Most years, the Kansas University football team’s annual spring game is a lopsided affair that features a bunch of fan favorites beating up on a pile of backups.
It has not yet been revealed how this year’s Jayhawks will be split up when they take the field at 1 p.m. today at Memorial Stadium for the first time under new head coach Turner Gill. But no matter if this year’s spring game pits the first team against the second team or features an equal blend of those two units, there figures to be intense competition at every position.
“If you could mix it up, that would be pretty sweet,” said third-year sophomore Kale Pick, who enters the game locked in a quarterback battle with red-shirt freshman Jordan Webb. “You know, mix all the ones and twos up and make it a little more even. Todd (Reesing) and Kerry (Meier) and all those guys said it’s been pretty uneven in the past. So I think it’d be sweet if we could even it out. I think the fans would enjoy that instead of a blowout.”
Gill has said throughout spring drills that he wants competition at all positions to continue into the summer. He may dabble with putting some of his future starters on the field together at the same time today, but it won’t be in an effort to settle anything for good.
“I think we always want some competition,” Gill said. “I’m sure there are going to be some positions where some guys might have a pretty good edge as far as being the top guy at the end of spring practice. But we’re going to try to make sure we keep it competitive, and if we have to make some adjustments certain places to make some competition, we’ll do that.”
Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect at each position during today’s scrimmage, a sort of state-of-the-Jayhawks address that, like all such speeches, is subject to change.
• Quarterback: The most high-profile position on the field appears to be a two-man race between Pick and Webb. Expect those two to get a lot of the reps and lead their respective sides in today’s game. The winning QB won’t necessarily grab the lead in the arms race, though. That will go to the player who takes better care of the ball, shows confidence on the field and makes those around him better.
• Running back: Expect sixth-year senior Angus Quigley to make his strongest first impression in five tries. Last year’s offensive scout team player of the year, Deshaun Sands, and Rell Lewis also will be used plenty, and top returner Toben Opurum, who said he was not quite 100 percent yet, should be able to showcase his power running style that could be a staple of the new offense.
• Wide Receiver: This is one of the team’s most intriguing positions, and the good news for Gill is that he has options. Returning regulars Johnathan Wilson and Bradley McDougald figure to inherit a lot of the pass-catching responsibilities, but they’ll be pushed by younger players such as Chris Omigie and Erick McGriff. In addition, speedsters Daymond Patterson and D.J. Beshears return to the offense, and both have the wheels to make an impact.
• Tight End: The talk around camp is that the tight end has a much more prominent place in the Jayhawks’ new offense than in years past. That gives returning starter Tim Biere and wide-receiver-turned-tight-end A.J. Steward the first chance to shine. Both should have bigger roles in the passing game than in recent years, and they even could be on the field at the same time in some sets.
• Offensive line: Five starters return, and Gill and company have talked a lot this spring about wanting to find eight guys they feel good about here. That means no matter which offense is on the field today, it will have at least a couple of linemen worth watching.
• Defensive line: The interior positions seem to be in decent shape. Jamal Greene, Darius Parish, Patrick Dorsey and Richard Johnson Jr. received high marks throughout the spring, making the defensive-end position the one to watch. With top returner Jake Laptad missing time because of injury, the door is open for other D-Ends to emerge. So far, none have, and it will be interesting to see if one does during the spring game. Quintin Woods, Kevin Young or Tyrone Sellers?
• Linebacker: Two potential starters are out — Drew Dudley and Huldon Tharp — and a batch of newcomers will get their chance to shine. Still, most of the focus will be on middle linebacker Justin Springer, who has emerged as a leader of the defense.
• Cornerback: Eight players continue to battle for two starting spots, the most notable being senior Chris Harris, who is coming off of a strong 2009. That kind of crowd leaves these guys hoping for one thing, according to freshman Tyler Patmon: “You gotta hope the plays come to you, and when they do, you gotta make ’em.”
• Safety: The loss of Darrell Stuckey to the NFL could be one of the most difficult for this team to deal with. The list of replacements is largely unproven but not lacking in confidence. Lubbock Smith and Phillip Strozier have the most experience, and Olaitan Oguntodu and Prinz Kande have had strong springs.
• Special Teams: The only question in this department comes in the kick-return game, as returning place kicker Jacob Branstetter and punter Alonso Rojas will return. Like with most positions, Gill has indicated that there will be ongoing competition for the kick-return duties. Included in the mix are: Patterson, Beshears, Sands and Isiah Barfield.