Tale of the Tait
Welcome to the second edition of KUsports.com’s latest blog feature: Around the Web in Seven Days.
Each week this season, we’ll take a look around the world to find out what others out there are saying about the Jayhawks and their game that week.
For the most part, our focus will be on the papers and web sites that cover that week’s opponent, however, every once in a while I’m sure KU — and its opponents — will pop into the national spotlight for better or for worse.
The goal here is to bring you a slightly different perspective on the week’s game and allow you to better understand what’s coming up on Saturday (or Thursday, or Friday, as the case will be in 2010).
This week, our journey takes us mostly to Georgia, where several local papers have been analyzing the ins and outs of the No. 15 ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Tech knocked off South Carolina State, 41-10, in its season opener last weekend, but, in doing so, did not look quite as sharp as head coach Paul Johnson would have liked.
There’s plenty about that below. But there’s also a couple of good features on quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, a Heisman Trophy candidate, as well as wide receiver Stephen Hill, who, in Georgia Tech’s offense, might not get a ton of opportunities but seems to have the skills to be a big-time playmaker.
Enjoy the linkage and be sure to check back with KUsports.com throughout the week — including gameday — for the latest information and breakdowns of this week’s contest.
Week 1: Kansas Jayhawks (0-1) vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (1-0):
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson warns his team that the Jayhawks could be more dangerous than last week’s result indicates, from The USA Today.
Georgia Tech offense comfortable against Carl Torbush led defense, from The Macon Telegraph.
Several Yellow Jackets could miss the KU game, writes Coley Harvey of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
GT quarterback Joshua Nesbitt has made a name for himself as a dangerous running QB, from ESPN.com.
Can WR Stephen Hill be the next great wide receiver at Georgia Tech? The Atlanta Journal Constitution evaluates that possibility.
Speaking of the AJC, columnist Jeff Schultz takes a look back at Tech’s opening win in his latest blog entry.
This one, titled "A Model of Patience," covers Jerrard Tarrant's GT career and comes from the Times-Georgian.
Well, nobody expected that. At least, nobody around here.
But it happened and there’s nothing anybody can do about it but put it in the past and move on.
That’s the goal of this blog. For better or for worse, each Monday I’ll provide a quick look back at the game that was — its highs and lows, pluses and minuses — before moving on to a look at what’s ahead.
In this case, with nationally ranked Georgia Tech looming, I had assumed it would be better — more enjoyable, anyway — to spend as much time looking back as possible. And let’s face it, heading into last Saturday it sure seemed as if there would be plenty to be proud about throughout the rest of the weekend.
Essentially none of what we were expecting actually happened, though, so this one figures to be the shortest of them all.
First, I’ll start with the positives. And please understand, I, like so many of you, realize that there weren’t very many positives in this one.
However, the No. 1 thing that I liked from Saturday’s game was that the KU coaching staff at least appears to have successfully identified who its top offensive players are. Their names are Daymond Patterson and D.J. Beshears, they both play wide receiver and return kicks and they both should get the ball as often as humanly possible every Saturday, Thursday, Friday or any other day. The two combined for 147 of KU’s 293 yards of total offense and, together, they provided a little spark in the kick-return game as well. The offense may not have clicked the way people were hoping it would — or at all, really — but at least these two guys were the ones who seemed to be getting the most chances. That can only bode well for the Jayhawks in the future.
The only other thing that you can even remotely consider positive from Saturday’s embarrassment was the defense. KU coach Turner Gill said the defense played outstanding. I won’t go quite that far. I think they played well. What’s more, I think they did what they were supposed to do — limit NDSU to under 200 yards, hold the Bison to six points and, it must be pointed out, that the D did get the ball back for the offense twice in the final five minutes. It’s a good start. I’m not throwing a parade, but here’s guessing that the unit walked away with at least a little confidence after that showing.
OK, now on to the negatives. And I won’t spend a lot of time harping on these, as many of you already have done that in the comments sections and message boards in the moments that followed Saturday’s debacle.
I could sit here and write for days about how the Jayhawks looked unprepared, played tight, made too many mental mistakes and had absolutely no swagger whatsoever. I could also wonder aloud about some of the play-calling — though I hesitate to do too much of that since I’m not a coach and have never been one.
What I do know, though, is that Kale Pick got a raw deal. He may not have been an all-conference QB clone in the first three quarters Saturday, but was he really that bad? Was he really bad enough to justify putting him on the bench with a victory still within reach and his team out there left to fend for itself? I don’t think so. And I think he should’ve gotten a few more chances.
The coaches named Pick their starting QB for a reason. The decision may have been based only on what they saw in practices, but if they take him out of a game before the final gun, how are they going to truly evaluate what he’s capable of doing? His numbers were OK — 13-for-22 for 138 yards — and, considering the fact that the offensive line and the running game gave him no help, I thought he carried himself well, too.
This isn’t a vote against Jordan Webb. I like both guys. I think both guys can play. But the KU staff chose Pick as its starter and then yanked him before giving him a full chance to prove whether he deserved it or not. If Pick had stayed in, maybe things would have clicked in the fourth. Maybe the coaches would then have seen that they have a quarterback who’s capable of responding to the challenge of trailing late in the game. But he didn’t. So now they don’t know.
I wasn’t even that opposed to them going to Webb in search of a spark. What confused me more was how, after naming Pick the starter 15 days before the opening game, they spent the week leading up to the game talking about how much Webb would or would not play. To me, that seemed like a recipe for disaster from the get-go and, clearly, it did not help.
KU coach Turner Gill said Sunday night and again Monday morning that he and his staff were evaluating the quarterback position and searching for the right guy. Here’s hoping they stick with whichever QB they pick this time, for better or for worse.
