I've hinted at it before, but the question keeps coming to mind. Why the confidence? Linebacker is a position that many would have put at or near the top of the list when voicing concerns for the 2010 season.
A year ago Drew Dudley, Arist Wright and even the occasional Angus Quigley comprised a unit that was far from a strength on the field. Huldon Tharp provided a bright spot as a true freshman, but how many times can a true freshman be relied upon to fill a void at one of the most physically demanding positions on the field?
What's changed for 2010? The answer is not much. Yes the players on the roster are a year older and with that comes some player development, but when a unit looks as depleted as this one did at times last year, is that enough to rely on?
Where is the confidence at the linebacker position coming from? Huldon Tharp, Drew Dudley, Steven Johnson, Justin Springer, Jacoby Thomas and Josh Richardson are the six that fill out the two deep after spring ball. There are a few new faces on that list, but where is the significant upgrade?
Can Drew Dudley and Justin Springer return to full strength and be prepared to lead in their final season? Will Steven Johnson finally get a shot after grabbing a high amount of praise during the past two spring seasons? Lastly, can Huldon Tharp, Jacoby Thomas and Josh Richardson all take the step forward after getting a year and in the case of Richardson two years to develop within the program?
There are plenty of questions, but not a lot of answers. Still the feeling appears to be that if this group can stay healthy the staff seems fairly comfortable with the rotation on the field. Health is the key.
In spring practice Justin Springer looked to be back to his former self physically dominating in the middle. The players respect him and he can be a leader on the field. Huldon Tharp has shown what he can do, and Josh Richardson and Steven Johnson are both viewed as sleepers to keep an eye on by there teammates. Steven Johnson specifically has been pointed to as a player ready to step up to the plate.
The wildcards are Drew Dudley, Jacoby Thomas and a potential freshman surprise. Dudley didn't have a full go during spring ball and based on last year he wouldn't be first on anyone's list. That said he is a senior and it's hard to discount his ability to contribute entirely. Jacoby Thomas is a versatile player that can go from any one of the linebacker spots to your occasional rush end spot as needed. That versatility is attractive for the staff, but is he an every down player or a situational filler. As far as any true freshman, that option will be explored during camp.
Is all this potential and positive self talk enough to change the fortunes of a unit that seemed a bit lost a year ago? Can Carl Torbush make enough of an impact from a coaching standpoint to provide stability? At this point it's very difficult to be too optimistic, but hopefully a few games into the season Jayhawk fans will be able to rest a little easier about the play at this position.
- Owen K(firstname.lastname@example.org)