Leipold hopes for ‘sharp’ Spring Showcase on Friday

photo by: Carter Gaskins/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas strength coach Matt Gildersleeve gets the team ready for practice on Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Lawrence.

With a glut of experienced players on the Jayhawks’ roster, Kansas head coach Lance Leipold previously said he wants KU’s annual Spring Showcase to be “probably the same as last year, if not less,” in contrast with a more traditional spring game.

That should help moderate expectations for the intensity of Friday’s pseudo-scrimmage event, given that last year’s edition already had a rather loose interpretation of scorekeeping, a sideline interview with quarterback Jalon Daniels that got interrupted by a jovial Leipold and generally all sorts of signifiers that it was not at the height of competitive fervor.

“To me, we keep adding, adding, sometimes but we don’t reduce in other ways,” Leipold said in February, “so I think coaches have taken it upon themselves to reduce the importance of the spring game.”

But of course, as Leipold put it on Tuesday, “I’m always concerned about something.” And so he does have several things he’d like to see out of his team at the spring event Friday at 7 p.m. — beyond, most importantly, staying healthy.

“You want it to be sharp,” he said. “I thought our last scrimmage, I think we turned the ball over a little more than we want to at this … I want to see us tackle well, I want to see us execute in such a way on both sides of the ball that you feel good.”

When the Jayhawks take the field, they will do so at an unusual location: Rock Chalk Park. It’s just one of many for a team that has practiced on four fields during the spring and will play on two more — neither its traditional home stadium — in the fall.

“I cannot be more proud (of) how this team has handled the inconveniences in which they’re operating right now,” Leipold said. “It shows they can persevere through a lot as long as you don’t make it a big deal.”

Leipold discussed his planned format for the event on his “Hawk Talk” radio show Wednesday, suggesting it would essentially consist of a running clock of 60 minutes of football.

“You’re going to see some things that we do almost every day in practice, some seven-on-seven, some one-on-one offensive-line-versus-defensive-line pass protection, one-on-ones with receivers and DBs and a little bit that way,” he said. “Then we’ll get into an actual scrimmage format, things that we do a lot during our regular scrimmages, during whether it be fall camp or spring, and it’ll be situational football where we have a set number of plays we want to get with each group against another group.”

Even if the Spring Showcase isn’t necessarily the prototypical spring game of the past, it will serve as the Jayhawks’ latest step on the path to consistent improvement. One common theme among players and coaches has been a desire to avoid complacency (in a program that has never really had any cause to be complacent before); strength coach Matt Gildersleeve said last month, “We talk about winning a Big 12 championship — well, we haven’t done it yet, we didn’t do it last year, so what are we going to get complacent about?”

And indeed, the Jayhawks also aren’t completely fine as is — with more than four months remaining until the season, they still have some areas of uncertainty that need to get solidified.

“I think we have to find the right five upfront in the offensive line that are going to work well together and give us a chance to do the things that we want to do,” Leipold said. “And again, depth at linebacker continues to get better, and then our defensive end position, I think guys are going to show the ability to contribute there as well.”

Those three position groups could be worth watching Friday, and even if the action itself won’t yield too many substantive conclusions, it’ll provide a chance to see who lines up where and alongside which other players.

Which permutations will the Jayhawks use on the offensive line? The central question (quite literally) is whether Tiffin transfer Shane Bumgardner can seize the starting center spot or if guard Michael Ford Jr. will slide over. Then there are the additional questions of whether Iowa State transfer Darrell Simmons Jr. is next up at guard, and who is next off the bench after him.

Who will play Hawk and in which personnel groupings? Depending on how the opposing offense lines up, it certainly seems that safety Marvin Grant and redshirt freshman linebacker Logan Brantley are the top two contenders to occupy the hybrid “Hawk” linebacker role, depending on opposing offensive personnel, but certainly other names could slot in. It’s not totally clear who will play alongside JB Brown and Cornell Wheeler and when.

How does Dean Miller fit as the primary pass rusher? KU is counting on Miller to get after the quarterback when most of his Jayhawk tenure has been spent on kick coverage. Presumptive left tackle Logan Brown mentioned the other day that Miller has been his primary opponent on the opposite side of the line, and Leipold said on “Hawk Talk” that Dylan Brooks won’t be available for the Spring Showcase. Friday’s event will at least give some sense of how Miller jells with KU’s returning talent on the interior of the D-line, and how committed the staff is to giving him first-team reps.

The event will also serve more broadly as an introduction to how new coaches like offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, offensive line coach Daryl Agpalsa and co-defensive coordinator D.K. McDonald have influenced KU.

Injuries will keep some players out of action. Besides Brooks, wide receiver Lawrence Arnold, offensive tackle Calvin Clements and tight end DeShawn Hanika are all out due to injury, and defensive end Jereme Robinson has missed spring practice due to offseason surgery.

Plenty of attention will certainly center on the presence and possible participation of Daniels, who has the chance to take snaps in a public setting for the first time in more than six months, after a back injury derailed his 2023 season. He has been a participant, though not always in full, during spring practice.

This could also be the first time in front of a KU-friendly crowd for the Jayhawks’ six freshman early enrollees, including reserve quarterback Isaiah Marshall.

photo by: Chance Parker/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas coach Lance Leipold during the first day of spring practice at the practice field on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Lawrence.

photo by: Carter Gaskins/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas offensive line coach Daryl Agpalsa instructs his players during practice on Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Lawrence.

photo by: Carter Gaskins/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes during practice on Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Lawrence.


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