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LJWorld.com weblogs Tale of the Tait

KU football's positions of strength entering spring drills

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Yesterday, we looked at some of the story lines surrounding the Kansas University football program that figure to make spring practice — which begins Tuesday — interesting and exciting for a number of reasons.

Today, let's dive in a little deeper and begin our look at KU's strengths and weaknesses by position.

We'll start with the three positions in which KU appears to be in the best shape and follow it up on Thursday with the three positions that carry the biggest concern.

If a position doesn't make either list, figure it's in decent shape — not great but not a major problem either.

All right, let's get to it.

1. Running Back
I'm sure this comes as absolutely no surprise. Not only did the Jayhawks have one of the best running attacks in the Big 12 last season, but they also are bringing back their top three ball carriers and still have some pretty incredible depth.

Kansas running back James Sims runs for a touchdown in the first half of KU's game against the Northern Illinois Huskies on Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Ill.

Kansas running back James Sims runs for a touchdown in the first half of KU's game against the Northern Illinois Huskies on Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Ill. by Mike Yoder

Senior James Sims headlines the list and will look to lead the team in rushing for the fourth straight season. The two guys who carried the load while Sims served his suspension last season — junior Tony Pierson and senior Taylor Cox — bring talent and versatility, along with even more experience, to the position. And then you still have junior Brandon Bourbon and freshman Colin Spencer. It remains to be seen if Bourbon can break his way into the rotation and there's already talk of Spencer having some kind of role due to his dynamic speed and athleticism.

A lot of this unit's success will depend on what KU gets from its revamped offensive line (spoiler alert for Thursday's blog!!!) but between this group of talent and KU coach Charlie Weis' ability to disguise and tweak the run game, the Jayhawks appear to be ready for another big year on the ground.

2. Linebacker
KU's best defensive player from 2012, Ben Heeney, returns to lead a group of linebackers that all of a sudden looks pretty stout.

Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney (31) tackles West Virginia's Tavon Austin (1) in KU's game Saturday against West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va.

Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney (31) tackles West Virginia's Tavon Austin (1) in KU's game Saturday against West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va. by Mike Yoder

Juco transfers Marcus Jenkins-Moore and Samson Faifili have the look of instant starters and if that trio makes up KU's first string, the second unit that backs them up will have a good mix of talent, toughness and experience. Schyler Miles, Jake Love and Huldon Tharp are the most notable names on that list, with veterans Darius Willis (yeah, he's back to linebacker), Prinz Kande and Victor Simmons, along with speedy rookies Courtney Arnick and Kellen Ash, backing them up.

I know it can be dangerous to count too much on transfers, but Jenkins-Moore and Faifili appear to be bad dudes and their addition significantly upgrades the position. What's more, this group seems to have some of the best depth of any on the team.

3. Defensive Line
It seems crazy to be writing this when the defensive line was without question the biggest weakness on the team just two seasons ago, but Weis and company have made it a point to upgrade the D-Line during the past couple of offseasons and, although we won't be able to fully evaluate the group until September, it appears they have done just that.

Standout defensive linemen Marquel Combs, left, and Chris Martin, right, are on their way from the junior-college ranks to Kansas University’s football team after signing and faxing in letters of intent on Wednesday.

Standout defensive linemen Marquel Combs, left, and Chris Martin, right, are on their way from the junior-college ranks to Kansas University’s football team after signing and faxing in letters of intent on Wednesday.

Tackles Marquel Combs and Ty McKinney appear to be big-time, disruptive forces in the middle and ends Chris Martin and Andrew Bolton may very well bring a dimension of nasty pass-rushing off the edge that has been missing around here for quite some time.

It's not just the new faces that make this position one of strength. Returners Jordan Tavai and Keon Stowers have another offseason with strength coach Scott Holsopple under their belts and there still exist a couple of up-and-comers in Ben Goodman and Michael Reynolds, who could explode onto the scene at any minute.

This group also gets depth, experience and leadership from veterans Kevin Young and Keba Agostinho and also still has a couple of potential diamonds in the rough in red-shirt freshman Tyler Holmes and newcomer Tedarian Johnson. For my money, it's the depth here and number of quality options that pushes this position into the top three.

Competition for starting spots and playing time may be more intense on the D-Line than anywhere else. Should be fun to watch.

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