A year ago we were about a month away from Turner Gill kicking off his first fall camp as the head man for the Kansas Jayhawk. Optimism was high, the kool aid was flowing and the notion that the cupboard was far from bare still prevailed.
One of the big reasons for that optimism was the strong coaching staff, the pieces that seemed to be in place and a fresh take on offense. After the fast and furious attack employed by Mark Mangino featuring Todd Reesing, it seemed like a change to a more ball control style might serve the Jayhawks well. As they say, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
Defense was the problem under Mangino. The offense finally started clicking in 2007, but the defense never kept pace. Kansas could score in bunches, but they couldn't outscore everyone all the time and it eventually caught up with them more often than not in the final two seasons under Mangino.
One unimpressive, unimaginative season into the Turner Gill era, some Kansas fans might be ready to return to the days filled with trick plays and explosive scoring drives. The name Chuck "third and" Long started picking up steam late in 2010 and if 2011 is going to be an improvement Kansas will need to take a few risks.
By no means am I suggesting that Kansas revert completely back to the Reesing era tact. Todd Reesing was a special player and had weapons at his disposal that Kansas might not have in tow at the moment. Kansas and Turner Gill look to be moving toward an offense that relies on a well established running game and one that can control the line of scrimmage and hopefully in turn control the flow of the game. But what Gill and offensive coordinator can't continue to do is play not to lose.
Statistically speaking the Jayhawks were one of the worst offenses in the nation. Jayhawk quarterbacks the least effective and Kansas football largely uninspiring. Perhaps the best example of the aversion to risk could be seen in the game against Nebraska in Lincoln. Yes the Cornhuskers had a great defense a year ago and that was a big part of it. At the same time, the Kansas defense looked as effective as they had all year. Improvement was what fans wanted and it was happening. Unfortunately on the offensive side of the ball Kansas struggled and that led to an offensive pattern that basically consisted of run, run, take a sack. A lot went into that, but Kansas wasn't taking any chances and the program perhaps wasn't at a point to do so.
That brings us to 2011. All the talk a year ago revolved around adjustments, understanding expectations and learning what Kansas football was going to be about. The coach speak was thick and the results reflected the abundance of cliche's fed to the fanbase early. That seems to have shifted in the Spring and Summer of 2011. Coaches and players seem more confident, more comfortable and more focused. That's all great news and ideally the Jayhawks enter this season with a better grasp of the gameplan and execute on a more consistent basis than a year ago. Improvement and competitiveness is the ideal result.
Over and over that's the desire for Kansas football this year. Compete, improve and don't embarrass. Do that and Turner Gill has a young team moving in the right direction. To take it a step further, to take it to a level where Kansas might pull off a surprise or give fans reason to hope, Kansas will have to take some chances. Obviously Chuck Long and Turner Gill are employed at a high level in their profession and they have a plan so by all means establish the run, play more conservatively and move toward the offense that best fits the chosen style. But don't play scared, don't play to avoid embarrassment because it's already happened on some level in 2010. Use your weapons, limited as they might be, and open things up. That's one phase and one aspect of 2011 Kansas Jayhawk football that would be a welcome sign and a shift toward the positive in my opinion.