Looking for positives on a Kansas University football team that doesn’t have a single player who projects as a preseason first-team All-Big 12 selection? Then look at the defensive end position, based on Saturday’s spring game.
Jake Laptad didn’t play, and still three players provided hope that someone will emerge to match Laptad’s abilities.
Quarterbacks were sacked nine times for 57 yards in losses, a statistic that carries an asterisk. Tackling QBs was prohibited. They might have escaped some of the sacks whistled. Also, the offensive line, though experienced, lacks depth, and new coach Turner Gill was quick to acknowledge that the quarterbacks have to get rid of the football more quickly.
Since it’s spring, and spring is all about optimism, let’s suppose the reason for the quarterbacks feeling so much heat had plenty to do with three fast ends knowing how to close in on the passer and a platoon of strong defensive tackles collapsing the pocket.
Senior Quintin Woods, a celebrated recruiting catch out of Bakersfield Community College, didn’t justify the hype in his first season at Kansas. A native of Flint, Mich., Woods originally signed with Michigan out of high school, but never attended the Big Ten school because his academics weren’t in order.
A speedy 6-foot-5, 236-pound end, Woods stood out Saturday and was credited with two sacks.
“He’s had a good spring,” defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said of Woods. “Right now, we’ve got to make sure not only he but the rest of them work hard academically to make sure they get done what they need to get done off the field. But he’s had a very, very productive spring. He’s what you’re looking for, a tall, lean, very long-armed guy. In my opinion, he could probably stand up and play some linebacker because he has that kind of body.”
Woods shapes up as one of the team’s most pivotal players.
“He’s done some good things, and for us to be where we need to be, he’s going to have to produce next fall,” Torbush said.
Kevin Young, a 6-2, 256-pound red-shirt freshman from Olathe North High who rebuffed Nebraska to come to Kansas, showed serious potential and picked up two sacks for 17 yards in losses. Travis Stephens, a 6-2 255-pound junior who red-shirted last season after transferring from Blinn (Texas) Junior College, had an impressive afternoon.
Torbush also praised the play of the defensive tackles.
“All those bigger, bulkier guys have had good springs,” Torbush said. “We’ve got a couple of guys, when it gets 90 degrees out there, they kind of mentally melt.”
Nobody on the defense looks bigger than Jamal Greene.
“Our strength coach, John Williams, gave out a lot of awards the other day for the top lifters in the weight room, and (Greene) needed a Brinks truck to carry them all off,” Torbush said. “I think he had about nine trophies. I told him the next one I want to see him get is for winning the mile run. I don’t think he liked that too much.”
The ends need to get heavier, the tackles lighter during summer conditioning. If that happens, opposing quarterbacks should feel more heat than last season.