The Kansas football roster hasn’t been updated since season’s end, which maintains a certain degree of mystery to what 2018 will look like.
So many questions remain. An updated roster will answer some. The 15 spring football practices will clarify others.
The first area of interest involves the identity of the offensive player who will start each play with the football in his hands.
Question No. 1: Will center Mesa Ribordy’s concussion history allow him to continue his football career or will KU have to turn elsewhere for a center?
Either way, identifying an offensive lineman who can snap and handle all the duties that come with the position is a top spring priority for the Jayhawks.
Ribordy missed the Iowa State and TCU games, which KU lost by a combined score of 88-0 and followed a 106-yard performance with a 21-yard historically bad dud.
No obvious candidates jump to mind. Hakeem Adeniji could be tried, but the team is on the shy side at tackle in the first place, so that might not work.
Question No. 2: Will defensive end Isaiah Bean’s concussion history allow him to continue his career?
If not, KU will have plenty of candidates, thanks to recruiting the position aggressively in anticipation of losing Dorance Armstrong to the NFL draft.
Bean had trouble putting on weight, but had remained an intriguing prospect because of his explosiveness.
Question No. 3: Will head coach David Beaty take a different approach from seasons past and name a starting quarterback by the end of spring, giving the top choice more time to get teammates to rally behind him?
Let’s hope so. Beaty and offensive coordinator Doug Meacham will choose from three candidates. Peyton Bender, a senior, and Carter Stanley, a junior, split the job in 2017 and neither player won over the coaching staff.
Enter Miles Kendrick, an undersized born leader, hard worker and confident presence. He’ll be given a serious look after spending his first semester out of high school at a junior college in California before transferring to KU, the only school to offer him a scholarship. He’s considered a dual-threat QB, as is Stanley.
Question No. 4: Will graduating high school a semester early enable cornerback Corione Harris ample time to refine his game to the degree he can become a starter from Day 1 of his college career?
At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds as a high school senior in New Orleans, Harris gained a reputation as a physical corner and was recruited by Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma and Texas, among other heavyweights and stayed loyal to KU assistant coach Tony Hull.
If Harris can lock down a starting job right away, he’ll generate a huge buzz. He wouldn't be the first cornerback named Harris to start as a freshman at KU. Chris Harris arrived on campus with decidedly less fanfare and developed into an All-Pro corner.
Question No. 5: Will solid depth at running back result in more running plays?
KU’s two quarterbacks combined to throw 460 passes last season. The five running backs combined for 391 carries.
Freshman Pooka Williams, sophomore Dom Williams, junior Khalil Herbert and senior Taylor Martin all bring speed.
At previous coaching stops the personnel on hand dictated that Meacham’s offenses would be pass-oriented. But don’t forget, this is a man who spent his college career blocking for Hall of Fame backs Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas. His coaching background is rich with Air Raid history, but don’t think for a second he doesn’t know the value of running the football.
The NCAA allows Football Bowl Subdivision schools to carry 85 players on full scholarships. When schools fall short, they award scholarships to walk-ons. The limit for any one class is 25.
Because of career-ending injuries, academic flameouts, transfers to other schools, etc., most schools have rosters with fewer than 80 players who originally came to the program on scholarship.
Kansas, for example, has 77 players on the roster who originally came to school on football scholarships, although that number includes two Class of 2018 recruits who verbally committed but did not sign letters of intent. Also the number is likely to be smaller by the time the 2018 season starts, and in fact likely already is smaller. KU, however, has not updated its roster. The 77 figure includes offensive tackle Charles Baldwin, who did not practice with the team for most of the season as a disciplinary measure. Is he still in the program? He's still listed on the roster. It also includes a couple of players with concussion histories who might or might not be able to continue their football careers.
Having 77 original scholarship players isn't a bad number, but the class balance is not ideal. At the moment, the 2018 roster projects as having 15 freshmen, 14 sophomores, 27 juniors and 21 seniors.
Freshmen (15): Kenny Bastida, Mac Copeland, Jay Dineen, Miles Emery (committed but didn’t sign), Joey Gilbertson, Corione Harris, Travis Jordan, Torry Locklin (committed but didn’t sign), Jacobi Lott, Ryan Malbrough, Kenyon Tabor, Robert Topps III, Pooka Williams, Nick Williams, Takulve Williams.
Sophomores (14): Shola Ayinde, Earl Bostick Jr., Davon Ferguson, Joey Gilbertson, Quan Hampton, Chris Hughes, Kyron Johnson, Liam Jones, Miles Kendrick, Ian Peterson, Dru Prox, Stephon Robinson, Kyle Thompson, Dominic Williams.
