Posts tagged with Ku Football

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 16 - OL Jordan Shelley-Smith

We've reached the end of another week and the beginning of July. That means, the next time the calendar turns it will be football season, with the Jayhawks slated to report to campus Aug. 3, begin preseason camp Aug. 4 and kickoff this year's annual media day on Aug. 6.

With that in mind, it's more O-Line flavor for today's entry of the most crucial Jayhawks of 2016, as one of the Jayhawks' most steady linemen from a year ago is adjusting to yet another new role that could wind up being crucial this season for a number of reasons.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas offensive lineman Jordan Shelley-Smith (79) makes his way off the field as the Jackrabbits celebrate their 41-38 win over the Jayhawks on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas offensive lineman Jordan Shelley-Smith (79) makes his way off the field as the Jackrabbits celebrate their 41-38 win over the Jayhawks on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

16. Jordan Shelley-Smith, Sr. Offensive Lineman

After fully making the transition from tight end to left tackle, senior Jordan Shelley-Smith has become one of the more important pieces along KU’s offensive line.

A starter at left tackle in nine of the 12 games during KU’s winless season in 2015, Shelley-Smith showed quickly the ability to add size and strength while maintaining the agility and athleticism that made him a three-star prospect out of Waco, Texas, in the 2012 recruiting class.

During the transition, which Shelley-Smith embraced whole-heartedly and with great pride, the KU veteran endured some growing pains and bumps and bruises but persevered. After missing a good chunk of spring practice this season because of injury, Shelley-Smith has returned to action and is in a battle with Clyde McCaulley at the right tackle spot.

Regardless of which players wins the starting job, both will play and both will be counted on to provide depth. Shelley-Smith, with a year at left tackle under his belt, can provide depth at both spots and, one of the best things about his role on the team is his attitude. Even if Shelley-Smith is beaten out or plays a limited role, he’s the kind of teammate who will remain engaged and supportive of those around him.

You can’t have too many players like that and it’s often guys like that who tend to have good things happen to them. Assuming that’s the case here, Shelley-Smith will recover fully from his injury and provide the kind of steady influence along the O-Line that this young-but-improving group needs to compete week in and week out.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

No. 19 - DE Damani Mosby

No. 18 - S Tyrone Miller

No. 17 - DB Tevin Shaw

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The need for speed: Who are the fastest players on the KU football roster?

Ever since Tony Pierson left after the 2014 season, fans of KU football have had a difficult time pinpointing exactly who the fastest player on the team has been.

Pierson, a former four-star speed demon out of East St. Louis, who enjoyed a solid but injury-plagued four-year career with the Jayhawks, was one of the fastest players ever to play at Kansas and, year after year, no matter who challenged him, the speed back held the title with little trouble.

The past two years have been different, though, with no clear cut answer and a few unknowns surrounding the question: Who is the fastest player on the KU football team?

Earlier this week, in our latest installment of the Workout Warrior of the Week, Tom Keegan wrote about wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez, who told him that sophomore running back Taylor Martin currently held the title of the fastest player on the field. Personally, I would have guessed it to be Gonzalez, who actually ranks second, so I did a little digging and found out the 9 other players joining Martin and Gonzalez in the top tier.

There are a couple of surprises in here, but, for the most part, they’re players you would expect to see.

1. RB Taylor Martin - Hasn’t played enough to fully show what he’s capable of, and I suspect that his speed is more of the straight-line, 40-yard dash speed than it is the kind that comes while making cuts at full throttle. If he can add more of the latter to the former, he could become a sneaky weapon for the KU offense.

2. WR LaQuvionte Gonzalez – Quiv is the kind of player who seems faster than lightning because of the way he plays. Don’t get me wrong, he’s plenty fast in a straight foot race, but the way he works in space and gets in and out of breaks and gets vertical after making a catch or a move makes him look like one of the fastest dudes on the planet.

3. RB Ke’aun Kinner – This might be the best news of the bunch because of the role Kinner plays on this team. We know he has good vision and can handle a heavy workload, but to know that, when healthy (which he is now), he can run away from defenders once he gets through the line of scrimmage is great news for an offense that needs a big season from its top returning back to keep defenses honest.

