Tale of the Tait
Well, it’s official.... The 2011 KU football season is under way. Here are a couple of quick thoughts from Day 1 of spring drills.
Remember, we only get to watch the first 20 minutes of practice — and only once a week at that — so it’s kind of hard to get too much out of what we see, especially because the first 20 minutes is almost always the same set of warm-up drills and stretching.
But, hey, something’s better than nothing, so we’ll do the best with what we’re given.
Anyway, here’s what stood out to me on Day 1:
• Defensive lineman D.J. Marshall was in uniform and went through drills. Marshall, as you know, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in the fall of 2009 and, in November of that year, began the fight of his life. Marshall, 6-3, 235 pounds, of Mesquite, Texas, was declared cancer-free late last year and he first returned to football the week of the Missouri game. But that was only in a limited role. Friday, I was told he went full-speed through the entire practice and looked good doing so.
• Last year’s leading rusher, James Sims, a sophomore-to-be from Irving, Texas, spent time with the punt-return unit on Friday. Sims, who will face a serious battle for carries this fall, talked about the new role after practice: “I’m looking forward to doing some punt returning this year,” he said. “It’s up to Coach Gill and what he wants to do, because he has Daymond Patterson and D.J. Beshears already out there. Hopefully I can get into the rotation.”
• Call me crazy, and maybe it’s just because I spent the last couple of months writing about how the Jayhawks were adding speed to this year’s team, but the squad, as a whole, looked a lot faster on Friday. Now, I didn’t watch every offensive lineman and every tight end, but I did notice that guys were flying around at a lot faster pace than I ever remembered seeing a year ago. That can only be a good sign.
• Although they finished just 3-9 last season, it’s clear that the Jayhawks made major progress in terms of learning head coach Turner Gill’s system. Early on, during Friday's first-team offensive drills, KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long barked out directions without hesitation and the players picked them up quickly and without thinking. That wasn’t always the case last year, as so much time was spent on going over new terminology and getting to know each other. It’s early, but I’d say this team already is ahead of it’s pace from last season.
• Freshman running back Darrian Miller looks the part. Wearing the famed No. 3 that belonged in previous years to all-world playmakers Aqib Talib and Charles Gordon, Miller looks like he’ll honor the number well. Again, I didn’t see a ton of reps from Miller but what little I did see displayed a kid who looks like a natural ballplayer. Miller’s going to be on the field this year. He may not start, but he will get a handful of touches per game and I’m guessing he’ll do something special with a few of those.
Our next chance to watch these guys comes Monday, April 11. I’ll plan to do the same thing after that one. Until then, be sure to check out KUSports.com throughout the next week for more stories from spring drills.
With spring football at Kansas University set to start this afternoon, there are a bunch of questions up in the air surrounding this year’s team, the second to be led by head coach Turner Gill.
With that in mind, here’s a quick prediction for some headlines that might surface as the Jayhawks make their way through.
“Angus Quigley granted 7th year of eligibility” — Move over Brady Morningstar, Quigley’s making a run at your title of ‘Oldest Jayhawk Ever.’
“Opurum taking snaps at QB” — Why, you might ask? Because, let’s face it, this guy hasn’t been moved around enough.
“Gill’s staff combined to put in 34,274 hours of work this offseason” — There’s literally nothing these guys haven’t done.
“Jayhawk big man, Jeff Withey, to try hand at returning kicks” — Last year, it was Conner Teahan at quarterback. This year, a different KU hoopster tries football.
“Teammate pranks QB Webb, puts name on jersey with athletic tape” — Apparently, the no names on the back of the uniforms policy has gotten to the players more than they’ve let on.
“New Gill rule regulates tooth-paste usage past 10 p.m.” — Get ’em brushed by 9:59 or be forced to settle for flossing.
“Secondary team mantra: ‘COMPETE’" — C - Catch the ball when it’s thrown to you; O - Offer to block for your punter; M - Make sure all opposing receivers are covered; P - Play with passion; E - Execute the gameplan, not your chances of winning; T - Tackle, tackle, tackle; E - Enjoy the numbers on the scoreboard.
“Offensive coordinator Chuck Long says team hopes to avoid playing 3 QBs” — Last season, quarterbacks Kale Pick, Quinn Mecham and Jordan Webb all made starts for the Jayhawks. Time to put a foot down. No more than two QBs will start for Kansas this season. Mark it down.
