This is top ten week. We will be posting plenty of top ten lists, in honor or our first 10-0 start in football since 1899. 1899! Today isn't listing the most important aspects of this team, instead the biggest surprises that is allowing us to exceed preseason prognostications.
Justin Thornton still hasn't started a game, so calling him a 'surprise' might be a bit of a stretch. But he is playing more and more every week, and has played just as many important snaps in the past couple of weeks as both starters Patrick Resby and Darrell Stuckey. He is a future potential starter at both LB and S, probably as early as next season. He has always been a big hitter, thus the potential move to LB in the future, but his progression in coverage might lead him to stay as a Bernard Pollard-type at the back-end secondary. He was only expected to be an impact on special teams, but he has instead become a vital part of this defense.
Kerry isn't a surprise in the impact he has had on this team, but instead of how he has made the impact. Once beaten out by Todd Reesing in fall camp, Meier figured to be relegated to the bench for good, never seeing the field for anything more than garbage duty or injury insurance. However, after the second blowout of the season, Meier approached Coach Mangino about a possible position switch. He would still take snaps in practice and be the backup signal-caller, but he would also now moonlight at WR. Fine, Mangino said, most likely imagining trick play scenarios where the multi-talented Meier could be used in. However, Meier was such a fast learner at WR that now, just 8 weeks later, he is our primary slot receiver and has caught a TD pass against Nebraska. Still only a sophomore, he figures to have a much greater future at WR than QB, as he is a year older than Reese.
I wasn't sure how big of an impact Laptad would have coming into the season, so I banked on the safe side and said 'special teams'. Instead, he has become a pass-rushing specialist already in his first season, racking up a couple of sacks on the season. He is more talented than the current starters, especially against the pass, and given a summer of bulking up to increase his production against the run and he likely starts next season instead of incumbents John Larson or Russell Brorsen.
AH, James Holt. He is my favorite player on this defense, hands down. I love every single player, don't get me wrong, and I know that Holt isn't the best player on this defense. But he is the biggest overachiever on a defense chock-full of them, the one who gets the most out of his talent. He rarely, if ever, misses a tackle and is always (ALWAYS) around the ball. If you need any proof, re-watch the Colorado-Kansas game. Nearly every single time you see a black Buffalo jersey fall to the ground, #12 is somewhere in the picture. Almost every, single time. His two linebacker-mates, Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen, were both more highly publicized coming into the season, but neither has played as well as Holt.
The biggest impact on this team from a true freshman has been that of Dezmon Briscoe. Before Marcus Henry's explosion Saturday night in Stillwater, Briscoe had been our best receiver in conference play. Hands down. And even Saturday night, Briscoe was our second-most effective WR after Henry. He is our most talented receiver, by far, and only figures to get better as long as he doesn't steal anything else. He wasn't figured to play much at all as a freshman, he began the year behind WRs like Tretavarian Ingram and Raimond Pendleton and Marcus Herford, but has quickly played his way onto the two-deep.
The biggest difference on this team from 2006, non-QB division, is the secondary behind Aqib Talib. Mainly the backup CBs. Both of these are new players to this defense, and both have played incredibly significant roles on this defense. Chris Harris, an overlooked true freshman from Bixby, Oklahoma, stepped up big time until Harper got back from injury. Harper struggled against Okie State, but most of it were simply on perfect pass plays, nothing that Harper could do about that. Harris figures to replace the impending departure that is Aqib Talib, the combo is going to be pretty good too.
We knew our tackles were going to be good. Both Anthony Collins and Cesar Rodriguez are both returning starters, but the interior three figured to struggle, at least early on. Nuh-huh. Former walk-on Adrian Mayes, 4th year junior Ryan Cantrell and JUCO transferChet Harley have all impressed me so far this season, specifically Mr. Mayes. Our favorite run is the little cutsie-pie draw to the left side, with Mayes pulling. He is a major unsung hero on this team, an unsung hero that is coming back next season as a senior.
A big, big difference in this offense is not just the players. No, the new check-with-me system Warriner has installed has played a huge role with re-invigorating this offense. It has capitalized on all of the strengths of this team, namely the quarterback, and turned this usually inept offense to one of the best in the country. You heard that right, this Kansas offense is one of the best in the country, and it is here to stay. The only thing that may slow down this offense, and even then we might still continue to churn out numbers, is the departure of Warriner. While defensive coordinator has publicly stated he loves Lawrence, Warriner has done nothing similar and seems to be a very ambitious coach. If a head coaching job becomes available, I wouldn't be surprised to see Warriner leave. The key is replacing him with one of his top assistants, this offense is obviously working out. Of course, with the next two surprises on your team, it is hard NOT to have a good offense.
Oh, boy, BMac. A high school linebacker turned Kansas special teamer turned fullback, he came into this season as a running back. And boy, has he performed up to the task. While playing great up to the Texas A&M game, exceeding all expectations I had, his game against the Aggies was something special. Amidst all of the pre-game hype surrounding the Ags' big boy, Javorskie Lane, BMac stole the show and ran for nearly a buck in the first quarter alone. He is slowly taking over this offense, he carried the ball 18 times on Saturday compared to Sharp's 6 carries, and will be THE BIGGEST KEY in our upcoming 'show-me' games. Book it.
Oh boy. I'm tired, so tomorrow we will devote an entire post to the snake wrangler. He is my favorite player in the history of Kansas football, possibly in the history of the world, so he deserves much more than a short little blurb on a list. No, he deserves his own list...