4. WR Bobby Hartzog – One of about a dozen intriguing wide receivers on this roster, Hartzog’s 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame might lead some to believe he’s more of a bruiser than a sprinter, but when he gets all of that momentum heading north and south, the guy can fly.

5. CB Kyle Mayberry – Along with his confidence, this is one of the biggest reasons that “Money” Mayberry will have a legitimate chance to compete for a starting spot as a true freshman. There are plenty of factors that go into making a good cornerback — especially in the Big 12 — but few of them, if any, are as important as raw speed.

6. CB Brandon Stewart – To me, Stewart seems to be one of those Jayhawks who could make the biggest leap this season compared to the way he played a year ago. More comfortable in the defense and at the Division I level, Stewart this year should more resemble the lead cornerback this team needs him to be and his speed and ability to now use it and trust it should be a huge part of the reason for that.

7. CB Colin Spencer – This is really no surprise, given that Spencer, who came to KU as a wide receiver, was one of those freak athletes who tested so well coming out of high school. The junior from Dallas has not played a ton, but he could use that speed as a weapon on special teams and also has been around long enough to provide some deep depth in the KU secondary.

8. RB Khalil Herbert – Another running back on the list, Herbert’s wheels, along with a lack of bodies at the running back position, give him a shot to see meaningful snaps immediately. I’ve only seen his film so far, but can remember watching him run away from defenders on a regular basis throughout his prep career.

9. CB Marnez Ogletree – Ogletree spent so much of last season using his brain and mind to make sure he was in the right spot, lined up properly, using the correct technique and all of those other details that go into playing corner. That, for the most part, hampered his ability to just let it go and run, which he can do. That was one of the biggest reasons KU recruited him out of Fullerton College, where he also returned kicks.

10. S Fish Smithson – The way I see it, most people would not think of Fish when they think of speed. He seems — and in a lot of ways is — the kind of player who uses his intelligence and technique to be in the perfect position as often as possible and you don’t really picture him running players down. But, you also don’t lead the Big 12 in tackles per game without being able to run a little bit, so this probably should not be that much of a surprise.

11. LB Joe Dineen – This one might be the biggest surprise on the list, but it shouldn’t be. Dineen worked his butt of this offseason to improve his speed, and like Ben Heeney before him, can move much better than people give him credit for. Like Heeney, he’s never going to qualify as a burner, but his heart, desire and effort give him that extra gear that allows him play faster than most expect.

• Quick note: There’s no doubt in mind that quarterback Montell Cozart would crack the Top 10 on this team, but because he has still been returning from injury, he has not been asked to display his top-end speed throughout the offseason.

• A couple of names of guys who I thought might appear in the top tier but did not included: Red-shirt freshman receiver Chase Harrell, whose name got thrown around a lot when this question was asked a season ago; sophomore receiver Steven Sims, Jr., who may seem faster than he truly is because of his ability as a threat down the field; junior cornerback Derrick Neal, who, like Sims and Gonzalez probably looks a lot faster because of how shifty he is; and sophomore safety Tyron Miller. Harrell, Neal and Sims all landed in the second tier and Miller was in the third tier.

• One final note: Return man/running back Ryan Schadler's name almost certainly would appear on this list, as well — he was a sprinter at Wichita State before coming to KU — but was not on any of the tiers I saw, leading me to believe that Schadler, who probably is at his fastest in the 100-yard dash as opposed to the 40, also might have been nursing some kind of injury when the latest speed testing was done. If I had to bet, I'd put him in the Top 5, when fully healthy.

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Kansas football enjoying a terrific time for the tight end

It’s been a while since the Kansas University football program had a tight end that put fear into opponents and made plays all over the field.

Jimmay Mundine, who last played in 2014, certainly had his moments and improved a great deal from the beginning of his career to the end. But Mundine battled through some tough times in the middle of his career, some of it his fault and some of it the fault of the KU quarterbacks and offensive line.

