Once again an area of change in the 2009 season will be the offensive line. With that in mind change isn't always a bad thing. 2008 saw its struggles for the Jayhawks in the trenches. Two redshirt freshman tackles and an interior that didn't quite anchor things the way they were expected to.
With a new year only one position will remain the same although two of the names in the starting lineup will. Jeff Spikes a redshirt sophomore out of Ohio will retain his position as the right tackle after making the move from the left side to the right during the middle of last season. During the preseason of 2008 Spikes was praised for his footwork, size and potential to be the next great Kansas left tackle. Obviously that didn't pan out for the time being as he was moved to the right where he was serviceable but will be looked upon to step it up in 2009. At 6'6" 314 Spikes did earn himself 3rd team freshman all America honors so others see it in him; it's just a matter of consistency at this point.
Jeremiah Hatch will be the other familiar name on the offensive line starting the season, and after playing fairly well out of position at left tackle he'll move back to the interior and his natural position of center. At 6'3" 311, center is where Hatch played in high school earning all state honors at Carter high school in Dallas Texas. While he was a 2nd team selection on the freshman all America team at tackle, his leadership and talent will be a welcome boost to the interior and hopefully an improved running game.
Moving beyond these two familiar faces, we'll be seeing a whole lot of new ones and while some positions are up in the air others seem to be a little more decided.
Complete Positional Breakdown After the Jump...
Continuing the preview, we'll look at the contenders for the starting spots in the trenches. Starting from the left side where a converted tight end in Tanner Hawkinson will look to make an astronomical leap from freshman tight end redshirting and earning his stripes on the scout team, to starting at one of the most important positions on the field left tackle. One thing is clear about Hawkinson and that is that he is a pretty good football player. As a junior he was an all state tight end and as a senior he was an all state defensive lineman. He tried out both as a redshirt freshman at Kansas. In the spring the decision was made to move him to tackle and he's done a job in adding weight and getting up to 6'6" 285, so size is not as big a concern as it once was. I have also been told by a peer of his that the footwork and athleticism everyone talks about with him are very legit strengths, but he still will have to polish up on the fundamentals of the position. This is definitely a big area of concern for some and hopefully this year we aren't making a switch four games in as we did last year.
Moving to left guard currently listed on the depth chart is Carl Wilson. Wilson is a 6'4" 292 pound junior out of California. Wilson was a fairly highly regarded recruit and has the size to go along with three years in the system as an advantage.
The guy that will be pushing him in a big way is "Big" John Williams. If you haven't seen pics of this guy yet, look for them because he's a large man. Williams is listed at 6'4" 309 but he looks even bigger. He was an all state selection in Oklahoma as a senior and redshirted last fall. For a guy his size Williams is reported to have good agility and excellent flexibility and strength. In spring ball he as apparently fairly dominant on the offensive line and I think there is a strong possibility we see him take the starting role at some point.
Jumping to the right side the listed starter at the moment is another junior in Rockhurst high school product Sal Capra. Capra is an interesting story in my opinion because he arrived in Lawrence as an unheralded linebacker recruit but has tacked on 60 pounds and made himself into a contributor on the offensive line. Last season Capra filled in as the first man off the bench at both guard spots and saw action in every game proving a very reliable presence at times. I think there is a strong possibility Capra pulls this spot out due to his experience and the fact he has earned the trust of the staff, but he will be pushed for time.
The other contender on the right side is another redshirt freshman Trevor Marrongelli. If any of you remember the movie "The Program" back in the 90's, he reminds me of "moose" without the squirrely hair. Standing 6'4" 285 pounds Marrongelli was said to have a nasty streak by one of the assistant coaches when he was recruited. Now after a season in the system, word is he is pushing for that starting spot at right guard.
One other player that may be in the mix on the interior is Brad Thorson. Thorson is a 6'3" junior who transferred in from Wisconsin last season. He was the backup center at Wisconsin as a redshirt freshman and is a very solid option as a potential backup or even starter on the Jayhawk offensive line this year.
Another interesting story on the offensive line this season is the move of Darius Parish from defensive tackle to offensive line. Early on he has been working at tackle but it wouldn't surprise me to see him at guard as well. Parish is a 6'4" 314 pounder who again like Williams looks much bigger. He definitely has trimmed down a bit this season and looks much stronger but I'd still think he might end up playing larger than 314. This is an intriguing move in a lot of ways and as we learned from media day coach Mangino has felt Parish is an offensive lineman all the way.
Other upperclassman competing on the line beginning with the tackles are Jose Rodriguez a 6'6" 293 pound senior who has seen limited action in his career. Ian Wolfe a 6'5" 295 pound junior who I think everyone keeps wondering what's going on here. Interestingly a transfer in Mike Martinovich is running second team at left tackle behind Hawkinson and the 6'4" 270 pound transfer from Air Force last season must be impressing somebody to be able to suplant 2 guys who have a much more prototypical tackle size.
Others competing at guard include Alex Smith a Kansas product who as a junior has played primarily a scout team role throughout his career. Also returning is Joe Semple a walk on out of Illinois who had several division one offers but chose a preferred walk on slot with the hawks.
Spencer is a local product out of Hesston Kansas and has done a tremendous job of physically preparing himself working his way up from a fairly low playing weight his senior season in high school to a listing at 6'7" 290, although I've heard he has surpassed 300. Spencer has tremendous size, is a smart player and has great work ethic. I'd imagine we'll see a redshirt but in the future he could anchor one side or the other as a very viable option.
Gavin Howard is another big kid standing 6'6" 295 pounds and while not much has been said at this point in regards to his progress he is an agile guy with size and would also project as a tackle somewhere down the line with the Jayhawks. I think it's a strong possibility that before it's all said and done both Howard and Riley could be bookends for a pretty good o-line group someday with the Jayhawks.
Last but not least is Tom Mabry who is a bit of a mystery at this point. The 6'5" 280 pounder comes to Kansas from Illinois where he was recruited personally by Ed Warriner. This is someone he was reportedly very high on and recruiting very early on so you'd have to believe there is something to him. Much like the others I don't expect him to be an immediate impact as it is very difficult for any offensive lineman to do, but I do think he'll be a valuable player on the roster 2-3 years from now.
That wraps up the hogs in the trenches. Lot's of new names, new positions and not a lot of answers yet. However, as I've contended from the beginning, while we are replacing a lot it is being replaced with guys who have a higher ceiling. I know the saying goes potential means you haven't proven anything and I agree completly, but there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of this unit. I just hope it comes together for the present.