“Gill guarantees Jayhawks won’t lose to Colorado, Nebraska” — Who knows how many wins he’ll lead the team to, but this one is as good as gold.
“Players required to forward all calls from Aqib Talib to football office” — He may have helped KU win the Orange Bowl, but, hey, you can never be too careful.
*** Note: Seeing how today is April Fools’ Day, none of the above entries should be taken seriously. Football season has arrived. Enjoy it!!!
It’s back. Friday marks the beginning of spring football at Kansas University.
Though the story lines surrounding the unofficial beginning of head coach Turner Gill’s second season in charge of the Jayhawks likely won’t excite KU fans the same way a Final Four preview or more talk about the Morris twins would, there’s still plenty to talk about around the KU football program.
Gill spent most of last season — in which the Jayhawks finished 3-9 — adjusting to his new surroundings, learning what he had at his disposal and finding ways to put in the values and philosophies he wants to run. It wasn’t always fun to watch and it rarely looked like the type of system that could work.
But things are different now. For starters, Gill’s ripping and roaring full-boar into his second year. No more tip-toeing around, no more vague answers about this unit or another, this player or that one. Gill knows what he’s dealing with now. The players know what they’re dealing with, too. Beyond that, things changed in the offseason, as well. Several returning players said KU’s offseason conditioning program was much more intense than anything they encountered last season. No longer were the coaches content with good work and great attitudes. Because everyone involved with the program was called to task for how poorly the team performed in 2010, egos were bruised, attitudes changed and everybody inside the walls at the Anderson Family Football Complex decided it was time to do something about it.
There are plenty of things that make it hard to imagine the 2011 season going much better in terms of overall record. First, KU’s schedule now includes all of the other nine remaining members of the Big 12. No more avoiding Texas or Oklahoma every couple of years. In addition, an early-season, non-conference game at Georgia Tech looms as a tough challenge. But just because the record might not improve — and that’s not to say it can’t — does not mean that the product on the field will look the same — that’s not to say it can’t, either.
For a team and coach that looked so overmatched a season ago, there sure are plenty of interesting storylines that should make the 2011 season fun to follow. Some of those start with spring ball, which opens Friday, runs 15 practices long and wraps up with the annual Spring Game on April 30, which is set to kickoff at 1 p.m.
Here’s a look at what to watch during the next four weeks.
1. Questions at quarterback — Kansas spent all of last season searching for an unquestioned starting quarterback. It never found one. Kale Pick, Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham all got their shot at being the guy but none of them could hang on to the job. All three return to the huddle this spring, though Pick has moved to wide receiver, and each figures to be a year older, stronger and wiser.
In the offseason, Gill signed highly-touted high school prospect Brock Berglund, a 6-foot-4, dual-threat QB from Highlands Ranch, Colo., and many believed that Berglund would have the chance to step in as the team’s starter right away. Things looked good early on, as Berglund graduated from Valor Christian High in December and enrolled at KU in January, placing him in town in time for spring ball. But what the program called “personal circumstances,” Berglund recently returned to Colorado and is expected to return to Lawrence this summer with the rest of the Class of 2011. His absence this spring does not mean Berglund can’t start the season opener against McNeese State on Sept. 3. It does mean, though, that whatever read we get on the quarterback position this spring won’t be quite complete.
2. Newcomers galore — Two months ago, Gill introduced his first full recruiting class at KU, a group that included nearly 30 players, many of whom were three-star prospects, most being high school seniors. A couple of juco transfers sprinkled into the mix make this one of the most intriguing classes in recent KU history. The reason? Gill said on signing day that as many as 15 of these newcomers could play this fall. Whether that means they’ll be in the starting lineup, on the two-deep depth chart or simply holding down spots on special teams, Gill’s claim indicates a couple of things.
First, last year’s roster did not have enough talent to compete in the Big 12 and Gill and his coaching staff did everything they could to upgrade it this offseason. Second, the Class of 2011 includes some talented players, guys who could go a long way toward getting Kansas back on the right path.
Perhaps the biggest reason Gill seems so confident that such a high number of newcomers will play this year is the fact that nearly all of them will bring serious speed to the team. Adding speed was Gill’s top priority this offseason and that alone should give this team a whole different look in 2011, provided these guys can do what it takes to get onto the field.
