March 9, 2009

Kansas enters spring with offense ready to go

Kansas has made history the past two seasons, making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in school history. A championship is the next step.

The Jayhawks' offense lends hope, but the defense needs some work, especially at linebacker.

Here's a look at the Jayhawks as they prepare to open spring drills.

Kansas AT-A-GLANCE
Todd Reesing has both starting tackles back from last year's team to protect him.
THE BASICS
Coach: Mark Mangino
Last season: 8-5, 4-4 Big 12. Beat Minnesota in the Insight Bowl.
Spring dates: March 9-April 11
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (7): WR Dezmon Briscoe, T Jeremiah Hatch, WR Kerry Meier, QB Todd Reesing, RB Jake Sharp, T Jeff Spikes, WR Johnathan Wilson.
Defense (8): T Caleb Blakesley, T Jamal Greene, CB Chris Harris, T Richard Johnson, E Jake Laptad, CB Daymond Patterson, SS Darrell Stuckey, CB/FS Justin Thornton.
Special teams (2): K Jacob Branstetter, P Alonso Rojas.
Postions of strength

This is easy. With Todd Reesing at quarterback, Kansas has posted 20 victories in the past two seasons - the most successful back-to-back seasons in school history. He has exceeded 3,400 passing yards in each of the past two seasons and has thrown 65 touchdown passes in that span. Reesing returns his top three receivers from '08. Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier combined for 189 catches and 23 touchdowns last season. Briscoe posted 23 plays that gained at least 20 yards and led all players who had at least 90 catches with a 15.3-yards-per-catch average.

Help is needed

The Jayhawks gave up 31 sacks in '08 and lose starters at both guard spots and at center. Kansas also needs an overhaul at linebacker, where three three-year starters are gone. They all led the team in tackles at one point in their careers.

Keep an eye on

G Sal Capra: Capra, a junior, saw extensive action last season as the top backup at both guard spots. Both starting guards are gone, so this is his chance to climb on the depth chart at an area of need.

LB Angus Quigley: He was the Jayhawks' second-leading rusher in '08 and had the highest average per carry. Yet Kansas is set at running back. Linebacker is another story. Switching from running back to linebacker is a fairly common practice in spring. Quigley, a senior, is making the move in hopes of bolstering the defense. He has the size (6 feet 2/222 pounds) and athleticism. Whether he has the temperament to be a linebacker has to be determined.

LB Arist Wright: Wright, a senior, posted 33 tackles as a backup linebacker and has the most experience at that position. The Jayhawks need him to distinguish himself to ease the loss of '08 starters Mike Rivera, Joe Mortensen and James Holt.

His time is now

Jocques Crawford arrived in Lawrence a year ago with a list of accomplishments as long as one of his junior college runs. He was the junior college offensive player of the year in 2007, and led the nation's junior colleges in rushing. He seemed a shoo-in to be an immediate contributor. Instead, he was beaten out for a starting job by Jake Sharp and rushed for just 232 yards and four touchdowns. He has one more chance to show he can perform at a high level.

The buzz

Winning the Big 12 North once was a pipe dream in Lawrence. Now, it's an expectation. The Jayhawks certainly have come a long way. The priorities this spring are patching up the offensive line, restocking at linebacker and making sure Reesing and his big-play receivers stay sharp. If that is accomplished, the Jayhawks' expectations of winning the North will grow greater. The Big 12 championship might not seem out of reach, either.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




 

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