Entries from blogs tagged with “ku”

Say something nice about Kansas football: Walk-ons from Kansas high schools contributing

Kansas football team members react to a series of weightlifting reps by teammate Ryan Schadler during an early morning workout Friday morning, June 24, 2016.

Kansas football team members react to a series of weightlifting reps by teammate Ryan Schadler during an early morning workout Friday morning, June 24, 2016. by Mike Yoder

Every time a walk-on football player makes his way onto the Kansas depth chart it becomes that much easier for a high school player considering joining the Jayhawks without the benefit of a scholarship for the start of his career.

Red-shirt freshman offensive lineman Mesa Ribordy had to pay his own way this season and last. He had enough faith in his ability to believe that he will be on scholarship his final three years in the program.

Ribordy is on track to make that happen. Players who spend two years as walk-ons and then earn scholarships only count against the overall scholarship limit of 85 per Football Bowl Subdivision school. They don’t count against the single-year limit of 25.

In order to get back to a competitive level, Kansas will need to take advantage of several players in that category, which makes Ribordy a very valuable recruit.

A 6-foot-4, 290-pound graduate of Louisburg High, Ribordy is pushing for time at both right guard and center and has a strong chance of becoming one of the eight blockers who account for the majority of snaps at the five offensive-line positions.

Other players from Kansas high schools who have joined the program as walk-ons since David Beaty became head coach and hired Gene Wier as director of high schoo relations include: sophomore transfers Keith Loneker Jr. (Baker University, Free State) and Ryan Schadler (Wichita State track, Heeston), junior transfer Deron Thompson (RB Colorado State, Wichita Northwest); sophomore Reese Randall (RB Baldwin); red-shirt freshmen Mazin Aql (DE Blue Valley), Jackson Jenkins (OL Bishop Meige), Beau Lawrence (OL Blue Valley Southwest), Nathan Miller (CB Washburn Rural), Hunter Saulsbury (OL Blue Valley Southwest); freshman Tate Vang (WR, Goddard).

Kansas State has dominated in-state, walk-on recruiting and Kansas is coming from behind, but it’s important the coaches stay committed to bringing depth to the program through this method in hopes of eventually closing the gap on the Wildcats.

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Khalil Herbert buzz growing louder by the minute

Kansas freshman running back Khalil Herbert bursts through the line and into the secondary  during practice on Aug. 8, 2016.

Kansas freshman running back Khalil Herbert bursts through the line and into the secondary during practice on Aug. 8, 2016. by John Young

Kansas head football coach David Beaty’s media policy makes freshmen off-limits for interviews, but that didn’t keep teammates and Beaty himself from talking about running back Khalil Herbert during Monday's media session.

Clearly, Herbert has made a strong first impression.

“I saw him make some really good cuts, stuff that a typical freshman can’t really do,” tight end Ben Johnson said of Herbert’s performance in a Saturday scrimmage in which the South Florida native carried the ball three times for 93 yards and a touchdown. “That kind of stood out to me and I was pretty impressed. He’s just a natural ballplayer. There are things you can coach and things you can’t coach. He’s kind of one of those guys who just has natural instincts.”

Quarterback Ryan Willis shared what it does for him to see that sort of an effort from a freshman: “It fires me up. ... The key to this offense is getting it to our playmakers. Our playmakers right now are our running backs.”

Texas A&M transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez is the top playmaker at wide receiver and his face lit up Monday at the mention of Herbert’s name.

“I love that kid,” Gonzalez said. “I mean, he can really run the ball. I like that kid. He’s got pretty soft hands. He can catch like a receiver. He’s an all-purpose back. He can do everything.” Herbert, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound burner, comes to Kansas from American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla., where he played for former NFL defensive back Mike Rumph, now cornerbacks coach for University of Miami.

As did Gonzalez, Beaty gave Herbert points for more than his ability to run the football.

“He’s a dominant guy,” Beaty said. “He’s fast. He actually pass-blocks pretty good. Smart kid. Great kid. He showed some real burst on Saturday. Avoided some tackles, avoided a tackle in the backfield and took it for a long run, something I haven’t seen in a while.”

Beaty also praised the work of first-string senior back Ke’aun Kinner, sophomore sprinter Taylor Martin and the short-yardage contributions of Arkansas transfer Denzell Evans.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Improved depth eliminates need to rush freshmen onto field

Kansas cornerback Tyrone Miller Jr. (19) celebrates a Jayhawk recovery of a Memphis fumble during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas cornerback Tyrone Miller Jr. (19) celebrates a Jayhawk recovery of a Memphis fumble during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

True freshmen Larry Hughes and Clyde McCauley combined to start nine games at offensive tackle for Kansas last season and classmate Tyrone Miller started the first seven games of the season at cornerback.

If the same players were true freshmen this season, they would combine to start zero games at those positions.

That demonstrates the improved depth, most of it through upgraded recruiting, that already is taking place in the major rebuilding job.

“They were not strong enough to compete in this league,” strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson said of Hughes and McCauley. “They weren’t, and it was evident when they played.”

That’s why true freshmen linemen redshirt in all but rare circumstances.

Hughes and McCauley aren’t as strong as they will be two years from now, but they are a great deal stronger than a year ago.

“I’ve put on 25 pounds since when I first got here,” McCauley said. “I’m way stronger. My clean shot up about 50 pounds. My bench shot up about 90.”

He shouldn’t have had to face future NFL defensive linemen before those gains were made, but the ranks were so thin last season, he and Hughes were pressed into duty.

In contrast, incoming freshman O-linemen Hakeem Adeniiji (6-foot4, 265 pounds, Garland, Texas) and Antoine Frazier (6-4, 260, Huffman, Texas) have the luxury of red-shirting, which doesn’t necessarily mean they will.

Jackson said they both arrived on campus stronger than some of the veterans were when Jackson rejoined the Kansas football program in Jan., 2015.