3. Offensive line play improved? — Check out the names on the list of returning offensive linemen: Hatch, Spikes, Hawkinson, Zlatnik, Marrongelli. Sound familiar? They should. All five of those guys have logged serious time in the trenches during the past couple of seasons and all five, when healthy, have shown that they can play up front. The word from KU camp is that Hatch and Spikes have been monsters this offseason, which can only mean good things for the KU offense — particularly the running game. Add to that the considerable upside of Zlatnik, perhaps the most improved player on the entire roster last year, and the steady-eddy play of Hawkinson at left tackle and you’re looking at a crew that could be a strong point for this year’s team.
Marrongelli has experience, but there’ll be at least six newcomers pushing him — and the others — for playing time this year. It’s too soon to tell which of the freshmen will get the first crack at snaps — BV West product Dylan Admire may have a leg up since he’s been on campus since January — but whether they start or simply spell the starters, all of them will add depth to a position that didn’t have much in 2010.
4. Running back riches — Two years ago, then-freshman fullback Toben Opurum led KU in rushing, only to be moved to defense the next year. Last season, freshman James Sims led the Jayhawks in rushing but is no lock to get the bulk of the carries this fall. It’s unlikely that Sims will be moved to defense, but the competition around him has increased dramatically. The only four-star prospects in the 2011 recruiting class are running backs, Darrian Miller, of Blue Springs, Mo., and Anthony Pierson, of East St. Louis, Ill., and two other backs figure to be in the mix for carries in returner Brandon Bourbon, a four-star prospect from the Class of 2010 who red-shirted last season, and Wichita Heights High prospect Dreamius Smith. That gives Gill five high-quality running backs, with Sims being the slowest of the bunch, and a seemingly endless number of options on how to attack opposing defenses with the ground game.
It’s not likely that all five will see meaningful carries this season, but one assistant coach told me this winter that Gill was going to give all of them a shot to play running back, letting the healthy competition between them add fire to the team and sort out the carries.
5. Defense poised to produce? — It’s probably hard to remember this now, but the KU defense actually played decent down the stretch in 2010. After giving up 159 points (and scoring just 24) in a three-game stretch against Baylor, Kansas State and A&M midway through the season, the Jayhawks gave up just 17 more (176-92) during the final five games of the year. That may not set the world on fire, but it was progress. Players who had changed positions started to settle in and a few play-makers started to flash their skills. Several starting defenders are gone from last year’s squad, but that might not be all bad.
The secondary returns five guys with starting experience and could be the strongest unit on this side of the ball. Safeties Keeston Terry and Bradley McDougald have big-play potential and cornerbacks Greg Brown and Tyler Patmon were both at their best late last season. Safety Lubbock Smith also started a bunch of games, but there’s talk that he could slide down to linebacker.
In the middle, only senior linebacker Steven Johnson returns from last year’s ultra-thin linebacking corps, but with the players Gill brought in, that’s not a bad thing. Darius Willis, a transfer from Buffalo who sat out 2010, may be the best of the bunch. Juco transfer Tunde Bakare also figures to play a ton, as does Malcolm Walker, a transfer from Navarro Junior College, which won the juco national title in 2010. Add to that list the return of former starter Huldon Tharp, who missed all of last year with injury, and four true freshmen with serious speed — Collin Garrett, Ben Heeney, Jason Hensley and Jake Love — and it’s easy to see that this group will be much deeper, if not more talented, than it was in 2010.
Up front seems to be the biggest question on defense, and the D-Line should be one of the more interesting positions to watch this spring. Toben Opurum is set at defensive end and Patrick Dorsey, though undersized, seems to be a solid option at tackle. Beyond that, it’s a guessing game. Gill said late last year that a few former defensive ends were bulking up in an attempt to move inside. Kevin Young is the biggest name on that list. Keba Agostinho is another, though there’s still some question about whether he’ll play inside or out. That’s all still in the experimental stage at the moment. Replacing Jake Laptad opposite Opurum will be a challenge, but newcomers Julius Green and Michael Reynolds, among others, could emerge.
The bottom line for the KU defense is this: If it can get solid production from its D-Line, this defense could be pretty good. If not, it could be another rough season.
Football season is upon us. Stay logged in to KUSports.com throughout the spring for all the football news and information you can handle.