Switching back and forth and having uncertainty at the game’s most visible position won’t do anything to help bring the offensive rhythm that this team is searching for.
As for my final thought, I'm not sure whether this one falls into the positive or negative category so I'll just tack it on here at the end.
I know it's nuts to think that this loss could be good for the Jayhawks. But the way things unfolded Saturday night, would a 10-6 victory really have been that much better? It still would've been a slight embarrassment and we still would have plenty of questions for the coaches and players to answer.
I know the victory would've made the fans a little happier, but how much would it — if it had come via a furious two-minute rally in the fourth quarter — have really helped the team?
There's an old saying in sports that teams often get more out of losses than they do from wins. Could this be one of those times? Is it possible that the anger, embarrassment and frustration that the Jayhawks felt Saturday — and surely still feel today — will be the kick in the butt they need to get things moving in the right direction?
I’ve seen my fair share of Kansas football so far this preseason and talked a lot to several different members of this year’s team. Because of that, I’d like to think I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on with this year’s team.
But instead of taking my word for it, why not listen to what someone who played with most of these guys has to say about this year’s team.
This summer, after catching up with former safety Darrell Stuckey, now a member of the San Diego Chargers, I asked Stuckey what he thought about the 2010 Jayhawks.
Here are some of the highlights of Stuckey’s thoughts followed by my game-by-game predictions:
“KU, from this point on, is still going to be climbing that mountain,” he said. “We started up it and we never made it to the top. People might argue that we went to the Orange Bowl and that we reached the top. I don’t want to believe that. We went to the Orange Bowl, yes, but that wasn’t the peak of what we can do here. That wasn’t the peak of the mountain. You’re telling me the Insight Bowl was the downslope on the other side? No, it wasn’t at all.”
“I think these guys have a chance to do something that’s great, to still finish what guys started when coach (Mark) Mangino first got here.”
“There’s still a lot of work to be done but as soon as that’s understood and leadership steps in and takes over then they can be great. And I’m not talking about the (leadership of the) coaches, I’m talking about the players.”
“They definitely have the talent and they’re very balanced. They just have to find an identity and believe in themselves. The biggest barrier is going to be confidence, them knowing that they can do it with what they’ve got.”
“A lot of times last year we lost ourselves putting too much faith in a few of our players. Whether it was me, Kerry (Meier), Todd (Reesing), (Dezmon) Briscoe, Jake (Sharp), we got caught up in those moments sometimes. But they’re balanced enough now to where they can spread that pressure out and there’s no one in particular who’s going to be looked at to have to make a play. Now it’s going to be wherever the ball goes, that person has to make a play.”
There’s no way I could’ve said it any better, and there’s no question that I certainly don’t know it as well as Stuckey.
Having said that, here’s my game-by-game prediction for the 2010 season, a season that is now one day away from beginning.
Sept. 4 vs. North Dakota State — Win (1-0) — Gill era gets off to a great start at home, with KU’s superior size, strength and athleticism overpowering a pesky NDSU team in front of a rockin’ crowd at Memorial Stadium.
Sept. 11 vs. Georgia Tech — Loss (1-1) — Jayhawks fall to Top 20 team in Week 2 despite being able to move the ball a little bit. G-Tech’s funky offense proves to be too much for KU to handle, particularly on the ground, where quarterback Josh Nesbitt operates like a magician in leading the Yellow Jackets to victory.
Sept. 17 at Southern Miss — Win (2-1) — Southern Miss is a quality team and they’ll be playing at home. But effort will be the deciding factor in this one and few teams will give effort like Gill’s Jayhawks in 2010. KU defense contains NFL prospect DeAndre Brown (6-6, 239-pound WR) in the passing game and shows the benefit of emphasizing of a strong running game.
Sept. 25 vs. New Mexico State — Win (3-1) — Jayhawks return home with an opportunity to move to 3-1 in the non-conference and pound NMSU. Offense clicks like never before and Jayhawks light up the scoreboard en route to the easy victory.
Oct. 2 at Baylor — Loss (3-2) — Non-con bubble bursts with tough loss to Baylor. BU quarterback Robert Griffin creates a long day for the KU defense, keeping the Jayhawks off balance with his ability to run and throw. Offense looks good but can’t keep up with the Bears all day.
Oct. 14 vs. Kansas State — Win (4-2) — Thursday night, under the lights, against your in-state rival at home. Managers throughout the city should be prepared for employees to call in sick on Friday as the inspired KU defense contains K-State back Daniel Thomas and punishes KSU quarterback Carson Coffman. Many think the winner of this one will go to a bowl this season while the other sits home for the holidays. Good news for KU.
Oct. 23 vs. Texas A&M — Loss (4-3) — Feeling good about their 4-2 start, KU realizes quickly that they’re not quite ready to compete with the real contenders in the Big 12. Led by All-American candidate Jerrod Johnson, A&M steps on the gas and never lets up. Offense struggles, defense stays on the field all day and wears down by the second half.
Oct. 30 at Iowa State — Loss (4-4) — Iowa State’s schedule resembles KU’s from 2009 and because of that, the Cyclones are ecstatic to see KU stroll into town during Halloween weekend. It will go down as a game KU should have won, but ISU makes more plays at crucial moments to even KU’s record at 4-4.
Nov. 6 vs. Colorado — Win (5-4) — Jayhawks respond to tough road loss with most complete game of the season. Defense frustrates Colorado offense all day, offense scores in every way imaginable and Jayhawks get revenge for last year’s loss in Boulder that sent the ’09 season on its slide south. Late loss all but guarantees that CU coach Dan Hawkins is done at Colorado.