“Those kids are both 260 pounds and they’re bench-pressing over 315 pounds,” Jackson said. “Young guys who are able to do it, it’s a great foundation to be able to build on.”

There is no masking a lack of strength up front or a lack of speed in the back of the defense. Miller does not and will not ever have the speed to play cornerback in the Big 12. But the coaches didn’t know where else to turn, so they played a true freshman safety at cornerback and it showed.

Now if the Jayhawks need to call on a true freshman at cornerback, they can choose from a pair of speedy players born to play cornerback in Kyle Mayberry from Tulsa and Mike Lee from New Orleans. If they aren’t ready, it won’t be because they are playing out of position or don’t have the speed to keep up.

As for Miller, his confidence will grow instead of shrink now that he’s playing a position that suits his talents.

At linebacker, true freshman Maciah Long (6-2, 240) is more physically ready for Big 12 play than most freshman, but he played quarterback in high school and is new to the position. No need to rush him into action and burn his redshirt with experienced reserve linebackers Courtney Arnick, Kendall Duckworth, Keith Loneker Jr. and Osaze Ogbebore on hand.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Sprinters galore competing

New KU running backs Ke'aun Kinner, left, (#22) and Taylor Martin, (#24) photographed at a KU football media day event Saturday August 8, 2015.

New KU running backs Ke'aun Kinner, left, (#22) and Taylor Martin, (#24) photographed at a KU football media day event Saturday August 8, 2015. by Mike Yoder

Je’Ney Jackson’s non-stop search for how to make Kansas football players faster even takes him elsewhere in the athletic department at times. Jackson said he consults friends Stanley Redwine, KU’s head track and field coach, and sprints and hurdles coach Elisha Brewer.

“I’ll ask coach Brewer, ‘What things are you doing with your indoor sprinters?’ I pick her brain to see what I can steal.’ ... If you have an extremely slow team it’s going to be very hard to compete in this league,” Jackson said.

That’s been part of KU’s problem in recent seasons. Jackson is convinced it’s much less of a problem now and said that 42 players in the program were hand-timed at 4.59 seconds or faster at 40 yards. (He said just three returning players in the spring of 2015 met that standard.)

Asked to name the Jayhawks’ five fastest players, Jackson obliged: “Taylor Martin, LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Brandon Stewart, probably Kyle Mayberry, and I’d say Bobby Hartzog.” A moment later, another image popped into Jackson’s head and he expanded the list by a name.

“And you know who I forgot is Ke’aun Kinner,” Jackson said. “He is definitely in that mix. Ke’aun Kinner. He is definitely in the top five. Here’s what’s nice: I have to think about it. It’s not, ‘OK, we only have five guys who can really run fast.’ ”

Every day during summer conditioning season, Jackson pitted fast runners against each other in races, believing the competition makes them train faster and in turn become faster. Martin had the fastest unofficial 40 time, so I thought I’d ask him for his top 5. First, I asked him to name the toughest guy to beat in a race.

“Me, LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Ke’aun Kinner, (Colin) Spencer and T-Pat, Tyler Patrick,” Martin said.

Jackson and Martin mentioned eight players between them: Three cornerbacks (Stewart, Mayberry and Spencer), two running backs (Martin and Kinner) and three receivers (Gonzalez, Hartzog and Patrick).

Martin said Gonzalez is the toughest one for him to beat in a race.

Kansas definitely is getting faster.

Now it’s your turn to say something nice about Kansas football. Anybody out there?

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Video highlights of Kansas basketball recruit Marcus Garrett in marquee matchups

Dallas Skyline point guard Marcus Garrett, who on Monday made a verbal commitment to attend Kansas, wears No. 6 for the red team in the first video below.

Garrett, a 6-foot-5, 180-pound point guard who has the size to play the other two perimeter positions as well, is shown in the video below playing against Texas A&M three-star recruit T.J. Starks, a 6-foot pure point guard who led Dallas Lancaster to the state title last season. Rivals does not include Starks in its top 150 for the Class of 2017.

In the next video, Garrett is wearing No. 23 in blue and Irving MacArthur point guard Andrew Jones wears No. 10 in white. Jones, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound, five-star shooting guard, committed to Texas to play for Shaka Smart. Rivals ranks him No. 22 in the Class of 2017.

It won't take long for the Kansas coaching staff to turn Garrett into a much more intense defender. Other coaches will have a tougher time trying to figure out how to defend a long guard with a quick first step and a touch so soft the net barely moves.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Staff well-equipped for changes in recruiting rules

Kansas football coach David Beaty holds a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 3, to discuss the Jayhawks' 2016 class of signees.

Kansas football coach David Beaty holds a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 3, to discuss the Jayhawks' 2016 class of signees. by Mike Yoder


Now that a new recruiting rule has gone into effect, a football program might as well be on the winning side of the rule change, even if it’s a minor one. David Beaty’s social media-conscious coaching staff is on the winning side of it.

As of Monday, college coaches in all sports are allowed to click “retweet” and “like” on the Twitter accounts of recruits and allowed to share recruits’ content on other social-media platforms. Coaches still can’t directly comment on the posts, but are allowed to show they are paying attention to the recruits’ via social media.

Every little bit helps and Kansas certainly needs any help it can get in trying to climb out of the Big 12 basement.

Beaty (1,809 tweets), walk-around guy Rob Likens (1,539), offensive line coach Zach Yenser (1,321) and defensive line coach Michael Slater (967) are particularly active on Twitter.

Losing five assistant coaches after his first season, only one via demotion, certainly wasn’t ideal for Beaty, but he seems to have rebounded well and put together a staff that so far seems to have good chemistry, solid recruiting contacts and a strong work ethic.

Yet again, I have said something nice about Kansas football. Your turn.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 1 - DE Dorance Armstrong

With August right around the corner and another football season quickly coming, we've reached the top spot in our summer series of the most crucial Jayhawks for the 2016 season.