While Kansas University men's basketball fans counted down the hours to tonight's tipoff, several hit San Antonio's famed Riverwalk to help pass the time.
The following is a collection of images of some of the most entertaining Jayhawk fans taken this afternoon, several hours before the top-seeded Jayhawks got set to tip off against No. 12 Richmond in the Sweet 16 at the Alamodome.
Tonight's tip is set for 6:27 p.m. central time. The winner will advance to Sunday to face the winner of tonight's late game between VCU and Florida State.
Last week, we gave you a look at the area around the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., and demonstrated how all the signs seemed to point to the KU men's basketball team rolling through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
After a slow start against Boston in the opener, KU pretty much did that, knocking of BU by 19 and Illinois by 14.
Those victories earned the Jayhawks a trip to San Antonio, site of the 2008 Final Four, where KU won a national championship. Two college basketball champions have been crowned since then, but there are still plenty of "signs" here in San Antonio that point to the Jayhawks surviving the 10, 11 and 12 seeds this week and making another appearance at the Final Four, next week in Houston.
As was the case in Tulsa, some of these might be considered a stretch. But you can't deny their connection to Kansas basketball and, in most cases, you can't deny that seeing such signs up and down the RiverWalk bodes well for KU.
First, let's start with some of the role players, who might be called upon to make a big shot or key defensive stop this weekend. Mario Little's always good for the former, and the boats that haul the tourists up and down the San Antonio River seem to like him.
Travis Releford seems to be good for the latter and, down here, Travis seems to be loved as much as Brady was in Tulsa. His name is everywhere, including in some conveniently placed locations that seem to offer a glimpse into KU's near future.
Of course, what's a team without a good coach? KU fans have been lucky enough to have one of the best in the business guiding their team for the last eight years and there's a Barbecue joint near the RiverWalk that bears his name.
On Houston Street — yep, Houston again — a portion of the sidewalk is paved with hundreds of bricks that have different names carved into them. In addition to names common to KU fans such as Pritchard, Scooter (both on the national title team in 1988) and Richey, we found this gem, which could be a predictor for a big weekend ahead for KU senior Tyrel Reed.
The walk down Houston Street led us to the Alamo, where Davy Crockett and his men gave their lives to defend their beloved Texas 175 years ago this month.
Because so many brave men fought here and have been subsequently honored at the site, we found quite a few names of current KU players. Robinson, Taylor and Joshua (Selby) all were honored on the monuments around the Alamo. A couple of them as many as three or four times.
Speaking of Tyshawn, this whole city is actually named for the high school he attended back in New Jersey, albeit the Spanish version. The famed St. Anthony (High), where Taylor played for legendary coach Bob Hurley, was enshrined on a plaque near the Alamo honoring what went down there on March 6, 1836.
Speaking of plaques, this one was a little more difficult to de-code, but I got it. If you look closely at the word in the center of the third line from the bottom, you'll notice it reads "Barracks." As in Barack's pick to win the national title. I don't know why they threw in that extra R in his first name or why they left the last name off altogether. But I do know that President Obama, who currently leads our bracket contest, picked the Jayhawks to win it all this year. Apparently, San Antonio is well aware of that, too.
By this point in the day, I was starting to wonder why we hadn't seen any signs about the Morris twins. Was that in itself a bad sign? I mean, Morris is a common enough name, and with the thousands of last names they have scattered across this city, you'd think it would pop up somewhere. If not Morris, then definitely a Marcus. But there was nothing. Until, a man strolled out of the elevator at the Grand Hyatt wearing this T-Shirt.
With the bulk of KU's roster accounted for, including the head coach, there were only a couple more signs that made sense. The first, another Spanish sign, indicates what could be ahead for the people of Lawrence.
If there's a party in store, there has to be another one of these coming. This small-scale version still hangs at Rita's on the RiverWalk.
Sprinkled throughout the BOK Center crowd are a handful of Kansas fans, decked out in KU gear, waiting for their team's 5:50 p.m. tipoff against Boston U. later today.
About a half mile to the west, there's a crimson and blue storm brewing at the Tulsa Convention Center and in the next couple of hours the storm will find its way to the arena, where the top-seeded Jayhawks will look to begin their run to what many fans are hoping and expecting to be a Final Four, perhaps more.