Nov. 13 at Nebraska — Loss (5-5) — The Nebraska D — perhaps the best in the nation — is way too tough on this day and the Huskers bottle up a KU offense riding high from its performance against Colorado. KU defense again helps keep the Jayhawks in the game, but the offense never gets going. Gill's first -- and maybe last? -- trip north to coach against his alma mater doesn't go so well.
Nov. 20 vs. Oklahoma State — Win (6-5) — Needing a win in one of their final two games to become bowl eligible, the Jayhawks don’t waste any time. KU defense flies all over the field and punishes and confuses OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden all night. KU ground game again seals the deal, as three different running backs score touchdowns in the victory.
Nov. 27 vs. Missouri — Loss (6-6) — Another wild game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., comes down to the fourth quarter yet again. For the second year in a row, Mizzou QB Blaine Gabbert leads the Tigers on a game-winning drive, this one capped by a touchdown run from Gabbert in the waning moments.
Welcome to one of KUsports.com’s latest blog features: Around the Web in 7 Days.
Each week this season, we’ll take a look around the world to find out what others out there are saying about the Jayhawks and their game that week.
For the most part, our focus will be on the papers and web sites that cover that week’s opponent, however, every once in a while I’m sure KU — and its opponents — will pop into the national spotlight for better or for worse. The goal here is to bring you a slightly different perspective on the week’s game and allow you to better understand what’s coming up on Saturday (or Thursday, or Friday, as the case will be in 2010).
In addition to the links I provide, please feel free to add any that I may have missed in the comments section below.
Some weeks, this feature will be easier than others. When Big 12 play starts that will certainly help and, of course, any ranked teams the Jayhawks come up against likely will get plenty of press.
This week, our journey takes us mostly to Fargo, N.D., where the local papers have been busy previewing Saturday’s opener between the Jayhawks and the North Dakota State Bison.
Enjoy the linkage and be sure to check back with KUsports.com throughout the week — including gameday — for the latest information and breakdowns of this week’s contest.
Week 1: Kansas Jayhawks (0-0) vs. North Dakota State Bison (0-0):
Former walk-on to start at wide receiver for NDSU in opener, from The Dickinson Press
NDSU coach Bohl anxious to match up with Gill and the Jayhawks, from The Fargo-Moorhead News
Noseguard snubbed by big-name schools making noise at NDSU, from The Fargo-Moorhead News
NDSU football in ‘big win’ drought, from The Bismarck Tribune
Freshmen to play big roles for Bison, from The Dickinson Press
I’m not much of a reader. Because I spend so much time writing and re-reading my own stuff, as well as dozens of other sports articles each day, I tend to prefer to get away from the written word during my down time.
When I do read, I find myself gravitating toward non-fiction stuff. I’ve never really liked to read fiction. Seems like that’s best served on the big screen. My favorite topic is books about The Beatles, of which I’ve read probably a couple dozen different titles.
Last week, though, a copy of Todd Reesing’s recently released book, “Rising to New Heights: Inside the Jayhawks Huddle,” made its way to my desk and on Sunday night I decided to start flipping through it. By Wednesday I was finished. http://www2.kusports.com/photos/2007/sep/01/131046/
Now, the Reesing book certainly fits the non-fiction flavor that I prefer, as it is packed full of real memories and wonderful moments that are sure to make even casual Jayhawk fans beam with pride. But beyond that, it truly was a joy to read.
I think the best part about the book was that it was written in a style that seemed true to Reesing. He didn’t sugarcoat anything and didn’t try to write above his means. He writes like he speaks and the words bounce off the page.
The book — like all good sports stories — opens with a bang as Reesing jumps right in to KU’s appearance in the 2008 Orange Bowl and shares some of his thoughts and memories from gameday, the contest itself and the celebration that followed.
With the book off to a rolling start, he picks up steam with a chapter about the three Border War games he played in during his time at KU. Although KU lost two of those three games to Missouri, you’d never know it from reading this chapter. Of course, the one win in that group which came on a fourth-down touchdown pass from Reesing to Kerry Meier in the snow at Arrowhead Stadium, gets plenty of play in the 237 pages of this one. As well it should.
In addition to those thrilling subjects, Reesing also sheds some light on the injury that slowed him down throughout the second half of the 2009 season, his “benching” against Texas Tech and his take on the investigation of former KU coach Mark Mangino that ultimately led to the removal of the man who gave Reesing a chance.
The book also is full of other thoughts about Reesing — the man, the quarterback, the friend, the Jayhawk — from those who know him best — teammates, childhood friends, family members and coaches and admirers.
Another chapter takes the reader through a year in the life of a college football player. Reesing guides you on a journey that includes a look at what each week during the season was like (day by day) as well as what goes on in the offseason, the summer, with classes and even the social scene.
Other engaging subjects in the book include:
• The recruiting process that took him through Manhattan, Kan., en route to KU, complete with some pretty candid thoughts from K-State coach Bill Snyder
• The moment in the locker room at halftime of the Colorado game in 2006, when coach Mark Mangino told him he’d be starting the second half — his first appearance in a game at KU.
• A list of the most memorable plays of No. 5’s career from both Reesing’s friends and family and Reesing himself.
• What Reesing’s future might hold, including his hopes for a professional football career, what he might do if football doesn’t pan out and his thoughts on the current KU team, including new KU coach Turner Gill.
Someone asked me the other day how a guy in his early 20’s, like Reesing, could write a book about his life. At the time, the inquiry made sense. But after reading Reesing’s book, it’s obvious that this guy has enough to share to fill two books. Maybe someday it’ll come to that. But for now, there’s this one, a must-read for everyone who ever saw Reesing play and a pure delight for KU fans.
It’s a quick read with some colorful language and wonderful memories. The book, like Reesing’s career, will have you buzzing.