It’s possible, however, that the Jayhawks could be entering a terrific time for the tight end. And that’s because of the presence of junior-to-be Ben Johnson (6-5, 245) and red-shirt freshman Jace Sternberger (6-4, 236).

Though slightly different in terms of individual strengths and weaknesses, these two tight ends are exactly the same in one key area — toughness.

In Johnson, KU has a bona fide weapon that seems to be quietly bursting at the seams while waiting to break out. From the day he stepped on campus to today, Johnson showed flashes of big time ability, running crisp routes, catching most everything thrown near him and playing with poise and confidence down in and down out. The thing holding him back thus far has been opportunity and injuries.

Though none of Johnson’s injuries — including the one he dealt with this spring — have been major, they have been nagging enough to keep him from planting himself firmly at the top of the depth chart. As for the opportunity, playing behind Mundine and alongside former Florida transfer Kent Taylor put Johnson in the role of young player learning the ropes instead of lead dog chasing the stats.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson turns to meet Iowa State defensive back Kamari Cotton-Moya after a catch in the second quarter.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson turns to meet Iowa State defensive back Kamari Cotton-Moya after a catch in the second quarter. by Nick Krug

But he never flinched and took every opportunity to learn from both players while working on both his body and his game the entire time.

Some within the program have talked about Johnson as one of KU’s most legitimate pro prospects, though he certainly will have to have his best and most productive years in 2016 and 2017 to make that dream a reality.

As for Sternberger, he’s the kind of player who appears to be ready for a massive leap, as well.

While red-shirting last season, Sternberger added significant size and strength to his 6-foot-4 frame and, as a result, should have a significant role in this year’s offense.

Throughout spring practies and scrimmages, Sternberger never strayed far from David Beaty’s side and was used in a variety of ways in Beaty’s new offense, both as a pass catcher and a blocker.

He's big, physical, runs like a horse and is as competitive as any player on the team. Beyond that, he's hungry. After sitting out last season and getting to do nothing but practice, the Kingfisher, Oklahoma, native who also played defensive end in high school appears poised for a real role and has proven to be a player who can be counted on to deliver. Now, we just have to see if those traits transfer to Saturdays.

Kansas University tight end Jace Sternberger (19) pushes a defensive lineman away during practice on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas University tight end Jace Sternberger (19) pushes a defensive lineman away during practice on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, at Memorial Stadium. by Richard Gwin

Both Johnson and Sternberger are sort of hybrid, modern day tight ends that can do a variety of things offensively and can find and create some mismatches issues in opposing secondaries.

By NFL comparisons, think Greg Olsen and Delanie Walker instead of Antonio Gates and Jason Witten.

The key for the continued development and Saturday showcasing of these tight ends — as with everything KU football related right now — will be how well the offensive line holds up so that Johnson, Sternberger, the KU wideouts and the KU QB can actually take advantage of some of these strengths and skills and start making other teams pay.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

It can be a little risky to put a newcomer or unknown player on the list of the 25 most crucial Jayhawks, but occasionally a perfect situation pops up that makes it easy to do.

That's the case with No. 20 on the list, a soon-to-be transfer from Arkansas, who, if all goes well, will bring the depth that the Jayhawks are used to having back to the backfield in 2016.

For the past several years, KU has been stacked with running back depth and been able to lean on various backs at various times, both throughout a game and throughout a season.

But after losing DeAndre Mann and Taylor Cox to graduation, KU all of a sudden was staring a pretty thin running back corps in the face, which made this pick up huge.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Former Arkansas RB Denzell Evans

Former Arkansas RB Denzell Evans by Matt Tait

20. Denzell Evans, Jr. Running Back

He’s not yet on the roster because he still has to finish up a couple of classes at Arkansas before transferring to KU. But, just by talking to him, you get the sense that those classes and that transfer are not going to be a problem.

That’s a good thing for the Jayhawks, who enter 2016 a little thin at running back and certainly could use the extra body, especially when it comes in the form of a 5-foot-11, 217-pound veteran who spent the past few seasons playing and experiencing football in the SEC.

