Next up on the positional breakdown of the 2009 Kansas Jayhawk Football team is two positions that went through some major transition last year and to some extend might see the same this year.
At the running back position there is one proven back in Jake Sharp but beyond that we'd be purely going off of potential and not a whole lot else.
With the tight ends there is some experience at the top with Tim Biere, but it's hard to say if we'll see a return to the days when the offense regularly featured a tight end or if we're moving to a less than traditional role for the position.
To start things off though let's take a quick look at the starters at each position and then we'll jump deeper down the depth chart after the jump.
At running back we should see Jake Sharp kick off the season as the starter and after being doubted for most of his career he certainly earned the opportunity last season by providing some stability at a position that faced serious struggles through the first few games of the season. In 2008 Sharp received honorable mention All Big 12 honors as well as the Kansas co-Courageous Award.
Sharp finished 2008 surpassing the 800 yard rushing mark for the second straight season with 860. For his career he has amassed just over 1800 yards and 19 touchdowns including 12 a year ago. Another stat that jumps off the page a little bit with Sharp is a career 5.1 yards per carry average through his junior year. Sharp has also provided fairly consistent blocking assistance on passing downs along with 20+ receptions in both 2007 and 2008. While the doubters may still clamor for someone else, Sharp should be the guy from day one and a 1000 yard season could very well be a possibility if he can get off to a faster start this year versus last.
At tight end, at least in it's traditional form, Tim Biere will return after starting at times and seeing substantial minutes as a true freshman in 2008. While statistically Biere doesn't jump off the page at you in 2008, he was one of eight true freshman to contribute and up there as one of the bigger contributors for the freshman class. Biere is up to 6'4" 250 and his size certainly makes him a helpful body as an extra blocker which is the primary role he played in 2008. With only 6 catches for 65 yards in 2008 it's hard to say what Biere brings as a receiving option but with time he should provide a viable threat underneath. One other interesting sidenote, Biere was a Nebraska All State selection as a defensive back his senior year so despite appearance he does bring a good amount of athleticism to go along with his size and that is certainly a big plus for the future.
Complete Positional Breakdown After the Jump...Moving down through the roster at running back the only other face still remaining at the position from last year is a relative unknown in Rell Lewis. Lewis, standing 5'10" 200 pounds, led the team in rushing during the spring game but minus that he has exactly 0 carries for 0 yards through his first real season with the Jayhawks.
Lewis comes to the Jayhawks from Muskogee Oklahoma where he was an All State performer as a quarterback his senior season. Primarily used as a running threat, Lewis was recruited to Kansas as an athlete and gravitated toward running back during his redshirt freshman season. Despite really being only a few pounds bigger than Sharp, Lewis seems to be a more physical runner and might bring a little bit of that power, change of pace that the Jayhawks have been so effective with in the past.
Splitting time at 2nd team during the opening days of camp are Toben Opurum and Daniel Porter. Starting things off let's take a look at Porter, who joins the Jayhawks from San Mateo Junior College in California. Porter again is in the mold of your smaller quicker backs standing 5'10" 200 pounds. His speed might be his biggest asset with a reported sub 4.4 40 time. Whether that translates to the field is still a question mark. Porter was a very late addition and is definitely a welcome sign in terms of depth having rushed for nearly 1500 yards in his two junior college seasons. The junior college transfer will looked to in order to fill a supporting role in a Jayhawk backfield that is wide open in terms of minutes.
As far as Toben Opurum, we've covered him quite a bit here at Rock Chalk Talk. Standing 6'2" 235 he's definitely the power back to compliment the speed similar to what we saw the Jayhawks work so effectively with in 2007. Opurum accumulated just shy of 1700 yards in his two seasons as the featured back during his high school days. One big positive for him in terms of development is that his Plano East HS team ran the spread so he is used to running, catching and blocking out of the shotgun set. In fact Opurum proved to be an equally effective receiver out of the back field in high school with nearly 60 catches for just over 800 yards in his two seasons. Opurum is probably one of the most intriguing newcomers due to the need for a consistent second option out of the backfield. After being heavily recruited by some big name schools as a fullback, it was ultimately the chance to continue his career as a true back and show all of his talents that brought Opurum to Kansas.
Next on the list is a familiar name in a lot of ways to some in DeShaun Sands. Sands stands 5'9" 182 pounds and is the son of former Kansas back and record holder Tony Sands. Sands is a low to the ground, very solidly built back who recorded over 2700 yards on the ground in his two seasons as the starter for his Florida high school. He committed to the Jayhawks very early in the process and arrived on campus mid year. His experience in spring ball could be a plus in terms of seeing minutes this season and one area of intrigue with him might be his experience on special teams returning kicks.
Rounding out the running back position at the fullback spot is a walk on in Tyler Hunt. Another big back standing 6'2" 235 pounds Hunt came to Kansas in 2008 from just down the road at Lawrence High School. Hunt earned all state honorable mention honors his senior season playing both running back and linebacker for the Lions.
Now we'll move away from the running back spot and back over to the tight ends. The roles of the tight ends after Biere begin to blur the lines a bit. You have players who fit the traditional role and you have players who fall in a more flex role of tight end/wide reciever. My expectation would be to see Biere almost exclusively when we are in the traditional role and beyond that I am sticking by my guns that AJ Steward is in for a bit of a breakout season in that TE/WR role. Obviously it's hard to completely standout when you have to share receptions with Briscoe, Meier and Wilson, but I do have high hopes for Steward in 2009.
Looking at Steward first, who stands 6'4" 226 after summer workouts. AJ Steward came to Kansas as a quarterback and athlete that showed a lot of promise at a few positions due to his size and athleticism. One player on the team described him to me as the hardest working receiver on the team and I'd believe it. Steward was the scout team player of the year during his redshirt freshman season of 2007 and has since been transitioning to the role of receiver/tight end. Again, while his career numbers only amount to 1 catch for 6 yards, this season could be one where Steward capitalizes on his work ethic and breaks into the game plan on a much more regular basis.
Bradley Dedeaux is next on the list and a junior tight end who had a lot of potential coming into his career at Kansas. At 6'3" 255 Dedeaux definitely fits more in the mold of your traditional blocking style tight end down on the line as opposed to flexed out in the formation. Over Dedeaux's career he has seen time primarily on special teams although he did receive his first start at tight end in 2008 for the season opener. With only 3 catches in 3 seasons it's tough to get a real gauge on what he brings to the table in that respect but where he has shown an ability to contribute is in those situations that require some extra blocking help on the line.
Next up is a relative unknown in redshirt freshman Nick Plato. Standing 6'6" 242 pounds Plato is a big target but at times last year it seems there were doubts about his future with Kansas. He came to Lawrence as a mid year so he has now gone through two spring camps and this will now be his second fall camp so experience in the offense and familiarity with the system should no longer be a concern. In his high school days he put up more gaudy numbers on the defensive side of the ball with only 10 catches for 221 yards on offense. This will be a big year for Plato as the tight end position is beginning to become a strength once again for the Jayhawks and time at the position may be at a premium.
Wrapping up the tight end position is a redshirt sophomore walk on in Ted McNulty. McNulty walked on to the Jayhawk football squad in 2007 following his days at Iowa City West High School. He's a big kid at 6'5" 231 pounds and earned himself Scout team player of the week honors in 2008 for the Border War.
That wraps up our look at the runningbacks and tight ends for 2009. There are some pretty strong anchors at the top of the depth chart at both positions but beyond that there is potential but nothing proven. Getting these two spots back to an area of strength as we had in 2007, will go a long way toward making 2009 a successful season.