Thursday, 15 days before the first game of the 2010 season, Kansas University football coach Turner Gill tapped sophomore Kale Pick as his starting quarterback.
The choice did not come without thought. Weeks of evaluation by Gill and his coaching staff — particularly offensive coordinator Chuck Long — led to the decision to name Pick the starter.
Now that he’s done so, Gill and the Jayhawks can move on and start preparing for the season opener Sept. 4.
Let the fun begin. Every day from here on out will be different for the Jayhawks. Pick is now their unquestioned leader. Although seniors Sal Capra, Chris Harris, Jake Laptad, Angus Quigley and Justin Springer officially were named captains on Wednesday, Pick’s leadership ability will go the furthest in determining how the Jayhawks fare this season.
That’s good news for Kansas fans because that’s the main reason Pick won the job. Throughout the weeks that he battled with red-shirt freshman Jordan Webb, Pick carried himself with more confidence and, in many ways, seemed to be a natural leader.
I spent quite a lot of time around both guys during those weeks and, although I grew to like Webb a lot — classy, kind, down-to-earth, a genuine joy to talk with — I always came away feeling as if Pick was right guy for the job.
Call it the it factor, call it whatever you want, but Pick has it. It just seems as if he was born to inherit this job, be it at Kansas or on some other college campus.
Make no mistake, though, Pick did not simply inherit the job. He earned it. And he earned it by winning a battle against a very capable opponent.
It’s no secret by now that Webb has the better arm of the two. High school highlight videos reveal that Webb also has the ability to improvise when plays break down, sort of the same thing that Todd Reesing brought to the table, albeit in a less effective manner thus far. Webb also used his intelligence and desire to soak up the offense like a sponge to benefit him in the competition.
That’s what makes Pick’s victory all the more impressive. The coaches never said it (nor would they), but you almost got the sense that, because of his arm strength, they wanted to give Webb every opportunity to win the quarterback job. Play-calling becomes a lot easier when you’ve got a guy who can stretch the field with a flick of his wrist.
That’s why the battle went into the third week of preseason camp. Ultimately, though, Pick’s skillset — he’s very good at a little bit of everything — and his demeanor won him the job. As I mentioned before, it just seems as if the guy was born to be a college quarterback. He’s got the look, he’s got the name (if Kale Pick weren’t good enough already Johnny Quarterback would suffice), he’s got the confidence and he’s got the ability.
Now he just needs to show it in games. And there’s no doubt in my mind that he will. With a plethora of capable running backs and dangerous wideouts — not to mention tight end Tim Biere — surrounding him, Pick will have his, well, pick of options on just about every play. And because his physical attributes — strong and decisive in the pocket, good arm, good instincts and willingness to scoot forward for positive yardage with his feet — will allow him to find ways to get the ball in the right hands, he should do very well in running KU’s offense into the new era.
I asked Pick on Thursday if he saw himself in the same mold as Trent Dilfer or Brad Johnson, former NFL quarterbacks known as “game managers,” who led their respective teams to Super Bowl titles.
Pick’s answer shows exactly why he was chosen to be the KU leader.
“I wouldn’t put myself in the same category as those quarterbacks,” he said. “Probably more than that.”
Asked further if he expected the job to be a breeze because of all of the capable bodies around him, Pick gave a nod to his teammates.
“I don’t know about easy, it’s pretty tough playing quarterback,” he said. “But it helps. We have good weapons out here, for sure, and they do make it easier on me. If I throw a short pass to Daymond (Patterson) and he takes it to the house for about 50 yards, that’s definitely easy. We have a lot of talent and it does help me out.”
Now, with the guessing and speculating done, the Jayhawks have 15 days to put that talent together in a manner that will win games.
With the opening game of the 2010 season now a little more than two weeks away, it seems like as good a time as any to offer up some predictions for the coming year.
Although we’re still formulating opinions about how the Kansas University football team will finish during its first season under the direction of new head coach Turner Gill, those of us here at KUsports.com who cover the team have our own opinions about which players will dominate the headlines for the Jayhawks this fall.
Outside of a very vanilla spring game, which took place after just 15 practices in the spring — which were conducted without many key players — we haven’t been able to nail down a prediction for wins and losses for 2010, largely because we haven’t been given an opportunity to see this team in action much.
So the following predictions were made with a bit of a projector’s eye. Some of them were based on what we know about guys who are returning from seasons past. Others were based on what we’ve heard, seen or been told about new guys from those who have been around them.
With that in mind, here’s our best guess at some players to watch in 2010.
— MATT TAIT, KU FOOTBALL BEAT WRITER —
Offensive MVP: Kale Pick. Replacing Todd Reesing shouldn’t be nearly as easy as Pick will make it look. Strong, skilled and supremely confident, the gunslinger from Dodge City will be wise enough to use all of his weapons this season, keeping opposing defenses guessing and the Jayhawks rolling. Won’t put up the individual numbers we’re used to from the KU QB, but will put up points on the scoreboard.
Defensive MVP: Kevin Young. If the Jayhawks struggle on defense this season, it won’t be Young’s fault. With opponents focused on neutralizing Jake Laptad, Young will face one-on-one blocking on the other side. He’ll eat that for lunch and make a second home in opposing backfields, leading the Jayhawks in sacks, hurries and QB pressures.
Special Teams MVP: Daymond Patterson. He’ll be a big-time factor at receiver, as well, but the more reps the shifty slot receiver gets on offense the more dangerous he’ll be on special teams, where he’ll bring a take-it-to-the-house mentality every time he touches the ball.
Offensive Breakout Player of the Year: Christian Matthews. Though the Jayhawks are deep at receiver, Gill and Co. will have a hard time keeping this guy off the field. His skill set is raw but his athleticism may be the best on the team.