The doors at the convention center opened just before 3 p.m. and within minutes, hundreds of Jayhawk fans filed in, picking up KU souvenirs, food, drinks and whatever else the pre-partying called for.
Some, like 16-year-olds Cole Hamilton, of Leawood, Kan., and Austin Regier, of Independence, Mo., came with their parents and were simply waiting for the game to begin. But even they were swept up by the scene at the pep rally, which featured performances by the KU spirit squad and the KU band.
“It’s nice to be around other KU fans,” Hamilton said.
Added Regier, “It just shows that we’re the best traveling fans in the nation.”
That was the hope when the KU alumni association set up the event, which filled one of the largest ballrooms at the convention center. Three, giant inflatable Jayhawks greeted fans at the doors, a mini hot-air balloon hung from the ceiling and Rock Chalk Jayhawk signs were everywhere.
One event organizer, Jodi Nachtigal, said they were expecting between 400-500 KU fans to stop by the event before the game. When the final numbers came in, more than 750 Jayhawk fans made an appearance.
“It’s a great location,” Nachtigal said. “We’re so close to the arena, it’s awesome.”
Many fans at the pep rally were there as a way to kill time before tipoff. But Nachtigal said a few in attendance didn’t have tickets to the game. For them, KU set up four big-screen TVs, which will show four different NCAA Tournament games the rest of the day.
Organizers first showed up at 1 p.m., and the whole set-up took a little more than an hour-and-a-half to complete.
The KU fans at the rally ranged from groups of friends ready to roar to families of all sizes. One thing they all had in common was the colors they wore and a undying love of all things Jayhawks.
One family, the Piles, who live in Tulsa, Okla., brought their children, Carson (8) and Adrian (6) and each was allowed to bring a friend. The parents, Todd and Carol, along with all four children were decked out, from head-to-toe, in KU gear.
“My husband’s originally from Kansas,” said Carol Piles, whose husband hails from Topeka. “So I married into it, but we’re Jayhawks all the way.”
4:57 p.m. Update
Some pretty good dunks wrapped up the open practice.
Josh Selby's was by far the biggest crowd-pleaser, though not everyone participated.
Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford both were close to hammering home their attempts. And Mario Little threw one down, but did not score high on the applause-o-meter.
That's the end of the Jayhawks' practice that's open to the public.
4:47 p.m Update
The big men are working on what seems to be the signature move of the Morris Twins, the baseline fadeaway.
As the reports have indicated, the Jayhawks really seem to be loose. They're having fun, focused and enjoying the entire experience.
Out of the fadeaway jumpers, the Jayhawks transitioned to dunks off of rebounds. That seemed to get the crowd a little more fired up - as it usually does.
The biggest rim-rattlers? Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey.
One more cat-call from the crowd, "There's Marcus Morris, national player of the year!"
4:42 p.m. Update
The groups are divided as you'd expect, though one interesting note is that Conner Teahan is with the big guys.
On the other end, the perimeter players are working mostly on jumpers, both from three-point range and 15 feet.
The practice doesn't appear to be anything serious, but it is a good way for the players to get comfortable on the floor and in the building. I don't think you can underestimate how important that is.
4:39 p.m. Update
After some free throws and open shooting, the Jayhawks break into groups... Bigs on one end and guards on the other.
The intensity goes up a little, but it's clear that everybody's still having fun.
The fans in the stands are shouting non-stop. Overheard just a few minutes ago:
"We love you, T-Rob."
"Tyrel, you're the man!!!"
You get the point.
4:28 p.m. Update
The top-seeded Kansas University men's basketball team just took the floor at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.
Nearly 1,000 fans packed the east side of the arena and welcomed the Jayhawks to the floor.
Upon arriving, the players, managers, coaches, trainers and anyone else associated with the team huddled together at midcourt for a quick breakdown.
The wild crowd quieted as if in church while the team broke the huddle. They did so to the words, "Hard work."
Tulsa, Okla. — You couldn't avoid it if you tried. This town is set up perfectly for the Kansas University men's basketball team to feel right at home here and, therefore, to roll through the first two rounds of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
The games begin Friday, when top-seeded Kansas (32-2) takes on Boston U. (21-13) at 5:50 p.m., central time. If they win, KU would play again Sunday against the winner of the game between UNLV and Illinois. A gametime has not yet been determined.