In all, the series featured 13 offensive players and 12 defensive players, lending support to the idea that the Jayhawks have work to do on both sides of the line of scrimmage if they want to become more competitive in the Big 12 and erase the memories of last year's winless season.

The No. 1 player on our list represents exactly what second-year coach David Beaty and company are going for — overlooked talent with a ton of potential and extreme dedication to getting better and elevating the program to better days.

One final reminder: This was not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would have been much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly have demonstrated the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results.

We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

In case you missed some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for a complete look at the list of 25.

1. Dorance Armstrong, Soph. Defensive End

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (46) runs through drills during practice on Tuesday, April 11, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (46) runs through drills during practice on Tuesday, April 11, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

From the moment Kansas football defensive coordinator Clint Bowen stalled during a home visit with defensive end recruit Dorance Armstrong so that the Missouri football coaches would have to wait outside, Bowen was convinced that this was a player the Jayhawks needed to land.

When Armstrong committed, Bowen was more excited about landing him than any other member of the Class of 2015.

Nothing about the way Armstrong competed as a part-time, undersized true freshman changed Bowen’s mind.

Armstrong added 17 pounds and didn’t lose a step during a committed offseason and in so doing kept the coaching staff’s excitement about his potential on an upward trend.

Armstrong, talented enough to post the first double-digit, single-season sack total since James Holt had 10 in 2008 before his four years are up, shapes up as the team’s most crucial player.

If he can harass quarterbacks on a consistent basis and can shed blockers quickly enough to keep ballcarriers from running wild on the outside, that can go a long way toward Kansas significantly improving a defense that statistically was the worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2015.

Armstrong started the final five games of his true freshman season and ranked second to Ben Goodman with 3.5 sacks. Using his quickness to get around Oklahoma’s massive blockers, Armstrong totaled six tackles and two sacks against the mighty Sooners.

An active, 6-foot-4, 241-pound NFL prospect, Armstrong batted three passes against Texas.

It’s easy to see why Michigan State, Cal and several other schools from big conferences offered him a scholarship. He chose Kansas, a nice morale boost for the coaching staff. A big sophomore season from Armstrong would spread feel-good vibes throughout the program.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

No. 7 - OL D'Andre Banks

No. 6 - QB Ryan Willis

No. 5 - DT Daniel Wise

No. 4 - LB Joe Dineen

No. 3 - RB Ke'aun Kinner

No. 2 - WR LaQuvionte Gonzalez

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 3 - RB Ke’aun Kinner

Coming in at No. 3 on our list of the most crucial Jayhawks of the 2016 season is one of the best players from 2015 and one of the more pleasant surprises from a year ago.

He did not arrive on campus with much hype, but his size, speed, vision and ability quickly turned him into one of the more important options on a struggling offense that fought through injuries and youth all season long.

Thrust more into a leadership role in 2016, Kinner will be even more valuable for this program and everybody, both inside and outside the program, enters the season knowing that.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas running back Ke'aun Kinner (22) breezes past Memphis linebacker Hayden Ferrari (30) during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Ke'aun Kinner (22) breezes past Memphis linebacker Hayden Ferrari (30) during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

3. Ke'aun Kinner, Sr. Running Back

So many numbers say so much about the ineptitude of the 2015 Kansas football offense.

There aren’t many number combinations that say it better than these: Running back Ke’aun Kinner led the team with five touchdowns. Kinner did not have a single touchdown in KU’s nine games against Big 12 opponents.

Kinner, No. 3 on our list of the top 25 most crucial Jayhawks, rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns in his debut in a 41-38 loss to South Dakota State. He followed that up with 113 yards and a touchdown vs. Memphis. He scored twice against Rutgers, but averaged just 1.5 yards per game.

In his 10 games vs. schools from power five conferences, Kinner averaged 3.1 yards per carry, after averaging 6.3 yards in in the opening two weeks.

Those numbers suggest two things about Kinner: 1. When he’s fresh, he’s far better than when the hits over the course of a season result in nagging injuries; 2. When the offensive line is not completely overmatched and gives him room to run, he makes things happen.

Slowed by injuries, Kinner turned 25 carries into 49 yards during a four-game stretch (Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma). He emerged from that dry spell by combining for 30 carries and 147 yards in road games against Texas and TCU.

Kinner has break-away speed, but even after adding 11 pounds to get to 191, the 5-foot-9 back could use a lighter work load to increase his chances of staying healthy.

Anticipated Arkansas transfer Denzell Evans, Fort Hays State transfer James Sullivan and sprinters Taylor Martin, a sophomore, true freshman Khalil Herbert, and Ryan Schadler supply depth. Evans has the most power of the group. Combined, the reserves have 49 carries in Div. I football games without a single touchdown.

Clearly, a healthy season from Kinner is crucial for the Jayhawks.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

No. 7 - OL D'Andre Banks

No. 6 - QB Ryan Willis

No. 5 - DT Daniel Wise

No. 4 - LB Joe Dineen

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Discipline taking root

Kansas football teammates Keegan Brewer, left, and LaQuvionte Gonzalez, visit during weightlifting exercises Friday morning, June 24, 2016.

Kansas football teammates Keegan Brewer, left, and LaQuvionte Gonzalez, visit during weightlifting exercises Friday morning, June 24, 2016. by Mike Yoder

Setting rules and then dismissing anybody who doesn't follow them is not the way to establish discipline in a football program. Anybody could do that. It's easy. The tough challenge is taking players who lack discipline and finding a way to get them to change their behaviors.

The summer conditioning program plays a big part in instilling discipline and things seem to be going well on that front.