Juniors (27): Hakeem Adeniji, Isaiah Bean, Julian Chandler, Daylon Charlot, Malik Clark, Charles Cole, Hasan Defense, Foster Dixson, Cam Durley, Evan Fairs, Antione Frazier, Chase Harrell, Elmore Hempstead, Khalil Herbert, Elijah Jones, Azur Kamura, Mike Lee, Reuben Lewis, Kyle Mayberry, Clyde McCauley, Jeremiah McCullough, Najee Stevens-McKenzie, Shaquille Richmond, Carter Stanley, Bryce Torneden, Andru Tovi, Justin Williams.
Seniors (21): Charles Baldwin, Peyton Bender, Jeremiah Booker, Jacob Bragg, Joe Dineen, Josh Ehambe, Denzel Feaster, Isi Holani, J.J. Holmes, Kerr Johnson, Taylor Martin, Willie McCaleb, Tyrone Miller, Emmanuel Moore, Osaze Ogbebor, Tyler Patrick, Mavin Saunders, Keyshawn Simmons, Steven Sims, Shakial Taylor, Daniel Wise.
Identifying six or so players from the junior class to spend this coming season as redshirts would result in better balance, with a breakdown of 14, 21, 21, 21.
You never want to redshirt a player unless you think he can make his way onto the depth chart as a first-string or second-string player because there is no point of keeping a non-contributor on scholarship an extra year. It wouldn't be tough to find a half dozen juniors who have the potential to benefit the team by preserving a year of eligibility to develop their skills and physiques. Six defensive backs who have not yet used a redshirt season are in the class, so three could come from the secondary. Combining offensive and defensive linemen, nine candidates are available, from which three could be earmarked for redshirts.
All five starters in the secondary return for Kansas, but that doesn’t mean all five will start this coming fall. Plenty of competition will take place during spring football.
KU allowed 298.6 passing yards per game in 2017, 126th out of 130.
The coaching staff aggressively tried to upgrade the cornerback and safety positions and signed one high school prospect and four from junior colleges.
All five will be given shots to compete for starting positions, challenging corners Hasan Defense and Shakial Taylor, safeties Tyrone Miller and Mike Lee and nickelback Bryce Torneden.
Based on last year’s performances, Miller and Taylor would appear most vulnerable to losing their starting spots.
The five newcomers in the secondary:
Davon Ferguson, S, 5-10, 190, So.: A kick and punt return man for Hartnell College, Ferguson also had two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, and two fumble recoveries to go with 55 tackles (41 solo) in his lone season of juco ball.
Corione Harris, CB, 6-1, 170, Fr.: The first top-100 high school recruit in Kansas history since Rivals started ranking prospects, Harris checked in at No. 97 and was the sixth-ranked prospect in football-rich Louisiana. Cornerback is a tough spot to play as a true freshman in the Big 12, but Harris has the talent to compete for a starting spot.
Elmore Hempstead, CB, 6-0, 185: Arizona State, Central Florida and Iowa State also recruited him. It probably didn’t hurt that Hempstead’s head coach at Fort Scott Community College was Kale Pick, former Kansas quarterback and receiver.
Elijah Jones, CB, 6-1, 175, Jr.: Originally committed to Central Florida but changed his mind when Scott Frost took the Nebraska job. From Fort Myers, Fla., played juco ball in Iowa. Projects as someone who will play a lot, possibly even start.
“Great size, 6-1 corner, lots of length,” head coach David Beaty said of him on signing day. “There is no doubt about that. The guy is a really good player and we need depth at that position.”
Jeremiah McCullough, S, 6-0, 205, Jr.: A two-time, first-team all-conference player in junior college and member of the Dean’s List, McCullough was named team’s “Hit Man of the Year” both seasons at Hartnell. Sounds as if Mike Lee will have company in bruising opposing receivers.
Ferguson, Harris and McCullough are enrolled in classes at KU and will participate in spring football.
The Jayhawks have 20 defensive backs, an unusually large number, listed on the roster who arrived at Kansas on scholarship. The 10 who neither are newcomers nor returning starters: Shola Ayinde, Julian Chandler, Daylon Charlot, Antonio Cole, Kyle Mayberry, Emmanuel Moore, Ian Peterson, Shaquille Richmond, Robert Topps and Justin Williams.
Kansas football coach David Beaty always is at his most entertaining on signing day. His blend of football lingo and down-home sayings delivered in a Texas twang makes for an entertaining press conference and probably results in a few ticket sales as well.
