During the lackluster first season of the Turner Gill era Kansas Jayhawk fans seemed to view the hard times in a variety of ways. There were supporters and detractors of Gill and his staff and both had their own arguments in doing so.
Those in support of Gill will point to this season as a transition year, a new coach, a new system, youth and maybe even placing some of the blame on the last man in charge having left the cupboard bare.
Detractors point to the fact that on paper the Jayhawks actually appear to have more talent than they ever have. As imperfect as recruit rankings are, Kansas has improved over recent years yet the staff seems to have failed miserably in maximizing or working with the pieces left behind.
Year one makes it easy for both sides to stick by their guns, but year two begins to put those excuses to rest and place more on the shoulders of Turner Gill and his staff.
Looking ahead to the offseason and even further into 2011 it may not go as far as placing a win value on the team or the staff, but from recruiting, to organization to competitiveness on the field, it's time to put the excuses to bed.
At this point I do believe I'm of the opinion that Kansas is at least another season away from being in position to make a bowl. The way 2010 ended just doesn't leave a tremendous amount of upside in the win/loss column, but then again major jumps can occur and with just a 6-6 record needed to qualify, it's certainly possible. What that doesn't mean however is that the Kansas program can have another year like what was experienced in 2010.
For the supporters, next year isn't a transition year. Next year the youth is going to be another year in, next year the system isn't new and next year Mark Mangino cannot exist as a scapegoat.
For those detractors, next year has to be framed in reference to where we finished THIS year. It cannot be judged based on a 2007 Orange Bowl or a 2008 Insight Bowl, at 3-9 you are what you are and that means we are not very good football team. Whatever recruiting rankings said in the past don't matter, the results on the field say that we need to develop more depth, more speed and better talent top to bottom. That's not a knock on those players that are getting minutes and showing they can play the part, it speaks more to the fact that Kansas was paper thin this year at several positions and injuries decimated the Jayhawks at others.
Remove the belief that Kansas should have been better in 2010 and view the season as the starting point for Gill. With that as the backdrop we can begin to accurately judge where the program is going under Gill from this point forward. It starts over the next two months as he wraps up recruiting, it continues through spring ball and into next fall.
Fact is, there were plenty pointing to last years spring game as a horrible sign of what was to come this year. Turner Gill and his entire staff weren't dwelling on the negative, but if we would have taken off the crimson and blue glasses that tend to be prevalent in August we might have noticed that there were plenty of hints and coach speak saying that this wasn't a ready made product. So what questions need to be answered?
Can JB Grimes mold a healthy group of lineman into a unit that understands a zone blocking scheme and can hold their own up front? Let's be honest, Tanner Hawkinson was over-hyped, Jeremiah Hatch out of shape, Brad Thorson played injured, Duane Zlatnik was still learning and Sal Capra is a solid glue guy forced in to being the anchor.
Is Chuck Long able to find a quarterback or develop one that will allow him to use what we all hope will be improved protection to expand the offense? Run, run, take a sack is the recipe for a three an out. Unfortunately the options weren't exactly expansive for Long and one way or the other, that will have to change.
Can a young receiving corp develop into a weapon with the depth we all anticipated? Chris Omigie and Erick McGriff looked good in limited play. Daymond Patterson and DJ Beshears are playmakers that just didn't have much help. There are more names on that list and for Kansas it's about having the right players on the field. Those receivers willing to work toward being the complete package. Solid route running, good hands and willing to make the downfield block, see Marcus Henry.
At running back, James Sims is in place and Kansas will add Brandon Bourbon to the other pieces already in place. Rell Lewis returns and the Jayhawks add two other freshman in Dreamius Smith and Darrian Miller who could be ready to go. If this season is any indication, the staff may opt for a redshirt unless absolutely necessary because a redshirt senior is often quite a bit more valuable than a true freshman. Either way the success of this position likely rests more with the offensive line, but can the Jayhawks develop QUALITY depth at this position going forward?
On the defensive front can Kansas continue to improve in a gap control defense while finding a way to increase the pressure on the quarterback. If there is one spot that Kansas was extremely inexperienced and playing a bit undermanned it was the defensive line. Toben Opurum has found a home, but can anyone wake up Darius Parish? If not, where does the depth at defensive tackle come from? Are there the makings of a serviceable end rotation elsewhere? Kevin Young, Keba Agostinho, Tyrone Sellers and others make up a very young crew, how do they develop?
At linebacker the common belief is that an upgrade is on the way. Can Huldon Tharp stay healthy? Is Darius Willis legit? Steven Johnson certainly proved to be a bright spot at the position in 2010 and he returns so finding the pieces to put around him will be big in terms of improvement, but even beyond the starters this position needs depth.
The defensive backfield is beginning to find a few playmakers. Greg Brown, Tyler Patmon and Bradley McDougald all show potential. Isiah Barfield is an athlete and should benefit from a full year at one position. Keeston Terry and Lubbock Smith will compete for a spot at safety and let's not forget Prinze Kande was fairly well thought of coming in. Add in the fact that the Jayhawks will add two good sized redshirt freshman in Dexter McDonald and Ray Mitchell and the pieces are there. But you can't cover in space forever and you can't cover when spotting a 15 yard cushion. This is a spot, like running back, that can improve greatly with a better front seven.
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Again, it's not about the W's and L's. Obviously the goal would be to win a few more next year, but of the players listed and mentioned above only Daymond Patterson, Isiah Barfield and Jeremiah Hatch will be seniors. This is still a young team, but it's also a group that needs to progress significantly in year two under Gill.
55-7, 59-7 are not scores that can easily be pushed to the side. Games like Nebraska, Iowa State, Colorado and even perhaps the second half of Missouri are the types of contests Kansas fans need to see. Continue the improvement on defense, bring along the offense and take the "Believe" mantra and turn it into something everyone can see.
During the Gridiron episodes, specifically Georgia Tech and Colorado, you saw a team doing the Rock Chalk Chant. They looked proud to be Jayhawks and I think that's what everyone is looking for in year two. A sense of pride on Saturday's. What that looks like in the win/loss column can be debated, but what it looks like in terms of competitive football should be easy to see.