“What showed me we’re changing is the amount of guys I've had to punish at 5 a.m.," Kansas strength and conditioning coach Je'Ney Jackson said Friday. "Like today, I didn’t have anyone. Let's say we have 100 guys. There will be eight different times per week they have to be somewhere on time for me. So that's 800 different opportunities for them to miss one of those times. I bet we've had six all summer. Six! When I first (returned to Kansas), that first spring, we might have six per week. I went 55 days in a row where I punished guys at 5 a.m. Fifty-five days in a row!"

Tardiness or absence from a class, a tutoring session and a workout are examples of transgressions that could earn a player an early alarm clock setting.

"Coaches are holding them more accountable and they don’t want to come in here and get crushed at 5 a.m.," Jackson said. "What coach (David) Beaty is doing, it’s working. It really is working."

All program reversals start with instilling discipline. It's a first step that must be followed by many, many more, such as improved recruiting, smart game-planning and in-game adjustments.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 6 - QB Ryan Willis

More than 14,000 high schools in the United States field football teams, yet only one of those schools can lay claim to having a candidate for the Kansas starting quarterback job.

Bishop Miege, located in Roeland Park, also furnished KU with an offensive line coach for two years until Tim Grunhard decided he didn’t want to miss his son’s high school years and resigned.

Montell Cozart, a 2013 Miege graduate, appeared at No. 9 on our list of most crucial Jayhawks. Ryan Willis, who graduated from Miege in 2015, checks in at No. 6 on our countdown.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete, which they failed to do during an 0-12 2015 season.

Matt Tait and and I collaborated on the list for the third consecutive season.

Track it every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil one crucial Jayhawk at a time in reverse order. If you missed any, click the links at the bottom of each entry to get up to speed.

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) throws during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) throws during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

6. Ryan Willis, Soph. Quarterback

Easier tasks exist than evaluating a true freshman quarterback playing behind a consistently overmatched offensive line in one of the nation’s top college football conferences.

Statistically, Willis didn’t fare particularly well. He completed 52.1 percent of his passes for just 5.46 yards per attempt and threw nine touchdown pases and 10 interceptions in 315 attempts. Cozart completed 62.9 percent with a 7.16 average, two touchdowns and one interception in 105 attempts before a season-ending injury.

Since Cozart has so much more experience, it stands to reason Willis will improve more in his second year in the program than Cozart in his fourth. Not so fast. Willis suffered a wrist injury playing pick-up basketball and couldn’t throw during spring football.

Second-year head coach David Beaty, who has taken on the responsibilities of offensive coordinator, has a tough decision on his hands. The fact that Willis and Cozart have such different strengths and weaknesses doesn’t make it any easier.

Willis’ greatest strength is in throwing accurate medium-to-long passes, which happens to be Cozart’s greatest weakness because of a tendency to overthrow receivers. Speed ranks as Cozart’s greatest strength, which happens to match up with Willis’ most glaring weakness.

Defenses facing a Cozart-led offense can crowd the field without fearing he will burn them with accurate down-field throws. Defenses facing an offense directed by Willis can worry about one fewer helmet in the running game because he is no threat with his feet. Willis can stretch a defense with the threat of the long ball.

Cozart, who as a freshman shied from contact to the point of running out of bounds one yard short of the first-down marker, has made big strides in that area. Willis took vicious hits last season and hung though throughout.

Because Cozart is such a known and Willis in theory has more untapped potential, the majority of the fan base will take it as an encouraging sign if Willis wins the job, but Beaty’s decision won’t be based on popularity, rather on which quarterback he thinks can generate more points for an offense that ranked 123rd among 128 FBS schools in 2015.

Even without much protection and a shortage of speedy targets, Willis showed he is more capable of scoring through the air than Cozart. Willis threw a touchdown once every 35 passes, not a good number. Cozart threw one every 52.5 passes, worse.

Which quarterback can more effectively get the ball in the hands of Texas A&M transfer wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez will be a factor.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

No. 10 - WR Jeremiah Booker

No. 9 - QB Montell Cozart

No. 8 - OL Clyde McCauley

No. 7 - OL D'Andre Banks

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Jayhawks’ run defense will improve

Kansas sophomore defensive tackle D.J. Williams works out with the Jayhawk football team during conditioning drills Friday, July 15, 2016.

Kansas sophomore defensive tackle D.J. Williams works out with the Jayhawk football team during conditioning drills Friday, July 15, 2016. by Mike Yoder

Frank Solich made his coaching reputation at Nebraska, where fleet running backs and powerful backs alike darted through holes blown open by corn-fed linemen.

That blueprint has worked well for Solich at Ohio University, which he has on a hot streak that includes going to bowl games in 6 of 7 years heading into this season.

Entering his 12th season at Ohio, Solich has a big, experienced offensive line, and all but two of the eight players who rushed for more than 100 yards last season back, including A.J. Ouellette, the leading rusher.

Based on the performance of last season’s Kansas defense, the Sept. 10 clash with the Bobcats in Memorial Stadium has all the earmarks of a blowout with the home team on the losing end.

A refresher on just how poorly the Jayhawks fared among 124 FBS schools against the run during an 0-12, 2015 season: 124th in rushing touchdowns (39), 123rd in yards per carry (5.67), 125th in yards per game (267.17).

Ohio’s rankings in rushing the football: 68th in rushing touchdowns (22), 76th in yards per carry (4.3), 50th in yards per game (180.85).

Solich doesn’t have an obvious choice to start at quarterback — always good news for the opposition — but all the candidates are dual-threats.

Obviously, KU stats were compiled against a brutal schedule, Ohio’s vs. a less challenging one.

Still, it’s a case of OU’s strength matching up against one of KU’s biggest weaknesses (another being pass defense), based on last season.

But last season’s defense won’t be taking the field, even though most of the names will be the same.

Other than Ben Goodman, all the starters from the defensive line were in their first year of Div. I football.

They all have grown in physique, confidence and football smarts. On paper at least, the D-line should be the most improved position group.