A sampling of Beaty-isms from Wednesday’s media session:
On defensive end Najee Stevens-McKenzie: “Man, you’re talking about a pass-rushing fool now.”
On cornerback Elmore Hempstead: “He’s from Smackover, Arkansas. How about that name? And he will hit you, which is good.”
The hometown is a cool name, especially for a player who “will hit you.” But how about the player’s name itself?
On guard Jacobi Lott: “Tried not to say too much about him. Tried to hide him, but he’s too big to hide. He’s a big human.”
On running back Pooka Williams: “He was playing in the state semifinal and the quarterback got underneath (center). It was the last play. They were going for two, and the quarterback looked back at Pooka like was a little bit nervous, and Pooka said, ‘Man, what you doing, boy? Just snap that ball and give it to me,’ and he did the rest.”
On linebackers coach Bill Miller: “He’s a beloved Kansan. When I met him down there in Florida he showed me pictures of the Kansas sky with the waving wheat, and I don’t know many guys who carried that picture on their phone, but that’s how much he loves this place. He’s truly excited to be back here.”
Beaty’s most stunning prediction came when discussing Wichita Collegiate High quarterback/defensive back Cody McNerney part of what appears to be an impressive class of walk-ons.
“He can run the football. He can throw the football, and he will flat hit you on defense,” Beaty said. “He’s a guy who can do just about all of it. I can see him being a beast on special teams. He did everything for those guys. He’s a terrific basketball player. This guy’s a great athlete.”
And now Beaty's bold prediction: “I would not doubt that this guy will wind up in the NFL, because it’s just the type of guy he is. He’s a guy that nobody’s going to think about and then he’s going to be the guy making all the money playing in the NFL. Because that league is full of guys like that, and he does everything right.”
Save that quote.
If McNerney makes an NFL roster, Beaty’s ultimate football destination could become NFL general manager or at the very least director of scouting for an NFL team. Tracking McNerney’s career will make for an interesting exercise. Clearly, Beaty sees something special in him.
Kansas went heavy on junior-college recruits, using 11 of an estimated 20 or 21 available scholarships on them.
Still, KU was able to recruit a decent foundation of high school blockers to try to build with in the weight room and on the practice field.
Guard Jacobi Lott of Amarillo, Texas probably projects as the player most likely to play as a true freshman. Offensive tackles Mac Copeland from Wichita and Nick Williams from the St. Louis area are likely candidates to spend their first season in the program as redshirts.
Kansas has a good shot at adding a fourth high school offensive lineman from right down the road. Free State High's Jalan Robinson will announce his college choice at 2:45 p.m. today. KU offered a scholarship late in the process, after Mississippi State offered. Nebraska got involved late, but the Cornhuskers appeared to have him as a backup plan in the event they didn't land Will Canty, a three-star lineman from Florida. The Cornhuskers beat out Louisville for him, so it looks as if Robinson is down to Mississippi State and Kansas.
Robinson appeared to have more interest in Nebraska than Mississippi State because it's closer to him, so that bodes well for KU's chances of landing the blocker who didn't become a starter until his senior year, but has a high ceiling because of his frame and quick feet. He starts for Free State's basketball team.
In a class that for the most part is all about winning now, it's refreshing to see Kansas continue to try to build an offensive line with primarily prospects from high school.
In job-saving mode, Kansas football coach David Beaty has loaded up on recruits from junior colleges.
Less than a week from next Wednesday's late signing day, Kansas looks as if it will end up with seven, maybe eight high school signees. Five signed letters of intent in the early period and two others have made verbal commitments.
Plus, Rivals reports that Kansas is battling Missouri for a Nick Bolton, a linebacker from Frisco, Texas, but he's thought to be leaning toward Missouri over Louisiana Tech and Kansas.
Defensive ends Miles Emery of Blue Valley High and Ryan Malbrough of Cecilia, Louisiana have made verbal commitments.
Free State High offensive tackle Jalan Robinson has been offered scholarships, but KU will not, an indication that the job-saving recruiting mode Beaty is in doesn't leave room for players who need time to blossom in the program after spending time reshaping their bodies in the weight room. Mississippi State and Nebraska both have first-year head coaches are building programs, and offered Robinson a scholarship earlier this week.
The KU class of high school recruits grades higher in quality than quantity among.
The five signees, ranked in estimated order of the contributions they'll make to the program:
Corione Harris, cornerback, 6-1, 170, New Orleans: He committed to Kansas early, even though SEC schools recruited him heavily. In the end, he chose Kansas over Mississippi State. Harris will participate in KU's spring football and projects as an immediate starter. Has reputation as hard hitter.