Evans is far from a sure thing. He played only sparingly at Arkansas and will have competition at Kansas to be the primary back-up to returning starter Ke’aun Kinner. Sophomore Taylor Martin, a year older and more comfortable, also figures to factor into the backfield situation rather prominently and freshman Khalil Herbert also will get his shot at playing time.

But Evans, who grew up 10 minutes from the University of Houston campus and chose KU because of the coaching staff and the fact that Lawrence was “real laid back and reminded me of home,” may be the most hungry of that bunch, desperate for an opportunity to get back on the field with some regularity to show that he can still run the ball.

“It was hard freshman year coming out of high school,” Evans said of standing on the sideline instead of lining up in the backfield. “But I always worked regardless and it was never looked at as a bad thing. I had been here a while and I just felt that, getting close to graduating, it would be time for me to step out and go somewhere else where I could get some more playing time and get some more carries.”

How many carries that winds up being depends purely on how quickly Evans buys into both David Beaty’s offense and the second-year KU coach’s philosophy of earning your keep every day.

Unlike most graduate transfers, Evans, provided he makes it, will have two years of eligibility remaining at KU, making the likelihood of him buying into what Kansas football is all about even greater given that his time in Lawrence won’t be just a one-year detour.

Even if Kinner and Martin use the head start they have on Evans to land at the top of the depth chart, there’s still a place for one of the newest KU commitments, who calls himself a balanced back with a good blend of size, speed and pass-catching ability. The Jayhawks are used to having depth in the backfield and using multiple backs throughout the season. With Evans, the beat goes on. Without him, the pressure on Kinner to stay healthy and Martin to develop turns up.

That’s what makes the Evans pick-up so important and puts him in a situation to finally be relevant on Saturdays again.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

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KU football coach David Beaty shows off recruiting game

By now, you've surely heard, read or been told about second-year Kansas football coach David Beaty's reputation as a recruiter.

With strong ties throughout the state of Texas and an energetic, enthusiastic and infectious personality, Beaty, throughout his career, has made building relationships with players, coaches, recruits, fans and administrators one of the most important aspects of his style.

Now, thanks to a Twitter video posted by Class of 2017 wide receiver Reggie Roberson, who committed to KU in mid-May, we get to see a small glimpse into what it's like to be on the receiving end of some of Beaty's recruiting attention.

While the video has blown up on Twitter and received feedback from all over the place, I'd be willing to bet that it actually is pretty tame compared to some of the tactics Beaty has used in the past or will use in the future.

That said, it's a clear sign that he understands today's young athletes and seeks to relate to them on their terms not his. Roberson loved it and I'd bet the rest of the team and KU's targets did, as well.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

The end of the first week of our summer series brings us to our first defensive veteran, Anthony Olobia.

Although Olobia has played just one season in a KU uniform, he has been in Lawrence for two seasons and is heading into his third after two standout seasons at junior college.

He might not carry with him the same type of familiarity as a four- or even five-year program guy, but he is older and more experienced than many of his peers and is physically mature and in better shape than ever.

His name figures to be called a lot this season and, after a strong spring, he looks to be running with KU's first string defense heading into the summer.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas defensive end Anthony Olobia (56) delivers a hit to Oklahoma State running back Raymond Taylor (30) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 at T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla.

Kansas defensive end Anthony Olobia (56) delivers a hit to Oklahoma State running back Raymond Taylor (30) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 at T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla. by Nick Krug

21. Anthony Olobia., Sr. Defensive End

It’s been long enough that some may have forgotten, but Olobia actually was one of those hyped-up Charlie Weis transfer recruits way back in 2014.

Ranked the second best juco defensive end in the country that year, and the 55th best juco prospect overall, Olobia came to KU with a fair amount of hype but saw that die down quickly after an immediate injury cost him the 2014 season.

Looking back, that may have been the best thing that could have happened to him because (a) it allowed him to better acclimate to college and Division I football, and (b) it gave him another year to develop his body in the weight room and learn in the meeting and film rooms.