Sophomore Dorance Armstrong had a standout spring at defensive end. On the other side, Damani Mosby and Anthony Olobia have their junior-college transition year behind them. It’s the improvement in the middle of the D-line that creates the most hope that KU won’t get steamrolled to the extent it did a year ago.

D-tackles Daniel Wise and D.J. Williams both have been singled out as recipients of strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson’s Workout Warrior of the Week honor. (Reserve defensive end Josh Ehambe also was so honored).

Wise started seven games last season as a redshirt freshman and has added needed weight and emerged as a big leader on the defense. Williams, a prospect with impressive enough physical tools to receive scholarship offers from Oklahoma and Missouri, has completely transformed his work ethic, according to Jackson. He’s 6-foot-5, 306 pounds and agile.

Statistics don’t accurately reflect the contributions of a defensive lineman, so I thought it would be interesting to ask Williams to share his individual goals for this season.

“Every time someone comes in my hole, it’s not open. Just make sure that hole’s not open,” Williams said. “That’s my No. 1 individual goal. Another individual goal would be not getting tired, trying to keep that endurance. I really don’t like coming out of the game because I really didn’t get that many snaps (last year). I’m trying to get as many as I can before my time is up.”

Those are terrific goals, one centered on on-field performance, the other on conditioning. Still, no position requires more depth than D-tackle. Huge men who so often have to wrestle with two blockers at once need to rest. That’s where junior-college transfers Isi Holani and DeeIsaac Davis enter the equation.

Holani looked too overweight during the spring to project as a player who could help as soon as the fall. He looks as if he’s shedding pounds at a good rate.

Occupying blockers so that linebackers can come up and make the tackles is one job for D-tackles. Then it’s up to KU’s linebackers making tackles closer to the line of scrimmage than a year ago. Marcquis Roberts has healthier knees than at this point last season and brings quickness and toughness. Joe Dineen, with the first full year of his life as a linebacker behind him and added strength should make a leap forward.

So even though Ohio will be favored against Kansas in Week 2, an upset is possible if the Jayhawks’ run defense improves even more than I suspect it will.

Yet again, I said something nice about Kansas football. Step up to the plate and take your best cuts at shining optimism on a team coming off an 0-12 finish.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 11 - CB Brandon Stewart

As we approach the Top 10 of this summer's list, it's back to the defensive side of the ball, where the Jayhawks return a bunch of players with significant experience who are expected to enjoy a much more productive season in 2016 than the ones they produced in 2015.

Today's entrant might be at the top of that list, given the hope and expectation for him to deliver in Year 1 and the fact that it took him a little time to adjust and ease into things during his first season as a Jayhawk.

Stewart was by no means stellar during the 2015 season but he wasn't bad either. But because he plays one of the most visible and important positions in the Big 12, KU's going to need him to make a meaningful jump this season to improve its chances at snagging some victories.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas University cornerback Brandon Stewart (8) makes a play during practice on Thursday, March 26, 2015.

Kansas University cornerback Brandon Stewart (8) makes a play during practice on Thursday, March 26, 2015. by Richard Gwin

11. Brandon Stewart, Sr. Cornerback

The emergence of potential star defensive end Dorance Armstrong figures to translate to less time for opposing quarterbacks to find a receiver, which in turn translates to the Kansas secondary not getting shredded as badly as it did a year ago.

That factor and greatly increased experience combine to make the outlook of the pass defense less hopeless than a year ago. A more sound season from senior cornerback Brandon Stewart would go a long way toward making that happen.

The Kansas coaching staff was excited to get a commitment out of Stewart, a junior college cornerback especially since he was arriving at mid-semester and could participate in spring practice in 2015. A little undersized, he graded out well as a prospect in every other area. Yet, cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry was quick to point out that junior college competition does not equate to that in the pass-happy Big 12. Perry used another junior college player who struggled mightily in his first year in the Football Bowl Subdivsion and ultimately developed into a first-round draft pick. It would take time, perhaps a whole season, Perry cautioned, for Stewart to show why the staff was excited to land him.

“I call him Crazy Legs,” Perry said at the time. “His legs are all over the place.”

His body needed to become more disciplined to execute the fundamentals of playing cornerback and as his first season progressed, Stewart did show subtle improvements. He will be counted on to take a bigger leap forward now that he has a full season of game experience and two springs behind him.

“Last year was just getting a feel for D-1, getting a feel for KU,” Stewart said. “It was all just a whole bunch of new stuff thrown at you all at once. So now it’s, “I know what to do and I want to play with confidence and and play fast because you know what’s going to happen and you have the feel for stuff. That’s when a defense can really start making plays and start doing things to turn this program around. ... I know from scrimmages we’ve gotten a lot better.”

Stewart sounded more confident than ever this past spring.

“I know it’s the Big 12, but I feel like this guy across from me, I feel like I can beat him,” Stewart said. "He’s mine for the day. You just have to play with that confidence.”

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

No. 13 - DL D.J. Williams

No. 12 - S Fish Smithson

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Say something nice about Kansas Football: Jayhawks in middle of Big 12 pack for Class of 2017 recruiting

Kansas cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry shakes hands with officials at Southlake, Texas.

Kansas cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry shakes hands with officials at Southlake, Texas. by Richard Gwin

It’s too depressing to look behind to see where Kansas ranks in various Big 12 football categories. So why not look ahead? It will brighten the mood.

Rivals.com ranks Kansas fifth among 10 Big 12 teams in Class of 2017 recruiting thus far and 42nd in the nation.

Big 12 teams with national recruiting rankings for the Class of 2017: 5. Oklahoma, 24. (tie) Iowa State and Oklahoma State, 32. Texas Tech, 42. Kansas, 44. TCU, 46. Texas, 57. West Virginia, 66. Kansas State, 94. Baylor.

