Key offseason topics to discuss with each KU participant at Big 12 media days

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

Kansas running back Devin Neal during practice on Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Lawrence.

The group of four players that Kansas selected to attend Big 12 Conference media days in Las Vegas includes a pair of longtime participants in the event in quarterback Jalon Daniels and running back Devin Neal, as well as two first-timers in cornerback Mello Dotson and defensive end Jereme Robinson.

Even as media-day newcomers, though, they have borne witness to the development of the Jayhawks’ program. In total, three of the four players predate head coach Lance Leipold’s arrival at KU, and all four have been key contributors since his first season at the helm, 2021.

They are all well situated to discuss how the program has grown and continues to grow, ahead of what could be a kind of climactic year given how many prominent starters will exhaust their collegiate eligibility after 2024.

Here are a few key topics that each participant will be particularly well suited to address.

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

Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels during practice on Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Lawrence.

Jalon Daniels

What is his mindset like entering 2024?: Daniels’ physical state is certainly a known area of concern, after his back tightness flared up repeatedly throughout the 2023 season and kept him out of 10 games. And given that he has not spoken to the media in more than nine months, he will likely face relentless inquiries about the enigmatic injury that he has only really discussed once publicly, on a YouTube show in January.

His mental state may be just as important, though. Daniels said on that show that there were times during the year when he felt like the public was turning on him, and he didn’t want to leave his house in Lawrence. He has received far less acclaim this offseason than he did entering 2023, but even more scrutiny. Big 12 media days find him in a dramatically different place from last offseason, when he had just been named preseason offensive player of the year.

What does he think of Jeff Grimes’ offense?: The new offensive coordinator’s scheme will, after all, have to serve his strengths as the starting quarterback, and he learned much of it over the course of the spring as his reps were still ramping back up ahead of the fall season. Grimes has said he doesn’t want to deviate too sharply from the offensive formula that has served KU well, but inevitably he will bring his own touches. For example, there’s a chance Daniels will have to work more under center and operate more of a screen game than he did under Andy Kotelnicki.

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

Kansas cornerback Mello Dotson during practice on Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Lawrence.

Mello Dotson

What did the end of last season do for his confidence?: Dotson broke out when he returned interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive significant victories for the Jayhawks. That helped him make a name for himself on a conference-wide scale — as evidenced by his first on-field all-conference honor this preseason — but what did it do for him on a personal level, and how can he carry it forward into 2024?

Who’s next in line after him at cornerback?: LSU transfer Damarius McGhee is the most immediate and practical option as the third cornerback behind Dotson and Cobee Bryant, and could take over as one of the top corners next season when both have graduated. But looking further forward to the future, the Jayhawks have also brought in highly touted freshmen who are among the most promising players in the 2024 class — several of whom Dotson has become acquainted with recently, in non-early-enrollees Austin Alexander and Aundre Gibson. With four full seasons of college football under his belt already, Dotson could have some informative perspective to share about the new additions.

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

Kansas running back Devin Neal during practice on Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Lawrence.

Devin Neal

What does he make of recent snubs?: Neal is on the verge of breaking KU’s all-time rushing record and will end his college career as one of the program’s best players of the modern era, but even as he has taken on a starring role, award recognition has not necessarily followed. Four other Big 12 running backs besides Neal made the list of Doak Walker Award semifinalists last season, and then two of those same backs kept him off All-Big 12 first teams both last postseason and this preseason.

Neal doesn’t have the sort of personality to make a fuss about this type of thing — the closest he’s gotten is reacting with three shrug emojis to the Walker news last season, and a brick emoji on Tuesday, as KU fans online have become increasingly aggravated — but considering that a pattern is forming, he’ll likely get asked about it in Las Vegas.

How does he think KU is perceived now?: Neal commented at last year’s media days about how when he first attended as a sophomore in 2022, he felt like the people he and his teammates interacted with didn’t take them seriously; that changed in 2023, when KU was afforded a bit more respect. With a bowl win accomplished and a fourth-place projection in the preseason poll, KU should now theoretically garner even more, which may or may not be reflected in the eyes of Neal.

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World photo

Kansas defensive end Jereme Robinson during practice on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023 at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

Jereme Robinson

How is he working himself back into the fold?: Robinson was unavailable in the spring due to offseason surgery. He’s been in the program long enough, and the defensive coaching staff features enough continuity at his position, that it shouldn’t inhibit his ability to contribute during the 2024 season in any serious way. (In other words, his situation is more like that of wide receiver Lawrence Arnold than young offensive tackle Calvin Clements.) But he could take longer to settle into the renewed pace of the fall than some of his teammates, and the media days will provide an opportunity to gauge just how he’s feeling.

Where will KU’s pass rush come from?: This has been one of the most prominent questions of the offseason. Robinson himself will play a role, of course, but he and veteran Youngstown State transfer Dylan Wudke will likely be strong-side defensive ends, leaving the pass-rushing responsibility to the likes of former reserve Dean Miller (and possibly Dylan Brooks, depending on availability) and a slew of newcomers. Robinson already shared some thoughts about Miller with the media in the spring. Much like Dotson with the freshman corners, Robinson has been around the block enough to recognize what sort of talent players like Bai Jobe and Deshawn Warner are bringing to the table, and the extent to which they can contribute immediately.

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