Although he has yet to become the force that some hoped and expected he might, Olobia is trending toward being a solid rotation-type guy at D-End.

Battling with Damani Mosby — a player with a similar past and path to KU — at KU’s defensive end spots opposite promising sophomore Dorance Armstrong, the opportunity is there for Olobia to become a big part of the KU defense in 2016.

At 6-5, 239, Olobia is long and lean and has some noticeable strength to his style. He’s less of a speed rusher than Mosby and typically uses a variety of moves along with his strength to get to the quarterback.

In 12 games last season, including 4 starts, Olobia finished with 23 tackles, 4 for loss, 1.5 sacks and 2 quarterback hurries. Given his continual growth and development, along with what figures to be even great opportunity, doubling those backfield tackle numbers should not be considered out of reach for Olobia.

With Ben Goodman gone and Armstrong still learning and coming into his own, KU will be counting on the veteran status of Olobia both in terms of leadership at the position and performance on the field.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

It took a few days, but we've reached our first play maker on offense in this year's summer series that lists the 25 most crucial Jayhawks for 2016.

It's no secret that scoring points, snagging first downs and producing on offense has been a challenge for the Jayhawks during recent years, but it's athletes like sophomore wide receiver Steven Sims Jr., who have the Jayhawks hoping those days soon will be gone.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (16) throws up his arms after falling into the end zone for a touchdown during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (16) throws up his arms after falling into the end zone for a touchdown during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

22. Steven Sims Jr., Soph. Wide Receiver

One of the few offensive bright spots from last season, Sims enters his sophomore year with even more confidence than he arrived with and experience to go with it.

At 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, Sims can give the impression that he’s one of those slot receiver types. But this is an athlete who can make plays all over the field, run all kinds of routes and go up and get the ball in traffic if needed.

Sims finished the 2015 season with 349 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 receptions, all of which ranked second on the team. He played in 11 of 12 games, starting six, and really seemed to find his stride when fellow freshman Ryan Willis and his big arm and ability and willingness to take shots down the field took over under center for the Jayhawks.

Two of his biggest games of the season, in terms of receptions, came in two of Willis’ first four starts, when he caught nine balls over two games, and he capped the season with a career-high 58 yards in KU’s loss to K-State.

While none of those numbers will blow you away, the fact that Sims stood out as a player with longterm potential, especially against bigger, faster Big 12 defenses, paints those numbers in a different light.

Heading into 2016, with the freshman tag no longer buying him time, Sims will be counted on to increase those numbers and make even more of an impact. A big factor in whether that will be possible will be the performance of KU’s offensive line and quarterback(s?). But if those two units hold up, there’s no reason to think that Sims can’t take a significant step in his development.

Add to that the fact that the Jayhawks are expected to run more of a true Air Raid offense with David Beaty calling the plays — think more opportunities to make plays in space — and that Sims should benefit from the presence of former Texas A&M receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez drawing attention from opposing defenses, and it’s easy to see Sims improving upon all three of those major statistical numbers and becoming a bona fide weapon for the Kansas offense.

In order to do it, though, he’ll have to remain consistent. With so many receivers on the roster and Beaty proving that he’s willing to play whichever player “earns it” week in and week out, Sims’ numbers will only rise if he puts in the work during the week to get those opportunities on Saturdays.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

Each summer, across the country, football fans spend time watching, waiting and anticipating the arrival of another college football season. And while that might not always be a favorite pastime of KU fans, many still get sucked in to the journey.

Will this be a better season? Is this the year that things finally get going in the right direction? Will Kansas at least be competitive therein making Memorial Stadium on Saturdays in the fall the place to be instead of a place to avoid? All are common questions KU fans wrestle with every year.

So in order to help you predict the answers to those questions and more, we set out to pinpoint the 25 players that could make the biggest impact for the Jayhawks this fall.

Big seasons from these guys — be them in the form of yards and touchdowns or just consistency and perhaps overachieving — could go a long way toward increasing KU's chances at success during the upcoming season.

This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Remember, this is not an exercise designed to identify KU's best players but an attempt to pinpoint which players, with strong seasons, could have the biggest impact for Kansas this fall.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order.

