Tuesday prior to practice Turner Gill and the Jayhawks held a quick media session. Gill and others spoke with the media, here's what they had to say and a few thoughts on what was said.
Turner Gill on players who have done good things recently:
"We've had quite a few guys that have done some good things. Tyrone Sellers has done some good things. He's stepped up in competition with Kevin Young at the defensive end spot. Another guy, Greg Brown, has come on strong. Isiah Barfield in the secondary has done some good things. I would say also on the offensive side, Tim Biere is really playing well, has done some great things. I really say Duane Zlatnik is a definite guy that is vying for a top position on the offensive line. So we've got some guys that are playing well on our football team. We're still trying to put some things together for our team both offensively and defensively and special teams. But that's a little bit of an update from that standpoint."
Tyrone Sellers and Kevin Young competing at defensive end is great news. We knew Kevin would be there, with the loss of Stephens and the lack of depth, Kansas needs another body and Tyrone Sellers would be a welcome addition to that depth.
Greg Brown and Isiah Barfield at corner. Two very impressive athletes, another sign of developing depth.
Duane Zlatnik vying for a starting role is an interesting development. Working with the ones on Tuesday while Sal Capra slid over to center and Jeremiah Hatch seems to be relegated to a backup role at this point. Sticking with the positive, Zlatnik is a big option at guard and winning this competition should be viewed as sign that he's progressing nicely at the position as much as it can be viewed as a major question mark surrounding Hatch
More on Zlatnik, Hatch and others later on.
On the emergence of Duane Zlatnik on the offensive line:
"He's really improved. He's one of the guys that's made the most improvement from the spring time when I first saw him to today. I really like what he's doing. Early on he was a little bit slow, but he's picked up some great pace. My hat goes off to Coach Grimes, he's done a really good job with the offensive line and again, we're just putting all the pieces together and are hoping to find seven to eight guys who can play that can play pretty good football for us at the offensive line position."
Again, a front line of Hawkinson, Zlatnik, Capra, Marrongelli and Thorson loses some experience, but it actually gains a little bit of size at guard while inserting a very savvy player at center in Capra. This isn't about rooting against one guy or for another, but if Zlatnik can win out, this can't be viewed as anything but a positive. Not because Hatch isn't a solid player, but because that means Zlatnik has managed to show enough to push one of the better offensive lineman on the team over the past two years to the sideline.
On what his ideal player is at the offensive line position:
"He (Duane Zlatnik) probably has that. I love his size. He moves really well for a big guy, he's 300-plus pounds. We'll do different things with the guards, sometimes pull them, sometimes move some things on the line of scrimmage. We've got to have guys who are strong enough to take on d (defensive) tackles who are 300-plus pounds, and he has the ability to do that."
More gushing about Zlatnik.
On how Jeremiah Hatch has looked in camp:
"Hatch, he's doing okay. It's great competition by our whole offensive line. Hatch is doing okay, Zlatnick's doing well. I think another guy who has made some good progress is Riley Spencer. He's playing at the tackle spot for us. If I had to say one or two guys that have really, from Spring until today, made good progress it would be Zlatnik, Spencer and even Alex Smith."
Moving on to Hatch, this is the point at which a competitor responds. He's started two years on the offensive line, that position appears to be in jeopardy. Most Kansas fans would probably be rooting for Hatch based on what he's done in the program, but clearly Turner Gill is issuing a bit of a challenge to the big guy.
On the linebacker position, taking into consideration Huldon Tharp's injury:
"I think we're still trying to figure out some things from that standpoint. The main three guys are (Justin) Springer, (Steven) Johnson and (Drew) Dudley. Then you get into the backup position and I think one guy that has jumped out has been a walk-on kid by the name of Steve Mestan. He's definitely in the hunt for being one of the top five guys for us at the linebacker position."
There's your newest name at linebacker. Steve Mestan. Who is he? A 6'2" 230 pound redshirt freshman from Wisconsin who was an all conference selection as a linebacker and fullback in high school. That's about all we know.
On if Brad Thorson is back at practice:
"Yes, he is. Yesterday was probably the first day he took reps. We are going to gradually get him going. We're going to limit his reps because we do have some time before gametime. (We want to) make sure something doesn't happen to slow him down as far as coming back from the injury. It's been good results so far."
Couldn't be more relieved that Thorson is back on the field. Coach Gill mentions Riley Spencer above, but Thorson is truly a leader and a very smart player. Kansas needs him leading this group.
