Photo courtesy KUSports.com
I know Grad is going to be posting an in-depth review of the spring game, and I'm sure his will be better than mine, but I figured I'd throw out some of my observations from the game yesterday. I will note that I was there with my wife and two young kids, so I wasn't always able to pay as much attention as I would have liked, but in the end I was able to see most of the game.Offense
For the most part, the first team offense played the second team defense, so it was hard to effectively judge each squad. The first team o-line definitely looked better than it did at last year's spring game, but our second-team d-line is, uh...not good, so we may have to wait until fall to really judge their improvement. The stats for Webb and Mecham don't differ much, but I felt (and most people I've talked to agree) that Webb overall looked a bit better, and certainly seemed more comfortable running the offense than he did last year. Webb also took off for about 30 yards on a well-executed zone read, and showed good escapability in the backfield, something Mecham's game is lacking. Someone mentioned Webb is still not going through his progressions. I'm not sure that's fair, since our corners were so God-awful he never really had to. Jablonski looked solid in his time in the game, but I didn't see anything from him to indicate he has the upside that Webb has, so I don't really look for him to compete for the job, as a couple people have suggested. Overall, I'd say that Webb looked the best out of a very mediocre group of QBs.
The running game, especially the first-team running game, picked up yards in chunks for the most part. Miller didn't break any huge runs, but showed good speed, mixed with good instincts and a tough-running style. I think Bourbon, Pierson or Smith would really have to step up for Sims/Miller not to be our 1-2 punch at RB this year. I will say I felt like both the first and second-team o-line looked much better at blocking for the run, though again, the d-line may have something to do with that.
As for the receivers/tight ends, it was hard to judge. I'll get to the reason for that in my defensive recap. I will note that though Jimmay Mundine didn't do anything amazing, you can see why the kid gets so much hype. Very athletic for a tight end. I don't think Biere even got a target yesterday, but no one should have many questions about him at this point. Kale Pick looks like an absolute natural at receiver. He runs routes well, has good hands, and runs around, over, and through people after the catch. If we can get the passing game going at all this year, I would look for big numbers out of Pick. Much has been made of the Christian Matthews catch (and it was a nice catch), but if the DBs had any clue how to make a play on the football, it never would have happened. The receivers have been talking about the added focus on blocking this year, and I'd say they look like they're being a bit more aggressive with it, particularly Beshears and Pick.
The first-team d-line, specifically Lewandowski, Williams and Opurum, was able to wreak some havoc yesterday. However, as we all found out last year, sometimes that has everything to do with the offensive line. Since they were usually going against the 2nd string o-line, I just can't get excited about the plays they were making. If I had to judge though, I'd definitely say they looked good.
The linebackers look like they will swarm to the ball much better than we saw from them last year. Willis and Tharp are a speed upgrade over Dudley and Springer, and Malcolm Walker was all over the place as well. This unit should be solid for us, barring injuries.
As for the secondary, I'll start with the positives. Terry and McDougald looked great. I've been limiting my enthusiasm about these two, since they combined for a whopping 5 games at safety last year, but I consider myself on the bandwagon at this point, especially for McDougald. He had four tackles, as well as a bone-jarring hit on a receiver after catching a short pass.
The corners sucked. Bad. Anthony Davis had an interception, but it was on an ill-advised pass from Webb who was under heavy duress at the time. They're still playing off the line, so many will probably blame Torbush for their failures again this year, but I don't agree. From what I saw yesterday (and last year), the simply don't have the man-to-man coverage instincts to stay with their assignment, and Torbush is giving them that cushion to try and avoid getting beat deep. Only 58% of yesterday's passes were completed, but with better QB it could have easily been closer to 70%, as there were a few short passes that were poorly thrown. Brown, Davis, Patmon, Powell...none of them seemed to be within 2 yards of their man when the ball was thrown. Mediocre teams like Baylor, K-State and Southern Miss were able to tear us apart with the passing game last year, and I'm afraid this year may end up being a similar situation.
Hard to judge special teams at the spring game, since they're basically non-existent. The offense wasn't punting, and as always there were no kickoffs. I guess all I can say is that they didn't botch the execution on any PATs or field goals, though Doherty missed a very makeable FG.
This just in: we're not a very good football team. I will say that we looked organized and comfortable with our plays/schemes on both sides of the ball. Once or twice I saw Webb motioning for the sideline to get the play in faster, but I think he was just trying to push the tempo. There was no overall sense of confusion we routinely saw from the team last year, so at the very least we should look competent this fall (that should be a given, but after last season, we know it's not).
We've improved in a few areas. As I've mentioned, the linebackers and safeties should be better in 2011. I'll say I still don't really have any idea how the d-line will look against Big 12 competition, and I feel like the corners will be a huge weakness. Offensively, I think we'll see a more effective running game, now that we have more than one solid back to carry the ball, and the line seems to have improved their run blocking. However, I saw nothing to indicate the QB play will get substantially better, so teams may put 8 or 9 in the box and bet that Webb/Mecham won't beat them with their arms. It's a safe bet.
At the end of the year, we're probably looking at another 3 or 4 win season. Things look fairly bleak for 2011, but I do think progress is being made, and given the youth of this team, I wouldn't rule out a situation where we grow by leaps and bounds, and the team looks far better in November than it did in September. Young guys like Miller, Lewandowski, Green, Tharp, and Terry show serious upside, and if we can start filling the team with talent like that, we could be much improved in a year or two.