While the wait for tipoff continues for another day, the crazy coincidences in the area surrounding the BOK Center, where the games will be played, are everywhere.
A quick, Wednesday night stroll around the four or five-block area surrounding our hotel revealed nearly a dozen KU-related omens that should have KU fans feeling good about their team opening the tourney in Tulsa.
Here's a look.
First up, there's an area of Tulsa known as the "Brady District." That might not mean that KU senior Brady Morningstar will be the most outstanding player of this site, but it sure points to him getting off to a good start. If the district sharing his name isn't enough, there's also a spot called the "Brady Tavern." They love the kid down here.
A little further down the road, at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, the marquee out front announced an upcoming performance by Terrance Simien. We weren't able to track down the man himself to find out if there's any relation between he and KU great Wayne Simien, but the link to KU can't be denied.
As we walked around the corner, we were hit by a couple more reminders of Lawrence and KU. The first was an ad for a building group known as the "River City Development, LLC," and the next was a sign on a restaurant paying homage to KU football player Angus Quigley. Quigley, as you may know, is the only athlete on campus who's been wearing crimson and blue longer than Morningstar.
Right around the corner from the street map we came across this old building that actually featured the names of two former KU greats. Brandon Rush, a member of the 2008 national-championship team (which, cleary, itself, is a good sign) and Paul Endacott, who played for legendary coach Phog Allen and helped lead KU to Helms national championships in 1922 and 1923.
Back at the hotel, this image jumped right out at us. I mean, I know thousands of people play the piano, but how many teams in the NCAA Tournament have an accomplished pianist in their regular rotation? I don't know the number, but I know that senior forward Mario Little makes KU one of them.
For those KU fans looking for more good omens from the 2008 title run, there are plenty here in Tulsa. First off, there's this building, named for the former Memphis Tiger whose missed free throw allowed Mario's Miracle to become a reality.
Here's another from the title run, Detroit Avenue in Downtown Tulsa serves as a reminder of the site where KU beat Davidson to advance to its most recent Final Four.
Here's another flash down Memory Lane... KUSports.com alum, Ryan Greene, now the UNLV beat writer at the Las Vegas Sun, is also in Tulsa this week. Greene was there the last time the Jayhawks cut down the nets on that magical Monday in April and he's here because the Rebels play the Illini in Round 1. The winner gets the KU-BU winner on Sunday.
There's also a bar that gives a shout out to KU broadcasting legend Max Falkenstien.
Before we go, here's a couple more signs that reference current and former KU greats.
Finally, after digesting all of the pro-KU signs, we found one final omen that bodes especially well for KU's first-round game. There, at the back entrance of the Hyatt was the street sign indicating that the Hyatt is off of Boston Street. Initially, I took this to be a bad sign, but sports editor Tom Keegan quickly pointed out one fine detail on the sign that made it fit right in with this blog.
It's South Boston Street, as in, Boston U. is heading south.
So there you have it. All kinds of signs that point to KU feeling incredibly comfortable and having great success down here in Tulsa. You can't make this stuff up, folks.
Check back with KUSports.com throughout the next few days for more blogs, stories, photos and videos from Tulsa.
Last year, 11 scouts from the National Football League showed up to watch a dozen or so Kansas University football players put their best feet forward in hopes of earning a spot on a pro team.
This year, despite the fact that the KU senior class lacked names like Darrell Stuckey (4th-round selection of San Diego), Kerry Meier (5th-round selection of Atlanta) and Dezmon Briscoe (6th-round selection of Cincinnati), nine NFL scouts made their way to KU's campus to watch 10 Jayhawks run through a variety of combine-style drills.
Officials from Atlanta, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Green Bay, New England, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Carolina and New Orleans worked out 10 KU seniors in drills such as the vertical jump, the broad jump, the 40-yard dash and a variety of position drills.
The bulk of the workout took place in the weight room of the Anderson Family Football Complex. After finishing the measurements and testing inside, the players and scouts headed outdoors to the Memorial Stadium turf to run through the rest of the day's drills.
Several Jayhawks performed well enough to open a few eyes. Wide receiver Johnathan Wilson had a great day, jumping 35.5 inches in the vertical test, 10 feet, 2 inches in the broad jump test and running a 40-yard dash in the 4.5-second range.
“I feel pretty good about everything I did," Wilson said. "I feel like my training (after the season) really paid off.”