Kansas offensive lineman Jayson Rhodes (65) picks himself off the ground after falling down laughing while fellow lineman field kickoffs during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas offensive lineman Jayson Rhodes (65) picks himself off the ground after falling down laughing while fellow lineman field kickoffs during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

25. Jayson Rhodes, Jr. Offensive Lineman

Rhodes is a good one to kick off this summer’s series with because he represents a couple of key aspects of the KU football program at this point in time. One, through hard work in the weight room and with the strength coaches, Rhodes has reworked his body and is in the best shape of his career, a move that allowed him to slide into the starting left guard spot throughout the spring.

Two, Rhodes plays offensive line and there’s no question that the most important position for the Jayhawks this fall will be the big bodies up front. Not only will they need to keep carving out holes for the Kansas running backs, but they also, and more desperately, have to keep opposing defenders off of KU’s quarterback if the Jayhawks hope to be competitive in 2016.

The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Rhodes is well equipped to do just that. Even with his former physique, which featured more fat, less muscle mass and more bad weight, he showed good feet and solid athleticism, especially for a man his size. Now, with a more efficient frame and a new home at guard instead of on the outside against speed rushers, Rhodes can use those feet and his newfound strength to move bodies and get up the field.

The communications major who is minoring in sociology played in just three games a season ago but, all of a sudden, has the look of a guy who believes he will be a 12-game starter.

That kind of swagger can become contagious and, on an offensive line that is starting to develop some depth and could benefit from positional competition as much as any spot on the roster, that attitude carried by Rhodes and others can only mean good things for the Jayhawks in 2016 and beyond.

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If you could change the outcome of one KU game in history, which would you pick?

Kansas head coach Bill Self walks the sideline during the second half of KU's loss to Virginia Commonwealth Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Kansas head coach Bill Self walks the sideline during the second half of KU's loss to Virginia Commonwealth Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. by Mike Yoder

I recently saw something on Deadspin that seemed like it might be a good idea to bring to Jayhawk Nation.

The article, which ran last Thursday and was inspired by a Tweet from Grantland writer @SheaSerrano, was short and sweet and asked one simple question: If You Could Change Any Championship Outcome, Which Would It Be?

For KU fans, this might be easy, but there are more than a few options:

• The 1940 or 1953 title-game losses to Indiana

• Wilt's triple-OT loss to Carolina in 1957

• The 1991 loss to Duke in Roy Williams’ third season at KU

• The 2003 loss to Syracuse in Roy’s final game

• The 2012 loss to a stacked Kentucky squad in New Orleans

And that’s just basketball.

You might even throw a football game or two in there, most notably the 2007 loss to Missouri at Arrowhead that cost the Jayhawks the Big 12 North title and a spot in the Big 12 title game but wound up working out just fine.

And, if you want to take this a step farther and include games outside of just championship-type contests, the list expands big time.

What about Mark Mangino’s final game as KU’s coach at Arrowhead against the Tigers? Could Lew Perkins really have forced him out if Mangino had just knocked off Mizzou to secure a third straight bowl berth for the Jayhawks?

How about the loss to VCU in the 2011 Elite Eight? The road to Bill Self’s second title had opened up that year and the Jayhawks were loaded.

Heck, even last year’s loss to Villanova might be the choice of some of you.

Either way, I thought it was an interesting exercise and figured it would be fun to narrow it to just Kansas athletics and bring it to KUsports.com.

So what say you? Which KU game — in any sport — would you reverse the outcome of if you had a magic wand for one day?

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Five Jayhawks who helped themselves the most during spring football

Team wide receiver Keegan Brewer (17) puts a move on cornerback Colin Spencer (26) and cornerback Nathan Miller (47) after a catch during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Team wide receiver Keegan Brewer (17) puts a move on cornerback Colin Spencer (26) and cornerback Nathan Miller (47) after a catch during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

It’s been a few weeks since the end of Kansas football coach David Beaty’s second round of spring football, but there’s still plenty to sort through in terms of what we heard and learned from the players and coaches this spring.