Defensive Breakout Player of the Year: Steven Johnson. Lost in the shuffle because of the presence of some pretty big names at linebacker during the past few seasons, Johnson will emerge as a monster whom Jayhawk fans will be thrilled to have back in 2011.
Freshman of the Year: Christian Matthews. Coaches and teammates have talked about his ability all offseason. My guess is, before long, we’ll know why.
Best Win of 2010: Sept. 17 at Southern Miss. This will be the game that determines if the Jayhawks go bowling. After playing Georgia Tech tough at home on Sept. 11, the Jayhawks will take that toughness to the bayou to knock off Larry Fedora’s club with nasty defense and a clock-crunching ground attack.
Worst Loss of 2010: Nov. 13 at Nebraska. Gill’s return to Lincoln, Neb., won’t be one he’ll want to remember. Distractions — both from Gill’s return and NU’s departure to the Big 10 — will make this one a circus. Nebraska’s defense will play the role of the clown while KU plays the part of Kramer from Seinfeld.
— TOM KEEGAN, SPORTS EDITOR —
Offensive MVP: Daymond Patterson. Get him the ball and he'll take care of the rest.
Defensive MVP: Jake Laptad. Kill the quarterback, Jake.
Special Teams MVP: Jacob Branstetter. Tackling prowess overshadows kicking talent.
Offensive Breakout Player of the Year: Tim Biere. Tight end will be used more in new offense and Biere has looked great through spring and fall camps.
Defensive Breakout Player of the Year: Justin Springer. Recovered from knee injury, he's ready to dominate.
Freshman of the Year: Kevin Young. There is a reason Nebraska wanted him. He's got talent.
Best Win of 2010: Oct. 14 vs. Kansas State: Home crowd might be thin for some games, but not this one.
Worst Loss of 2010: Oct. 2 at Baylor. Dual-threat QB Robert Griffin is back, which makes Baylor much better.
— JESSE NEWELL, KUSPORTS.COM ONLINE EDITOR —
Offensive MVP: Angus Quigley. No one can say I played it safe. This would be a remarkable story if true. I think the RB job is his to lose at this point.
Defensive MVP: Jake Laptad. If he's healthy, he's the best player on the Jayhawks defense.
Special Teams MVP: Alonso Rojas. No one's really talking about it, but he'll have a shot to make an NFL roster in 2011.
Offensive Breakout Player of the Year: Tim Biere. Turner Gill and Chuck Long love utilizing the tight end. That hasn't always been the case at KU.
Defensive Breakout Player of the Year: Calvin Rubles. KU cornerbacks coach Vic Shealy loves Rubles' size and athleticism. Give me five INTs for the breakout senior.
Freshman of the Year: Deshaun Sands. KU desperately needs a running back that can break free for a big run. Sands will be that guy this year.
Best Win of 2010: Oct. 23 vs. Texas A&M. The Aggies have star power, but their defense is still suspect. I'll say the Jayhawks pull this one out in Lawrence.
Worst Loss of 2010: Nov. 27 vs. Missouri. This might not be the worst loss, but it will be the one that hurts the most for KU fans. The Arrowhead games always seem to come down to the end, but the Jayhawks aren't at the same level talent-wise as the Tigers this year.
— ERIC SORRENTINO, CONFERENCE CHATTER BLOGGER —
Offensive MVP: Kale Pick. With an experienced offensive line, I expect the dual-threat quarterback to have a solid season. If the line holds up in protection, Pick will be able to find a group of receivers that could surprise some people this year.
Defensive MVP: Jake Laptad. The defensive end had seven sacks in 2008 and 6.5 in 2009. To be an elite end in the Big 12, Laptad will likely need to crack the double-digit plateau in his senior season. I expect he'll at least flirt with the number.
Special Teams MVP: Jacob Branstetter. Led the team in scoring with 81 points last year.
Offensive Breakout Player of the Year: Daymond Patterson. Moving from cornerback to wide receiver, his natural position, should help the junior showcase his breakaway speed. Patterson will operate from the slot and should have the chance to scamper for plenty of yards after the catch.
Defensive Breakout Player of the Year: Kevin Young. The defensive end from Olathe should have a chance to start in his freshman season. He was listed as a starting end on the post-spring, two-deep depth chart.
Freshman of the year: Chris Omigie. Haven't seen the guy play yet, but I've heard so much about the ability of the Arlington, Texas, native to get down the field and win the jump ball. He has great size at 6-foot-4 and 194 pounds. Omigie may receive limited opportunities in 2010, but I'm ready for him to display flashes of his potential.
Best Win of 2010: Oct. 14 vs. Kansas State. I'm not particularly sold on the Wildcats being serious North contenders this season. I could see the Jayhawks getting revenge from last year's KSU victory. The home team has won the Sunflower Showdown six of the past seven years.
Worst loss of 2010: Sept. 17 at Southern Miss. It may take a few games for the Jayhawks to get comfortable under the new scheme of first-year coach Turner Gill. An early game like this against Southern Miss — KU's third game of the season and its first on the road — could be particularly challenging. Southern Miss has played in a bowl game for the past eight years.
— ANDREW BAKER, 6 NEWS SPORTS ANCHOR —
Offensive MVP: Toben Opurum. He has the best opportunity to make the biggest impact since Turner Gill has announced that he plans to be more committed to the run than Mark Mangino. If the offensive line can hold up, Opurum should excel.
Defensive MVP: Jake Laptad. This is an easy one and the sack leader from 2009 will continue to lead this defense in 2010.
Special Teams MVP: Daymond Patterson. His speed and ability to make defenders miss should lead to some breakout opportunities for the junior.
Offensive Breakout Player of the Year: Bradley McDougald. The sophomore wide receiver has big play ability, and by the time the year is over his numbers will be better than Jonathan Wilson's.