Assistant Coach Carl Torbush
On if he's thought about making any position changes:
"No, not very many right now. That's one good thing about having multiple packages. If we need to go to a three-three or a four-two-five (formation), whatever we need to do to make sure we manufacture depth, to make sure we've got fresh people out there on the field at all times. And also, if we don't have enough linebackers, we can play with two linebackers. If we don't have enough defensive linemen, we play with three linemen. We've worked hard to do that, now we've got to figure out what we can do to make sure that everyone who is still here stays healthy and we get to the first game and be as fresh as we can be."
After an era where position changes were the answer to the first sign of trouble, this is a relief. Last year when Mangino made wholesale changes prior to the Colorado game I commented that it smelled a little of desperation. We all know how things ended up from there.
Assistant Coach Chuck Long
On the status of the running back position:
"We're just trying to work through a few things. Right now, we have a pretty good feel for what each (player) can do, so we're trying to package that. Where do they fit in our system? What role will they play in our system? That's what we're working through right now. We want to give those guys the best place where they can do well. You have to make sure you mix it up enough so that your opponent doesn't get a bead on you."
On if there will be one feature back, or if the team will mix-and-match:
"If you don't have the guy that's emerging (as a clear No. 1), then you need to package them. It's more of a committee-type deal, but that's not set in stone yet. Coach (Reggie) Mitchell is working through that. We want to get particular guys on the field in certain ways."
I see the continued inability to find a "feature back" in the group to be an indication of that the players already here might not have that in their makeup and perhaps the true freshman that do, are still to young. I'm hearing Opurum is running with the ones more often of late, but he might not be a clear #1. Quigley has been at KU five years now and has yet to put it together and at some point you are what you are and for him that's a big physical back that can provide some carries. Deshaun Sands certainly can provide situational help as well, but his size presents some concern.
The two that would appear to have that feature back, breakaway ability are Brandon Bourbon and James Sims. Maybe these two aren't ready yet, but I could see one gradually picking up more and more of the load as the season goes on along with either Opurum or Quigley as a bigger change of pace. My first choice, the Opurum/Sims combo.
Assistant Coach Darrell Wyatt
On putting smaller, faster guys in the slots (Patterson and Beshears)
"Everyone deploys either their nickel or their ‘Will' (weakside) linebacker to be in a position to cover a slot receiver. Having guys with the skill set like Patterson and Beshears gives you an advantage in terms of their dynamic ability to make plays and forces them to get out of the box. We've got a good complement of guys; we've got taller guys, guys that can really get the deeper patterns down the field and we've got running back guys in the slot."
Patterson and Beshears going one on one against a "Will"? That sounds fun. That is a one two combo that should be fun to watch this year.
Sophomore running back Toben Opurum
On if he's gotten a feel for the depth chart at his position:
"We're all rotating with the reps. They've really split it up evenly until the coaches decide who will take on a bigger role. Right now, we're pretty much just taking reps and seeing what everybody can do."
On what he needs to do to become the No. 1 running back:
"As far as I'm concerned, I just need to build on the success I had last year. Continue doing those things that made me compete and able to play in the 2009 season. I've been working hard, doing what they've asked me to do in this offense."
On if his receiving abilities put him ahead of his competitors to be No. 1:
"People like to compliment my hands. I can catch anything thrown my way. If Coach (Gill) wants to utilize that in the offense, it's something I'd definitely be up for. But we've got talented receivers that can step up and do that."
On how he feels not being named the No. 1 running back yet:
"It makes sense. Angus (Quigley) deserves his shot to be No. 1. He remained uninjured during times when Rell (Lewis) and I were both banged up a little bit. But he's definitely worked hard. Right now, we're all fighting for that featured role."
On his physical status:
"Right now, there are no limitations on my ankle. I am doing everything I was doing last week. It's the best my ankle has felt since Nov. 21."
This whole section conveys a calm confidence to me. Toben Opurum is my pick to start on opening day. I think he's healthy, I think he provides the most versatility and I think he has shown what he can do a year ago.
The team might go with a package or rotation over a feature back, but if Opurum has put in the work this summer we could see a different type of player. Last year he was a TRUE freshman. Physically he wasn't remotely as prepared as he will be come September 4th.
Sophomore cornerback Greg Brown
On playing more bump-and-run coverage this year compared to last year:
"It's more free (this year). You can jump flat routes, because we have more respect for our safeties. (Before) we had to worry about being on top of the route, now we relax and focus on getting the turnover and making a play."
If you were tired of the 15 yard cushion that seemed to be employed by our defense in nearly every situation a year ago, this is good news to you. This defense is preparing to attack, take risks and make plays. I can live with being beat if we're going after it, it's much easier to deal with than sitting back and getting run over.