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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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Say something nice about Kansas football: Culture of keeping each other accountable taking root

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

Strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson and the rest of his staff put in multiple 15-hour days a week this time of year, but somehow the days don’t seem as long to them as they did last summer.

“I love coming in here every day and grinding every day because they’re giving everything they’ve got,” Jackson said.

The most encouraging aspect of summer conditioning so far, Jackson said, is that the players are doing some of his work for him.

“The thing that is so different in this team is truly how hard they are straining,” Jackson said. “We train four days a week. They’re out there in the heat for a long time and guys are pushing so hard, but the best part about it is they are holding their teammates to the right standard, so if it’s not done the right way, I don’t have to jump them and tell them to go over and do it again. By the time that guy gets done with his rep, he’s got four or five guys telling him, ‘That wasn’t good enough. Go back and do it again.’ And we haven’t had that. Before that what we had was, ‘What do you mean that’s not good enough?’ We haven’t had any of that. A guy tells him it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough. And they do it until it’s good enough. That has been a huge difference in this team.”

Establishing a culture of accountability won’t change the raw talent level, but will increase a program’s ability to compete deeper into games against more talented teams as the bond among players grows stronger. Even if just small strides can be made every year in terms of raw talent among recruits, the culture of accountability will enable the better athletes to improve at a faster rate.

How did the change from a year ago happen?

“I think the biggest thing is your best players decide they’re sick of falling below the standard,” Jackson said. “And they’re sick of working as hard as they work and then seeing other people not do it. So now it’s come to a point of, ‘Hey, if I’m going to work this hard, I’m holding you to that same standard.’ And us as coaches say: ‘Hey, if your teammate calls you out in a constructive way, then I’m going to have a problem with you going back at that guy.’ That’s what we’ve had to instill in them: ‘Hey, if you’re not being a man and you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do to help your teammates and to be a great teammate, then someone’s got to tell you you’re not at that standard.’ ”

Kansas picks last or close to it on the Big 12 recruiting trail, so it must do an excellent job of developing talent to close the gap. That was a huge key to the rise of the program when Mark Mangino was head coach and Chris Dawson was strength and conditioning coach, a role he now fills for Kansas State. That can’t happen without the culture of accountability about which Jackson genuinely is excited.

There you have it, I said something nice about Kansas football. Your turn.

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A look at Big 12 NBA draft history

Kansas' Andrew Wiggins answers questions during an interview after being selected as the number one pick overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Kansas' Andrew Wiggins answers questions during an interview after being selected as the number one pick overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Rob Carolla, director of communications for the Big 12, distributed interesting NBA draft facts from the conference.

Such as:

The Big 12 has had 28 lottery picks since 2000, which puts the conference second behind the ACC (31). Others: Big East 27, SEC 25, Pac-12 24, Big Ten 19.

The ACC also ranks first over the same period in first-round draft picks with 40, followed by the Pac-12 (33), Big 12 and SEC (28), Big East (24) and Big Ten (20).

Big 12 players drafted in the past 19 years: Kansas 28, Texas 17, Iowa State and Oklahoma State 8, Baylor and Oklahoma 7, Texas Tech 3, Kansas State 2.

Blake Griffin in 2009 and Andrew Wiggins in 2014 are the lone Big 12 players taken with the first pick of the draft. Three players were chosen with the second overall pick: LaMarcus Aldridge, 2006, Kevin Durant, 2007, Michael Beasley, 2008.

The record for Big 12 players chosen in one draft is 10, set in 2008 and tied in 2010.

The five Kansas players chosen in 2008 is a Big 12 record for one school in one draft. Brandon Rush was the first player chosen from the reigning national champions with the 13th pick, followed by Darrell Arthur (27th), Mario Chalmers (34th), Darnell Jackson (52nd) and Sasha Kaun (56th).

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) roars after hitting a three against the Jayhawks during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) roars after hitting a three against the Jayhawks during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. by Nick Krug

Although the Big 12 has had nine players or more taken in a draft three times since 2008, nobody expects anywhere near that total this season.

Draftexpress.com projects just four players: 5. Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), 23. Cheick Diallo (Kansas), 50. Wayne Selden (Kansas), 54. Isaiah Cousins.

The consensus seems to be that Perry Ellis won’t hear his name called in tonight’s draft, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. It would enable him, with the help of his agent, to select the team that best fits his talents, the roster that gives him the best shot at making the team.