Pooka Williams, running back, 5-10, 165, Boutte, La.: A burner, Williams rushed for 3,120 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior. He chose Kansas over LSU and Nebraska. Williams, also a track star, lost all the toes on his right foot at the age of 9 in a lawn-mower accident.
Jacobi Lott, offensive guard, 6-3, 305, Amarillo, Texas: Stronger than a typical high school recruit, he has a change to play sooner than most O-line recruits. Texas offered him a scholarship the night before the early signing period, but he stayed true to KU, which was in on him from the start.
Nick Williams, offensive lineman, 6-8, 260, Overland, Mo.: Kansas is excited about how he projects as an offensive tackle after spending a couple of years in the weight room.
Mac Copeland, offensive lineman, 6-5, 250, Wichita: Like Nick Williams, will need time to develop his body and technique before contributing and has a frame that should enable him to add weight easily.
Eight consecutive years of anywhere from zero to three victories have put many a Kansas football fan in such a guarded state of mind that to write anything nice about the program is to run the risk of being accused of "hyping" the team.
Consider yourself warned: I am not hyping the Jayhawks, not predicting that KU can contend for a bowl game in 2018 and won't yet even go so far as to predict a victory in the season-opener vs. underrated Nicholls State, but I am going to write something nice about KU football. So if you are afraid that it will lead you to get your hopes up yet again, thus setting yourself up for disappointment, this might be a good time to find something else to read on KUsports.com.
David Beaty made a terrific addition to his coaching staff by bringing veteran linebackers coach Bill Miller on board.
Kansas Athletics hasn't announced Miller's hiring yet, but he's already recruiting for Kansas, both on campus over the weekend, and out of town this week.
Miller has worked for, among others, Nick Saban, Jimmy Johnson, Butch Davis, Jimbo Fisher, Mark Mangino and Jerry Kill, a list of coaches who know how to evaluate assistants.
Miller will coach linebackers, so it will be interesting to see what assignment shifts that sets in motion. One strong possibility: Linebackers coach Todd Bradford will move to cornerbacks, and Kenny Perry, who doubles as recruiting coordinator, will move to special teams coordinator. Bradford has spent more seasons coaching the secondary during his career than any other position group.
Perry's first job after concluding his playing career at Houston came at his alma mater, where he worked with special teams and defensive backs. Plus, he was a head high school football coach for 13 seasons in Texas and has worked with specific special-teams units at TCU and Kansas.
Miller's strong reputation extends beyond his work on the field. His connections Kansas and Florida coupled with his his ability to evaluate talent give him value as a recruiter as well.
At Kansas, Miller received a verbal commitment from Class of 2010 Hutchinson High defensive end Geno Grissom, who would have honored his commitment had Miller been retained by Turner Gill. Upon learning that Miller would not be coaching at Kansas, Grissom switched to Oklahoma, where he eventually became a tight end. A reserve linebacker, Grissom is on the New England Patriots Super Bowl roster.
The Miller hiring is good news for Kansas, such good news that I imagine that Beaty eventually will get around to announcing it, although he too appears a little skittish about being accused of hyping the team yet again.
Many will go to their graves believing that the $12.5 million Charlie Weis was paid to coach Kansas for two-and-one-third seasons was his primary motivation for accepting athletic director Sheahon Zenger’s surprising job offer.
I never believed that. I thought it ranked second to his chief motivation, which became obvious at his introductory press conference. Weis took the Kansas job to use it as a vehicle to launch his son Charlie Jr.’s coaching career. The $12.5 million was a nice fringe benefit, but helping his son on his way to a coaching profession meant more to Tom Brady’s former offensive coordinator.
It worked. Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin hired Weis Jr. as his offensive coordinator, ESPN reported this morning.
“He's way ahead of his time in how he sees the game, his football IQ and just his overall intelligence," Kiffin told ESPN. "He's been around the game with his dad being a coach, a lot like I was when I was growing up, and has a bright future."
Monte Kiffin, a defensive assistant for eight different NFL franchises, works on his son’s staff.
In hiring Charlie Weis, Jr., Lane Kiffin has the youngest offensive coordinator in the nation. Charlie Jr., 24, worked as a student assistant under his father at Florida, where Charlie Sr. was offensive coordinator, and at Kansas. Charlie Jr. graduated from Kansas in 2015.
Charlie Jr. worked under Nick Saban as a non-recruiting offensive analyst in 2015-16 and then worked for the Atlanta Falcons as an offensive assistant.
