 starter Jon Cornish, McAnderson gave the Jayhawks a dominant ground attack last season, and his graduation leaves one of the team's most significant holes heading into '08.

Only three running backs recorded carries during the team's annual spring game - Jake Sharp, Angus Quigley and Donte Bean - combining for just 94 total yards. While some of this might have had to do with the team's defense, a prominent ground threat will be key in opening up the pass.

Enter Jocques Crawford, a transfer via Cisco Junior College in Cisco, Texas. As a sophomore in 2007, Crawford rushed for a national junior college-leading 1,935 yards and 19 touchdowns on 283 attempts to earn NJCAA offensive-player-of-the-year honors.

While Crawford enters the season as a bit of a wildcard, he seemed confident in his ability to contribute while watching the spring game in street clothes, and likely will enter the lineup immediately to begin the season sharing running back duties with Sharp.

"We'll see what (Crawford) can do once he gets here in the summer," offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said during the spring. "But we want to continue to use Jake Sharp's ability in open space and find other ways to get him the ball. He's a definite big-play threat, and he had a good year for us."

The thick red line

The biggest question heading into the season is whether the Jayhawks will be able to replace tackles Anthony Collins, a first-team all-American in '07, and Cesar Rodriguez, a four-year starter.

The interior should be in good shape, with the return of center Ryan Cantrell, and guards Chet Hartley and Adrian Mayes, all seniors.

Kansas coach Mark Mangino seems to be excited, too, about the potential of redshirt freshman Jeff Spikes, who is expected to replace Collins. Matt Darton, Nathan D'Cunha and Ian Wolfe also should compete for playing time.

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