Greater uncertainty hits Kansas’ passing offense days before start of season
photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World
The Kansas football team will open its season Friday with its leading receiver from a year ago pursuing an NFL career and another top target suspended indefinitely following an assault charge.
Their absences mean the Jayhawks’ passing game will not only look different against Tennessee Tech than it did during coach Lance Leipold’s first season, it will be unlike what those within the program conceptualized even a week ago.
“The guys that aren’t here right now, we have to move on from and get ourselves ready to go,” Leipold said.
The Jayhawks have maintained since last season ended that they’re not concerned about whom junior quarterback Jalon Daniels will be targeting, even though Kwamie Lassiter II, a sixth-year senior last season who led the team with 59 catches and 653 receiving yards, has begun a professional career.
For the better part of nine months, they have known that 68.1% of their production in the passing game would be back.
But redshirt junior Trevor Wilson’s arrest late last week and subsequent ban from all team activities while his legal situation is resolved means Kansas loses a player who had 27 catches for 364 yards last season and has just 51.7% of that production returning.
That doesn’t mean other players can’t account for the missing yardage. What it means is someone unproven — and perhaps someone unexpected — will have to do it.
“I just feel like football is a game of, when your number’s called, what are you going to do when they call it?” Daniels said. “Football is a next-man-up mentality. We have guys in that receiver (group) who are ready to be able to go out there and be able to make some plays with the ball in their hands.”
Aside from Lassiter and Wilson, Kansas had two other players who caught at least 20 passes for 300 yards last season. Lawrence “LJ” Arnold, now a redshirt sophomore, had 27 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns, and Luke Grimm, now a junior, had 22 catches for 349 yards and three touchdowns.
They’ll be joined on the field at times by redshirt sophomore Doug Emilien, who transferred from Minnesota over the summer; junior Steven McBride, who had 15 catches for 88 yards last season; and redshirt junior Kevin Terry, who missed all of last season with an injury after transferring from Texas Tech.
Perhaps the most intriguing option, however, is redshirt sophomore Quentin Skinner, a special teams ace last season who was awarded a scholarship in the spring and is, at 6-foot-5, the tallest wide receiver on the team.
When asked Tuesday about Skinner, offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki raved about his progress since the start of last season.
“I call him a grass-chewer, because when he takes steps, it’s like a damn giraffe, you know what I mean?” Kotelnicki said. “He can run and takes two steps and it’s like, 6 yards. He can go, and he’ll be able to take the top off and he’s done a really good job throughout fall camp of making some contested catches. He’s had a really good camp. He has. He’s smart, and … we feel comfortable. We can slide him into any of the receiver spots and he would know what to do.”
Kansas’ long-held belief in its offensive versatility may also provide a way to overcome any perceived shortcomings. Redshirt junior Torry Locklin and redshirt sophomore Sevion Morrison, both running backs, have spoken about spending time during training camp catching passes out of the backfield. Locklin, prior to a November ankle injury, was increasingly used as a receiving threat.
It’s not necessary that the Jayhawks identify one player as their top receiving target and throw the ball to him at least a half-dozen times a game, as they did last season with Lassiter. Even if they were to do that against Tennessee Tech, the passing game will take different forms as the weeks wear on and opponents defend them differently.
None of that has made Leipold waver.
“Somebody else is going to get an opportunity to play, solidify themselves, make a mark and all that,” he said. “Holistically, as we’ve talked in here many times, our offensive versatility will have to play its part as well, but I’m very confident in the group we have there.”