Big 12 spring check-ins: Kansas

Ian Boyd

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Let's just get this one out of the way, huh?

The Jayhawks are in a tough spot. When you type "Kansas commits 2021" into your Google bar you're probably getting some links to their 247 basketball pages without a football article in sight. Most of the conversation around the football program has centered around what comes next now they've fired Les Miles, even though a hire likely doesn't take place until next fall or even winter.

Emmett Jones is the man for now, if you're not familiar with him he has a pretty typical career path he's followed. He started as a coach in South Dallas at talent hubs such as Seagoville, Dallas Skyline, and South Oak Cliff. Then he took a job at Texas Tech in player development, became a wide receivers coach, and then took the same job at Kansas before being named the interim head man. Recruiting connections in the Metroplex are his obvious value-add and presumably he was made the top guy so he could guide recruiting for the program and prevent a collapse in recruiting while they try to line up the next hire.

Jones is also not likely to be the next head coach, making him a solid interim, simply due to lack of experience. He's not been a coordinator at the college level, or at any level since he was the offensive coordinator at Skyline in 2013.

Meanwhile the offense will now be coordinated by Mike Debord, who has a more pro-style approach which will be blended with Jones' Air Raid background, and the defense will continue to be under the direction of D.J. Eliot, who brought a 3-down defense from Colorado they're slowly developing the right personnel to execute.

Infrastructure stress test: Offense

The most interesting dimension here has to be the infusion of North Texas quarterback Jason Bean, who threw for 1131 yards last year at 7.8 ypa with 14 touchdowns to five interceptions. Bean hasn't arrived yet, so Jalon Daniels is still the presumptive starter from the collection of quarterbacks they have assembled in Lawrence. Daniels was thrust into action last year as basically the only quarterback on the roster with D1 talent but he was entirely unready to carry the team, especially behind a weak offensive line, and accumulated a frightening toll of hits and carries.

Bean brings a little more knowhow as a redshirt junior, although he has no more game experience than Daniels and less at this level.

From quotes I've read, it sounds like Debord's plan is to get this offense running downhill at opponents with double teams and to cut out a lot of the RPO game Brent Dearmon was running in favor of standard "it's either a run and we're blocking or it's a pass and we're throwing" concepts they are generously describing as "pro-style."

The offensive line has a lot of players back who got snaps last season, obviously this isn't necessarily a huge asset to be returning bad players but at least they're more likely to improve if multiple starters have another crack at it. Can they impose their will in the run game or keep their quarterbacks consistently upright? I dunno about that, but they may be better at it than a year ago.

Key factor here is whether Ben Miles is still a big part of the plan and if they can get some good two-back, spread run game going with Velton Gardner or whoever takes the lead at tailback running behind him.

Infrastructure stress test: Defense

Things are in better shape here. The Jayhawks took some lumps playing young guys on defense as Les Miles steadfastly committed to rebuilding the roster through high school recruiting and now they have a decent collection of bodies up front to execute the scheme.

Here's the defensive front:

Jack: Steven Parker: 6-4, 225. RS sophomore. 4-star from DFW.
Tackle: Caleb Sampson: 6-3, 292. Senior. 3-star from LA
Nose: Sam Burt: 6-4, 288. Senior. 2-star from KS
End: Marcus Harris: 6-2, 280. RS sophomore. 3-star from AL

Behind Burt they have some up and coming, 320+ pound nose tackles. Their linebacker corps returns mostly intact with Kyron Johnson and Gavin Potter back and then they're spinning down safety Nate Betts to play there as well while promoting young Louisianan Taiwan Berryhill. Safeties Kenny Logan and Ricky Thomas were starting in 2020 so there's a decent amount of experience.

Logan is the boundary safety helping to fit the run game a lot while Thomas is the cover safety trying to make their match schemes work against the spread passing game.

The hope here is the defensive line brings some size and athleticism to the trenches which makes the Jayhawks a difficult mark for teams who just want to run them over. The problem is the secondary will be hard-pressed in this scheme and if the D-line can't allow them to play pretty conservatively it's hard to see this going particularly well. Eliot in the past has shown a liking for playing a Sam linebacker in space and bringing him off the edge to disrupt the run game, which is simply a heavy lift in the Big 12 where teams can burn you in open grass for playing aggressively in such a fashion.

Space force speed test: Offense

Andrew Parchment and Stephon Robinson Jr are gone, as is Pooka Williams for that matter. There's not much in the Jayhawk skill position room which will make anyone hesitate just yet. Early opponents may even struggle trying to determine which skill players to zero in on, thus leading to less precise gameplans against a team which should otherwise wither facing a focused effort.

Receivers Kwamie Lassiter and Luke Grimm are probably the favorites to get involved as the main guys after finishing no. 2 and no. 3 last year behind Parchment. These are solid guys who were able to do a little damage last year working off Parchment, but there's no terrifying deep threat here to be found and question marks about whether they can protect well enough to set up many deep shots regardless.

Space force speed test: Defense

Things are a bit more promising here. Kyron Johnson played some jack last year and he's disruptive off the edge or coming on stunts and loops. He can play Jack or Sam and he might do some of both with Thomas behind him at cover safety and Parker opposite. The Jayhawks can play cover 3 in that group and bring either outside linebacker while matching underneath if these two outside-backers prove worthy if the focus.

Meanwhile in the secondary they're in decent shape due to return of sophomore Virginian Karon Prunty, who started at cornerback last year as a true freshman. Prunty broke up nine passes in nine games and was left on an island at times against teams like Oklahoma.

At 6-1, 190 he's got some size and length to him to hold up 1-on-1. The Jayhawks have the potential and personnel fits to zone blitz with four-man pressures and they have a few guys who can get after it on the edge and some who can cover in space. It's possible the Jayhawks will have another one of those teams where they are a chore to put away in Lawrence even if they aren't actually finishing games with wins.

In summation

The defense is getting sort of interesting but they aren't great by any stretch and maybe not even good yet. The offense looks potentially dreadful, they're basically looking to invest good practices and game experiences in a younger roster so the next head coach inherits a much better situation than his predecessors.
 

texaslove2

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Perfect if Coleman doesnt get his guys to play at a top level, jones will be there for the taking. No way he goes from interim HC back to wr coach at KANSAS
 

DuvalHorn

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Will be curious to see how the Leipold hire shakes this up, if at all.
 

panther52

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There are a tiny number of D-III programs at which the primary players are D-I transfers. That's why D-III has tended to absurd levels of 'consecutive finalist participant' records for a small number of schools.

Wisconsin-Whitewater was one. That's not a criticism. It is merely to say that domination at UWW was built on talent advantage, and did not need to rely on coaching or scheme.
 

Ian Boyd

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There are a tiny number of D-III programs at which the primary players are D-I transfers. That's why D-III has tended to absurd levels of 'consecutive finalist participant' records for a small number of schools.

Wisconsin-Whitewater was one. That's not a criticism. It is merely to say that domination at UWW was built on talent advantage, and did not need to rely on coaching or scheme.
On the other hand, sounds like Leipold is experienced at using the transfer portal to improve his roster, which is a plus at Kansas.
 
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