Last Saturday Kansas fans had a chance to watch the earliest edition of the 2011 Kansas Jayhawk football team during the Spring scrimmage held at Memorial Stadium. Overall the reviews are cautious, yet slightly more optimistic when looking ahead at 2011 compared to the results of 2010.
The reality is that Kansas was a 3-9 team and the road actually get's more difficult in 2011 than a season ago and Kansas could very well be a 3-9 team once again. Still, many did feel like it was a team that looked more organized, better prepared, better conditioned and more experienced which could go a long way toward Kansas avoiding 59-7 beatdowns distributed by the in-State rival.
Some of the positives notes were the offensive line play, improved team speed on defense, running back depth and "better" play from the quarterback position. But if there is one concern that stood out at times during this one, it's depth. Quality depth is what is going to allow Kansas to compete at the level they need to in order to get back to a bowl game and right now the Jayhawks look to still have work to do.
Sure a Spring scrimmage putting the first team against the second team is going to present some mismatches, but at times the Kansas first team looked capable of executing far too easily. One could argue for a case where the first team is just that good, but if we're being honest it probably speaks more to the depth. Honestly this isn't unexpected. Depth isn't something that is built overnight, Saturday was more of a reminder of where we stand with it.
When you watch Kansas you see a team that does look improved at offensive line, improved at linebacker, and improved at receiver and other areas as well. You also see a team that is thin on quality depth on the offensive line, thin at defensive line and perhaps thin in terms of experience in the defensive backfield. It's a situation where once again, a single injury could be devastating. Welcome to life on the edge. It's one of the tasks in front of Turner Gill and his staff as they attempt to bring Kansas along as a program, and it's the primary area where Mark Mangino whiffed in taking Kansas and truly turning the corner.
The good news is that much of the apparent lack of depth is due to youth. Dylan Admire, Randall Dent, Tom Mabry and Gavin Howard made up four of the five second team offensive lineman and all are in the early stages of their careers at Kansas. Many have noted that Admire looked impressive given the fact that he probably could have spent Saturday at prom rather than a Spring scrimmage. The other good news is that the Jayhawk staff has a host of players coming in that will compete and have the ability to upgrade depth with time. It will be interesting to see how this years small recruiting class plays into things, but this summer might also mark a point where an upperclassman or two that don't stand to see time look elsewhere.
Kansas has improved it's starting talent. Whether that be through development, comfort in a system, coaching or recruiting, the Jayhawks looked a bit better on Saturday than they did a year ago. Kansas also adds a few players returning from injury when we hit fall camp so that will help. Increased focus on the walk on program, incoming freshman, etc. Clearly things are being done to try to address this and I also find it reassuring that the coach speak coming from the Kansas staff doesn't seem to be nearly as vague and uncertain as it did a year ago. Beyond that depth has to be my top concern, but that's just part of building a team and a program and one of the big challenges that Kansas football has always faced.