Defensive Breakout Player of the Year: Chris Harris. This could be a little bit of a stretch but Harris has the ability to cause havoc to his opposition, he just hasn't had that year when he can put it all together. He's been a regular starter for Kansas however — I think this is the season Harris finally controls one side of the field.
Freshman of the Year: Kevin Young. Learning from Jake Laptad will help this freshman disrupt play in the backfield
Best Win of 2010: Nov. 6 vs. Colorado. This KU team is obviously down from a season ago and I think wins will be few and far between.
Worst Loss of 2010: Oct. 14 vs. Kansas State. A game that KU should win since it is at home — however the Sunflower Showdown debut for Turner Gill will not be a good one.
— KEVIN ROMARY, 6 NEWS SPORTS DIRECTOR —
Offensive MVP: Kale Pick. Let's hope there is one. I fear that the offense could struggle big time with so many new parts.
Defensive MVP: Jake Laptad. It's gotta be Jake or Justin, right?
Special Teams MVP: Alonso Rojas. The KU offense can't be as good with the three greatest offensive players in school history gone. Zo will have to be extremely valuable.
Offensive Breakout Player of the Year: Daymond Patterson. He dazzled for a few games as a freshman and now returns to the position he loves.
Defensive Breakout Player of the Year: Calvin Rubles. Guy was a stud in JUCO. Now needs to prove that the hype was real.
Freshman of the Year: James Sims. Everything is bigger in Texas.
Best Win of 2010: Kansas State. KU was better last year and lost on the road. KSU may be better this year but will lose on the road.
Worst Loss of 2010: Texas A&M. By worst loss, I assume you mean margin of defeat. I fear the powerful Ags "O" could score 50 at Memorial.
Kansas University football coach Turner Gill, on Monday, made no secret about the way he feels about his wide receivers.
“We have a solid receiving corps, I can say that,” Gill told the media during KU’s annual media day at the Anderson Family Strength and Conditioning Center.
From there, Gill went on to name names and, initially, I thought he might give us a glimpse at the two or three guys who had stood out the most at the position during his 20 or so practices with the team.
First mentioned was senior Johnathan Wilson. Then came junior Daymond Patterson, followed by sophomore Bradley McDougald. Finally, I thought to myself, we’re going to start getting some info about which players have taken the lead during training camp battles.
But then came Chris Omigie’s name and the names Erick McGriff and Christian Matthews followed. By the time Gill was finished — slot receiver D.J. Beshears was the last wideout he mentioned by name — Gill had listed off enough receivers to make up a couple of solid receiving units.
When I asked him how he might go about fitting that many players into some kind of a rotation, Gill said the coaching staff was still evaluating that and that, like most other positions, this group of guys would continue to battle it out on the practice field, with the most consistent guys — not necessarily the most talented — gaining the lion’s share of the reps this fall.
Though he’s been here just a short time, that, we’ve learned, is the Turner Gill way — everybody competes and consistency pays. Not a bad way to run a program, if you ask me.
But what if a position like wide receiver pops up and you’ve got six or seven guys who deserve to be on the field when the balls are flying on Saturdays? What happens then?
I’m sure Gill will figure that out in time. But I thought I’d take a crack at it before he does.
This is just a hunch, but I’d bet, with all things being equal, Gill will reward the older players first. Seniority and loyalty seem to mean a great deal to him. The other thing that means a great deal? Winning ballgames. So, seniority aside, if it’s a true freshman who puts the Jayhawks in the best position to win a game, you can bet Gill will send the rookie out onto the field.
For now, though, let’s examine which receivers might make the most grabs this fall.
- Johnathan Wilson, senior, 6-2, 190
The outlook: Partly because he’s the most experienced receiver in the bunch and partly because his name keeps coming up around the KU camp as a guy who has stood out, Wilson deserves the first crack at being this team’s go-to guy. This summer, receivers coach Darrell Wyatt told me that a clear-cut No. 1 receiver was the one thing that this unit lacks. With Sept. 4 drawing closer each day, it’s time for someone to establish himself as that guy. Wilson will get the first shot. Gill said he was impressed by Wilson’s route-running, demeanor and focus and the fact that he’s shown more maturity as a senior. Wilson doesn’t have top end speed but he is fearless and won’t be afraid to go after balls in traffic.
My take: I think Wilson will make a lot of plays for the Jayhawks this season and I think he’ll be among the leading receivers. However, something tells me that if he’s the guy who leads this team in yards and catches, that won’t be a very good sign for the Jayhawks. Consider him a solid No. 2 and hope for better.
- Daymond Patterson, junior, 5-9, 173
The outlook: Back to his natural position, Patterson finally gets the chance to resume his role as a playmaker. Lightning quick and blessed with breakaway speed, Patterson showed glimpses of what he was capable of as a true freshman. Now, two years more mature and polished, Patterson will get the chance to show that he belongs in the conversation about the most exciting players in the Big 12. If the Jayhawks were asked to vote, Patterson would be voted most likely to electrify. He’s shifty, has good vision and seems stuck on taking every reception to the house. Though his size won’t make him much of a threat over the middle, it seems ideal for his role in the slot.
My take: Look for Patterson to catch a lot of balls this season and look for him to rack up the yards-after-catch stat. Gill has emphasized getting the ball to his playmakers. I’m guessing we’ll see Patterson get the ball in just about every way imaginable this season. Short passes, deep balls, reverses, direct snaps, heck, maybe even out of the backfield. The sky’s the limit for this guy this year.
