Last year this was widely considered an area of strength for the Jayhawks headed into the season. Seniors Brad Thorson and Sal Capra were supposed to be reliable. Junior Jeremiah Hatch was supposed to emerge as a leader and sophomores Trevor Marrongelli and Tanner Hawkinson were ready to turn a corner.
All that changed rather quickly as Brad Thorson battled injury, Jeremiah Hatch never quite hit the ground running, Marrongelli sustained a season ending injury and Tanner Hawkinson continued his adjustment to the position. The Jayhawks did bring along another body in Duane Zlatnik but all in all it wasn't a great year for the Kansas Jayhawk offense and that started up front.
Without question if the Jayhawk offense is going to improve it will again start and end with this group up front. James Sims emerged in the backfield and the stable of running backs is filling up, but that group can't reach their potential without the openings. The Brock Berglund, Jordan Webb, Quinn Mecham debate is almost irrelevant if the quarterback position doesn't receive more support and time.
The good news is that with an increased level of competition and another year of maturity, this group does have the opportunity to be the strength that many hoped they could be a year ago.
C - Jeremiah Hatch - 6'3 332 - Senior(77)
A year ago Jeremiah Hatch either didn't put in the work or battled an injury depending on who you talk to but the fact remains that he lost his starting job at the beginning of the year before getting it back gradually throughout the season. Most of the speculation centered around Hatch carrying too much weight or coming in out of shape but in his defense it sure seemed like there were a lot of folks battling that same problem and more has come to light regarding last years conditioning plan.
Putting all that aside it's a new year, it's Hatch's final year and this is a player that was expected to compete at an All Big 12 level after his freshman season. The talk is that Hatch has been putting in some serious work during winter workouts and he's back prepared to make an impact. If Hatch can be an anchor and a leader to this offensive line that is step one to getting things moving in the right direction.
T - Michael Martinovich - 6'5" 270 - Senior(65)
Martinovich is a little undersized and a transfer from Air Force that has provided good depth, special teams support and competition on the line for a couple of years now. His name consistently seems to appear on the two deep even though he doesn't often break through and having players that do things the right way and fill that role is important for any program looking to run things in the right direction.
T - Tanner Hawkinson - 6'6" 293 - Junior(72)
Hawkinson was solid in his sophomore season. In the preseason many had labeled him as a potential All Big 12 player and while that might have been premature he did show some continued progression for a player in just his second year at the position in one of the top football conferences in the country.
2011 may be a good year for Hawkinson because some of the pressure might be off. Early on there has been plenty of reps with Hawkinson at right tackle instead of the often scrutinized left tackle as Jeff Spikes seems to have taken the injury and year off as an opportunity to get remotivated. Perhaps it's not a bad thing to move him to the right side and give Kansas two solid book ends. Certainly there is a chance he ends up back at left tackle but one thing that does seem to be a fairly safe bet is that Hawkinson will be a part of the Jayhawk offensive line.
T - Jeff Spikes - 6'6" 325 - Junior(74)
A year ago Spikes sat out the season with injury, this year he returns. Like Hatch much of the word coming out of camp is that Spikes is performing very well and has done some serious work during winter workouts. The thing to remember about Spikes is that before Tanner Hawkinson was the next great thing, Jeff Spikes was the next great thing. Perhaps both can finally reach that potential this season.
G - Duane Zlatnik - 6'4" 326 - Junior(67)
Zlatnik struggled at times and he also looked very good at times a year ago. He's a very big, strong, physical player and most of the struggles can probably be attributed to the growing pains that have come with changing positions from the defensive line to the offensive line. That said, he's showed a lot of promise at the position and he's a player that Turner Gill has pointed to as the mold. Big, physical lineman that can move.
This is the year that Zlatnik needs to begin playing with confidence and take control of the position. If Zlatnik joins Hatch, Hawk and Spikes that's four upperclassman that have all had their ups and downs but it's also four UPPERCLASSMAN that have the size and raw talent to make an impact. Now it just has to gel together.
G - Trevor Marrongelli - 6'2" 293 - Junior(69)
Marrongelli is a player that I was personally very high on heading into last season based on the way he played as a redshirt freshman. In limited action he was flying around hitting people and looked comfortable playing at the division one level despite his youth. I'd call last year a bit of a setback. The season started out with the offensive line struggling as a whole and then Marrongelli was sidelined early with a season ending injury.
2011 gives the guard with an often described meanstreak a chance to step back into that role at guard and fulfill some of that potential that many saw after his play as a redshirt freshman. It's hard to believe that Marrongelli, Hawkinson and Zlatnik only have two years of eligibility remaining, but with that realization comes some urgency for the trio to start producing.
