With Foster in the fold, KU offensive line comes into focus

photo by: Rachel Mahan/Texas A&M Athletics

Texas A&M offensive lineman Bryce Foster smiles at the game against Abilene Christian in College Station, Texas, on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

The acquisition of Bryce Foster has all but eliminated the sense of mystery surrounding Kansas’ offensive line ahead of the 2024 season.

The two months between the conclusion of spring practice and Foster’s long-awaited (and long-teased) commitment provided plenty of time for speculation as to how exactly KU’s interior offensive line would take shape.

The central question was whether Tiffin transfer center Shane Bumgardner would move far enough along in his adjustment process to start for the Jayhawks, or if usual guard Michael Ford Jr. would seize ownership of the position instead. Because if Ford took over at center, KU would have to start either longtime backup Nolan Gorczyca or newcomer Darrell Simmons Jr. at guard, too.

That whole situation has been rendered moot with the addition of Foster, who immediately becomes the presumptive and overwhelming favorite at center after starting 28 games at the Southeastern Conference level for Texas A&M.

Now the biggest question is whether redshirt freshman and local product Calvin Clements will be healthy enough to earn significant playing time at tackle. That’s a much less consequential one in comparison.

photo by: Evan Pilat/Texas A&M Athletics

Texas A&M offensive lineman Bryce Foster signals during the game against South Carolina in College Station, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023.

The center position

Foster is well enough acclimated to quick turnarounds, given that he started at A&M as a non-early-enrolling freshman and has continued to throw the shot put throughout his collegiate career, that his late arrival with the Jayhawks should not be viewed as a significant impediment to his chances of claiming the starting role. He may have been less effective, both anecdotally and as assessed by Pro Football Focus, as a junior than he was as a freshman, but even as a junior he graded out about as well as KU’s longtime center Mike Novitsky.

One thing that is important to note about the prospect of a backup center is that KU’s mentality under previous offensive line coach Scott Fuchs, one it will undoubtedly retain, is that the first offensive lineman off the bench needs to be its sixth-best lineman. Bumgardner’s chances of getting playing time at all in the event that Foster starts depend on his ability to demonstrate that a lineup in which he replaces Foster is better than one in which, say, Ford replaces Foster and Gorczyca replaces Ford. Or, offensive line coach Daryl Agpalsa may have to, as he once suggested he could, “tinker” with cross-training Bumgardner at other positions if he and the staff feel he can provide value there.

In this position group, don’t forget about Dre Doiron, a longtime reserve who has been with Lance Leipold since Buffalo and doesn’t have much of a window for playing time but has frequently been cited by KU’s backup quarterbacks as a positive and helpful presence.

photo by: AP Photo/Justin Rex

Kansas offensive lineman Michael Ford Jr. (54) lines up against Texas Tech during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Lubbock, Texas.

photo by: Missy Minear/Kansas Athletics

Kansas guard Kobe Baynes takes his stance during a game against Missouri State on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023, in Lawrence.

The guard position

Kobe Baynes only started three games as a redshirt sophomore in 2023, the first three of his career after a late-stage transfer from Louisville set him back a bit in 2022. But he got 437 snaps at right guard, according to PFF, which really isn’t all that different from the 600 that nominal starter Ar’maj Reed-Adams (now departed for A&M, as it happens) accrued. The KU staff has to feel comfortable about his continued development opposite Ford in the starting lineup.

Simmons hasn’t graded out exceptionally well, but it’s hard to argue with three-plus years of starting experience for a quality Big 12 Conference foe in Iowa State. Having a player like that coming off the bench is a bit of a luxury.

And in fact, even before Foster came to town, Simmons seemed to be behind Gorczyca in the pecking order. Gorczyca can also play tackle some (which will certainly earn him some points with a staff that, as mentioned, values versatility), and Leipold has pinpointed the snaps he got at that position in the Cincinnati game as a key moment in allowing him to build confidence and grow “by leaps and bounds” since.

Lest we forget, the Jayhawks also added a player at this position from a team that just won a national championship. Amir Herring comes in with plenty of hype and 240 high-school pancake blocks to his name, but throwing in Foster makes it almost certain he won’t have to play at all in 2024, which considering he has four years of eligibility to play is perfectly fine.

photo by: AP Photo/Justin Rex

Kansas offensive lineman Bryce Cabeldue (77) lines up against Texas Tech during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas offensive lineman Logan Brown moves back into line as then-offensive line coach Scott Fuchs works with his position players on Thursday, March 2, 2023 at the indoor practice facility. Photo by Nick Krug

The tackle position

There was a time when it looked like Clements might be in the driver’s seat to start at left tackle with three games and one career start — the 2023 Guaranteed Rate Bowl — to his name, which would certainly have been an impressive feat for the young Free State graduate. But Clements missed a chunk of spring practice due to injury, and anyway Logan Brown seems like the favorite to protect Jalon Daniels’ blind side, certainly a position that entails a lot of responsibility.

It’s easy to forget after he missed almost all of 2023 due to injury, but Brown was once assessed as a five-star recruit by 247Sports and has been playing college football since 2019 (and is only a redshirt junior). Not to mention that he played in 26 games and started three for a well-respected Big Ten Conference offensive line at Wisconsin. It may feel a little uncomfortable to entrust someone who has played 23 snaps since Oct. 8, 2022, with such an important role, but he certainly has the experience, not to mention the frame at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds.

Bryce Cabeldue is coming off an injury that ended his 2023 season as well, but like Brown he is back in the fold and, unlike Brown, heading into his fourth year in the starting lineup. He’ll be one of the leaders of the unit and KU will hope he never budges from his reliable right-tackle spot.

Besides Clements, when it comes to depth at this position, keep an eye on James Livingston, a redshirt freshman from Dexter, Michigan, with good size who did not play last year.

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

Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels takes a snap under center during practice on Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Lawrence.

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