It will be interesting to look back in 10 years to see which KU player eligible for this year’s draft plays the most NBA minutes. My guess: Ellis. Your guess?

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

In case anyone needed any further proof of just how important the offensive line will be to the Kansas football program's chances on the field this fall, we're now encountering our second lineman in three tries during our summer series that highlights the most crucial Jayhawks for 2016.

Guard Jayson Rhodes came in at No. 25 on Monday. And today it's the only player guaranteed to touch the ball on every offensive snap.

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 offensive linemen Joe Gibson (77) and D'Andre Banks (62) catch a breather on the bench during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas offensive linemen Joe Gibson (77) and D'Andre Banks (62) catch a breather on the bench during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

23. Joe Gibson, Jr. Offensive Lineman

Walk-ons must play a big part in Kansas digging out of the scholarship deficit partly responsible for an 0-12 season in 2015 and Las Vegas setting the over/under for 2016 victories at 1.5.

Walk-ons who earn scholarships after two years in the program, don't count against the maximum 25 scholarships per class, just against the 85 total. It's one thing to tell walk-ons that they have a legitimate shot at earning scholarships once they prove themselves in practice. It's a far more powerful thing to be able to point to an example of a walk-on who worked his way into a scholarship and then into a starting assignment.

Joe Gibson a fourth-year junior out of Rockhurst High, projects as the team's starting center, although he faces a strong battle from emerging red-shirt freshman Mesa Ribordy, a walk-on from Louisburg.

Gibson, 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, missed the second half of last season with an injury. In his three starts before that, he showed that he was more ready for competition than as a red-shirt freshman, when he played in eight games, started seven, and at times was dominated by more athletic, bigger, veteran Big 12 behemoths. For example, his play against Baylor from freshman to sophomore season noticeably was better.

Centers have responsibilities that extend beyond blocking and snapping. Gibson has the brain to handle those, having earned Academic All-Big 12 second-team honors.

Gibson and fifth-year senior Jordan Shelley-Smith, in a battle with Clyde McCauley for the starting spot at left tackle, share the team lead for career offensive-line starts with 10.

Convincing Gibson to come to Kansas as a walk-on wasn't a tough task, thanks to his lineage. His great uncle, Ray Evans, was an all-time KU great, starring in football and basketball. Evans is enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. Joe's uncle, Harry Gibson, was a basketball standout for the Jayhawks. Gibson's father, Paul, played football at Pittsburg State.

Idaho, Pennsylvania and Western Michigan recruited Gibson, but walking on at KU appealed to him more. A healthy 2016 season from him would do a lot to stabilize the O-line and build chemistry on it. In the event he suffers from injuries, Ribordy or projected starting guard Jacob Bragg could slide in to replace him.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Offense returns more experience than a year ago

Kansas running back Ke'aun Kinner (22) makes his way in for a touchdown during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Ke'aun Kinner (22) makes his way in for a touchdown during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Just one Big 12 school has failed to reach 30 offensive touchdowns in each of the the past four seasons. It was the same school every time.

Kansas scored 27 offensive touchdowns in 2012, 22 in 2013, 25 in 2014 and 22 in 2015. Texas posted the next lowest single-season total during that span with 34 offensive touchdowns in 2014.

Although those KU numbers are ugly, that does not violate the title of this blog. Those numbers are facts and facts are indisputable and can’t be categorized as either mean or nice. They are kindness-neutral.

Given the horrific nature of the numbers, saying something nice about the Kansas offense presents quite the challenge.

Here goes:

Heading into the 2015 season, Kansas did not have a single player on the roster who had scored a single offensive touchdown in 2014. All the players who had accounted for the 25 six-pointers were unavailable for action, whether it be from exhausting their eligibility, suffering an injury or in the case of Corey Avery, doing something to earn a dismissal: Avery (six), Nick Harwell (five), Michael Cummings (four), Jimmay Mundine (three), Tony Pierson (three), Justin McCay (two), Nigel King and Trent Smiley (one).

Heading into this coming season, 6 of the 10 rushing touchdowns return (Ke’aun Kinner five, Montell Cozart one), as do half of the 12 receiving touchdowns (Steven Sims and Tyler Patrick two, Shakiem Barbel and Bobby Hartzog one.)

Departed players who reached the end zone via rush or pass reception: Tre’ Parmalee four, Taylor Cox and Darious Crawley two, De’Andre Mann and Kent Taylor one).

