Yesterday I had a chance to have an interesting conversation related to Kansas football. What I came away with was a little bit of insight into a variety of topics related to coaching style, position changes, perception of the direction of the program and a couple predictions on players to watch in 2011.
First off everyone wants to know what happened? Why did Kansas look to struggle so badly at times under first year Coach Turner Gill? Sometimes things are easier explained than others, but there are a variety of things that seemed to go into this one. Interestingly, not much of it was blamed on anyone with the staff.
It comes down to executing on the field. You can have the greatest coach in America at KU but if everyone isn't giving 100% it doesn't matter. We had too much of that and people wanted to immediately place blame on Coach Gill.
That's reassuring from a coaching perspective, but I think from the outside many fans feel that the Staff and a coaching style has to be a reflection of the way a team plays.
On the offensive side of the ball Webb wasn't Reesing, Wilson wasn't as good as Briscoe and McDougald wasn't as good as Meier. We had some really good players graduate and we had a new team and a new staff.
On defense it was a completely new scheme, a lot of the same players, but you saw improvement on the defensive side of the ball throughout the year as the adjustments were made. The loss of Jamal Greene hurt a lot and defensive tackle was a bit thin. Linebacker was thin but defensively we're moving in the right direction without question.
People wanted to say talent, but it wasn't all talent. There were depth issues and adjustments happening all year.
Hard to disagree with anything pointed out here. The defense did improve, adjustments were definitely made, but the offense still leaves a lot to be desired for the moment. It's going to take some progression, hard work and probably a few changes.
We're headed forward no questions asked. Coach Gill knows what he's doing and a lot of changes are coming. Some people may not be here if they aren't on board 100%, some people will be changing positions, and there's better attention to detail.
A quick example. Offseason conditioning right now the team was doing close grip bench. Big John says keep your feet flat. Someone didn't, the whole team is doing up downs. They're on us, nobody wants to be 3-9 again. We're learning to do everything right and then there won't be any extra up downs. Tired of them.
This echoes the talk floating around that the conditioning plan has ticked up a notch early this offseason. Now the question becomes, why the delay. I have a theory on that and it might just rest with Lew Perkins. I asked the biggest difference between this staff and the last staff. The answer?
Both staffs want to win. This staff seemed a little hesitant to tell what they wanted all the time, but that seems to be changing.
Now I'm speculating here but by several accounts Lew Perkins was heavily involved in the firing of one coach for having a style. Mangino's style on the field probably doesn't come into question if he's winning, but it's probably his style off the field with co-workers and administration that was just as at fault when he starts losing. With that as the backdrop for Gill's hiring, maybe it's possible things got off to a softer start than they would have if he had it to do over again.
At this point placing blame doesn't do a lot of good, just a thought and it may be way off base, but things have definitely changed and there seems to be leadership emerging on the player level and at the coaching level.
More on the coaches.
It's going to come down to the players, I believe that. These coaches know what they're doing, but if we don't execute he get's the blame even though he can't make the block for us.
Here's an example. Coach Stamn is light years ahead of what we had last year. He scouts the opponent better than anyone I've been around. He breaks down the top tackler on the other team for kickoff return and we adjusted our return every week for that. Kickoff return went pretty good this year.
He would talk about who they were going to double up on when we were in kick coverage, direction tendencies, where to expect the block from. We kick away from the dangerous return man, we'd change the punt block set up depending on a teams weaknesses. Point is, these coaches know what they are doing.
They're constantly doing everything they can to make sure we're prepared to succeed. We have the knowledge and the scouting, we just didn't execute this year.
And for those constant punt formation questions.
The punt formation is another example. It wasn't what we started out with, the coaches wanted a traditional set, but we don't have Kayl Anderson at long snapper anymore. That made a huge difference. Carnes isn't big, he snaps the ball but blocking isn't a strength.
The formation was an adjustment because they felt he needed to be uncovered. After that it was mental mistakes by players at the line who miscounted and left a man untouched. That's not on Coach Stamn. Everyone was accounted for, we were set up for better coverage and it was a better formation for us, players just didn't execute.
Looking ahead to next year one of the big questions is if there will be improvement in the front seven. It's still too early to tell, but a few comments would indicate there is some help on the way.
Kevin Young will be good to go at defensive tackle. That should be a good move. We'll see how much weight Keba can gain but he's been working as hard as anyone in workouts so far.
We've got other guys that are settling into roles and with a player like Toben at end I think we'll see him play more coverage next year along with coming off the edge. He can do both, he was as big as Laptad weight wise by the end of the season and he's faster than anyone on the defensive line.
Sounds like we're developing options. I'll be rooting for all three of the above mentioned players. All three were playing young this year and all three need to develop for Kansas to be better.
Darius Willis was without question the best redshirt at linebacker and he'll be a player. We also might see a safety move to linebacker, maybe corner and I wouldn't be surprised to see some other moves happen during the offseason.
Arps is a guy that can move pretty good but he probably need a little more weight still.
Willis and Tharp will be nice additions to the front seven if everything works out as planned. I guess the only problem is, how often does a plan work out perfectly?
So what about offense?
On the field easily the most impressive was Jimmay Mundine. He gave our linebackers and safeties problems all year in practice. He's going to be good.
Lewandowski is one that stands out in workouts, hard to say on the field yet but he's very tough minded and focused.
Quick Edit: I received a few emails on the Lewandowski comment. When this person said it I didn't take it to mean that he was on offense for certain. I took it more as he was talking defense, then moved to offense and then came back to a guy that he saw working hard in Lewandowski. Almost a 'oh yeah, almost forgot' moment. I've heard talk of him on offense, I've heard talk of him on defense, but the context of this wasn't intended to imply that he was on offense now.
And returning players?
The offensive line should be better. Brad was playing on a bad ankle all year and it was hard for him. There were other nagging injuries hurting people but depth was a big problem in a lot of places.
For next year it looks like it's Webb and Mecham at quarterback. Both were getting better in practices late in the year and I believe it will start to show in games next year. I guess there's a chance someone else comes in, but we're preparing to be better with them as the quarterback options.
So there you have it. Some of the highlights from my conversation. I do apologize that the "source"(and I hate that word) of the quotes will remain off the record. Unfortunately my access to Kansas athletics is fairly limited and this is a conversation that has to occur in that umbrella of anonymity.
I guess if you've been around here and read enough from RCT, hopefully that's enough to trust that this is coming from someone pretty close to things and of course it's their opinion on things so it may or may not be shared by everyone. That said, this is someone who's opinion I'd tend to think is pretty fair.