Senior cornerback/safety Chris Harris also looked sharp, running in the 4.4-range in the 40 and tearing up all of the position drills.
“I’m definitely the best shape I’ve ever been in. I’ve worked really hard. Since we lost to Missouri (the last game of the season), I’ve been training really hard and just getting ready for today. I’m pretty sure we opened some eyes today. I’m just trying to improve my stock. We had a pretty good show in front of the scouts so I’m pretty sure I’m going to hear my named called somewhere.”
Linebackers Justin Springer and Drew Dudley turned in the best performances in the bench press, as Springer hoisted 225 pounds an impressive 26 times and Dudley did 23.
Others who had their day in front of the scouts Wednesday included: defensive end Jake Laptad, who also ran routes at tight end in the late stages of the workout; running back Angus Quigley, who ran a consistent 4.6 in the 40; Calvin Rubles, whose speed in the 4.5-range surprised several people; linebacker Justin Springer; offensive lineman Brad Thorson, who sported a leprechaun-esque beard that he had grown back home in Wisconsin to help him make it through the harsh winter; punter Alonso Rojas, who did a couple of drills and kicked on the field; and defensive lineman Quintin Woods.
The following is a list of unofficial 40-yard dash times from Wednesday's pro day. Each player ran twice.
Drew Dudley: 4.57, 4.60
Chris Harris: 4.40, 4.35
Jake Laptad: 4.94, 4.90
Calvin Rubles: 4.69, 4.50
Justin Springer: 5.0, 4.90
Brad Thorson: 5.10, 5.10
Johnathan Wilson: 4.50, 4.59
Quintin Woods: 4.69, 4.70
Today marks the beginning of the 2011 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, where the nation’s top college football players strut their stuff for the scouts and try to make a good enough impression to bolster their value in April’s draft.
Three Jayhawks — safety Darrell Stuckey and wide receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier — tried their luck at the showcase in 2010, but this year’s Combine will take place without any former KU players.
Still, there’s gotta be some sort of connection between one of the premiere college football events of the year and KU, doesn’t there?
Well, yes and no. Stick with me here.
Last week, a friend’s father-in-law forwarded me some research he had done on the 2010 Combine and how the invitations related to each athlete’s standing coming out of high school.
Pay close attention: Here’s where the pseudo-KU connection comes in.
Of the 327 players invited to last year’s combine, more than half were three-star, two-star or no-star players coming out of high school. In fact, nearly one-third were three-star guys — KU’s most recent recruiting class is made up of 21 such players — and the number of combine attendees who were not ranked by the oh-so-popular star system coming out of high school more than doubled the number of five-star studs on the list.
It should be noted that the number of four- and five-star guys named each year is always smaller, but, still, I think this list shows that being a big-time player out of high school does not guarantee a ticket to the NFL.
Here’s the breakdown:
5-star prospects — 24
4-star prospects — 80
3-star prospects — 102
2-star prospects — 69
0-star prospects — 52
So what does all this mean? Well, not much, actually. Four years — three, in some cases — is a long time, and expecting players to carry those rankings with them throughout their college football careers is a little ridiculous. Some improve. Others tank. And still more shock the heck out of people. Remember, Aqib Talib was a two-star guy out of high school and he went on to become a first-round pick.
I guess the point is this: Whether you needed it or not, this is just another way to hammer home the notion that these star rankings don’t really matter. I’m not saying they’re worthless. Far from it, in fact. I know the guys that put them together spend a lot of time and watch a lot of film to come up with some sort of way to rank thousands of high school players from all over the country. I’m glad they do. It sure makes writing about these players more interesting.
What’s more, it gives the fans something to talk about and be excited about. “Did you see we landed that four-star receiver from Texas,” they’ll say to their buddies. Or, “Any chance we’re gonna get that five-star back out of Florida?” The list goes on and the conversations are long.
Just remember, four-star, five-star or no-star, when these guys get to the point where they’re ready to become pros, all that really matters is how they do in Indy. The Combine is a beast unlike any other and a good showing there can turn a former no-star high school prospect into a can’t-miss first-round NFLer. It can also work the opposite way, too.
Signing Day’s gone and spring is upon us. Although spring football doesn’t start for a few more weeks (April 1, to be exact; no kidding), I’ve always considered the first whistle at the NFL Combine to be the first true sign of spring.