So 12 touchdowns return and 10 are gone. That’s not a good number, but it’s far better than not having a single player who creased the end zone the previous season returning to the offense, as was the case heading into 2015.

So even though Kansas still is the safe bet to have the least productive offense in the Big 12, it should be better than last year’s anemic attack, in part because the offensive line will bring a little bit more experience.

Enough better to reach the 30-TD milestone for the first time since producing 35 in 2011 when Turner Gill was head coach, Chuck Long was offensive coordinator and the roster was filled with recruits from Mark Mangino and Gill? Possibly.

There, I said something nice about Kansas football.

Your turn.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Faster tempo showing up

KU football recruits head into the weight room Friday morning at the Anderson Sports Complex as KU football practice starts early in the morning as the players go through a rigorous session for conditioning.

KU football recruits head into the weight room Friday morning at the Anderson Sports Complex as KU football practice starts early in the morning as the players go through a rigorous session for conditioning. by Richard Gwin

Kansas head football coach David Beaty's desire to increase his team's tempo seems to be taking root. Spring practices picked up the pace, and after I spent 45 minutes watching the Jayhawks work with weights Friday, the thing that stood out most was how swiftly it all happened with no standing around and waiting.

"You have to match what you're trying to do on the field," KU's strength and conditioning coach Je'Ney Jackson said. "You have to match the head coach's philosophy with the way you train. So now they don't know any other way but to do anything at a high rate. No one should ever be idle. Once you get done with one exercise, usually you're going to another exercise. So we're constantly moving, constantly moving."

Red-shirt sophomore defensive tackle Daniel Wise, the team's reigning Workout Warrior of the Week, makes sure all the new faces know there is only one speed during workouts and that speed is pedal to the metal.

“We have to change the momentum around on the team, pick up the pace,” Wise said. “Some new guys coming in may not know what to expect and you have to let them know from Day 1.”

As team speed increases through recruiting, the fast-pace at which Beaty wants to play will result in more big plays. For now, fast or slow, the players' job is to do everything as fast as they can.

“Yes, sir, that’s how it is," Wise said. "That’s how it’s going to be on the field too in the Big 12. Tempo, tempo, tempo. So we have to practice tempo, tempo, tempo. As soon as coach Jackson came in he instilled that tempo. As soon as coach Beaty came in he instilled that tempo. Tempo walking around in the meeting room. Tempo in the weight room. Tempo on the field. Tempo all the time.”

The pace is picking up.

There, I said something nice about Kansas football. Your turn.

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Say something nice about Kansas football: Dorance Armstrong the real deal

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

For years, I have been guilty of looking for the slightest reason to believe that help is on the way for Kansas’ too-often invisible pass rush.

I look at the schools who recruited the player. Or I see the quick first step or the long arms and convince myself that this is an athlete built to harass quarterbacks. Usually it’s a junior-college or graduate transfer, sometimes one straight out of high school, who fools me. I hype him because I believe he will change things. And nothing changes.

Naturally, the proof will come on 12 autumn Saturdays, but it looks as if the Jayhawks actually do have a legitimate Big 12 pass-rusher with the potential to become the secondary’s best friend for the next three seasons.

I can’t recall a KU coaching staff being as excited about a defensive end as this staff is about sophomore Dorance Armstrong since transfer Charlton Keith, whose final year of eligibility came in 2005. Based on his size -- they both stand 6-foot-4, and the thicker Armstrong already weighs more than Keith as a senior — Armstrong has an even higher upside.

The staff considered Armstrong the top signee of the Class of 2015 and nothing about his serious approach and coachability, promise shown as a true freshman (3.5 sacks as a part-time player), and ability to take on pounds without losing speed has changed anyone’s mind.

Armstrong already has packed on 16 pounds of muscle in the past year, has shown an ability to develop pass-rush moves, plays with fire and has speed that will impress NFL scouts a couple of years down the road.

If Armstrong does develop into an NFL prospect, he will get paid to play a year earlier than he would have if he had gone to a powerhouse program that would have put a redshirt on him as a freshman. Maybe the staff can use that to entice another talented recruit.

Armstrong said no to Illinois, Michigan State, Texas Tech and several other programs to come to Kansas. That’s impressive recruiting by KU and sound coaching to get him to the point he appears to have reached already.

There, I said something nice about Kansas football. Your turn.

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