Aside from the encouraging ranking for Kansas, two interesting elements of the rankings jump out. First, Iowa State obviously made a great hire in wooing Matt Campbell from Toledo, where he went 35-15. Second, Baylor’s recruiting has taken a huge hit in the wake of the rape scandal and subsequent firing of head coach Art Briles.

Rivals lists a dozen verbal commitments — not counting those who then changed their minds — including one four-star recruit and seven three-star commitments.

Four-star: Michael Lee, DB, New Orleans, 5-foot-10, 162 pounds.

Three-star: Akayleb Evans, DB, McKinney, Texas, 6-2, 180; Troy James, DE, Baton Rouge, La., 6-4, 268; Travis Jordan, ATH, Marrero, La., 6-1, 185; Reggie Roberson, WR, Mesquite, Texas, 6-0, 175; Jamie Tago, DE, Garden City, 6-3, 245; Robert Topps, DB, Chicago, 6-2, 182; Dominic Williams, RB, Dallas, 5-9, 186.

Two-star: Jay Dineen, LB, Lawrence, 6-2, 225; Kyron Johnson, LB, Arlington, Texas, 6-1, 195; Takulve Williams, WR, New Orleans, 5-11, 180.

It won’t be easy for Kansas to keep all 12 recruits because it’s common for football recruits to change their minds when more established programs come knocking, but it’s an impressive list nonetheless, although an incomplete one because it’s so early.

A pair of highly rated Texas offensive linemen had committed to KU only to change their minds, so work needs to be done to recruit more high school blockers in order to break the cycle of relying on junior college O-linemen, never a sound strategy.

First-year running backs coach Tony Hull has opened up Louisiana for Kansas and his reputation already is paying off. Meanwhile, head coach David Beaty and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry to continue to tap their Texas ties for talent.

At defensive end, Anthony Olobia and Damani Mosby both are seniors, so the need for immediate help made it necessary to land a junior college recruit. Tago, who plays at Garden City Community College, is the only junior college recruit among the 12 committed recruits.

Recruiting clearly is on the gradual uptick at Kansas. There, I said something nice about Kansas football, yet again. Your turn. Deliver.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 13 — DT D.J. Williams

From the most experienced projected starter on the defense, Marcquis Roberts, to the least experienced our series goes.

From the deepest position on the defense to one with more question marks and less obvious depth at a position that relies more than any other on rotating players in and out of the game to keep them fresh.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas defensive tackle D.J. Williams (91) lays out Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard (13) and forces a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas.

Kansas defensive tackle D.J. Williams (91) lays out Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard (13) and forces a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

13. D.J. Williams, So. Defensive Tackle

The Kansas coaching staff, then headed by Charlie Weis, understandably was excited to get a commitment from D.J. Williams out of the Lufkin, an industrial town in eastern Texas, located two hours northeast of Houston and three hours southwest of Dallas.

After all, Williams had a big frame, standing 6-foot-5 with broad shoulders and a thick body. Not only that, for what it’s worth, he was rated more favorably by recruiting services than most Kansas recruits. Rivals.com ranked him No. 38 in the nation among defensive tackles in the Class of 2014 and No. 78 among all recruits from the football-rich state of Texas. Plus, at various points during the recruiting process, Miami, Missouri and Oklahoma were wooing him.

Yet, once he arrived on campus and began the rigors of college football, from summer conditioning to fall camp to daily practices while wearing a redshirt, the buzz on Williams faded. At times, he looked a little overhelmed by the work load and breathed heavily quicker than some of his position mates during drills. At least outwardly, he didn’t exhibit a great deal of fire or drive. Some athletes need weekly games in order to break the monotony and rekindle the motor. Redshirts don’t have that luxury.

As the 2015 season progressed, so did Williams. He appeared in eight games last season, including the final seven. During a three-week stretch in the middle of the Big 12 season, he showed flashes of what made him a highly rated recruit. At Oklahoma Stte, he totaled a career-high three tackles and added two tackles the next week at home against national-title contender Okahoma. The following week, at Texas, he contributed the biggest play of his young career, a strip-sack.

Williams moves pretty well for a man who carries 300 pounds on his frame.

His potential will put him on the first team of the depth chart heading into fall camp, but he’ll need to bring consistent effort and energy in practice in order to stay there.

Sophomore Daniel Wise has one starting spot locked up and Williams will compete with juniors Jacky Dezir, in his second year at Kansas after a year of junior college, DeeIsaac Davis and Isi Holani, a pair of juco transfers.

Should Williams emerge as the most improved player on the defense, that would settle any uneasy feelings about depth at defensive tackle. He has the tools. It’s just a matter of whether he can put them all together in this, his third season in the program.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 14 - LB Marcquis Roberts

As our offseason countdown gets closer to the top 10, we take a look at a veteran presence on the Kansas football team’s defense.

Though he didn’t start his college career with the Jayhawks, this linebacker showed in 2015 the potential to accomplish much more on the field this coming season.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas junior linebacker Marcquis Roberts (5) breaks through the line to bring down Kansas State fullback Winston Dimel behind the line during the annual Sunflower Showdown game Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas junior linebacker Marcquis Roberts (5) breaks through the line to bring down Kansas State fullback Winston Dimel behind the line during the annual Sunflower Showdown game Saturday at Memorial Stadium. by John Young

14. Marcquis Roberts, Sr. Linebacker

It takes a tremendous ability to concentrate through the pain and absorb the physical pounding that comes with playing college football for any athlete. To do so when playing with the sort of knee pain Marcquis Roberts has through the years requires even greater focus and pain tolerance.

The good news: Roberts’ knees, according to those who would know, feel better than at any point during his time at Kansas after transferring from South Carolina.

Roberts gets after it hard during summer conditioning and arrived early and in great shape.