As the years have gone on, I’ve grasped a better understanding of the fact that we really don’t learn that much about a program during spring ball. Yeah, you might get to see a new addition to the program or check out the infant stages of a new offense or defense, but, for the most part, the hard work and the serious movement comes over the summer and during preseason camp.

Spring ball is just a time to jump back in, work on some fundamentals and see how much players retained from what you wanted to do last season.

That does not, however, mean that players don’t make themselves noticed and, from time to time, enjoy some serious strides in the spring.

Here’s a short list — in alphabetical order — of a few Jayhawks who did just that, at least the way it looked through my eyes.

• Jacob Bragg, sophomore Offensive Lineman

The third-year sophomore may very well have found a home on the offensive line and he spent most of the spring running with the first unit at that position. That’s good news both for the player and the program, because after his first couple of years in Lawrence, the once-highly-touted center was in danger of being passed over at his position of choice and falling into the category of another promising player who never panned out. With three years of eligibility still remaining and a home at his new spot (right guard), Bragg has a chance to more than pan out. Bragg played in 10 games a year ago and spent some of that time at both right and left guard, but he was not on the two-deep depth chart heading into the final game of 2015 and, with 10 extra pounds and much better mobility now appears ready to compete up front.

• Keegan Brewer, freshman Wide Receiver

I know I wrote about him a little this spring, but I don’t think you can say enough about the impact this Texan made. He’s lightning quick and also fast and appears to have great command of his routes and good hands. Beyond that, he also is extremely elusive. He plays at a deep position, but, with all of that talk last year about the Air Raid Offense using 8 or 9 receivers each game, you can’t convince me for a second that this newcomer is not one of KU’s Top 8 or 9 receivers. He’s going to play and I think he’ll be one of the more pleasant surprises in 2016.

• Tyrone Miller, sophomore Free Safety

For the most part, Miller is the same player he was a year ago. Like many Jayhawks, he added some muscle and improved in several areas in the weight room, but it’s not as if he suddenly grew four inches or switched sides of the ball. What he did do, however, is return to his natural position of safety, a move that should help both Miller and the KU secondary. Whether it’s Miller or senior Bazie Bates IV who starts alongside Fish Smithson at safety, the Jayhawks have upgraded the position — either through depth or a first-string stud — with a quality athlete who can compete with the athletes many other Big 12 programs send streaking down the field 60-70 times a game.

• Mesa Ribordy, red-shirt freshman Center

I remember Beaty first talking to me about Ribordy as an under-the-radar guy to watch this offseason. Evidently the offensive lineman who came to KU as a walk-on is very much on the radar these days. Everything I heard from a handful of people I talked to said that the 6-foot-4, 300-pound athlete was one of the better offensive linemen in the program this spring. He’s pushing for reps at center and also is versatile enough to play guard. His development is just one piece of good news at a position of major need with this team. And whether he winds up starting or provides quality depth at three different positions, Ribordy figures to be an important part of KU’s future and may be a factor as soon as 2016.

• Jace Sternberger, red-shirt freshman Tight End

Like a bunch of players in the program, Sternberger added some serious weight/muscle this offseason and now, at 6-foot-4, 236 pounds (up 11 from last year’s roster) looks like an absolute beast. The best part about the Oklahoma native’s new look is that it did not appear to do anything to his mobility, quickness and speed. Remember, this was a guy who also played D-End in high school and he is very strong and has some very good feet. We did not get to see much in terms of the way he was used in scrimmages this spring, but what little we did see showed a guy who I believe will be very active in this offense. He also looks like a dream to coach. During every drill I saw, when he was not the one running the drill, he was right there by the coach, waiting and taking instruction. What’s more, when they did show some live offense, he never strayed too far from Beaty’s side and Beaty always seemed to be looking for him. He’s not a true tight end in the way that Ben Johnson is so there’s room for both of them on the field and I think they’ll use Sternberger more like a hybrid H-Back/Tight End, which could be quite a weapon if the O-Line can protect the QB and those fast receivers can clear some room.

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