At KU, Charlie Jr. earned a reputation as an intelligent, hard worker with a more low-key personality than his father.
At his introductory press conference, Charlie Sr. shared aloud his fantasy: Turn around the KU football program in five years or so and then turn it over to a more affordable Weis, Charlie Jr. Sure, Jr.'s name put him on the fast track, but he'll make or break a career on his own. Players and coaches who came to know Weis Jr. as nice, hard-working young man will be rooting for him.
All three bowl-game starting quarterbacks for Kansas were vertically challenged by Big 12 standards, but not challenged at stretching the field vertically, which of course is far more important.
Bill Whittemore, Jason Swanson and Todd Reesing combined to go 3-1 in bowl games at Kansas. Reesing was listed at 5-foot-11, Whittemore and Swanson at 6-foot.
Miles Kendrick, a native of San Jose who spent one semester at San Mateo Community Collge before enrolling at Kansas, is even shorter at 5-10.
That doesn’t mean he’ll be good, but it does take the air out of the inevitable question: If he’s any good, why didn’t anyone else offer him a scholarship? The bigger the program, the less likely the coaching staff will take a chance on a short quarterback.
Kendrick started the season second on San Mateo’s depth chart behind Shawn Akina, son of Stanford defensive backs coach Duane Akina. Despite Akina playing well, Kendrick beat him out from the fourth game on and took his team all the way to the California state juco championship game.
In his first start, Kendrick completed 14 of 21 passes for 263 yards and threw touchdowns without throwing an interception. He rushed for 84 yards on 10 carries and was on his way.
Kendrick wasn’t KU’s first choice. When it became obvious to the KU coaching staff that Texas high school standout Clayton Tune merely was using Kansas to get better offers, he was scratched off the list. Lindsey Scott, Jr., a 5-11 dual-threat QB from East Mississippi CC, visited Kansas but didn’t sign during the early period, which meant he was going elsewhere.
Kendrick will have a chance to show during spring football whether he has the arm strength to make the throws favored by offensive coordinator Doug Meacham. If Miles can beat out Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley, great. If not, he could always spend a year as a redshirt, spending four-and-a-half years at Kansas. Either way, his addition to the class means that the coaching staff doesn’t have to force the issue in making sure a high school quarterback is part of this recruiting class.
At this point, not as many prospects are available as in the Class of 2019, so might as well delay that a year. Best guess as to how many scholarships KU has left this season: Four. Why waste one on a high school quarterback unless a must-have prospect surfaces?
KU will have a senior (Bender), junior (Stanley) and two sophomores (Kendrick and Tyriek Starks) on scholarship in 2018, and four is the right number to have on a roster.
Obviously, without better blocking and fewer receiver drops, it will be tough for any QB to get much accomplished this coming season.
I know you have read this opinion in many previous seasons only to be disappointed, but this time it seems as if it can't possibly be anything but accurate: Kansas should have a better defense this coming season than last.
Now that Daniel Wise decided to return, that means that KU has 10 of its leading 11 tacklers, its two sack leaders and its only two players to pick off passes (Hasan Defense and Mike Lee) back for David Beaty's fourth season.
Plus, several defensive players from junior college were recruited with the intention of helping immediately.
Sure, defensive end Dorance Armstrong will be missed a great deal, despite being limited to two sacks a year after totaling 10 as a sophomore. Still, he led all Big 12 defensive ends in tackles and played a part in KU's big improvement against the run.
In 2015, opponents averaged 5.67 yards per carry, placing KU 123rd in the nation. The numbers improved to 5.17 (106th) in 2016 and 4.19 (55th) in 2017. Other than Armstrong, all the players who brought about that improvement return.
The linebackers all are back and the hope is that speedy Kyron Johnson will improve enough from his true freshman to sophomore season to take on a bigger role.
J.J. Holmes, mobile for his size but still in need of shedding a few pounds, Isi Holani (with a medical redshirt gaining him an extra year) and juco recruit Charles Cole have a chance to make defensive tackle a solid position.
Azura Kamara, juco defensive end, is considered by some the jewel of KU's juco class, and Najee Stevens-McKenzie arrives from juco with a reputation as an explosive edge rusher. Josh Ehambe has one more season remaining.
Four juco defensive backs were recruited to try to shore up a shoddy secondary. Will they make KU better against the pass? Can't get much worse. Plus, top 100 high school recruit Corione Harris could win a job right off the bat.
Most importantly, the driven, energetic, talented, experienced Wise is back, which enables the rest of the front six fall into place.