- Bradley McDougald, sophomore, 6-1, 195
The outlook: McDougald was a pleasant surprise in 2009. As a true freshman he caught 33 balls and benefited greatly from KU’s pass-heavy offense as well as the presence of future NFL draft picks Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier. McDougald is one of those guys who seems to make everything he does look smooth and, because of that, he’s not always the most exciting player on the field. He is productive, though, and his mix of good hands, good speed and toughness should translate into another solid season.
My take: If there’s any receiver on the roster who’s ready to inherit the Kerry Meier role, it’s McDougald. Sure hands, ultra reliable and smart enough to sit into the holes the defense allows. The potential’s there for McDougald to lead the Jayhawks in receiving this year. What remains to be seen is if the opportunity to do so is.
So there you have it, my best guess at the top three guys who will see the most balls thrown their way during the 2010 season. The good news about this year’s receiving corps is that it’s deep and talented, though, so at any moment any one of those other guys could jump into the mix.
Before we wrap up, a quick word about the rest of the top seven.
Chris Omigie, red-shirt freshman, 6-4, 194: What he did in the spring game (4 catches for 95 yards and a TD) definitely got people excited. The key for Chris will be to do that with consistency. You gotta like his size, especially down the field, and the way he attacks the ball when it’s in the air.
Christian Matthews, red-shirt freshman, 6-1, 186: A star in the making. Matthews also had a memorable spring game (caught a 37-yard game-winning TD from Kale Pick for the blue squad) and has opened eyes within the program. The former QB is pretty raw but he’s getting better and more comfortable at his new position every day and appears to be on a path to greatness. He’ll make catches this season but next year will be his big year.
D.J. Beshears, sophomore, 5-8, 174: Plays like Patterson and does it nearly as well. Quick, shifty and a natural playmaker, the only thing holding Beshears back will be opportunities. Red-shirting would not be the worst idea.
Erick McGriff, red-shirt freshman, 6-3, 209: Has the size you like but hasn’t been able to get completely healthy just yet. A natural at the position, McGriff’s size alone could end up leading to key receptions this season, should Chuck Long and the KU offense find a way to exploit opponents down the field.
A colleague and I had a little discussion the other day about which Jayhawks we could include on our Big 12 Preseason Football Media Ballots without making a mockery of the process.
It was a pretty long discussion for such a short list.
There have to be a few all-conference-type players on KU’s roster. There’s no doubt in my mind. Each year during the past decade or so, KU has had at least a couple of guys who you could have made a case for on this team. The problem with those players was the overwhelming competition they faced from players at the 11 other schools.
The problem with this year’s group is that they’re largely a bunch of unknowns. Is it possible to envision a postseason all-Big 12 team that has two or three Jayhawks on it? Absolutely. Is it easy to pinpoint who those players are or might be and, furthermore, is it even conceivable to put them on the preseason squad? Not exactly.
Take Chris Harris for example. Harris has three things going for him entering the 2010 season. He’s a senior, he’s experienced and he’s had plenty of big games in the past while wearing a KU uniform. Isn’t it possible, then, to see how Harris, should he have the best year of his career, could wind up on the all-Big 12 squad when December rolls around? Sure. Think 80+ tackles, six or seven picks and a surprise season from the Jayhawks, say 7-5 or 8-4. If Harris has those type of stats on that type of team, he could be an all-conference pick. But I just can’t justify putting him on there until he does it. And I can’t imagine many other media members will be able to either.
As for the Jayhawks I could see putting on the preseason team — and just might before Friday’s deadline — here’s the list of the guys we came up with. Feel free to add to the list if you’ve got a compelling case for someone we left out.
Tanner Hawkinson, left tackle: Hawkinson may very well be the player voted most-likely-to-make-an-NFL-roster on this year’s team. He’s got great size and physical tools, is a superb athlete with good feet and has yet to fully realize his potential as an offensive lineman. But he did a great job of protecting Todd Reesing’s blind side and will be counted on to take even better care of the new KU QB, whoever it is. This league — in particular OU and Texas — has some serious talent at the offensive line position, so cracking the Top 5 is tough, but Hawkinson’s in the conversation.
Jake Laptad, defensive end: Honorable mention all-Big 12 during the last two seasons, Laptad has the potential to be a disruptive force on KU’s defensive line. He won’t be able to do it without some help, though. Unless the Jayhawks find at least a couple of other defensive linemen capable of putting pressure on opposing QBs, Laptad will face a lot of double teams this year and that will neutralize the player who recorded 6.5 sacks and 6 QB hurries in 2009 and has 13.5 sacks in the past two seasons combined.
Tim Biere, tight end: After a productive spring, Biere appears to be poised for a breakout season, especially when considering that he’ll be playing in a brand-new, tight-end-friendly offense. Biere’s a good pick here because he’s got good skills, is reliable and fearless and benefits from a lack of talent at the position throughout the rest of the league.
Daymond Patterson, punt returner: DP has the skills to be among the best in the league. The problem with putting him on the team is, (a) we don’t know for sure if he’ll get a shot to return punts and (b) he may become too valuable at wide receiver for the Jayhawks to allow him to.
Surprised by the recent flurry of offensive linemen to give oral commitments to the Kansas University football program?
You’re not alone. Analysts and experts throughout the region have expressed varying degrees of shock regarding KU’s most recent crop of commitments, which has included verbal pledges from four offensive linemen from the Class of 2011 in the past six days and a total of five in the past two and a half weeks.
It all began with 6-foot-5, 295-pound Travis Bodenstein, of Springdale, Ark., who committed to KU on June 12. Little did we know, Bodenstein’s act would be the one that led to KU filling the cupboard at the position.
Bryan Peters (6-5, 305 from La Mirada, Calif.) was next, followed by juco transfer Nick Johnson (6-3, 290, Navarro College), Damon Martin (6-5, 265, Arlington, Texas) and finally Luke Luhrsen (6-5, 275, Wheaton, Ill.).
