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KU football's positions of concern heading into spring practice

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On Wednesday, we jumped into the pre-spring position-by-position breakdown with a quick look at the Kansas University football program's three strongest position groups.

Today, it's time to look at the top three positions of concern.

When coming up with this list, I couldn't help but think back to my thoughts at this time last year, when it looked like the offense would be a well-oiled machine and the defense would be the biggest concern.

It didn't turn out that way, of course. The offense struggled — largely because of the passing game — and the defense, though not statistically lights out, performed well above the level I expected and kept KU in a lot of games throughout the season.

We'll see if something similar plays out this year or if both units improve and stick a little closer to one another. According to this list, if you're picking one or the other to worry about this time around, it looks like the offense may be the bigger concern.

We'll see.

1. Offensive Line
This is the one position tied to KU's hopes for success more than any other this season and all the Jayhawks are asked to do is replace three multi-year starters, two of which have a legitimate shot to play professional football.

Putting the O-Line on the concerns list does not mean that the Jayhawks don't have pieces in place to cobble together a solid line, but doing so is far from a certainty and that's why the position is No. 1 on this list. Not only is quality play on the offensive line crucial for KU to keep its potent running game going, but it also is a must if the Jayhawks hope to get improved play out of the quarterback position.

Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist narrowly avoids getting snagged by Iowa State defensivel lineman Jake McDonough, who is pushed away by KU lineman Aslam Sterling during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist narrowly avoids getting snagged by Iowa State defensivel lineman Jake McDonough, who is pushed away by KU lineman Aslam Sterling during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

There is a nice mixture of returners and newcomers on the line heading into the spring, so the potential for a solid unit is certainly there. But it won't show up overnight and at a position that requires five individuals functioning as one entity, that's a major concern. At least for now.

2. Kicker
KU coach Charlie Weis appears to be satisfied with the things he has done to upgrade KU's woeful kicking game in the offseason. He handed out a scholarship to juco transfer Trevor Pardula and enticed Hutchinson C.C. standout Michael Mesh to walk on. Both should compete with returning dual-threat guy Ron Doherty for starting jobs right away.

Kansas kicker Ron Doherty, left, bemoans a missed field goal against Kansas State during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan. At right is holder Blake Jablonski.

Kansas kicker Ron Doherty, left, bemoans a missed field goal against Kansas State during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan. At right is holder Blake Jablonski. by Nick Krug

But neither of the newcomers has done it at this level yet and until they do — and until they do it with some consistency and regularity — KU fans likely will continue to cringe when it's fourth-and-four at the opponent's 25-yard line.

3. Wide Receiver
The fact that this group is a concern says more about last year than this year because KU got very little from its receivers in 2012 and most of the top pass-catching threats graduated. The cupboard is not bare, though, and there are plenty of new (and a few old) faces who could step up and instantly erase the painful memories of not being able to throw the ball in 2012.

Kansas receiver Andrew Turzilli pulls in a deep pass as TCU cornerback Jason Verrett dives in for the tackle during the third quarter, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas receiver Andrew Turzilli pulls in a deep pass as TCU cornerback Jason Verrett dives in for the tackle during the third quarter, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

As you all surely know by now, KU went the entire season without throwing a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. That's a freaky stat. Flat-out unreal. I don't think that will happen again this season — for starters because I think Heaps will be solid and, beyond that because I think there's some talent in this unit — but until we get into spring ball a little bit and, really, until we see these guys do it in September and beyond, you have to wonder exactly what you have here.

Returning threats Andrew Turzilli and Tre' Parmalee appear to be two of the more solid options here, and the arrival of newcomers Rod Coleman, Mark Thomas and Ishmael Hyman (along with Justin McCay finally being eligible) make me think this group could be decent. But again, until they actually get out there and deliver you have to wonder what will become of a position that seems to be a strength at nearly every other Big 12 university.

For those of you who may have missed this week's daily pre-spring blogging, here's a look back at the previous entries:

Monday: Talking red-shirts: A look back at the guys who sat out in 2012 and what's in store for their futures.

Tuesday: Top KU football story lines as we head into spring football: No, seriously, spring.

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