Where KU should look in the spring portal window

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

Kansas coach Lance Leipold meets with the team after the spring showcase at Rock Chalk Park on Friday, April 12, 2024.

The transfer portal opens once again for college football Tuesday, and Kansas has a chance to reflect on the early returns from its winter portal window while using the two-week period to supplement its roster even further.

In the winter KU acquired six players, who have shown various levels of integration into the Jayhawks’ system so far. Devin Dye (Utah State) seems set for considerable time alongside his brother Jalen at safety, particularly with Marvin Grant spending more time in a hybrid linebacker-type role. Dylan Wudke (Youngstown State) has served as the primary non-pass-rush end with Jereme Robinson recovering from surgery, and has impressed position coach Taiwo Onatolu with his professional approach and speed in picking up the playbook.

Defensive tackle Javier Derritt (North Dakota State) and center Shane Bumgardner (Tiffin) have by all accounts taken time to adjust, which in Bumgardner’s case creates some concern that guard Michael Ford Jr. might have to slide over and start at center, which would at least make space for guard Darrell Simmons Jr. (Iowa State).

Tight end DeShawn Hanika (Iowa State) has a chance to be the biggest transfer contributor of all — eventually. A leg injury knocked him out for the remainder of the spring.

Lance Leipold and his staff now have a chance to reshape their roster even further by the end of April. Their movement will be constrained by how many of their own players choose to enter the portal, just as it was in the winter. Leipold and his coaches have not been shy about snagging players at this relatively late stage. Grant, defensive end Dylan Brooks and wide receiver Doug Emilien are just a few of the players they have gotten to commit in the spring in previous years.

While details about where exactly KU sits in terms of scholarships can be difficult to locate, the Jayhawks certainly seem like they’ll be right up against their limit of 85 when the rest of their freshmen enroll this summer. If anyone near the bottom of the depth chart decides to seek greener pastures, though, that would open up additional space for KU to pursue reinforcements at these top positions of need.

1. Pass-rush defensive end. Onatolu commented earlier this spring about how people always seem to question where KU is going to get a pass rush and it ends up working out. That may be true, but if it were ever not going to work out it would be this year, in my mind. Even if former JUCO transfer Dean Miller continues to put on and maintain weight, allowing him to make full use of his length and athleticism, he’s only one player in a position group that KU famously likes to rotate.

Austin Booker was certainly the Jayhawks’ best pass rusher last year, but they also had Hayden Hatcher and Patrick Joyner Jr. playing notable roles. This year, they’re relying on Miller, the former Auburn transfer Brooks — who wasn’t available to play in the Spring Showcase — and an array of highly touted freshmen behind him, some of whom have not yet arrived on campus.

This would be the most important position for KU to use a scholarship slot in the spring portal. There’s already some evidence that the Jayhawks are ready to make a move in this domain, as recruiting service First Class Prospects posted on social media Sunday that KU is interested in Tarleton State transfer Josh Griffis, a native of Starke, Florida, who is looking to move to his fifth school and still has two years of eligibility.

2. Offensive tackle. Whether Leipold and company ultimately decide to make a move here will be a firm statement on how they feel about redshirt freshman Calvin Clements, both in terms of his recovery from the injury that ended his spring and in terms of his readiness to play a significant role.

By all accounts Bryce Cabeldue is growing into more of a leader from his right tackle spot and Logan Brown is getting ready to protect Jalon Daniels’ blind side, but there is certainly no one proven behind those two. Besides Clements the apparent remaining options are players like Nolan Gorczyca (who is higher up in the pecking order at guard), James Livingston and De’Kedrick Sterns.

3. Kicker. KU had a kicker on scholarship last year in Texas State transfer Seth Keller, and while he certainly fueled some improvement on special teams over the prior season, his struggles with blocked kicks cost the Jayhawks in some key moments and prompted Leipold to replace him with Owen Piepergerdes at times.

Piepergerdes has a strong leg, but neither he nor Charlie Weinrich — who ran with the first team at Friday’s Spring Showcase — has significant enough experience to inspire much confidence they can serve as the primary option for a team that expects to be in scoring position quite a lot. It was a surprise not to see KU replace Keller with an external acquisition over the course of the offseason.

Positions of lesser concern

Quarterback: Daniels has done enough work in the spring and Cole Ballard has received enough consistent praise from his teammates and coaches to convince me that KU is good to go in this area for now.

Cornerback: The Jayhawks have practically no experience at the position behind Cobee Bryant and Mello Dotson, but they’ve done enough via scheme (e.g. putting Grant and Logan Brantley at the Hawk or Cinco position) to minimize the need for a third cornerback to play often. And either way D.K. McDonald recently praised Damarius McGhee’s progression as a cover corner, and the defensive backs have been snagging plenty of interceptions in scrimmages, so there’s some reason to believe this position might be safe.

Linebacker: A lot rides on players taking steps forward in this group, but Cornell Wheeler proved quite capable in a small sample size last season and redshirt freshman Logan Brantley seems ready to play more significant time than any other Leipold-era recruit thus far. If Taiwan Berryhill Jr. can bounce back from 2023 and Jayson Gilliom can successfully cross-train at other linebacker spots, this position may not be that much of a concern after all.

Tight end: If Hanika is out for a long time — which the tone of his social media post seemed to suggest — then KU only has two known offensive threats in this spot. But I think you need to take a chance on the development of players like local product Jaden Hamm, intriguing walk-on Quinton Conley and (eventually) incoming freshman Carson Bruhn rather than spending another scholarship here.


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