That fivesome, should they stick to their words, represents KU’s largest offensive line class since 2003, when former KU coach Mark Mangino inked six offensive linemen, two of which were juco transfers and two more, Cesar Rodriguez and Joe Vaughn, who went on to have a big impact at the position.
KU’s 2006 Class eventually included six linemen, but only four at the time. Sal Capra came in as a linebacker and Brad Thorson signed with Wisconsin before transferring to KU. Both are projected starters on this year’s squad.
There’s been talk that the current KU staff would have no problem bumping its number of linemen from five to six should Bishop Miege standout Phil Ford — 6-6, 342 — choose to commit to Kansas. KU offered a scholarship to the Miege monster last week and Ford and his mother, Michelle Walker, are expected to take another visit to the KU campus this afternoon.
A little perspective for those fans concerned about the fact that all of these guys are of the two- and three-star variety... Since 2002, KU has received just one commitment from a four-star offensive lineman. His name was Nathan D’Cuhna, in 2008, and he never played a single snap for the Jayhawks.
In fact, the top six linemen on this year’s unit all were either two- or three-star guys out of high school and two of them entered the KU program at different positions.
Sal Capra — 2-star — Class of 2006 — linebacker
Brad Thorson — 2-star — Class of 2006 (Wisconsin) — offensive lineman
Jeremiah Hatch — 3-star — Class of 2007 — offensive lineman
Jeff Spikes — 2-star — Class of 2007 — offensive lineman
Tanner Hawkinson — 3-star — Class of 2008 — tight end
Trevor Marrongelli — 2-star — Class of 2008 — offensive lineman
Say what you will about the success of the KU offensive line during the past seven or eight seasons, but make sure to recognize that this year’s group — on paper — did not look like anything to write home about but could become one of the top units to play at KU in quite some time.
Hawkinson is a legitimate NFL prospect and likely would’ve been a two-star lineman (at best) out of high school. Hatch and Spikes, based on size alone, have the potential to dominate. And Thorson, a two-star guy who transferred from Wisconsin, has emerged as a solid anchor on the O-Line, much like Ryan Cantrell, a two-star guy in his own right, who became a three-year starter at Kansas. Capra and Marrongelli are out of that same mold — solid but not spectacular.
The thing that the linemen in the Class of 2011 have that many that came before them did not is natural size. Most of these guys are monsters already. Imagine what they could become after a couple of years with the KU strength staff.
As the saying goes, “You can’t teach size.” Size alone does not make this class a bunch of can’t-miss O-Line prospects. As you can see from the list below there have been plenty of two- and three-star linemen who never panned out. Still, just because they’re not of the four-star variety does not mean that this latest group of linemen can’t become something special. Just look at the Class of 2004, which includes a familiar name: Anthony Collins. Collins came to KU as a two-star defensive end and left as a fourth-round NFL Draft pick.
KU’s Offensive Linemen Classes since 2002:
Chad Kolumber — 2-star
Gavin Howard — 3-star
Tom Mabry — 2-star
Riley Spencer — 2-star
Nathan D’Cuhna — 4-star
Ben Lueken — 3-star
Trevor Marrongelli — 3-star
John Williams — 3-star
Tanner Hawkinson — 3-star TE
Chet Hartley — 3-star
Jeremiah Hatch — 3-star
Jeff Spikes — 2-star
Carl Wilson — 3-star
John Marshall — 2-star
Rameses Arceo — 3-star
Ian Wolfe — 3-star
Sal Capra — 2-star LB
Brad Thorson — 2-star (Wisconsin signee)
Marcus Anderson — 3-star
Jake Cox — 3-star
Jose Rodriguez — 3-star
Adam Melty — 3-star
Ryan Cantrell — 2-star
Anthony Collins — 2-star DE
Matt Darton — 2-star
Todd Haselhorst — 3-star
Scott Haverkamp — 2-star
Richard Estrella — 3-star
Zack Hood — 2-star
Reid Kirby — 2-star
Cesar Rodriguez — 2-star
Johnny Urrutia — 3-star
Joe Vaughn — 2-star
Travis Dambach — 2-star
David Ochoa — 3-star
Skye Peterson — 3-star
Bob Whitaker — 3-star
According to Jerry Palm of CBSsports.com, the 2013 season will be another rough one for the Kansas University football team.
It's not that Palm projected the Jayhawks to win just one or two games — he may, but that's not what's in the news today — but rather that Palm projected that 9 of the 12 teams on KU's schedule for the upcoming season will qualify for bowl games when everything is said and done.
That projection includes two of the three non-conference opponents KU will face this season, as Palm has Rice (Sept. 14) slated to play in the Hawaii Bowl and Louisiana Tech (Sept. 21) slotted into the New Orleans Bowl.
The only members of KU's schedule not picked by Palm for the postseason are South Dakota (Sept. 7), Texas Tech (Oct. 5) and West Virginia (Nov. 16).
Both Tech and WVU made bowl appearances in 2012, when 11 of the 12 teams KU faced wound up in bowl games.
Such is life in the Big 12 Conference, where powerhouse programs like Texas, Oklahoma and, lately, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor, pop up on the schedule week in and week out. There are no down weeks in conference play, particularly for a team like KU, which is still in the middle of a rebuilding project, and that fact makes the road to respectability even tougher to travel for KU coach Charlie Weis and company.
I guess, in a way, the 2013 schedule might actually set up better for KU than last year's slate. Time will tell. But the good news — if you're looking for it — is that KU will face two of Palm's three projected non-bowl opponents during the first four games of the season.
It's been said before, and even proven to be true around here, but getting off to a good start drastically can change the way a season unfolds.
The fun begins in less than four months.