A 6-foot-1, 223-pound senior from Powder Springs, Ga., Roberts started 11 of 12 games last season, appearing in but not starting one game when hampered by injury. He ranked third on the team with 71 tackles, had 3.5 tackles for loss, recovered two fumbles and in one of the most memorable plays of a mostly forgettable 0-12 season for the team, Roberts returned an interception 83 yards for a touchdown.

His most productive game came against TCU, when he contributed a game-high 12 tackles, 1.5 behind the line of scrimmage, and a quarterback hurry.

Roberts is among the most experienced players on the roster, having started 25 games for power-conference schools.

Roberts missed the first two years of his college career with injuries, sidelined by shoulder surgery in 2011 and knee woes in 2012. He earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies at South Carolina in May, 2015, which enabled him to transfer to Kansas without sitting out a year.

His pre-game routine — dances around the perimeter of the field with headphones on while wearing a backpack — is the most interesting and entertaining on the team.

Roberts pairs with Joe Dineen in KU’s 4-2-5 defense to make linebacker perhaps the team’s strongest position.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

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Say something nice about Kansas football: All but two starters return on defense

Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) returns a fumbled ball by Texas Tech deep into the Red Raiders' territory during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) returns a fumbled ball by Texas Tech deep into the Red Raiders' territory during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

The good news/bad news lament of coaches of losing teams in every sport at every level in every era hasn’t changed: “The good news is we have everybody back. The bad news is we have everybody back.”

Well, the Kansas defense doesn’t have everybody back, but other than end Ben Goodman and tackle Corey King, the Jayhawks return all of their key contributors.

Yes, they are returning from an 0-12 team that ranked dead last among 128 Football Bowl Subdivision squads in points per game (46.1) and total defense (560.8 yards per Saturday).

Given that, Kansas fielding an average Big 12 defense is not a realistic goal, but improving on last season’s performance is a given.

Goodman and linebacker Marcquis Roberts were the only players with extensive starting experience, Roberts’ coming at South Carolina.

Goodman and nickel back Tevin Shaw were the lone returning starters from 2014. (Counting as a returning starter requires starting half of the games from the previous season.)

If returning pass rushers Dorance Armstrong, Anthony Olobia and Damani Mosby (combined 12 starts opposite Goodman) count as one entry, KU has nine returning starters on defense. Armstrong has added 16 pounds of muscle and consistently stood out throughout the spring.

A look at career starts for KU’s defensive players: Roberts (25), Shaw (17), Courtney Arnick (14), Fish Smithson (11), Joe Dineen and Brandon Stewart (nine), Tyrone Miller and Daniel Wise (seven), Marnez Ogletree (six), Greg Allen and Armstrong (five), Bazie Bates and Olobia (four), Mosby (three), Chevy Graham (two), Derrick Neal (one).

Having so many experienced players enables the defensive staff to teach at a faster pace and pack more into each practice.

There you have it. Yet again, I said something nice about Kansas football.

Your turn. Bring it.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 15 - TE Ben Johnson

First off, here's hoping everyone had a happy and safe Fourth of July celebration.

The long, holiday weekend delayed the list of this year's most crucial Jayhawks by a day, but we're back at it today with a name that most of you are probably quite familiar with — at least in terms of reading about and hearing about.

It's a new-look offense — yet again — for the Jayhawks this fall and the junior from nearby Basehor has a chance to be one of the biggest beneficiaries.

Time will tell exactly what that means, but here's an early glance at how important it could be for this year's team.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson (84) breaks up the field after a catch during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson (84) breaks up the field after a catch during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

15. Ben Johnson, Jr. Tight End

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson doesn’t have Ben Johnson speed, but he has more of it than his receiving statistics might lead many to believe.

Kansas doesn’t need its Ben Johnson to keep pace with the original Ben Johnson, the Jamaican-born sprinter who won a pair of bronze medals in the 1984 Olympic Games and lost an assortment of other medals in later years because his world-record performances were aided by steroids. The Jayhawks just need Johnson to stay on his steady improvement curve without being knocked off it by injury, as has been the case at times during his Kansas career.

A 6-foot-5, 245-pound fourth-year junior from Basehor, Johnson doesn’t necessarily have any one thing that he does amazingly well. He’s just solid across the board. He’s a big target with sure hands, runs well for his size, is a decent blocker and has the agility to make catches on so-so throws.

Johnson backed up Jimmay Mundine two seasons ago and made nine starts last season. Kansas doesn’t always use a tight end and when Johnson was on the field his primary responsibility much of the time was blocking.

He caught 13 passes for 115 yards last season, an average of 8.8 yards per reception. His 30-yard reception at TCU was the biggest gain of his career.

A versatile athlete in high school, Johnson played defensive end and tight end for the football team, starred for his state-championship basketball team in 2012, finished third in the state in the discus throw.

A healthy season from Johnson is important because KU lacks depth at the position. The coaching staff is high on the potential of red-shirt freshman Jace Sternberger, a 6-foot-4, 236-pound native of Kingfisher, Okla., but Sternberger hasn’t played in a college game and ideally could use another year of body building before taking on a major role.

Johnson and Steinberger are the only scholarship tight ends in the program.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

It's time for one of the more veteran players on the KU roster to make his way onto the list of the most crucial Jayhawks of 2016.

After coming to KU as a running back and moving over to defense early in his career, Shaw has slowly but surely seen his impact and importance on this team rise over the past couple of seasons.

This season, he enters as one of the most experienced players on the roster and plays a position that is vital to the defensive scheme the Jayhawks want to run.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas safety Tevin Shaw, left, laughs with a teammate during Fan Appreciation Day, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas safety Tevin Shaw, left, laughs with a teammate during Fan Appreciation Day, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

17. Tevin Shaw, Sr. Defensive Back

A year ago, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen called Shaw “strong as an ox” and “pound for pound the strongest guy on the team. He called him “tough” and “smart.”