T - Riley Spencer - 6'7" 300 - Sophomore(79)
Spencer saw limited action as a redshirt freshman despite many feeling that he deserved some opportunity to replace an ailing Brad Thorson. At the end of the day it might say something about where Spencer stands developmentally if he wasn't able to fill that role, because without question Thorson was severely hampered. That said the belief has always been that Spencer was a raw player coming in and it would take time to develop.
Unfortunately for all parties involved Spencer is sitting out this Spring due to injury, an injury that might also explain some of his limitations last fall. Right now the best thing for Spencer is repetitions. He has the natural size, now it's just getting him up to game speed and in a position where he can contribute. That won't happen this Spring, but Spencer should find his way on the two deep this fall.
G - Randall Dent - 6'5" 275 - Sophomore(64)
Dent spent his first two seasons with the Jayhawks on the defensive line but has made the move to the offensive side of the ball after failing to crack the two deep at a very thin defensive tackle position. At this point everyone has probably seen the pancake block on freshman Julius Green, but it's impossible to say from one play if this is the right move. The move is putting Dent in a spot where he is absolutely going to have to compete for minutes as the offensive line is quickly turning into one of the deeper positions for Kansas.
T - Gavin Howard - 6'5" 292 - Sophomore(70)
Howard found his way on the two deep as a redshirt freshman a season ago and while there doesn't ever seem to be much in the way of hype swirling about his name, I'd say that might have a lot to do with the fact that he's a little undersized and still very young. Howard should once again play a role in the depth up front but it's hard to see a situation where he could unseat someone like Hawkinson or Spikes anytime soon.
G - Tom Mabry - 6'4" 287 - Sophomore(53)
Mabry saw the field against Kansas State a year ago but has been very limited since arriving on campus. That's not unusual for someone that was just a redshirt freshman a season ago. Mabry is most likely a player that will be fighting off Turner Gill's incoming class for time in the future, but barring injury he probably won't play a substantial role in 2011.
T - Chad Kolumber - 6'8" 296 - Freshman(63)
Kolumber actually saw some reps on practice last year with the second and even occasionally the first team offensive line in fall camp while Thorson was still out due to injury. Obviously when he moved to a full time redshirt those reps were moved to the scout team but Kolumber is a MONSTER size wise and entering his first Spring it will be interesting to see where he fits in now that the redshirt has been used to give him a year of development.
C - Dylan Admire - 6'3" 264(low) - Freshman(75)
Admire is listed at 264 on the roster but there have been reports that he's closer to 280-285 since arriving on campus. Admire also is seeing snaps as the second team center which obviously looks promising considering Hatch will graduate following the 2011 season. Anytime a freshman can come in and get an extra Spring to develop, that's a great thing. Now if the Kansas offensive line can stay healthy and gel allowing Admire to redshirt this fall, that's even better.
Questions Entering Spring Practice
- Can potential finally turn to production? Even since Mangino was around we've been hearing about how good Spikes can be, how good Hawkinson could be, how good Hatch could be and last year Gill talked about how good Zlatnik could be. Odds are that this will be an offensive line with one senior and four juniors. There has to be a point where potential turns to production and that needs to start happening when you reach year four or five in a program.
- Does this group have the ability to control the line of scrimmage? One of the adjustments mentioned last year was that this was a group so used to pass blocking that firing off the ball to run block and control the line of scrimmage wasn't their forte. Well it's another year in, Kansas has the weapons in the backfield. If this group still can't adjust to that, Kansas is in need of new excuse.
- Does the quarterback have the time? Look, none of our quarterbacks looked great last season. At the same time does anyone thing we saw them at their best? Todd Reesing was an incredible player in terms of pocket presence. Last year we saw what a normal quarterback probably looks like when he's taking pass rushers on from all sides. This line needs to step up and provide time, it's critical to this offense. CRITICAL.
- Can this group stay healthy? At face value things look decent. Hatch(SR), Spikes(JR), Hawk(JR), Zlatnik(JR), Marrongelli(JR). That would be my prediction today. If those five can stay healthy and provide some continuity it could be a serviceable group. If they don't we start dipping back into a pool of players with very little gameday experience.
Again it looks like a group that could provide some upperclassman leadership when you look at Hatch, Spikes, Hawk, Marrongelli and Zlatnik as the possible starting front. All have significant experience at this point and number of starts and games played is one of the better indicators in terms of success for an offensive line. The drawback is that almost every one of those players has often had their name associated with the term potential but only occasionally have any been known as big time producers.
When evaluating Turner Gill's second year at Kansas many have mentioned that while they might expect another tough season record wise, they also expect to see improvement. There will be no other position on the field more important to achieving that than this group. Without an improved offensive line the offense is still going to be borderline awful and if the offense can't eat up clock and score points, the defense can have a solid group and still struggle.