Experienced and armed with senior urgency, Shaw could help the defense to improve if he can put all those qualities together to have a greater impact than he did a year ago, when he logged just one tackle for a loss, didn’t force any fumbles or pick off any passes and contributed three pass breakups.

Shaw appeared in all 12 games and made nine starts. His best game came against his home state university, Rutgers, with family and friends in attendance. He had a career-high 10 tackles.

A standout wrestler, running back and linebacker/safety for Piscataway High. He set school records for single-game rushing yards (304 in state-title game) and career rushing yards (2,848) and wrestling victories (120). He went 25-0 on the mat as a senior.

Offered a scholarship by Iowa, Shaw didn’t accept it right away and by the time he called to say he was committing to the Hawkeyes, the scholarship had been given to another athlete. Kansas had a scholarship for him and he has earned it with steadily improving play.

Shaw arrived at KU somewhat raw, red-shirted, became a reliable special-teams player as a red-shirt freshman and started eight games the following year. With 17 career starts in the secondary, Shaw is among the most experienced players on the squad.

Shaw, who has played safety and nickel back at Kansas, will serve as a valuable mentor to sophomore Tyrone Miller, making the transition from cornerback to his more natural safety position. Fish Smithson also will be on hand to bring along Miller.

It remains to be seen whether Kansas has enough speed in the secondary to slow down potent Big 12 passing attacks, but the Jayhawks do have ample experience in the back of their defense to get the most out of their talent there.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

Today's stop on the Most Crucial Jayhawks list takes us back to the secondary, where a cornerback-turned-safety who received some valuable experience as a true freshman comes in at No. 18.

After breaking into the starting lineup during his first season as a Jayhawk because of his raw ability, Miller spent the offseason fine-tuning his game, working on his body and reconnecting with the finer points at safety.

Now, with preseason camp a little more than a month away, he's staring at an opportunity to start again, this time at a more familiar position.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas cornerback Tyrone Miller Jr. (19) celebrates a Jayhawk recovery of a Memphis fumble during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas cornerback Tyrone Miller Jr. (19) celebrates a Jayhawk recovery of a Memphis fumble during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

18. Tyrone Miller, Soph. Safety

Some football players just have a nose for the ball. They take direct paths to make tackles. They get their finger tips on passes for deflections. They poke at the football to jar it loose and at other times jump on the loose ball for fumble recoveries. They bring more value to a defense than their measurables might forecast.

Tyrone Miller, sophomore safety out of Ann Arbor, Mich., showed that knack from the first game of his college football career as a true freshman.

A natural safety who didn’t play cornerback until his senior season in high school, Miller was pressed into starting duty the first seven games of the 0-12 2015 season.

“I love free safety,” Miller said. “I was always comfortable there. That’s where I started off at. I like that I can see everything and I can make plays everywhere when I need to.”

Miller said he will be a better safety for having played cornerback last season.

“It helped with my hips and my footwork and my eyes,” he said. “I worked a lot on my eye discipline last year. Now that I worked on that, now it’s fine.”

Miller said he would like to play at 190 to 195 pounds this coming year.

Miller said he likes to hit and likes the “little dinging sound that it makes in my helmet when I hit somebody.”

Asked to name what players on the defense have improved the most, Miller said, “Everyone has. Not to be vague, but everyone has improved a lot. Myself, Dorance (Armstrong), D.J. (Williams), Daniel Wise and Shaq Richmond, he’s a free safety this year also."

Asked to name the best dancer on the team, wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez did not hesitate and answered, “Tyrone Miller."

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

It's more pass rushing on the list of the 25 most crucial Jayhawks for the 2016 season today, because, in the Big 12 Conference, stopping the pass (or at least slowing it down), either in the secondary or at the point of release, is a critical part of slowing down some of the country's best and most explosive offenses.

Last week, at No. 21, we saw senior defensive end Anthony Olobia's name pop up on this list. And today it's the man Olobia is battling with for a starting job who is our featured Jayhawk.

Both are coming off of 2015 seasons in which they showed flashes of great ability and it'll likely come down to the one who's most consistent getting the starting nod and more reps. Both will play, however, and both need to have strong seasons to help this KU team climb out of the cellar.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas junior defensive end Damani Mosby (#13), photographed at a KU football media day event Saturday August 8, 2015.

Kansas junior defensive end Damani Mosby (#13), photographed at a KU football media day event Saturday August 8, 2015. by Mike Yoder

19. Damani Mosby, Sr. Defensive End

An explosive first step immediately caught the coaching staff’s eyes and Mosby used that step to get around KU’s offensive tackles and into the backfield regularly throughout the 2015 spring football season.

But when the Big 12 portion of the schedule arrived, Mosby faced bigger, quicker bodies in games than those who competed against in practice and at times, such as against the behemoths from Oklahoma and Texas, he looked overwhelmed by the sheer size of the blockers.

He played last season at 239 pounds and logged just 1.5 sacks in 10 games, including three starts. He didn’t meet expectations, so it was time to shift to Plan B.

Mosby put on 19 pounds in the offseason and is listed at 258 pounds. The challenge now becomes restoring the explosiveness he showed at a much lighter weight.

His best game during the 2015 season came late, when he totaled four solo tackles, including a sack, and two assists against TCU. He showed in that game, vs. strong competition, what he could do for the Kansas defense when he is able to turn his explosive first step into strong plays from start to finish.

Mosby and Anthony Olobia are in their third seasons at Kansas, where they both redshirted in their first seasons after two-year junior college careers.

Fellow defensive end Dorance Armstrong is as good an NFL prospect as Kansas has on its roster and the potential for big sophomore season from him has a better shot at becoming reality if Mosby and/or Olobia bring heat on the quarterback from the other edge.

If Mosby can become a disruptive enough force to make the opposing quarterback hurry, thus doing a huge favor to the secondary, KU has a shot to stay in more games into the fourth quarter.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

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